I hit a dark period when my daughter, my second born, was 3 months old. I don’t know if it would pass for any clinical definition of a postpartum mood disorder – does it need to? It felt heavy. Weighed down in all that I did. I cried. I often chalked it up to just being the wash of postpartum hormones surging through my body. Chalked it up to just being tired. Exhausted.
Wake up Call
I was driving home one afternoon, having just dropped my aunt off at the airport, when suddenly I was jolted awake by the grating on the shoulder of the highway. I had fallen asleep at the wheel. And I knew I could not continue like this. But we had travel coming up and she was still so little and I told myself this is just what having a newborn is about….and and and.
I took both kids to visit my in-laws in Florida. Something told me the warmth and the sunshine would help. I figured that I could just co-sleep with my daughter to maximize both our slumber before my husband arrived to help. Then the full blown sleep strike hit. For nights on end I saw every hour of the clock. It did not matter if she crib slept, co-slept, nursed to sleep, didn’t nurse to sleep, bounced to sleep…. she was up every 45 to 90 minutes ALL.NIGHT.LONG.
I remember feeling the fog thicken one afternoon. I remember feeling my anxiety rise as I tried everything to get her to take a little nap, so that I could take a little nap. Desperation hit while I worried about my napping toddler sleep-walking his way out to the pool deck. And my baby just kept crying. I remember yelling at her, this wee little thing, holding her tight and swaying her roughly back and forth. There was nothing soothing about it. I wanted to force her to stop. Force her to sleep. Force her to just shut up. And I hated myself for it.
My mother-in-law came home that afternoon to find me on the back deck, still bouncing a crying baby, my own tears pouring down. She walked up to me, hugged me, and said “we need to change this”. Emphasis on we. With a few simple words she let me know that I was not alone in this. She validated my helplessness by just being there.
I had hit my breaking point. And right then and there we made a plan to shift this sleep (or non-sleep) behaviour. I had been trying to wait until my baby was a little bit older, a little bit stronger, and in the comfort of her own home. But I was no longer capable of being a good mother and I felt I was severing the attachment with my girl in the process. This pattern was not serving either of us. And it had to change. And with a little acknowledgement, a plan, and some light reinforcement, it did.
A Path Forward
Our sleep journey has not been without its twists since, but I have never again felt my own desperation over-take me. I often wonder if I would have been ‘diagnosed’ with postpartum depression. Labels of this state exist on such a sliding scale. But I certainly felt the grips of overwhelming emotion in those first months with my second baby, and thankfully my MIL recognized my struggles and offered the love and support to see me through it.
Yes there are hard days and parenting is, no doubt, not always sunshine and rainbows. But I can truly attest that it’s possible to get lost somewhere along the way, and that it’s easier to question ourselves as parents than to actually admit that something is wrong and ask for help.
So if you have a new mom in your life, continue to check in after the initial newborn weeks have come and gone – it may be months or even years before she finds herself again. And to all the new moms out there – whether this is your first, third, or sixth baby – find your village, surround yourself by the people you love, and take as much help as you need. You are nurturing a whole other human. Someone else can take care of you.