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My postpartum depression made me a better mom in the long run

Gemma Hartley is a freelance writer with a BA in writing from The University of Nevada, Reno. She lives in Reno with her husband, three young kids, an awesome dog and a terrible cat.

My battle with postpartum depression had a benefit I never saw coming

When I became pregnant with my son, I was overjoyed. He was planned and wholly wanted. I prepared tirelessly for his arrival. I read all the right books, furnished a beautiful nursery, meticulously folded and organized his doll-sized clothes. I had a supportive husband, the right-size house and the money to support our new baby. I was experienced in infant care, young and full of energy. I was as ready as any first-time mom could be. I had all the makings of a supermom.

Then he arrived, and everything changed. I changed.

My postpartum depression didn’t instantly send me spiraling into a black hole. I didn’t mope around the house in sweatpants every day. I didn’t hate or resent my baby. I didn’t stop functioning completely. My postpartum depression didn’t look like the dark, cloudy beast I had read about in baby books and hospital pamphlets. It was much more subtle and dangerous than I ever dreamed it would be. It came masked by exhaustion, anxiety and a whirlwind of change. It crept into my life slowly. I couldn’t quite figure out what was wrong as it stole me away, piece by piece.

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I thought I just needed some time to adjust, some time to get to know this little person, and I would feel that fierce love that everyone gushed about. Soon, I would stop crying so much. Surely, as time went on, I would stop anxiously checking on him to make sure he wasn’t inexplicably dead. I would stop pining for the life I had before his birth. Breastfeeding would get easier. We would connect. I wouldn’t feel like such a failure anymore. I was sure I just needed time.

And though each day seemed like an eternity, time still slipped away from me as my mental health went unchecked. By the time my son was almost a year old, I would wake in the morning holding back tears and count down the minutes until naptime, then bedtime. I struggled through our daily routine, and often couldn’t make it. I would find myself locking the door to my room while he would tantrum outside.

I stared at the ceiling and thought the things you are never supposed to think. That having a child was a mistake. That I never should have become a mother. I would daydream about running away, then start crying. Crying because I knew I couldn’t escape, then crying because I shouldn’t be thinking these things. Crying for my son who deserved a better mother and my husband who deserved a better wife. Crying because I knew I was the problem, and I had no idea how to fix myself.

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You may look at this and think that it should have been obvious that I had postpartum depression. I look at it now and think the same thing. But I couldn’t see clearly when I was in the thick of it. I don’t think many of us can. It wasn’t until I was on the outside looking in, when my son was around 15 months old, that I saw the monster that had been eating me alive. When my son was a year and a half, I finally admitted it to myself and to others. I faced the shameful feelings of failure, and decided it was time to move on.

I decided my postpartum depression would not define me.

But you know what? It does define me. It makes me a better mother.

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Without the struggle and the darkness, I don’t think I could ever appreciate the fullness of the love I am experiencing now. I wouldn’t understand how beautiful and blessed an average day can be. Without my postpartum depression, I don’t think I would be as good of a parent as I am now. It has made me strive to be better, as if making up for lost time.

I can’t undo the past. I will never get those first months of my son’s life back. But I wouldn’t change my story for anyone else’s. I have come to realize that my relationship with my son is not diminished by my battle with postpartum depression. Ours is simply a love story with a rocky start. Aren’t those are always the best love stories anyway?

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