My second child, a girl, was born in November 2005, in Minnesota. Where it is cold and gray that time of year. My son, the firstborn, was, of course, perfect, well behaved, compliant, and always happy. My daughter was very much wanted, don’t get me wrong. But shortly after she was born, I found myself not enjoying motherhood as much as I had before. This little package of pink and bows wasn’t my dream baby- but a puking, crying, mewling demon. She spent a lot of time in her bouncy seat, watching the world go by while I sat, sullen, on the couch, or playing on the floor with my son. 

People came over to visit, very excited about the baby. My friends commented that I didn’t seem like myself. Some even expressed concern for me, saying that I didn’t “seem right”. Was I OK? “I’m fine”, I would reply. Because I was. I had to be. That’s my job. 

One Thursday, the baby woke up for a middle-of-the-night feeding, and I went to her, rocked her, fed her, and dozed in the chair. I went to lay her back down, praying that tonight would be the night that she actually went back to sleep. Kneeling next to her crib, with my arm through the slats as her pacifier popped out of her little mouth. I would put it back in, and she would spit it out. And so the cycle continued, for an hour. I was screaming on the inside, “PLEASE go back to sleep. PLEASE stop spitting out the pacifier. PLEASE stop kicking your little legs, and squirming. Just please.” But she didn’t, until finally, I took the pacifier and jammed it hard into her face. I had visions of taping it on with duct tape. Finally, exhausted and in tears, I recognized that this wasn’t OK. Moms shouldn’t be pushing on their baby’s face really hard. Moms shouldn’t be picturing taping duct tape over a tiny mouth. “You’re just tired,” I told myself, and got up and asked my husband to relieve me because I could not take another morning like this. Another morning of being awake since 4 am trying to get the baby to go back to sleep. Thankfully, my wonderful husband popped right up and took care of her so I could go back to bed. 

The following Monday, after another day of not being able to get her to nap, I was standing over her crib doing the pacifier routine, and she was finally dozing off. I knelt, or maybe more appropriately fell, to the floor in exhaustion and in my mind worked out a scheme to take my son and leave the house, my daughter sleeping safely in her crib. My husband would be home from work in an hour- she would be fine there. I envisioned packing my bags and checking into a hotel with my son, and staying there. A week, two weeks, six months—whatever it took. I knew that my daughter would be in good hands, my husband an amazing father, and that if I could just get away and be alone with my son, everything would be just fine. 

I talked myself out of leaving, somehow, and my husband came home and found me in tears on the living room floor. “I just don’t remember it being this hard!”, I sobbed. “It wasn’t”, he said. That was all I needed to hear. I needed validation for the many people who had told me that babies cry, or that she just had gas, or I was just tired. I needed him to remind me of the reality: that I was a good mom and that I did do a better job the first time around. I did enjoy having a baby, in the past. 

Within the next couple of weeks, we found out that our little girl had acid reflux and a milk protein intolerance. Oh- that’s what caused the projectile vomiting and painful crying every time she ate. That is why she only pooped every five days, and when she did it was like she was giving birth. That is why I was a total wreck, and got no joy from being around her at all. 

I had heard about postpartum depression before, but hadn’t personally known anyone who had struggled with it. Well, at least nobody who ever opened up about it anyway. It’s shameful to admit that I didn’t really want to take care of the baby, that I was sad all of the time, that I counted the minutes until my husband got home so that I could get a break. It was frightening to admit that I had visions of hurting the baby or walking away from her, knowing in my head that that is terrifying and something I would NEVER do. Moms shouldn’t feel or think this way. Moms should be excited and happy and cooing over their little bundle of joy. And when they are covered head to toe with vomit, a good mom will go change clothes with a smile, even if it is has been the third clothing change of the day. Right?
I wish I could say that at first it was a relief to realize that I was “just depressed”, but that’s not true. I was actually even more embarrassed to admit it at the time because I am a therapist. So a double stigma—therapists should be able to just fix themselves, right? I should have noticed and diagnosed myself sooner. Double fail. 

I was able to recover. My daughter’s medical issues were treated and she became a completely different baby. Getting validation about her issues and about how my feelings were attributable to depression helped me accept it and turn things around. As far as my career, I now dedicate a decent chunk of my time to supporting women (and their partners) in the postpartum period. My goal is to help women not suffer in silence- to know that asking for help, and admitting that you are not enjoying motherhood is not a sign of weakness. You are not a horrible person (or wife or mother) for feeling the way that you do. That having a baby that has medical issues or cries a lot is a risk factor for postpartum depression, not something that you should shame yourself for not enjoying.