I felt beautiful during my pregnancy. Labor seemed like it would be just another part of the lovely experience. “I’m an educated woman. I’ve taken a Lamaze class. I’ll be fine!”
The only problem was that I had no one who could really talk to me about what it would feel like. I had no idea what to expect even though I had read the book! I went into labor wholly unprepared. Because my labor was very complicated, the pain and the experience traumatized me in ways that I am still processing some 13 years later. There were also physical aftereffects.
And emotional aftereffects as well. The moment my son was born I knew something was terribly wrong. I didn’t feel any of the fuzzy, blissful feelings I had imagined or read about having. Instead, my first thought was, “Just leave me alone.” I was so beat up, exhausted, and overwhelmed. My husband was the first one to hold our son.
Looking back now, I realize I didn’t feel exactly “sad-depressed”, I just felt dead. Numb in a way that I had never experienced before in my life.
I had worked with many clients successfully helping them overcome their depression. Personally, I had struggled with anxiety at points before, but had never really known the darkness and numbness associated with a significant experience of depression.
Meanwhile, everyone talked to me expectantly—they anticipated my sheer bliss and joy. So I tried to go along with it.
But since I cried most of the day and did not want to hold my son except when nursing (my only reprieve), it was clear to many people that I was struggling.
Except me. The crucifying thoughts that ran through my head felt like torture. “Why did you have a baby? You really think you’re going to be a good parent? Bob is such a better parent than you are. Everyone is so much better at parenting than you are. You have made a huge mistake.”
The other soundtrack was one of isolation, “I can’t tell anyone about how I’m feeling. They would be horrified. This shouldn’t be happening to me!” My feelings of guilt and confusion were even worse because I’m a psychologist.
As the weeks wore on, my husband (also a psychologist) gently questioned me. “Do you think you might be depressed?”
I replied, “No!” as the tears flowed. Looking back, his steady support finally allowed for a slight shift. I began to experiment with sharing some of my seemingly crazy thoughts. We agreed I would seek help. I was ashamed and terrified, but speaking more openly about it actually did give me a sense of power and hope that had been absent until that moment.
It took several months, but I did begin to feel like myself again. Through therapy and support from family and a few close friends, I finally began to experience the joys of motherhood. I began to fall in love and bond with my son. I was so deeply grateful, as the voices in my mind had convinced me this would never be the case.
Up until I had my son 13 years ago, my clinical work was generally with adults. However, when I returned to my clinical practice, I realized I now had a powerful calling. I knew in my heart that I had to help women struggling with those dark voices and feelings.
I was so deeply moved by my experience and so passionate about helping other women that I pursued additional training in maternal mental-health, and began working with women and families struggling with perinatal mood disorders. It never ceases to amaze me when women ask me (usually towards the end of the session), “So how did you come to specialize in this area?”
There is a bond. It’s a knowing and not knowing all at the same time. I feel privileged and honored to have had this experience and also to be able to join women as they begin their journey out of the darkness of perinatal mood disorders.
Dr. Kira Bartlett is a NYS licensed clinical psychologist with over 15 years of successful clinical experience with individuals and groups in psychotherapy. She maintains private practices in White Plains and NYC, and specializes in perinatal mood disorders. Dr. Bartlett also provides training and in-services for professionals and agencies interested in screening for postpartum mood disorders. Dr. Bartlett is a member of NYSPA, Postpartum Support International and the Postpartum Resource Center of New York. She is the former president of the Hudson Valley Birth Network. She lives in NY with her husband and three sons (13,10, and 7).
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