I know, I know, we live in an era of self-diagnosis. “I’m gluten intolerant!” “Cool, I have a narcissistic personality disorder! Let’s grab coffee!” Well, my turn. I think I found the correct label to (partially) explains why I felt so low in the months following Mark’s birth, and beyond.
Depression is often romanticized but in real life, it’s not that glamorous. Much like addicts, sad people are hard to understand, live with and fix. Now imagine being depressed and being a new mom—zero sympathy, maximum guilt. You’re expected to be a tired, blissfully happy version of your old self. What the hell is wrong with you! You have a cute baby! Think of your little one!
And this is what I struggle to explain. I was genuinely happy to become a mom. Mark was a wanted child and I got the best kid ever.
Yet I really, really wanted to disappear.
I didn’t like being pregnant. This is another socially unacceptable thing to say but I know plenty of women are in the same boat. Pregnancy is uncomfortable and weird—you experience daily body changes you barely have time to adjust to, it feels like going through puberty all over again, lying on a table with your legs spread out becomes second nature and so does providing urine samples, blood and counting weeks.
I felt much better after Mark was born. I was overjoyed, relieved to see he was cute and healthy, convinced I had a new mission, a family and that we would be just fine.
But soon after, hopelessness settled in. The first few weeks were a blur. We were exhausted, it was just the two of us taking turns with Mark. I had started parenthood with a bad sleep deficit—I never got the chance to rest after birth, the nurse was waking me up every two hours to feed Mark and I hadn’t slept the night before since I was in labour (duh!).
Mark was born on October 12 and until Christmas, we were in survival mode, never sleeping more than three hours in a row. I don’t remember much of the first few months. In my memories, I was cold all the time and it was dark all the time. Putting Mark to sleep was impossible. We were arguing a lot. I was always stressed out, I couldn’t relax.
When I read articles from 2012 to 2016, I realize there were happy moments. Sometimes, I was fine. Most of the time, I wasn’t. There’s a picture Feng took where you can see Mark playing with fall leaves. I’m in the background, leaning on a tree. I remember that day. I was crying because I had bought bread earlier with Mark and I had put the fresh loaf in the basket under the stroller. Then we had folded the stroller, forgetting the bread, and it was all squished. And I was crying over that, even though the bread was okay after all and I could always buy another loaf—I had failed, once again. I was constantly failing—as a person, as a mother, at life.
When Mark turned one, I did try to seek help. I contacted a counselling service. It took forever to get a call back and eventually I was told there was a long waiting list. I reached out to the closest community centre but I learned that even though it was just a twenty-minute walk from home, my neighbourhood was served by another centre much further. “Is your baby safe?” the staff asked when I inquired about help options. “Of course! I’ll never harm him!” Please, ask me if I’m safe right and if I’d harm myself, I begged mentally. But no one ever asked. I stopped seeking help. Too difficult.
When Feng’s parents started to babysit once a week, I’d take a couple of hours off to go to Chapters alone. I’d buy a coffee then grab a stack of parenting magazines. I’d look at perfect mothers, wondering why I couldn’t be like them. I’d go cry in the bathroom then I’d come back and try to absorb advice. Problem, solution. If this then that. I’d go home confident that now I could totally be a perfect mother, an accomplished professional and a lovely, balanced human being. It would last for a few days at most—a sleepless night, two meals skipped, three arguments with Feng and twenty mysterious babies-being-babies episodes later and I was back to feeling like a failure.
Anxiety and hopelessness aren’t new feelings to me—I’ve been in a dark place before but never for that long. My siblings and I realized a few years ago this may be our weakness. It runs in the family.
But looking back, even without a genetic predisposition, plenty of environmental factors could have triggered depression—very little support, the delusional idea I was strong enough to handle everything, cultural differences and expectations we hadn’t ironed out, two clueless parents isolated, overwhelmed and overworked.
Every time things were started to get better, we were experiencing a setback. Mark finally started daycare at two when we came back from China, but the centre declared bankruptcy overnight a month later. The second daycare also closed unexpectedly. Then Mark caught every single bug known to mankind at the third daycare so one of us was always passed out in bed.
I was going through the day, through the motions but I was still feeling useless and hopeless.
This is where I’m supposed to describe the epiphany I had at one point and what did the trick. Unfortunately, there was no such moment and I have no idea how I got better. Probably time. Primal survival instinct. Mark grew up. I learned from my mistakes.
And little by little, I started feeling hopeful, generally happy and enthusiastic. I realized I had projects and dreams I was excited about. I was feeling feelings. I learned a thing or two along the way as well—what triggers anxiety for me, what makes me happy, what keeps me going.
This post is hard to write and maybe to read as well. But I’m still putting it out there because there’s hope.
If you stumble upon this because right now, life is hard for whatever reason, just hold on. Seek help, find support, express yourself, talk about it but do not give up. It will get better and you will come out of it stronger. Hold on, just hold on. If you need to close your eyes for a minute and escape, do it—but remember you’re not alone and you’re not done yet. Hold on, just hold on.
It will make sense at one point. You’ve made it this far and you will make it through.
I believe in you.