These Feelings Don’t Make Me a Bad Mother: Bringing Postpartum Depression to Light

IMG_0211 I’ve been trying to write about my struggle with postpartum depression for many weeks. I begin to write. Stop. Begin again. The truth is, I’m afraid to write these words. I’m afraid to have even felt these feelings. Never before has my façade of “having it together” crumbled so obviously all around me. I’m afraid of being judged, of being perceived as weak. Though I don’t believe it’s true, an underlying fear remains that, somehow, the feelings I’ve had make me a “bad mother.”

But that’s why so many of us struggle alone, isn’t it? In a culture where the darker side of motherhood is denied, it’s terrifying to feel anything but adoration and utter joy toward the little person you love more dearly than any other in the world. Despite the admirable efforts of many organizations to support new mothers, the dominant message from our culture is still loud and clear—“good mothers” are self-sacrificial, always putting the needs of their children before their own, and without ever feeling frustration, resentment, or anger while doing so.

In reality, these feelings are part of every mother’s experience. But we’re told that they’re unacceptable. It’s no wonder that so many of us struggle alone.

A mother in my community recently harmed her three young children, a toddler and six-month old twins. The details are horrific, and I won’t repeat them here. But, like so many mothers, she had been struggling with mental illness. This story is not new. And that’s precisely the problem.

These women are often demonized in our culture. Truthfully, it’s hard not to condemn someone who harms innocent children, especially her own. But haven’t many of us experienced similar emotions, albeit, for most of us, to a much lesser degree? Sleep deprivation can literally change who you are, making you unrecognizable even to yourself. Emotions from your own childhood, emotions you didn’t even know existed, can be triggered when you become a mother yourself. New motherhood’s joy can be overcome by feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, shame, and guilt.

In no way do I intend to minimize the horrific acts committed against infants and children. But I do wonder whether we demonize women who commit these acts as a way to distance ourselves, to create space between “us” and “them.” Perhaps we seek to reassure ourselves that, despite our own difficult emotions, we could never be capable of such horrific acts. And for most of us, thankfully, that’s true. But the feelings of overwhelm and desperation behind these acts are much more common than we often admit.

When my son was just becoming a toddler, there was a stretch of time when he wasn’t sleeping well. He woke every hour to nurse. I literally got no more than 45 minutes of sleep at a time for a week. I had been struggling with undiagnosed postpartum depression for many months, but I was trying to be strong, trying to keep it together as I’d always been able to do during the rough patches in my life. There were good days interspersed with the bad. I thought I was doing okay.

On one of these endless nights, my son awoke, crying out. It was 11:00 p.m. I had been in bed for only two hours, and already he had awoken four times. After many days of severe sleep deprivation, I just lost it. I felt rage toward the little person I love most in the world. I left him crying in our bed because I was afraid of what would happen otherwise.

My husband, who had been sleeping on the couch, woke to me sobbing hysterically, incoherent. My memory of that night is fuzzy, but I remember telling him, “We won’t both make it. We can’t both survive this. One of us has to go.” In my severely sleep-deprived, emotionally overwhelmed state, I truly believed that my son and I could not both make it through what was happening. I was horrified at my words; I didn’t even feel that they were mine. I had no plans to harm either of us, but even so, some distorted part of me believed that I would have to go so that he could stay.

It became clear that I was not okay.

I consider deleting these words as soon as they appear on the page. I feel compelled to follow this story with exhortations of love for my son, to tell you that, really, I promise, I am a good mother. So strong is our culture’s message that we, as mothers, should be able to endure the exhaustion and emotional overwhelm while feeling nothing but absolute love. That, if we feel anything but, we’re not “good mothers.”

I fear judgment, both yours and my own. But I fear even more being part of the silence that perpetuates our culture’s unrealistic imaginings of motherhood, that leads so many of us to wrestle silently with shame and guilt. If we don’t speak out, don’t tell our own stories, we remain alone in our struggles. This is healthy for neither us nor our children. And so I resist the urge to delete these words.

Know that, whatever you’re feeling, you are not alone. Your emotions do not make you a bad mother. And admitting that you need help is a much stronger act than continuing to struggle alone. When I was in my darkest days, another mother shared with me words that I will never forget. She said, “This is something you’re going through right now. It’s not who you are. You will be yourself again.”

She was right.


