Where’s Mamma? One Woman’s Struggle with Postpartum Depression
by Robin Hinton
Listen to Editor in Chief Gabriel Nathan read this post aloud:
It was a fairy tale beginning. I had the perfect house, the perfect husband, the perfect life. I can still see my husband beaming with pride, as I waived the infamous stick around as if I were waving a white flag calling a truce. In my hand, I held the almighty stick that contained the undeniable faint pink line indicating “positive.” I had the guts to do this at my husband’s surprise birthday party, knowing that our friends would be honored to join us in our jubilant backyard celebration. Everyone knew that we were “trying” again and they were just as excited as we were when they heard the news.
My entire pregnancy went off without a hitch. At nine months pregnant I had only gained sixteen pounds. I was in great shape and felt so proud of myself. I joined the popular “mom group” at the gym, was part of a scrapbooking club, and was hailed as having the best house on the block for hosting toddler playdates. My husband and I were so looking forward to this next chapter in our lives, as was our four- year-old son, who was known for wildly untucking his polo to show off his ketchup-stained “big brother” t-shirt. He was so proud. He would show his little brother how to catch a football, how to take the shortcut to Nana’s house, and how to go down the super slide at Bay Park. Life was good! I was reading my parenting magazines, cooking healthy meals, and even managed to knock out an entire nursery in less than a week.
The baby is born!
Balloons and banners lined the driveway as we returned home from the hospital, now a family of four. The neighbors were peeking out their windows, trying to catch a glimpse of me and our perfect little baby. It looked like a scene from a reality series with me, the “still in perfect shape” Mom, our perfect little bundle of joy, and my handsome doting husband sporting my Michael Kors diaper bag on his shoulder.
So, here we were, arriving home in the sweltering heat of August with our baby. Even though I wasn’t feeling that well, I wanted to see anybody and everybody. Our beautiful baby had just made his way into the world, and I couldn’t wait to show him off.
I was feeling a bit “off,” however, and the pain was pretty intense. I had to have an emergency c-section this time and it caught me off guard. Walking, bending over, and coughing were now painful. To this day, I can still hear the nurse saying, “put a pillow on your stomach when you sneeze, Mrs. Hinton!” I noticed that I was feeling irritated and annoyed. I quickly dismissed it however, and just chalked it up to being fresh out of the hospital and still needing to heal from the surgery.
We had friends and family around the clock, stopping over to see our newest family member. They brought gifts, flowers, baby items, and everything else you can imagine. Our older son loved the attention because most everyone who brought a gift for the baby, also brought one for him.
“We should have more babies!” he would say. My husband and I would laugh every time.
Things Were Changing
As we got further into August, the weather had become stifling hot and our baby was proving to be not such a bundle of joy anymore. He developed a stomach allergy from the formula I was feeding him, and he was constantly sick and crying. It took several different brands of formula before finally finding one that he could tolerate.
He still remained fussy, however, and was usually crying whenever he was awake. The days were long and hot, and between the baby crying and my older son wanting my undivided attention, I was starting to feel physically and emotionally exhausted. I would become overwhelmed throughout the day and at times I would just break down and cry. I attempted to convince the neighbor girl to play with my son, but that usually didn’t last long, as he just wanted to be with me and the baby. It was hard being there by myself and I rarely had time to even shower. I started to worry about everything and I was having trouble sleeping. I was sore and felt completely worn out.
And then something happened. Something changed. It was me. I felt different but I wasn’t sure what was going on. People were no longer welcome to just “pop” over. Not because they did anything wrong, but because I was suddenly nervous and paranoid. I found myself checking on the baby a million times a day. Is he okay? Maybe I should wake him up to feed him. Maybe I should take all the blankets away in case he suffocates. I started to obsess over him and was constantly wondering if he was sick or injured. “Was he healthy? Did all babies cry this much?” I couldn’t silence the constant narrative in my head. I took the baby to five different doctors within the span of a couple of weeks. What is happening to me?
“There’s nothing wrong with the baby,” my husband would bark. “You need to relax, he’s fine.”
I was becoming completely consumed with anxiety, the “I want to crawl out of my skin” type anxiety. I never answered the phone, never returned messages, and never invited anyone over. I refused to leave the house. I also canceled all of my son’s activities, which was an undeniable confirmation that yes, I truly was a monster.
“But I love karate!” he would cry. To this day, I can still hear him saying that. What kind of mother does that?
I was afraid to drive and afraid to leave the house. I would count the hours down for my husband’s return and usually with no time to settle in, hand the kids over to him as soon as he came through the door. I just wanted him home with me. He was working out of town a lot, and I felt trapped and isolated.
