Postpartum depression is the moon landing, because even though you are like 99% sure people have walked around up there (I mean, we have dirt, right? Moon rocks? Why would science lie about this?), one day some person will come up to you and tell you that it’s not real, which means that it never happened to anybody, least of all you.
Postpartum depression is quiet, sometimes. It snaps at your husband, but he doesn’t snap back. It cancels lunch dates, Bunko nights with ladies from church, ornament swaps. It does not take long before you close so many doors, people lose the way to find you.
Postpartum depression is crying in the checkout line at Walmart because you have an ear infection and your son is teething and he will not stop crying and all you wanted was a bag of peanut butter M&Ms, for the love of everything holy, will somebody please take this baby and let you walk into oncoming traffic?
Postpartum depression can be controlled with exercise! With St. John’s Wort! With meditation! With prayer! With good, old-fashioned positive thinking! With a sugar-free diet! With no caffeine! With breastfeeding!
Postpartum depression is a whistling kettle that just won’t quit, like when your baby is crying again, because that’s all he ever does — he cries to eat, he cries when you try to feed him, he cries when he’s tired, he cries when you try to rock him to sleep. And then one day you decide that he just needs a little more stimulation, because the internet has told you that if you don’t put him down on his stomach he will never develop any abdominal muscles and one day he will be 32 years old and his only means of locomotion will be scooting everywhere on his butt. So you lay out the soft baby quilt that will never fit a real bed, and you place your son down on his chubby belly, and spread an arrangement of colorful, Baby Einstein-approved toys around him, and by the time you sit down on the couch he has begun to cry again. It’s a piercing wail, and it sets your teeth on edge, and you are so angry your vision blacks out for a moment, and the next thing you know you are standing over him and reaching down to snatch him up and you catch yourself at the last possible second, and you do not shake him but just hold him out at arm’s length. He is still crying, and now you are crying, too, and neither of you is louder than the other.
Postpartum depression is that one time you wondered what would happen if you jumped from the top of the staircase.
Postpartum depression is that scene in It’s a Wonderful Life where wheelchair-bound Mr. Potter gleefully rasps out, “You’re worth more dead than alive!” Except you don’t have a life insurance policy because you lost that when your husband lost his job two years ago, so some days the only thing tethering you to this house full of hairline cracks is the sure truth that dying will only make your husband’s financial strain harder.
Postpartum depression is a wine-dark whale road over which no albatross ever flew.
Postpartum depression is that smile-and-nod you give whenever people give you advice. “Treasure every moment,” they tell you. Smile-and-nod. Your baby will only sleep if you swaddle him, buckle him into his carseat, hold the whole contraption in the laundry room with the dryer running, and sway/bounce on the balls of your feet in total darkness. “One day you are going to miss it! Even the crying!” Smile-and-nod. Your baby cries from 5pm to 10pm every single day. There is nothing that will stop it. You know because you have tried everything, from gripe water to running a vacuum cleaner for mindless white noise, and your pediatrician smiles at you grimly and tells you there is nothing she can do. “They grow up in an instant! You’re going to miss this stage! They’re so sweet like this!” Smile-and-nod. Smile-and-nod. Smile-and-nod.
Postpartum depression is not polite conversation.
Postpartum depression is working up the nerve to call your doctor to tell her that you almost shook your baby and that you just aren’t dealing well with things, no, it’s been getting worse these last few weeks, yes, you’re six months postpartum. And when the nurse tells you that it’s too late for you to be experiencing postpartum depression symptoms and that you need to find a psychiatrist to help you with whatever is going on, you do not cry until you have ended the conversation, but you cannot see through your tears as you are texting your husband to let him know that nobody will help you. Because how could that woman not know how hard it was for you to dial and talk to a real, live human being and say, “I think something is wrong with me and maybe this anger and pain and sadness is not my fault, can you please help me?”
Postpartum depression is your husband calling back and demanding an appointment. It’s his brutal honesty about how this can’t go on any longer. It’s a small, oval-shaped pink pill that you will begin taking the week of your birthday, and it’s supposed to take a few days to kick in but you can feel it almost immediately. You are ziplining in Red Mountain Park, zooming down the line to meet your husband at the next stop, and you are breathless as you look around at the green, green trees and realize that you are not looking down. You are not leaving yet.
Postpartum depression is the urge you still get, sometimes, to take the car into the guardrail over the long, flowing river.
Postpartum depression is more likely the second time around if you’re already a veteran, but it’s not necessarily going to happen. You’re going to be prepared this time. You’re going to exercise throughout the whole pregnancy. You’re going to start small after she’s born, but you’re going to walk every day — to the mailbox at first, and then to the end of the street. You’re going to drink soy milk and eat Greek yogurt and you’re going to like it.
Postpartum depression is there the moment your son is pulled from the neatly-drawn incision in your belly, which will one day heal in the rictus of a smile. It is there when you reach out your one untied hand to gently stroke your pink baby’s head. It is there when he is whisked out of the room, and you are sewn up alone, while the only person touching you is suturing your belly. It is there when you are riding out the morphine two hours later, and your son is still gone. It is there when you sit in the backseat and your husband drives your new family home, and you are holding your son’s wobbly head straight because you have never loved anything this much.
Postpartum depression is a very different beast the second time around, with a different doctor who wrote you a prescription before your second baby was ever born. It’s a fight for three months, waiting for the bad days to outnumber the good. It’s losing the battle and learning to be okay with that, because you were never going to win; you were the ant to Tom Hiddleston’s boot. It’s calling the nurse’s line to tearfully let your doctor know that you’re filling the prescription she gave you, and crying when she tells you to call any time — call if you want to adjust the dosage, call if you’re going to hurt yourself, if if if.
It’s getting better.
Marissa Maciel is a writer and illustrator.