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"I'd stare into my daughter's eyes and wonder, ‘Who are your parents? When are they coming back for you?'"
It started with a violent birth
My pregnancy went great right up until the moment I was given Pitocin to induce labor, after my baby showed signs of distress and my ob-gyn felt she needed to be delivered right away. My fantasy about laboring on a birthing ball in a dimly lit room listening to calming yoga music was replaced by reality. I wailed as the intense contractions came in rapid waves.
I had a list of all my labor preferences. I thought I was ready. But I was completely unprepared for the emotional and physical violence of pushing a baby out of me – and the aftereffects.
I pushed so hard for three hours that I broke blood vessels in my face, gave myself two black eyes, and left bruises on my mom's arm where I squeezed her.
When my daughter finally emerged, I told the nurse who asked me if I wanted to hold her, "Get that thing away from me!"
I had an episiotomy, lost a lot of blood along with the placenta, and shivered uncontrollably for hours. There were even more complications, but suffice it to say, giving birth took a huge physical toll on my body.
When nurses brought my baby in for her first feeding, I wanted absolutely nothing to do with her.
I felt the same way once we came home. I went through the motions. I'd change her diaper, breastfeed – which was always unbelievably painful – and put her to bed, all the while feeling like I was filling in for her real mother. I'd stare into my daughter's eyes and wonder, "Who are your parents? When are they coming back for you?"
I had no interest in anything. I couldn't make even simple decisions, like which cereal to buy. I didn't open the mail, fold the laundry, or take showers – unless I absolutely had to. Nothing seemed to matter.
I was also alone all day with my daughter. My closest friends were 300 miles away, and my family kept a respectful distance.
My husband worked a lot so I could be a stay-at-home mom. He was concerned because I was so unlike myself, but he was also frustrated by my apathy. When I told him that I wasn't bonding with our baby, he was shocked and bewildered. He couldn't imagine a mother not connecting with her child. We thought it had to be a phase that we could push through.
I never wanted to hurt my baby, but I knew I didn't love her. That scared me. Intellectually, I knew something was wrong, but I didn't know what, and so it seemed to make sense to let whatever "it" was run its course.
Then, out of the blue, when my baby was nearly 6 months old, my parents accused my husband of not stepping up to the plate. They saw that something was seriously wrong with me – they thought I was actually having a nervous breakdown. Without ever asking me, they assumed the changes in my mood and my behavior toward my daughter were because my husband wasn't helping enough.
What helped me when I was depressed
My parents' unfair blame made me so angry that it spurred me to take action. Within a week, I met with a therapist, who diagnosed me with postpartum depression [PPD]; saw a psychiatrist, who prescribed an antidepressant safe for nursing; hired a nanny; and went back to work part-time.
I also told a group of stay-at-home moms I'd recently hooked up with about everything I’d been going through but had been too ashamed to admit. Each one could relate to some aspect of my situation, and their empathy helped a lot.
It was hard during the weeks while I waited for the antidepressant to kick in, but finally, one morning, I woke up energized, feeling like the veil of depression had lifted. That very day, it was my turn to host my moms' group, and I was actually excited about it.
I even baked banana bread. I smiled and hugged all the moms as they came in. That got me a lot of funny looks and "Guess your meds kicked in" comments.
Most importantly, I finally started to love my daughter.
What I wish other moms knew
When you're depressed, it's really hard to advocate for yourself. Surround yourself with people who know you well – or at least ask them in advance to stay in touch. You need people to monitor and support you who can be brutally honest and say, "This isn't right. This isn't you. You need to get help now." Then let them take care of you.
In addition, join a new-moms' support group. I can't stress enough how important it is to be around other new moms who understand what you're going through in your life. Women who were practically strangers at the time left meals on my porch and dragged me out for long walks with our babies in strollers. My daughter is 9 now, and I'm still friends with these women.
Read more moms' stories about depression.
At least 1 in 10 new moms suffers from depression. But many women don't get help because they're ashamed of how they feel or brush off signs such as fatigue or irritability as normal.
If you have symptoms of depression, tell your doctor and ask for a referral to a mental health professional. Or contact Postpartum Support International at (800) 944-4773 for free, confidential advice and help finding a therapist or support group in your area.
If you're thinking about harming yourself or your baby and you need to talk to someone right away, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 for free, confidential support.