I imagine postpartum depression (like regular depression) takes different forms for different people. In what will come as a surprise to exactly no one who knows me well, mine comes in the form of anxiety. I am an anxious person by nature, so I should have seen it coming. The truth is, everyone around me is looking out for it; given my history with this stuff, we all kind of expect I’ll have my turn. But a week goes by, and then a month, and then another, and I start to think I’m in the clear. I love my baby, I love my husband, and everything is ok.
It’s ok that I hold him for every single one of his naps, right? Sure. Is it ok? Is it ok that he only sleeps 20 minutes if he’s not held? What happens if I let him cry? I can’t let him cry, I won’t. Is it ok that he still sleeps in our room? In his room he’s scared, right? Scared and abandoned and alone? If I don’t make him sleep alone now, will he ever sleep alone? It’s ok that he’s 4 months old and nurses to sleep, right? Is that ok? Let me just check the internet and make sure.
That’s my undoing. The sleep, the fear of “crying it out,” and the internet. Suddenly I’m spending hours every day reading about potential sleep “problems” that may or may not happen in the next year. I read every differing theory about baby sleep, and every single author tells me that if I don’t do it their way, my child will be a sociopath and it will be my fault. I try a dozen different techniques, but none for long enough to know if they work, because I don’t have time. I have to get on to the next one. I email everyone, crowd-source everything, and read their responses through tears I don’t yet realize are there all the time. What I yearn for above all things is for there to be one way to do this right, one voice to listen to that will be the right one.
I flinch when he cries. Sometimes I sob as soon as he does. I rock, I bounce, I shush, I sing, I nurse, I hide in the bathroom and let C deal with it, because I can’t. I go around and around and around in my head, and I don’t know what to do. And then I stop sleeping. He sleeps, and I don’t. Why bother? He’ll be up soon anyway. I lay awake on the couch, straining for the cries I know are coming, and I can’t rest.
And then I can’t do any of it. I know beyond any doubt that I CAN NOT do this. I don’t want to hurt him, I don’t want to hurt myself, and in this way I am lucky. But I just can’t. I’m sorry, little boy. I start to feel physically crushed by the weight of his tiny body when he’s asleep on me. I can’t breathe. I know that I will have to give him to my mother, because she will know how to take care of him. I don’t want to be alone; I beg C to come home early every day. I feel crazy, and I am afraid. But it’s so hard to see from the inside. Maybe it’s the hormones. I’m just tired. I go to a coffee house one day to write, which I haven’t done in years. I have to try to to see if I can unload some of this. It isn’t until later in the day, when I go back and read what I’ve written, that I finally say to C what I’ve suspected for a while.
I’m not ok.