I named my son after the world famous journalist, Hunter S. Thompson. Something about the way my sweet little moon baby kicked me in the womb reminded me of how raw and organic human life can be, and it seemed only fitting to name him for a man that had given me the passion to lead an extraordinary life.
Hunter Andrew O’Brien was born on a snowy day in February. The minute I heard his first cry, I new his namesake would suit him perfectly. My husband held my hand tightly, and in that instant, it was as though every piece of me folded into him. We had created the most perfect, 10-pound hunk of love that had ever existed. I was in bliss.
Two weeks later, the lack of sleep and troubles with breastfeeding started to wear on me. I felt alone once our friends and family stopped visiting. The incredible bond I had felt with my husband was replaced with exhaustion-induced quips over ridiculous things like dirty dishes or whose turn it was to feed the cat. Climbing into bed after a long day, I would lie awake, wondering why I felt so disconnected from everything. I was miserable, afraid, and alone.
I began to notice as the days wore on that my mood had started to shift drastically. I would sob relentlessly in the shower as the warm water poured over me and my husband stood stoic at the doorway, unsure of what to say. I would scream about how guilty I felt for not being happy every moment of the day. Moments later, I would become needy and sappy, begging my husband to hold me until I fell asleep. In the mornings, as the sun just barely peeked over the tree line, I would stroke my son’s hair, suddenly gripped with fear that something terrible may happen to him if I wasn’t there at all times. I became a prisoner to my home, afraid to leave for fear that my beautiful baby boy would be taken from me or that his safety would be jeopardized. I stopped answering phone calls and spent every waking moment beating myself up for not being the perfect mother. I continued to struggle with nursing, and became so obsessed with doing it correctly that it hurt (for the record: I never got the hang of it). The stress was crippling. I was confused, scared, elated, miserable, calm, and a nervous wreck all at once. And I had no idea what was happening to me.
All I knew was that something was wrong, and for the sake of my son, I began looking for answers. I typed, “baby blues that won’t leave” into Google, and was surprised to see what popped up. Postpartum depression. Those two little words rattled me, and I trembled as I read the all too familiar symptoms, the accounts of real women, and the terrifying statistics. The thought of having this condition terrified me. I couldn’t, I mused to myself. Only crazy people have postpartum depression. Not me.
At my lowest, I considered divorcing my husband and thought my life was meaningless, unlivable. I was vulnerable and aching with a thumping pain that refused to resolve. At my highest, I boasted about all the milestones Hunter made because of my nurture and care. But this is what postpartum depression looked like for me: a harsh wind and a blistering rainstorm that refused to let up, despite my best efforts. I didn't understand how this tiny human being that I loved with all of my celestial and physical heart could simultaneously have brought me to this ditch, this deserted road, where I felt as if I were missing pieces of myself. I was lost and lonely, suffocating in the great unknown that is motherhood. It was then that I made the incredibly difficult decision to see a therapist, and to begin to mend myself without regret.
I spent six weeks in counseling, consoling my broken spirit and myself by talking to a therapist who was also a new mother. I confided in her about all the very real struggles I was dealing with, and although it was exhausting to access those shameful parts of me, I began to realize that letting it all out was the most important thing I could do for myself. My hour-long sessions were freeing – not only was I able to participate in a discussion without judgment, but it gave me time to reset and refresh. By the time I returned home, I felt a newness about me. As the days went by, I started making an effort to spend more time outside of my home with Hunter. We would visit the aquarium and the park, walk the local farmers markets, and watch the boats pass by on the river. I was able to engage my sweet boy and actually enjoy the time I was spending with him. It was amazing to feel like myself again, especially after trudging through the dark for what seemed like an eternity.
According to the APA, 9-16% of mothers suffer from PPD. It is important to understand that, regardless of how ashamed or embarrassed you may feel, there are hundreds of thousands of women who have felt the exact same way that you do. Seeking help is the most amazing thing you can do for yourself, and for your beautiful family. I am proud to admit that I suffered from PPD, because I survived, and I prevailed, and I am a better person because of it. And while I sometimes still feel my feet sinking, I remind myself of a quote by Hunter S. Thompson, and I remember what this crazy journey is all about.
He wrote, “All my life, my heart has sought a thing I cannot name.” And I know now what he was referring to: my son, the 10-pound hunk of love, which has made my life worth fighting for.
Guest post written by Ali O'Brien. Alli is a wife, a writer, and above all, a mother. She lives in farm country on the North Fork of Long Island. Her son and the sky are her best friends.
P.S. If you enjoyed this essay, don’t miss our podcast episode on postpartum depression