My story of postpartum depression is deeply personal, so much so that I have not shared the details with anyone. For approximately the first year of my child’s life, I was ashamed and fearful that I was emotionally unstable and not able to adequately take care of my baby, or, worse hurt her intentionally. This fear and anxiety came on me days after I brought my daughter home from the hospital. I was traumatized by the birth, but that was nothing compared to weeks and months that followed.
A confused feeling came on me suddenly without warning. Tears came down my face when I sat down to eat dinner on the day, I came home after having my daughter, I could not find the words to describe how I was feeling and why, so instead I cried uncontrollably over my dinner, with my family looking bewildered. The feeling of overwhelming sadness did not go away, even though my baby was mostly calm, my anxiety and depression like symptoms made it extremely difficult to enjoy my baby and this new season of life. I was able to laugh and have happy moments here and there, but underneath the mask, I felt sad, anxious and alone most of the first year of my daughter’s life. Of course, I had to courageously get up and take care of my baby and all the functions of daily life. Daudi Azibo of Florida A&M and Patricia Dixon of Georgia State University point out that looking and feeling depressed is widely perceived as being incompatible with African American culture, whereas being tough, capable, and apparently invulnerable is seen as culturally consonant (Shorter-Gooden and Jones 2003).
On days that were particularly hard, I would put my baby in her stroller and go for a walk on the beach. This was my time to calm myself and pray for strength. Out of nowhere, this bizarre thought came to my mind “push the stroller over the rocks and see what happens.” I was paralyzed by the thought but forced myself to keep on walking while wondering where the thought had come from, Oh, My God, am I crazy? I screamed back at the thought, it came again, this time as a command, “push the stroller over the rocks” I yelled NO!, not sure if out loud or in my mind. I felt my footsteps move faster almost a frantic run, as I pushed my way past people and I rushed to my car, with tears of fear in my eyes. I put my daughter in her car seat, sat in a state of panic and confusion next to her as she fell asleep overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I prayed and somehow calmed down enough to drive home. This experience scared me but, the shame I felt was stronger, so I continued to push the destructive thoughts out of my head and used every ounce of energy I had to not break down emotionally.
Later that day, I threw my baby on her bed and ran to get my mother. I was sobbing uncontrollably, I said, ”I’m afraid, I’m going to hurt her, I can’t take care of her, please take her.” My mother looked at me and said, you need to sleep, I’ll take care of her, you, just need to sleep.” I sensed my mother’s fear and feeling of helplessness, we were powerless to the ugliness of postpartum depression simply because of our lack of knowledge.
Postpartum depression is something my prenatal screenings did not include. My mother may have suffered the same symptoms, but medical professionals did not consider these symptoms as a treatable disease. I never discussed the symptoms with my mother or any other woman.
I returned to work as a social service coordinator with a local Early Head Start agency approximately six months after my frightening ordeal at the beach. My daughter was ten months, I don’t know why, but, immediately I noticed the sad and frustrated looks in the eyes of new mothers I came in contact with at the early head start agency.
I participated in a conversation with female coworkers who had not experienced postpartum depression, and their attitude was dismissive and cold. At that point, I still carried a great deal of shame about depression and now guilt for leaving my baby to return to work. There was something in me telling me to help, somehow, share my story, but I simply did not have the strength. I honestly believed that if I shared my story, I would be found unstable and possibly lose my child. So I suffered in silence as I watched others helplessly fight through the same crazy emotional battle that I fought and was still fighting, silently.
Shortly after my daughter’s first birthday, I found a therapist who worked with me to manage my symptoms of depression. Although it had only been a year since the trauma of childbirth, I was treated for general depression without any mention of postpartum depression.
Today, my daughter is a healthy, intelligent and kind 12 year old. We have a solid support system of family, friends, spiritual and mental health counselors who are ready to help us whenever and whatever the need, we know we can always count on them guiding and loving us through any difficult situation.