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My Postpartum Depression Didn’t Look Like What I Expected

“What if it’s them?” I thought to myself. Visions of the evening headlines flashed through my head. “Mother and Child Slain in Case of Road Rage.”

It felt like the sides of the car were closing in on me. My heart was beating faster; my throat was tight.

I turned down a side street, veering off my typical route. They followed. I turned down another street and watched in my mirror as the van went by. I continued to my parents’ house, irrational thoughts plowing their way through my head.

Had it been them? Did they now have my license plate number? Did they have a friend who had an “in” with the license plate people and they would therefore discover my home address? Would I wake up tomorrow morning and see a white van lurking outside my house?

That night, I lay in bed listening for sounds of people trying to break in. I woke up several times and tiptoed down the stairs, fully expecting to peek out the window and see a white van parked outside our house.

By the time the sun rose, my worries had started to fade. I even felt a little silly. But I quickly learned this was the beginning of a pattern. In the daylight, things felt hopeful, but as the light dwindled each night, so did my rationality. Each blackened window looked ominous. Every awful possibility became something that was undoubtedly going to happen.

As I sit with Claire nestled into my chest, I look down at her face and admire her rosebud lips parted with sleep, her dark eyelashes curling to touch her eyelids. I wish I could still protect her as I did when she was safe within my belly. This can’t be depression. I can’t imagine hurting her. I love her so much it hurts. But what is wrong with me?

Still holding her, I stand up and check that her windows are locked even though I know they have not been opened since we painted the walls of this room long before she was born. I’ve tried to stop myself from doing this each night, but I also know if I don’t, then I will lie awake fearful someone will prop a ladder outside her window and break into her room to take her from me.

I lie her down in her crib and stand looking at her for a few minutes. I don’t know where to place these colliding feelings of love and deeply rooted fear. If something ever happens to her, then how will I survive? What if something happens to me and she never knows what it’s like to be loved by her mother?

More: How Online Parenting Communities Can Hurt — or Help — Postpartum Mood Disorders

I quietly exit her room and make my way to our bedroom. I am exhausted and should go to sleep, but Dan is not home yet, and I know waiting up for him means I have a chance of falling asleep feeling some comfort that we have run through my checklist together.

“Honey, did you remember to lock the door?”

“I did, honey.”

“What was that sound?”

“I’ll go check.”

“Honey, if I die in my sleep, will you please tell Claire every day how much I love her?”

“I will see you in the morning, I promise.”

But, if I do, then do you promise?”

“I promise.”

Most nights, I would roll over and cry anyway, conscious of the irrationality behind my fears and frustrated by my inability to stop them.

It would be months until I learned about the many faces of postpartum depression, profound anxiety being one of them, a year before I sat and wept as I read the stories of other women and saw my pain in theirs.

But at that moment and on the many nights that would follow, I squeeze my eyes shut and try to force sleep, thinking, it can’t be postpartum depression — right?

Editor’s note: We recommend Postpartum Progress for anyone who’s experiencing any form of postpartum emotional difficulty. There are tons of resources and help is available on the site, including support forums, lists of services and mental health providers and answers to questions you might have. If you’re experiencing intrusive thoughts unrelated to postpartum, The National Alliance on Mental Illness has information and resources that can help you, including a phone or text helpline. Help is available. You are not alone.

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