23 thoughts on “These Feelings Don’t Make Me a Bad Mother: Bringing Postpartum Depression to Light”

  1. I think the last words are really profound, I never had depression diagnosed but as a mum of three I have had those days (more often nights) when I have locked myself in the bathroom to have a weep and to stop myself shouting “why wont you ever sleep” or “just leave me alone for two minutes” – the fact that my grandma and mum both said this is just for now – it will pass and everyone feels this was soo empowering xxx love and big supportive mums who are human – open up and tell others how you are feeling — we are all fighting our own demons xx

  2. Made me cry. Because I’m right there. Going on 3 weeks of fragmented sleep and a baby who wants to eat or at least be latched all.night.long. I’m a light sleeper and can’t sleep thru it. It’s getting worse. He woke up screaming every 20-30 minutes last night. I finally checked the time, thinking it was at least almost time to get up.

    It was 12:30 a.m.

    I gave up, went in the living room, and sobbed. Came back in the room to comfort him whenever he fussed so dh could stay asleep, but never could go back to sleep. So incredibly tired but can’t sleep. I feel like I’m going crazy. My mom has been here for 5 hours to watch him so I can sleep.

    I’ve slept one hour.

    I had ppd last time and I was really hoping to avoid it this time.

    There I go crying again.

    I know your title says it doesn’t make me a bad mom, but I still don’t really believe it.

    1. I had to respond to you! I went through what you are going through. It was pure hell. I honestly thought I might die. I hated my life, hated being a mom I gave up nursing because of it, and while I’m not saying you should do the same, please don’t drive yourself insane and make motherhood unbearable just because you feel you must continue exclusively breast-feeding. For me giving in and allowing myself to use formula made everything so much easier and lessened the pressure. My son is extremely smart and verbal and has always been very healthy also. It allowed me to sleep. My doctor put me on sleeping pills and my husband and I would take turns feeding our son. And please realize no matter what you decide to do it will absolutely positively get so much better. My son just turned three and he is my absolute best friend. Literally the love of my life. And when I was where you are I was literally wishing I had not had him : (

  3. I can relate. My first child was a saint. After two weeks she would sleep through the night. She was easy to calm. Then my 2nd one came into our lives. From the day she was born I could tell she wasn’t going to be like the first. At the hospital she wouldn’t sleep unless she was laying with me. At home she woke me constantly, refusing to go back to sleep the moment I would start to step away. I would literally have to stand there till she was completely out and pray she wouldn’t notice or I would have to start all over again. I felt like it would never end. My husband was virtually useless for most of this. Then the night terrors started for my oldest and at the time I didn’t know what it was and being so tired all the time I would just lose it. She would be screaming, waking her little sister, I’m yelling, no one is sleeping. I cry every time I think about that time in our lives. I should have been comforting my children, instead I’m screaming for them to stop, which of course just makes them cry more. Worried that I’ve scarred my children for life. My youngest eventually grew out of her crib making the nights even harder. She eventually started sneaking off to her sisters room and sleeping with her. Eventually she stopped getting up in the night. She really just didn’t want to be alone. They are 8 and 5 now and they still sleep together. Up until Christmas it was the same bed, now its just the same room. I’m still cranky and stressed. I feel like I need to catch up on 5 years worth of sleep, but its getting better.

  4. It is so hard to put it into words. Thank you for yours. When I was in the depths of depression, what started as post-partum. . . I used to joke in my head that I would write a blog about depression — people need to know what goes on here, more people are suffering than just me — but my conclusion was always — it’s to damned depressing (ha, ha , ha – I was never laughing) truthfully, I could never motivate myself enough to write anything, it was enough to get through the day. Keep on going, there is another side to this all, and trust me, joy is a lot sweeter on the other side. You will always remember the depths of where you have been and a real smile and real laughter will make you fly!!

  5. These are exactly the kinds of stories that need to be shared in order to normalize this super common experience. I never had postpartum depression or anxiety, and have even managed to get adequate sleep for the most part, but that does not mean that i have not had moments of frustration in which i was afraid of myself. i have also felt like a bad mother letting my baby cry because i was on the edge of i-don’t-know-what. i am about to have 2 under two and have been nervous about just how hard that will be, but your article didn’t make me more scared, it made me feel like my fear is normal and that my frustration is as well. thank you for having the bravery to write this – i think it is because you are a good mother that you did.

  6. Thank you for sharing this honest reflection of the emotions of being a mother. I recently admitted to myself and my husband that I need help,need to see a counselor, maybe take medication to help pull myself out of the dark spiral of postpartum depression. I tell myself daily that feeling angry, feeling helpless, feeling alone doesn’t make me a bad person or a bad mom, but asking for help is going to save me and bring happiness back into my life.

