I write this letter with the hope that you will print it and someone suffering out there will know that she is not alone in her pain. It is only now, months later, that I am strong enough to put my story into words. If only someone would have written about this in the past, I would not have felt so alone. For some reason, this is still a taboo subject in the frum community.
The most joyful occasion of my life turned out to be a nightmare. Following a difficult pregnancy and delivery, I gave birth to a beautiful healthy baby. But from day one something was not right. I had no desire to see or hold my baby, did not visit the nursery nor ask to have the baby brought to my room. I felt no attachment at all to this perfect miracle lying there. In fact, I began imagining that I still felt movement inside of me and that this baby was not mine. I even asked the nurses jokingly whether they were sure the baby was mine.
In truth, I was far from joking. Soon I was weeping uncontrollably, not knowing why I was so miserable. I just could not escape the dark cloud of misery that got hold of me. The only way out was sleep, which I did much of.
In my dreams, I was pregnant and happy. In my waking hours the crying became worse and more frequent. Why wasn’t I on top of the world or in love with my new baby? Why was I constantly bursting into tears? “It’s normal baby blues. It will pass ” the nurses reassured me. But for me and for one in four women it would not, and did not.
On the way home from the hospital, when my husband remarked how in awe he was over our new little miracle, I just lost it. I sobbed as my concerned husband looked on. “How can you not be happy?” he asked. All I could do was shake my head. There was no rational reason for me to be feeling this way.
I figured that once I was home with my other children everything would be okay. I was determined to smile, but that proved impossible. Tearfully I pleaded with my husband not to go to work, not to abandon me. With a worried expression, he gently explained that that was not an option.
And so I pulled the curtains shut and lay down on my bed in my dark room, unable to focus on anything. Food had no appeal to me; I couldn’t bring myself to get dressed or put makeup on; phone calls went straight to voicemail. I just sat alone with this strange baby by my side and cried and cried.
Unlike some women, I was able to care for my baby, but in a robotic way: feeding, diapering, with no emotion, no extra effort. For days I ignored calls, wouldn’t talk to most of my friends and didn’t answer the doorbell.
But I was beginning to fall in love with my baby, to realize that it was my child. I was beginning to express my love and affection for the baby. While this should have made me feel better, it had no effect on my mood.
Each day my husband came home from work hoping that I’d be back to my usual cheerful self. Each day was a letdown. “Just snap out of it!” he’d plead. I wanted to, more than anything, but couldn’t. One day my sister gently suggested that I may be suffering from Postpartum Depression and that she was taking me to see a psychiatrist.
I had always assumed a shrink was for crazy people and that PPD was something that crazy women who abuse their children make up as an excuse for their behavior. I was completely stable, never required therapy before, but didn’t argue because I knew I needed help. I wanted to be my old “life of the party” cheerful self again, to pull myself back from sinking deeper and deeper into this dark hole. I wanted to smile and play with my children, to be a loving wife and mother. I wanted more than anything to be happy.
During my first session, the tears kept flowing. I talked about how miserable I felt, how I didn’t feel I was in control of my mind or my body, how I felt like an outsider watching my life, how I struggled to get out of this misery, yet had zero power. I told her how nothing ever made me feel happy, how I had no appetite, no interest in friends, no feelings of joy since the birth of my baby, how I just wanted to stay in my dark bedroom and cry.
The therapist explained that many women suffer from Postpartum Depression, one of the most common complications following birth. She explained that in the 24 hours after birth there is a crazy fluctuation in a woman’s hormones, the resulting chemical imbalance causing mood alterations not unlike a small change in hormones affecting a woman’s monthly mood. If those feeling don’t go away after about two weeks, it is considered PPD and will probably not resolve on its own.
PPD is often treated with medication such as Zoloft. Sometimes therapy is sufficient. It definitely can and needs to be treated. Finally, I knew I wasn’t crazy. Finally, there was light at the end of the tunnel.
Now, months later, I am on the road to recovery. I am not completely better and there are times when an overwhelming feeling of sadness washes over me, but I am strong enough, more often than not, to resist it.
To all suffering new mothers out there: You are not alone in your pain and you are not crazy − you have a real medical problem that can be cured. You can get help and you can be yourself again.