I should have realized something was wrong when I wanted to hold a tray of sushi instead of my one-day-old daughter. I should have realized something was wrong when I broke down in tears — when I screamed at my husband — as I tried to secure our three-day-old daughter in her carseat for the first time. I should have realized something was wrong when I handed our week-old daughter to her grandmother and walked away, locking myself in the bathroom to cry.
Looking back, I now know I cried every day after the birth of my daughter except the day she was born. The first night in the hospital I cried because I couldn’t sleep. I cried the next day because of the searing pain in my crotch. (We lived in a four-floor walk-up and I could feel the stitches from my second-degree tear pulling with each step.) But the crying never stopped, even when the “reasons” did. It was instinctual, like a cough or sneeze, and the tears came in torrents: three, four, five times a day.
I knew I was suffering from postpartum depression when my daughter was six weeks old. Amelia was napping and I scuttled, instinctively, to the bathroom, thankful for two minutes to myself. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. My eyes were swollen, my skin was pockmarked and dry, and clumps of dirty blond hair sat on my shoulder. My hair was falling out. My doctor told me this would happen, “changing hormones,” but I didn’t care. I wanted it gone; I needed it gone. I vested every ounce of me, the woman I was before I became “Amelia’s mom,” in those limp, dying locks.
That weekend I went to the closest salon, pointed to a photo on the wall — a shaggy pixie cut — and walked out with hair shorter than my husband’s. For a few moments I loved it and the me it meant I could be, not a mother but something more, but promise and potential were quickly lost. I became increasingly hopeless, empty, emotional, and disconnected. I felt on the verge of losing control. I didn’t feel as close to my daughter as I should have. I didn’t love my husband like I used to and, some days, I didn’t love him — or Amelia — at all.
Depression is impossible to explain. It is as much a feeling as it is void of feeling. You move, eat, and breathe, so you know you are alive, but you can’t feel — or what you do feel you don’t understand. It’s confusing, illogical, and indiscriminate, and it is part of you that runs deep in your core.
Things were always their worst at 3 a.m., or “Mad Money hour” as I came to call it. My daughter would wake for an early morning feeding and, since she was being exclusively breastfed, the onus fell on me. Jim Cramer would rant about stocks and bonds and Roth IRAs while Amelia fed and my husband slept. Nothing good happens at that hour. It is the time of the day I most often questioned motherhood and my life.
And I did consider suicide. It started off as “nothing serious,” spontaneous thoughts like jumping in front of traffic, but before long these thoughts became all-consuming — a way out. I would lock the brakes on my daughter’s jogger as we stood at red lights and play with her, my back to traffic and my heels dangling off the curb. If I could just lean back, if I could just slip away.
The suicidal thoughts intensified, and I made plans, though I was never able to decide on one. I knew if I cut myself I wouldn’t slice deep enough, and hanging myself wasn’t an option. (Our shower curtain rod was held in place by three stripped screws; it would certainly buckle beneath the weight of my body.) Pills seemed most probable, though they, too, could fail. I thought of the consequences, but none seemed as detrimental to me as me, in the midst of PPD. I was a danger to myself and Amelia. If I was gone, she would be safe.
I stopped eating, or at least anything that resembled a meal. I picked at scraps of bread and ate spoonfuls of Parmesan cheese. I lost my pregnancy weight in three months and more weight in the months that followed. All the while I continued to cry. I cried if I spilled a glass of water. I cried if there were too many dishes. I cried if my cat threw up and I had to clean it. I cried because I was crying.
It was November 2013 when I finally admitted to myself and my husband that I couldn’t take anymore. I don’t remember what broke me, cracked nipples or guzzling yet another cold cup of coffee, but I needed help. I begged my husband to commit me. I told him I cried every day. I told him I couldn’t take anymore. I told him I wanted to die.
What I didn’t tell him, what I didn’t tell anyone, was that I had a vision of killing our daughter.
I was diagnosed with postpartum depression in January 2014.
Depression convinces you you are hopeless. Depression isolates you and makes you feel completely and utterly alone, and postpartum depression is no different.
Amelia is 20 months old now, and I would like to say I have fully recovered, but I am still struggling. I am in therapy and things are better, but I still have bad days — I think I always will.
In the meantime, my hair grew back. Though the color rarely remains consistent (in the last year I’ve donned blond, red, purple, teal, and brunette locks), it is growing. To be honest, the growth kind of snuck up on me. One day it was too short to style and the next I could tuck it up in a ponytail.
It seems silly to hang onto my hair, but that is what I have right now. It is a reminder of one very long, and very bad, hair day. As wild and unkempt as it gets — as unruly and unmanageable as it may become — I haven’t cut it. I don’t cut it. I can’t cut my hair. And maybe that is the lesson for me, and for all mothers, especially the ones reading this through the misty filter of unshed tears: hang on. Hang on to whatever you have because it gets better.
Not perfect, but better, so just hang on.
©2015, Kimberly Zapata, as first published on Scary Mommy