News traveled fast in our perfect little neighborhood. It didn’t take long for the neighbors to learn to not send their kids over to our house anymore. “It wasn’t safe,” said one mom in the hair salon one day. Neighbors were hearing that their children were not being properly supervised in my home. I was too preoccupied with my new baby. One of my son’s friends did get injured one day while I was trying to get the baby down for a nap. She broke a glass vase in the kitchen and cut her hand. I can remember her crying and seeing a lot of blood. I didn’t think it was that deep of a cut, so I washed it out and sent her home with her hand wrapped in toilet paper and duct tape. I was out of band aids. Her mom left several messages on my machine that day demanding to know, “What happened” and, “Are you kidding me?!” I, of course, never replied. I also started hearing rumors that I was now the “mean” mommy in the neighborhood and that it wasn’t any fun to play at our house anymore. My house no longer had the “good popsicles,” “the best homemade cookies,” or even the “famous smores,” as all the bonfires were canceled that summer. I instructed each child who came to play, that no one was allowed to pet our cats, come in to use our potty, or go into the playroom because that’s where “the baby” slept.
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My husband finally hit a breaking point, and one day he had enough. “You need help”, he said. “I’m really worried about you. You need to see a doctor.” I listened to what he had to say, but I was totally against going to a doctor. I’ve always heard horror stories about taking “antidepressants” and I was in no way going to sit and tell a stranger about how motherhood wasn’t working out for me anymore. It was embarrassing, humiliating, and scary. In my mind, I honestly thought that the only problem I had was not being able to sleep. If I could just get some sleep all the other symptoms would go away. But they didn’t. In fact, things got worse.
I was anxious as ever, and the “not sleeping thing” was really taking a toll on me. Anytime I tried to lay down and shut my eyes, I would start hearing music playing and people laughing. I would catapult out of bed only to find that the music and laughter stopped. This horrified me, as I realized that my symptoms had now escalated into having auditory hallucinations. I had read that this can happen to someone who is extremely stressed, anxious, or suffering from depression.
On top of everything else, I lost just about all of my friends that summer. I was too ashamed to let them know what was going on; how I couldn’t sleep, how my baby was crying all the time, or how I was so paranoid that I couldn’t leave the house. I was a “shell” of who I used to be. A nothing. A horrible mom who sat in front of the TV while she did her best to “play” with the boys.
As one could imagine, my life was completely out of control. My husband was now traveling quite a bit for his job, so he wasn’t around much to see what was happening. I could usually disguise my voice as sounding happy and “together” for the few minutes that I had to be on the phone with him each night. But things were getting worse. Way worse.
Things Turn Dangerous
It was November 14th, three months after giving birth.My husband woke up to the sound of his alarm. He was surprised when he didn’t see the baby in his crib. In a panic, he ran down the steps only to see that the house was completely dark. Finally, the motion detector lights kicked on outside and he spotted us. We were sitting in the cold, dark driveway. The baby was asleep in his car seat. I was sitting next to him on the bare cement obsessively drawing pictures with chalk, snot dripping from my nose.
With a single tear rolling down my husband’s cheek, he looked at me, but had no idea who I was. This was the beginning of the end.
Leaning over my body was a face that I didn’t recognize, but it felt like a face that I could immediately trust. She was the most lovely, kind, and selfless doctor I have ever come into contact with. She was called in by the “on-call” psychiatrist at the emergency room the night before. She was there to help me. Finally. I was diagnosed with Postpartum Depression. There, someone said it. Postpartum Depression.
Postpartum Depression (PPD) was, and still is to some extent, one of those things that people, especially new moms, never really talk about. It’s a frightening word and no one wants to believe that their wife, their sister, or their best friend might have it. It often causes women to feel ashamed.
“How can a new mom be depressed? Look at how cute that baby is! Babies are a blessing for God’s sake.” A new mom who is struggling feels humiliated by these types of comments.
Looking back, I should have gotten help as soon as I noticed that I wasn’t feeling right. I was in the mindset of being afraid to seek help because of the stigma that surrounds PPD. I didn’t want to embarrass my husband, friends or family. PPD is a real illness with real symptoms, and I am so grateful for my husband taking me to the hospital that night.
I am now stable and living a full and wonderful life. It took time, however. We had to find the right medication, the right doctor, and the right therapist.
Am I cured? No. Am I managing my depression? Yes. Depression just doesn’t go away. It takes hard work and an understanding of the illness. I exercise, eat right, and take care of myself. Depression is a lifelong illness that needs to be managed, not “cured”. And I’m ok with that. If taking a little white pill will make me a better mom, wife, sister, or friend, then why not? If I had a broken leg, I would cast it, right?
It has taken me twenty years to sit down and tell my story. My baby is now twenty-one-years-old and studying to be a doctor. My older son is now twenty-six and a successful entrepreneur. They are my most treasured blessings and I wouldn’t change the course of my life for anything. If my story can help one mom out there who may be struggling, then telling my story has made it all worth it.