  7. Thank you. Although I’ve not know post-partum depression, as a DAD of three. I have battled depression. I can say that when I was feeling at my lowest, just hearing from someone else who had been where I was, was an enormous help to me.

  8. Know you are not alone.
    Sleep deprivation from any cause makes you resent the source of the sleep loss.
    Luckily children pass through the faze.

  9. you are not alone. it will pass, damage heals, life goes on. but you are understood and not judged. so many of us have stood in your shoes. x

  10. I’m currently in the bathtub crying. I’m so happy and somehow scared to have found this–over the last two weeks, I’ve known that Ive been depressed, and while I’ve never wanted to hurt myself or intentionally hurt my kids, yesterday was the first time I had come close to shaking my one month old and today, I had honestly considered running away. It doesn’t feel good to admit that to anyone… Today, after completely shutting down, I finally sat down with both crying kids, made a plan with a daycare for my toddler and called three therapists in the area to discuss post partum depression counseling. I’ve had post partum depression since my first was born 18 months ago and it feels good (or as good as something like that can feel) to admit it openly.

  11. My kids are 11,12 & 13, oh how I remember the infant days….and now though they are so much older, I have periods where I feel lost, sad, depressed However, now its a result of my husband constantly undermining my patenting. My boys (though a trying age) continue to talk back, talk crazy and when I lay down a punishment, Dad gives in immediately. I feel exhausted mentally similar to when they were infants but I know its not the same. Lack of sleep was physically and mentally breaking me down.
    Keep your heads up ladies….we have a long road ahead…with much much!

  12. You are so brave. Your words were amazing. I have been there. I have thought I would end up needing to go, that I couldn’t survive this mom thing when I was drowning in sleep deprivation and depression. Your words will help so many.
    Come check out my site if you want to feel less alone. I wrote about my experience too and it sounds similar.

  13. I get this. I remember feeling so tired and the resentment being so big that I couldn’t see around it to my child. The same thing happened with both. Then later, I’d look at them and feel so confused. How could I have had those feelings? They’re perfect, sweet and in need of my love and all I could feel was frustration. It is heartbreaking and guilt inducing. You are NEVER alone. We are all awake together in the night.

  14. Bravo!!! 7 years ago I was in the thick of ppd and anxiety. My husband was not supportive. I felt so alone and scared as I tried to be a good mom to my newborn and my 4 year old. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep even when I wanted. I imagined dropping her off at the fire station because I thought she’d be better off without me. No internet access at that time. My lifeline may be surprising – Brooke shields’s book about her experience with ppd.

  15. THANK YOU for having the courage to write this. I remember feeling like I “wasn’t going to make it” a lot when I had an infant and a special needs toddler. I had to take it one day at a time, I often locked myself in the bathroom and cried, screamed, punched the door because I was so exhausted, so poor, nothing I did was ever good enough for my professors or my boss, I could barely survive my children much less my job and my graduate program. Everyday was a struggle to keep my head above water. Sometimes I prayed that God would just take me out because I couldn’t keep going like this. Thankfully, I survived. I finished my grad school program. My son who has special needs finally got the early intervention program he needed and his behavior improved. I finally got a decent job where I was paid well and my boss treated me like a human being, not another cog in the wheel. I started weekly counseling with an amazing counselor who didn’t push medication on me and understood that my anxiety and depression were situational due to my stress level. I started getting acupuncture and taking better care of myself (thank you gym daycare, 2 hours per day of guaranteed relief from the constant demands taking care of littles while I deep-breathed in yoga class). I finally found my balance. Some seasons of life try our patience and our sanity. We have to remember that these seasons will pass, it won’t be like this forever. Hold on.

  16. I’m sitting here crying reading your blog entry on this topic. I have two girls, 18 m and 3 yrs. I feel so alone, and just like you did. My husband doesnt get it, and our marriage is struggling regardless. He’s gone for 3 weeks at a time and I honestly feel like I just want to run so far away. I never would of course, but I can’t wait for this to be over. I’m miserable even on anti depressants.

    1. Hi Klara,

      I’m so sorry that you’re hurting and not feeling the support that you need. Please know that you are not alone and that you can make it through this. There were many times that I didn’t believe that for myself, but these days I’m doing much, much better. And I have faith that you can pull through this too. One of the most important things for me was to start therapy – it really changed my life. I’m not sure if this is the answer for you, but I would encourage you to explore it if you haven’t already. The most important thing to remember is that YOU ARE WORTH IT. Whatever it takes for you to get through this, YOU ARE WORTH IT. Sending you so much love. Please write to me if you need someone to listen.

      Selena

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