0139: The Postpartum Blues
Content warning: The following story contains references to a person's experience with postpartum depression, which may be triggering for some readers.
"The Postpartum Blues," Alyssa Voyles
I know it’s late. 4am is rough…especially when you are bouncing a grumpy baby in your arms, pacing the bedroom and begging the little one to go to sleep. The front of your shirt is wet with leaked breast milk, you have ice packs tucked into your bra, your hair is falling out of the bun you twisted up yesterday, you’re wincing in pain with each bounce because you are still recovering from the delivery, and a few weeks after that delivery – you are still bleeding out of your wherever.
I see you.
I see you trying to keep your sobbing quieter than the baby so you don’t wake up your husband.
I see you frantically reading any and all parenting book you can find on ebook through your library app while the baby nurses, hoping to find some nugget of wisdom – some catchy phrase you can rely on to get through the long nights.
I see you fighting back tears when your husband brings the baby into the bathroom while you are taking a bath, because the baby is hungry and upset and needs to nurse RIGHT NOW. Because the baby doesn’t care if you have finally settled into the tub. Because the baby doesn’t care that all you want is to close your eyes and shut out the world. Because the baby needs you.
I see you struggling. Struggling to convince yourself you are enough for the baby, that you are doing things the right way, that the decision to bring a baby into the world was a good decision.
You have friends on Facebook telling you both “congratulations” and “the first 12 weeks were the worst time I’ve ever experienced” in the same post. The Facebook group of women you met on the “What to Expect” app is full of women gushing over their newborns, and how they are feeling deep, immediate bonds with their babies, and you feel an immense wave of guilt.
Guilt over being frustrated, or tired. Guilt over your decision to go back to work part-time at 8 weeks. Guilt over feeling a sense of relief after dropping the baby off at daycare. Guilt over just wanting a break.
When you thought about what it would be like to be a mother, you never expected to feel this much pressure. Everyone has an opinion on parenting, but no one knows your exact situation. You are the only one awake right now, at 4 am, pacing with the baby.
Through all of the guilt and pain, one prevailing thought comes through: “does this get better?”
And it doesn’t.
Right now you are struggling with going back to work and putting him in daycare. Later you will struggle with guilt that your time with him at home isn’t as engaging as his time in daycare.
Right now you are struggling with breastfeeding, and feeling like you are tethered to your baby by your leaking sore nipples, and like your body isn’t yours anymore. 16 months later, the little guy is more independent and self-weaning, and you are struggling with the looming prospect of giving up this sacred time between the two of you. (and spoiler alert. I googled it tonight – apparently “post weaning depression” is a thing….and you can’t catch a break!)
Right now you are scared that you will always feel frustrated, and that these feelings will dominate any happy ones. Later, you will look back on photos from this time and see how happy and content the baby is, and how comfortable you look with him. You remember the frustration, but you also remember marveling at how his tiny bum fits in the palm of your hand, and how brave you felt when you mastered nursing in public, and the sense of accomplishment you feel after your first successful trip to Target with the baby.
Right now you are wondering if you will ever feel the “overwhelming love” that other moms feel for their babies. Later you will still wonder why you don’t feel a strong wave of emotion when you look at him…but then you catch yourself sneaking into his room at night just to look at him, or looking at photos on your during a quiet moment at work, or being so excited when the baby learns how to give hugs and kisses, even if those kisses come with a large glob of baby snot.
Right now you feel overwhelmed with guilt and sadness, and lost. Later you will learn to manage these emotions when they come up. You will learn that it’s okay to put the baby in front of Sesame Street so you can have a few moments to breathe, or to let him sleep in the car seat for a little bit while you sit in the parking lot of your apartment complex for a few minutes while you scroll through Facebook.
Right now you feel like you are trapped in the house with the baby, and all of his gear, and your healing body. Later you will take the baby on grand adventures all over the place. At 4 months, the baby will go to his first late-night event at your school. At 11 months, the baby will go to a NASPA conference. At 16 months, you will spend your second mother’s day at work, with a pack and play by your side while you work at Summer Orientation. And…thanks to pokemon go, you and that baby will spend weekends going all over the Seattle, trying to catch them all.
Right now you are rocking that grumpy baby, wondering what is wrong with you. Later you will be diagnosed with Severe Postpartum Depression. You will see a therapist. You will try some meds. You will slowly open up – first to your mom, then to your best friends, and then a few more people. You will read everything you can on the subject, and will try to seek out solidarity with others. PPD will be a part of you, and will be connected to most all of your early memories. But it won’t be your only memory. You will think of crying over frustration when the baby won’t sleep, but you’ll also remember how peaceful it was to nurse the baby – just the two of you in your own little world.
It gets better. It gets harder. It changes.
Through it all, your baby will still be there. Right now he needs you to make him feel safe, help him sleep, and keep him fed. Later, he will need you to cuddle him when he falls down as he learns to climb the couch. He’ll tell you to keep tickling him by waving his little chubby hand in the air, and he’ll give you a hug and a big sloppy kiss.
One day at a time, mama. Just take it one day at a time.
And take all the photos.
About the art:
I've known Alyssa for a while now - we both went to Oregon State together and did student leadership together, and she has always been a wonderful person to be around. After college, I saw that she had gotten married and eventually had a child! I saw nothing but smiles and happiness from Alyssa. So, I did what most people living on the periphery of the lives of others, I assumed everything was okay.
Clearly everything wasn't okay. Alyssa shares a story - wonderfully written in second-person, which is no easy feat - with us on a topic that we've never covered before! After 138 other stories, we've never had someone share about postpartum depression. It's such a valuable and necessary story and I'm so thankful that Alyssa was willing to share this with us.
Alyssa said reading this Buzzfeed article inspired how she would eventually craft this story. And upon discussing what she might want for the art, she said that something for her child's room would be great. There were a few songs she pitched, but nothing felt more powerful than the bright message that ended up on the canvas.
Thank you again for sharing this piece with us, Alyssa! Continue taking all the pictures!