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By Aggie Armstrong
Nothing ever prepares you for motherhood. Nothing. I read the books, made my birth plan, chose a playlist for my delivery and yet I was still totally naive and ignorant when the baby actually came nine months later. I was particularly wary about having postpartum depression since I had had episodes of depressed states in my 20s. In the first few months after giving birth, I was always on guard of how I was feeling. It was a soupy mixture of sleep deprivation fog and hazy bliss.
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I was handling new motherhood like a champ until six weeks in at 3 AM in the morning when my husband and I had a huge fight, the biggest to date in our marriage. I can’t even remember what it was about now - my only vivid memories from that time are how sore my boobs were - but I chalked it up to hormones and severe lack of sleep. I was okay for the next four months, until a similar out-of-control feeling slammed into my brain out of nowhere. One moment, I was proclaiming my love for my little family, the next my kid was crying, the cat was whining, and all the dishes from breakfast were coming at me. My mind filled with loud noise and chaos. I felt cornered, unable to escape to a quiet respite.
I lost it.
The rage I felt was so real and so strong it scared me. My husband, in his attempt to calm me down and shepherd all of us out of the house and into the car, came toward me to give me a hug but I swatted his hand so hard, it sounded like I slapped him in the face. It was the first time I ever told him to get the f*ck away from me. The look in his eyes was pure devastation and confusion. He couldn’t understand how one minute I was fine and the next, a raging lunatic. I couldn’t either. I started hyperventilating and had to go upstairs to try to collect myself and figure out what the hell had just happened.
After that, almost every other week, I experienced incredible fits of rage, followed by feelings of immense guilt. Coupled with growing anxiety for my baby’s safety - I had nightmarish visions of her getting really sick that it would keep me up at night - it became crystal-clear that I was a total mess.
After a year of feeling slightly insane, I worried that this was just my new norm: always worrying about the state of my baby and never having enough patience with the crying little human who fully relied on me day in and day out. The baby’s whining, especially, was something I couldn’t stand; it made my head spin. I loved my daughter immensely but I noticed myself starting to feel detached from her; I cared for her more out of duty than out of compassion and patience. I also grew jealous when she preferred her dad over me and took it personally, that this somehow indicated that I was a bad mother.
My mind seemed like it was on overdrive most of the time and adding ‘one more thing’ was like cutting the last thin string holding everything together. As the moon would wax and wane, my fits of rage would ebb and flow, though they seemed to be increasing in intensity. I’ve always had a temper but this was different. Anything would set me off - even my own husband’s breathing - and it would take me awhile to regain my composure. In these fits of rage, my whole body heated up and shook with rage and I couldn’t understand why I was simply unable to calm myself.
This was not the woman I knew. This was not me.
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This went on all through the dreariest winter we’ve had in years and it wasn’t until my fifth anniversary - and 16 months after the birth of my daughter - that I realized I needed to get help. That morning, I’d forgotten our wedding anniversary and to top it off, I’d been an insufferable b*tch to my husband since the moment he woke up. (To be honest, he had been living with that same b*tch for the last year – and who wants to be around that all the time?) I made an appointment that day with my doctor and as soon as she came into see me, I burst into tears because I had been trying to keep my wits about me until I felt safe to release my pain. She made me take the Personal Health Questionnaire Depression Scale. I scored a 21, meaning I had severe major depression.
This didn’t excuse my outbursts but it was such a relief to know that there was a reason; I wasn’t just a crotchety, mean asshole to the people I loved the most. I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and prescribed Cipralex to help me feel more like myself again. Two weeks into it, I felt almost instant relief; it took the edge off. I felt less agitated and annoyed. There’s a lot less teeth gritting and deep sighing. I’m able to curb my instinct to shut my daughter down with a mean “NO!” right away. I look at her with less annoyance but with more wonderment and awe.
Today, I feel stable and clear.
I find joy in spending time with my daughter. We sing and dance; I read to her and tell her stories. I don’t feel resentful all the time like I’m stuck at home and missing out what’s going on in the world, even when I see my friends’ shenanigans on Instagram or Facebook. I’m able to laugh at myself with my friends and have a great time with them without griping about being a mother. I don’t obsess over irrelevant minutiae, like forgetting to get avocados or putting fabric softener in the laundry. Also, I love sex again and even initiate it. I feel like a functioning, feeling, healthy human. I’m more patient and I have a more tender contact with my family and that’s everything to me. Because they deserve better. And more importantly, I do too.
Aggie Armstrong: self-deprecating since the 1970s, impetuous and angst-filled throughout the 1980s and 90s, irreverent and snarky since the new millenium, smugly married with a name-change since 2009, sleep-deprived since 2013 and medicated since 2014. Born and bred a city girl in Manila, now living in the beautiful, polite and quiet Canadian countryside. Read more of her on her blog on cablearms.com.
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