Postpartum depression is real. Take it from Adiba Nelson.
This bitch, depression, robbed me of the first two months of my daughter’s life. I spent every single day, all day, in my baby blue terry cloth robe. I shuffled from the back of the house to the front of the house every morning to get coffee and then shuffled back to my room.
If I ever see a blue terry cloth robe again, I will burn that shit to the ground.
Those are the words I speak to myself when I reflect on my battle with postpartum depression. Up until May 14, 2009, I thought depression was just a thing people made up to get out of doing stuff. I always had this “pull yourself together and get on with living” sort of attitude. I’m not proud of it, but it’s the truth.
Then my daughter came into the world, and that shit hit me like Mike Tyson in the 80s — hard. as. fuck. I remember when they pulled her out of my belly and showed her to me, I had to will myself to feel something. It was the weirdest thing. I looked at this tiny human and felt nothing. Absolutely nothing. No overwhelming joy at finally meeting this person I’d been so excited for in months prior, no lurking sadness about no longer being pregnant and relishing in those shared “inside mommy’s belly” moments. Just... nothing. My brain said, “You have a baby now,” and that was that.
I remember holding her when I finally woke up and thinking “Huh... so this is it. She’s mine, and I’m hers. Forever. Weird.” But still, no loving tenderness. No warm fuzzies. No spending hours examining every inch of her little body in amazement, counting her fingers and toes ten thousand times. No high-pitched cooing, no oohing and aahing. None of it. Just “so this is it” moments, over and over and over again.
And it wasn’t just relegated to the hospital. This feeling followed me all the way home like a damn lost puppy...only it wasn’t lost. It knew that it belonged to me and me alone. It crawled into my lap and settled right in.
It was depression. A 5,000-pound Rottweiler named postpartum depression.
What a bitch.
This bitch, depression robbed me of the first two months of my daughter’s life. I spent every single day, all day, in my baby blue terry cloth robe. I shuffled from the back of the house to the front of the house every morning to get coffee and then shuffled back to my room. I tried desperately to breastfeed my child, but she wasn’t having it. My nipples didn’t work, my breasts didn’t work, and my kid was basically giving me the old “F off, lady” every time I tried to smoosh her face into my drought-stricken chest. I couldn’t bring myself to bathe her because I was fully convinced I would drown her. I couldn’t bring myself to carry her into the kitchen with me to make a bottle. I was convinced I would drop her, and she would break into a million tiny pieces, and my tile floor would be covered with blood. I couldn’t nap with her because I just knew the moment I fell asleep I would roll over onto her and suffocate this poor child who just wanted to be loved. I wanted nothing to do with killing a kid.
I found a million reasons why I couldn’t be a mom, her mom, because I was convinced I was going to do irreparable damage. I cried EVERY. SINGLE. FUCKING. DAY. For all reasons and for zero reasons. The wind blew a flower off the tree — I cried. The toilet paper roll was empty — I cried. I couldn’t fit the milk carton into the refrigerator — I cried. I just sat and looked out the window, in my blue robe, drinking my coffee...and I cried. Here’s the worst part:
I couldn’t tell a single soul I was struggling. I couldn’t let anyone know that I was terrified of being left alone with my baby, and that one time I actually found myself on the verge of shaking her — like, to the point that I was holding her in the air in front of me as she screamed in my face, and I had to tell myself OUT LOUD to put her down. I couldn’t tell anyone that I had put this screaming child into her bouncy seat on one side of the kitchen and sprinted to the other side of the kitchen and screamed back at her, “WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU WANT FROM ME?” And then collapsed to the floor in a sobbing, heaving mess. I couldn’t tell a single soul any of these things because everyone, literally EVERYONE had told me from as young as I could remember how great of a mom I was going to be. I even taught parenting classes at one point in my career, so, historically speaking, this should have been my ace in the hole.
Except I couldn’t pull it together. I was actually doing just the opposite — unraveling at every seam possible. I wasn’t cooking, I wasn’t eating, I didn’t bother getting dressed, and if I couldn’t do it from bed, I wasn’t interested in doing it at all. I was a hot mess, but I knew enough to know what was happening. And I knew that typically, postpartum depression lasts for 6-8 weeks, and that if I could just make it to Week 8, I would be golden. My child would be golden. We would be OK.
So, I circled the day that would mark “Week 8” on my calendar, and made it my mantra: "Just get to this date, get to this date, get there.” I stared at that calendar from the shelter of my bed every day. As the day got closer, I could feel the 5,000-pound Rottweiler named postpartum depression slowly start to ease off my lap, one paw at a time. When the day came, just her head was in my lap, staring me dead in the face, asking me, “What are we going to do today, Adiba? What? Are we going? To do?” I looked at this bitch named depression, looked at the calendar, looked back at depression, and said:
“This is where I leave you.”
And it was almost as if the universe was saying, “Damn right, this is where we leave you.” At that very moment, I looked at my daughter, and she gave me her very first smile. She looked me right in the eye, just like depression had moments earlier, and gave me a huge toothless grin, almost as if she was saying “Thanks, mom. It’s nice to finally meet you.”
I can’t describe what that moment felt like, because there isn’t one word, and there aren’t enough words to adequately describe the flood of emotion I felt, knowing I’d made it to the other side. And there will never be one word, or enough words to adequately describe what it felt like to be in it. There are millions of women every day who suffer in silence, and who never make it to the other side. I am one of the lucky ones, I know. My daughter is now about to lose her first two teeth, and I am reminded of the day her toothless grin saved me. We made it to the other side, and there’s no going back.
If you are a woman struggling with postpartum depression, please seek professional help. It took me six years to realize that I had nothing to be ashamed of, that the struggle is REAL, and that it’s okay to talk about it. Approximately 600,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with PPD every year, so you are not alone. If you feel you cannot talk to your doctor, please reach out to Postpartum International. They can put you in contact with support groups and area coordinators that are ready and able to see you through.