Sitting on the floor on the darkest side of the dresser, I sat rocking my baby, stifling my own sobs, and praying I wouldn’t wake my husband. We were living in my parents’ house until the drywall dust settled in our very first house. The days of being displaced stretched out before me–we had been at my parents’ for two weeks and it looked like another month before we could get back into the little house we loved. I desperately wanted my own space, but for the time being my little family squeezed into one bedroom—my son slept in a drawer on the floor.
Every time the baby whimpered during the night, I would quickly pick him up out of the drawer to sit hunched in the corner to start the feeding process. From the beginning, it had been challenging to get my son to nurse properly. Every feeding I would spend five minutes trying to nurse, then tiptoe downstairs to make him a bottle, and finish off each session pumping and storing milk for the next time. I quickly got adept at doing this by the light of the fridge, even in the middle of the night, but the pressure to keep the baby quiet through the whole painful process felt like a weight on my back.
It was exhausting, I sobbed through it all.
And the whole time, no one in my parents’ house except me knew what I was going through. Looking back, I know to call it postpartum depression, but then I thought I was just weak and failing at everything. We didn’t have our house together, I couldn’t get my son to nurse properly, and I couldn’t stop crying. In my deepest moments of pain, I wondered if I made a mistake.
Maybe I should never have had a baby.
I endured six weeks of extremely long nursing routines, having nursing consultants try everything from guards to teaspoons to help us, and at the end, I was left feeling like a failure. I was defeated and embarrassed by the amount of people who had seen me undressed and at my lowest with no progress to show for it until a new nurse came for a home visit. She let me cry and then told me I had put up a valiant fight and it was time to let it go. She could see in my eyes that I was not doing well and she gave me permission to just let it be. After six weeks of struggle, her affirmation that I was not a bad mom was the magic I needed. When I relaxed into that confidence, my baby suddenly started eating properly, sleeping through the night, and we moved back into our house.
It’s been eighteen years since those nights I spent curled up in the corner. I had two daughters after that son, and he’s now in his first year of college. I don’t rock babies anymore, but the depression never really left, and two years ago I was diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder. I didn’t know then how many nights I would spend crying in the dark, with or without a baby, but I think about that twenty-one-year-old girl often.
If I could go back and tell her one thing it would be this: go downstairs and wake up your mom.
For so many years I thought crying had to be done alone. I thought I was the only one who could rock my baby, cry my tears, and bear the burden to figure it all out. I felt so alone and I wished someone would help me, but no one knew. Years later, I told my husband and my mom and they both said the same thing. “I wish you would have woken me up.”
People were never meant to go through life alone. We are meant to live in a far more interconnected way than our North American culture allows. When we’re isolated, it’s easy to think everyone we see thriving is doing it perfectly all on their own. But that’s a lie. They’re either not alone, or they’re not doing as well as we might think.
If you just had a baby and are struggling with postpartum depression, let me offer some hard-won advice: call someone. Wake someone up. Cry, but not alone. It’s hard to tell someone you’re wondering if you’re not up to the task of parenting and asking where God is in the night. It is life-giving to say these things aloud, and doing so does not make you unspiritual or a bad mother or the wrong person for the job.
It makes you normal. And that other mom you’re talking to? It makes her feel normal too.
So wake your husband, call your mom, open up in a mom’s group or at church, talk to your doctor or midwife, or even book an appointment with a counselor. Reach out. Be brave, honest, and vulnerable. The community built during the hard times will be there to support you for the next eighteen years. Rest easy, you were never meant to handle this alone.
Jennifer Holmes is a wife, mom, Christian School music teacher, and writer who also happens to have Bipolar II. She’s exploring how mental health and faith intersect and invites you to share that journey. She loves to podcast, blog, and share on social media, often early in the morning all wrapped up in blankets. Follow along at her website and on Facebook and Instagram (her favourite). Her podcast can be found by searching Jen’s New Song on iTunes, Spotify, or through her website.