I remember the moment vividly when I changed into someone that I did not recognize. Someone I hated. Someone ugly.
I was attempting to change my daughter’s diaper, and she was in a wiggly, somewhat defiant stage of toddler life that resulted in a battle of wills. With my frustration mounting and my strong-willed daughter dishing out opposition like a baby anarchist, I LOST it. I mean like a crazy person. I did not just yell at my child; I screamed with more fury than any other living soul had ever provoked in me. “JUST LET ME CHANGE YOUR DIAPER!!!!!!” I had never yelled at another human being like that before, but there I was with the dearest little soul in my possession, screaming.
I hated myself. Lily was fine—she met my crazy display with laughter, but the whole scene was very traumatic for me. I did not recognize myself. I felt ashamed, confused, guilty, and horrid. I had never lost control like that in my life. Hoping it was a one-time occurrence, I pushed it to the recesses of my mind and continued to live my mom-life the best I could. But this dark monster that hid in the cave of my subconscious was not content to take control but one lone time. It was a sneaky devil, hibernating in the shadows, making me believe it had left. Then it would re-emerge without warning or predictability, and rear its ugly, furious head. Just when I was feeling in control, having some mom wins, it would emerge. Its attacks were few and far between, but each time it happened, I felt powerless to its control. Powerless to become a good mother. It didn’t matter that I never physically lashed out or verbally degraded my children. It didn’t matter that my words were far less harmful than the terrifying tone with which I communicated them. Each outburst would leave crying children in its wake, and that broke my heart. I sank further into hopelessness.
As shame often does, it beckoned me to silence. I didn’t dare share my struggle or the ugliest parts of my mother-soul with anyone. I was certain that this was just the new me. Motherhood had ruined me and morphed me into an angry, bitter, terrible person. I had gambled and lost. The Mother Hustler had duped me into thinking I could do this. Instead, it had stolen my joy and sentenced me to a life of bitter anger, stewing continuously and erupting sporadically to ruin the lives of my children. There was no better word to describe who I was than ugly.
There was no defense I could muster against it. I would make plans using my knowledge of anger management and coping skills: tools I had often suggested to hurting souls from the other side of the counseling room. Every time they failed. There was no time to use tools. The dark creature took control before I knew what hit me. If I, a trained counselor, could not get myself out of this dark place, there must be something wrong with me. Hopelessness grew.
I was driving home from work one day, turning this problem over in my mind for the thousandth time. By now, it had been years since that watershed moment when I was changing Lily’s diaper, and I now had three beautiful souls in my shakey charge. Following the familiar path back home, my mind was free to analyze and pick apart my plaguing enigma. I began to differentiate between times when the episodes occurred and longer spans of time when they seemed dormant. Like puzzle pieces slowly notching together, I began to recognize that the monster was largely dormant when I was pregnant. Perhaps this was hormonal to some degree? Perhaps having to do with postpartum?
I was, of course, aware of postpartum depression. I had done the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale numerous times as it is standard on postpartum units in the hospital and sometimes in postnatal OB appointments. There were pamphlets handed out during the fog of those first 72 hours after giving birth, but those pamphlets painted a picture of a mother with PPD crying continuously, staying in bed because she couldn’t face the day, having thoughts of harming herself or her baby, and experiencing loss of interest in activities she had previously loved. This was not me. I was not depressed. Angry? Yes. Prone to irrational outbursts of irritability? Definitely. Depressed? No. But that day in the car, I resolved to look up the actual diagnostic symptoms of PPD. Not the Edinburgh questions or the little summation in the pamphlets, but the actual clinical symptoms. I sorted through the Mayo Clinic site detailing PPD symptoms and read them.
In an instant, the mystique of the terrible monster that had been haunting me for years shattered. I glanced past the typical symptoms of sadness, crying, loss of interest, and then I saw it. “Intense irritability and anger.” THAT was me. That described perfectly what had been plaguing me for these many months. Like a door swinging wide and flooding my dark confusion with marvelous light, I realized that maybe, just maybe, I was not a terrible person. Maybe motherhood had not ruined me. Maybe what I was feeling was a thing, an actual medical condition with causes and treatments – something others experienced too. Maybe I wasn’t so ugly after all.
The next day I called my OB’s office and talked to the phone triage nurse. I explained to her that I thought I might have PPD. That I was not depressed per se, but that my anger had become unmanageable. And to this day, I am thankful to this dear nurse who said to me, “Actually, that is how we see most women exhibiting symptoms of PPD.” Why hadn’t the pamphlets told me that little tidbit? Armed with this confirmation, I saw my doctor and got a prescription for Lexapro. My OB recommended counseling as well, and I began my healing journey.
My life changed. The transformation was dramatic. As the medication took effect, I found that though I still became angry (I had three small children, remember? Anger is par for the course!), the emotion was no longer an attacking monster blindsiding me, but more like an elderly dog on a leash. I was able to take a breath and give a calm, measured response—Stern, straightforward, but without the shrieking and broiling lava of anger. I was in control once again, and it felt so good. I was able to be more like the mom I wanted to be. No more eruptions. No more crying children withdrawing from the verbal outburst. The occasional snappy comment or frustrated yell, but nothing like the attacks of old. It was freedom. I wasn’t an ugly mother; I was a hurting mother that had finally found healing.
Theresa is a mother, author, nurse, and mom-encourager. She runs a crazy household of 4 young kids and moonlights as a labor and delivery nurse, where she has the privilege of inaugurating women into this amazing society of motherhood. Before nursing, she was a therapist specializing in marriage and family therapy and had the honor of helping those in crisis. Now she marries all three areas of experience into a powerhouse of encouragement for moms. She’s like your midwife, best friend, and therapist all rolled into one! For regular encouragement in this crazy mom life, follow her on Facebook or Instagram.