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Depression has been something that has clung to me like an unwanted acquaintance, and it became more prevalent after my first daughter was born. It has taken over significant chunks of my life and ruined times that I should have been reveling in the magic of our growing family. I wish it wasn’t a part of me, and I have done my best to keep it batted down from affecting those I love the most. But there are times where it rears its ugly head and there seems to be nothing I can do from stopping it.
I have had some level of postpartum depression with each subsequent birth of my three daughters. However, after my last child was born in November of 2015 my postpartum depression took a dive into the darkest parts of my soul and brought out a person I did not recognize. I am now able to look back from the other side, and this letter is to the people most affected by those negative days.
To My Youngest Daughter
The birth of a child is a joyous time, and for the first few weeks I felt more bonded with you than I had with your sisters when they were first born. I thought this was a good sign – that my depression wouldn’t come back; that I had gotten over it. Within your second month, though, it creeped back into our lives, stealing all the joy I had previously had watching you grow. I know you could feel my tension. Even nursing you felt like a chore, and there are times where I’m sure you noticed my audible sighs when I sat down to feed you again and again. Your little eyes would stare at me with wonder and your little lips would curl up in a smile, but sometimes I wouldn’t smile back. I was so hurt, so angry, and so resentful that I was the only one able to calm you.
I’m sorry for those times I missed to watch you grow and the moments I skated by because my depression didn’t want me to be in the same room with you. I will always notice those little, sweet things you do and my mind will always keep them as memories, even if my depression doesn’t let me express that to you immediately.
To My Middle Daughter
Oh, my sweet middle child. You have been the source of many frustrations and many dirty looks in Target. But what people don’t see is how much you love to cuddle. You love to snuggle with me, and on good days I take in those hugs with a bursting heart. But on bad days, oh those bad days, your need to be held can be suffocating. I have taken out my anxiety on you more than I should. Your needs are grand, but sometimes I can’t deliver. My depression pulls me down already, and your little body feels like it’s a weight on my chest and I can’t breathe. You are stubborn and strong-willed, and many times we butt heads – even on the good days. Some days I don’t know how to parent you because your toddler personality is much bigger than your older sister’s.
When depression takes a hold of me, my patience with your headstrong ways goes out the window. My anger towards you is palpitating sometimes, and I have seen your little eyes well up with tears when I ignore your pleas to be picked up or lock myself in the bathroom because I.just.can’t. right now. I’m sorry my depression has taken away our snuggle time, and made you feel unwanted and alone. I’m sorry you’ve spent time sitting on the floor crying while I walk over you because my depression has taken all feeling out of my heart. In my soul I will always be holding you.
I look back on those bad days and I can’t imagine why I would feel so angry with you just wanting to be with your mama. I will always want to be your comforter, even when my depression pushes you away.
To My Oldest Daughter
My big, big girl. You have been more of a rock in my shaky world than I could ever express to you. My depression has taken away so many things from you. You have spent far too much time in front of the TV while I try to dig my way out of the hole that depression is pulling me into. You have taken your middle sister away, telling her that it will be ok, and distracting her when you see that I’m about to lose it. You have reminded me not to get so upset because the baby is only a baby, and that she’s going to cry sometimes.
You have seen more and will remember more about this time in our lives than either of your younger sisters, and I fear that it will shape your future in a negative way. The one thing that depression has given me is the ability to see your caring heart. You take care of your sisters when I can’t. You get them snacks and play with them on the floor because my feet feel like lead and my body is heavy with sadness. You have held my hand when I’ve sat on the floor crying, and you’ve fetched your daddy as my body has shook with sobs. Your eyes have seen so much sadness and your ears have heard so many painful words.
The only thing I can hope from your experience with me in this is that it helps you to grow into an even more compassionate person. You will always be my leader and my go-to. I don’t mean for you to be the one to take care of your mommy at your tender age of 4, but oh, I am so glad you’re here for me.
To My Husband
You have been my rock. My strongest ally even when I have beaten you down to the core with my words and my actions. You have felt the brunt of my depression. I’ve left you sitting in the wake of my anxiety and hopelessness as I drive away with the baby in the middle of the night because she won’t sleep and I feel like I’m going crazy. You have left me to cry when I needed to be alone, and pulled me close when I thought I needed to be alone. Your strong arms have held me until I’ve cried myself to sleep, and they’ve soothed our crying daughters in the middle of the night because I just can’t bear to get up again.
I can’t imagine what I would do without you, and sometimes I wonder why you stuck around after what my depression made me do and say to you. But I’m so glad you love me the way you do, because without you I would not have made it another day.
I know you think this is your fault, but it’s not. You aren’t broken. You aren’t weak. You are a mother, who deeply loves her family but whose emotions are a roller coaster. Not because you’re crazy, but because the wiring in your brain takes in outside stimuli and multiples it so that your internal systems go into overdrive. Your shaking hands, your hoarse voice from screaming, your aching muscles from being tense for so many hours during the day – those things aren’t you. They are your depression.
I know you feel guilty for the things you’ve said and done when you’re in your lowest points. I know you feel like you’re the worst mother in the world and that if people knew you – really knew you – they’d be shocked. I know you think you’ve ruined your children and that they will forever be tarnished by your words and actions. But have you seen the way they look at you? How, despite your harsh tones and tense body language, they still come to you for everything? How they want you to watch every move they make and how they beg you to play with them, sit with them, and hold them? They still call you “mama” and they still cry out for you at night because they need YOU and they want YOU.
Yes, they will see you in pieces. But they will also see you pick up those pieces and continue on fighting, and there is no greater gift a mother can give her daughters than to teach them to be strong when something so heavy as depression keeps pulling them down.
You aren’t broken. You aren’t weak. You are a mother. A mother who won’t allow depression to take over you. A mother who will fiercely fight through the dark days, weeks, and months because those little eyes staring back at you need you to be whole.
If you or someone you know is experiencing postpartum depression, contact your doctor and/or health care provider right away. To find health care providers in your area specializing in postpartum mental health, click here.
Photo credits: Lauren Lomsdale, Amanda Gilley