I was reluctant to admit it to the world, but it’s a fact and I shouldn’t be ashamed of it: I’m struggling from postpartum depression — a full 14 months after my daughter’s birth. It’s morbid and ironic but the thing keeping me from offing myself is the fact that I’m someone’s mother.
It’s hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t experienced it, but depression really makes everything negative. You berate yourself for stupid little shit, then you berate yourself for berating yourself. My brain is numb from these dull winter days.
I haven’t had a proper diagnosis because we can’t afford healthcare, but having had clinical depression in my late teens, I know the feeling well. It moved in on me about two months ago—the feeling that I didn’t have any true friends, that I was nothing but a burden on my loved ones. It’s the cloud that darkens my favorite activities and stops me after my first brushstroke on a new canvas, stops me after a few keys played on my piano, leads me to desperate “vaguebooking,” or last-ditch effort pleas to the social media universe to rescue me. It’s the cloud that confines me to a couch while my baby toddles and babbles for my attention and the feeling that brings me to tears while I’m nursing her, wishing I had the energy to be the mother she needs.
Like I said, no healthcare, so I’m not medicated. But every Thursday night I get a bit of a release when my husband and I play amateur volleyball. The physical and social aspects of the game have restorative powers. That is, they did, before scheduling got complicated.
We used to bring baby to the games, but lately the half hour drive each way has infallibly sent baby into a fit of enraged crying. And that’s not including her frequent crying during the game. Now that her separation anxiety is in full gear, if someone other than mama is holding her on the sidelines, she screams bloody murder. It’s a distraction in an otherwise silent gym, to say the least. As her mother, my heart pounds every time I hear so much as a whimper from that baby, which means when she’s crying it’s pretty impossible to focus on acing that serve or reacting quickly enough to save that ball from going out of bounds.
And the games are late. Sometimes as late as 10 p.m. Baby won’t go to bed without nursing, so keeping her home with a sitter isn’t an option. But keeping her awake wreaks havoc on her sleep schedule. There’s no right way to do this. Call me selfish, but I just cannot give up the one thing in my week that I’m still excited for.
So last night, we were very wary of the whole event. My parents were watching baby on the sidelines and things seemed to be going well. But toward the end of our last game, when the score was close and things mattered, I messed up. Even with a happy baby on the sidelines. I tried to snap out of my funk as the game went on, but we sort of fell apart and the other team scored point after point on us.
After we thanked my parents for watching baby and retreated to the parking lot for a post-game cigarette, my daughter seemed snug and content in her carseat. I, on the other hand, was reeling as I stood outside—at myself, for screwing up, and at my team, for not cooperating with each other and for the feeling that they all suddenly hated me. The PPD cloud in my brain had swollen to the size of a blimp and I honestly wondered how I was ever going to survive the night, let alone the next few days, weeks, months.
Not to mention how much it sucks to feel like the few adults I get to see each week don’t really like me anymore.
So when I heard baby’s muffled cries from inside the car, my husband and I said our farewells to the team and pitched our cigarettes. I reluctantly sat in the backseat next to her, something we thought we’d try tonight because we were out of ideas. I’d tried it before, I’d even tried nursing her by hanging over her seat in a moving car one night a few weeks ago out of intense frustration. I was 99 percent certain my presence at baby’s side was only going to piss her off.
As expected, she was wailing as I buckled in and my husband took off. I tried stroking her hand, she pulled it away. I tried rubbing her tummy, she slapped me. I cooed, “it’s okay,” only half-believing it, wondering if I was even going to sit through the ride home without screaming or bursting into tears.
Then, in the middle of this depressive Tour de France running its race in my head, I rested my head on the side of her car seat looking up out the window from her perspective. “Look, it’s a church, honey. And there’s a gas station. See all the lights?”
She continued crying, my neck was aching, but something in me just said keep talking.
“You can see the lights so much better at night because it’s dark outside. The green traffic light means go, the red one means stop. That’s how you know what to do with the car.”
She rubbed her eyes and her cry slowed to a whimper. “That’s where there used to be a store called Smillie’s. Everybody called it smiley’s, but I think that’s goofy because it looks like it should be Smilly. Mommy never went there before.”
Her eyes were wide open, but she wasn’t crying anymore. We were originally going to stop to fill up the car and allow me to nurse her, but my husband whispered, “want me to keep going?”
I said sure. After a few more minutes of talking to her, her eyes were still wide open, but she put her hand in mine. She has never once held my hand in the car, never until now. Her tears dried, and now I followed her eyes as they leapt from building to bus to light to building. For the next 15 minutes I explained everything on the other side of that window.
Her eyes were heavy as we pulled into our apartment complex. But, perhaps even more incredible was that I was calm. My own low, quiet voice had calmed me down. I felt like I had shed every horrible, destructive suicidal thought back at that gym. I felt like the very thing that had triggered this depression, the very reason I can barely get out of bed in the morning, the very thing that makes my afternoons a gray purgatory, was now the only thing that could possibly help me. I’ve always known how much she needs me. But that night I saw how I needed her, too, and how through mothering her, I can mother myself. My baby was okay. I was okay.
I took off her coat and shoes and took her to the bedroom. She fell asleep at my side within minutes.