In between the incontinence and health food bar aisles of the Superstore, I’m crouched on a dirty, fluorescent-lit floor, sobbing. It’s silent, but once I’ve started, I can’t seem to stop. My shoulders shake and I let my tears drip onto the bottom of Jude’s tiny carseat.
My baby’s eyes are filled with a thick yellow discharge and his tiny body is moving with the quick beat of his breathing. He is so vulnerable and I’d forgotten how breathtakingly scary it is to have your heart walking outside your body. There is a lineup of sneaker-clad feet to my left, behind the yellow tape on the floor by the pharmacy counter: Lineup Starts Here. I lift my head to sniffle the phlegm back upward and provide a reassuring smile to the owners of the lined-up feet and I see my good friend round the corner by the LaraBars, carrying a bottle of baby shampoo.
Her eyes are round and her face is full of both pity and recognition: I have ‘New Mom Breakdown Syndrome’ and she’s not surprised. Wordlessly, she reaches down to hug me and her kindness makes me sob even harder and dear god, I am a complete and utter gong show.
Corey and I haven’t slept in weeks. Since we left the hospital we’ve all been plagued with a cold that includes a hacking cough, a perpetually runny nose and, initially, conjunctivitis for the six-year-old and I. Now baby Jude has been diagnosed with conjunctivitis as well — on top of an already stuffy nose and a little tiny, awful baby cough. We’re beside ourselves with worry — why are we all so sick? We’re so darn healthy with what we consume and what we do, why is this happening? Is our house diseased? Is my breast milk deformed? Why is there pus in our defenseless baby’s little eyes? What exactly did prolonged sleep feel like and will we ever experience that again?
My best friend’s mom died this week at the age of 62, Corey’s parents are coming to stay with us for an undetermined amount of time and the house is a complete disaster — it’s all just way too much.
I am in the Superstore, rocking on my heels, hugging my friend and sobbing next to my infant on a Wednesday afternoon in March. I am the consummate picture of postpartum depression and as I keep sniffling I wonder: Do I have it? Is this one more thing to add to our alarming pile?
I have never been entirely sure whether I experienced postpartum depression with my first son. I had some fairly intense crying jags and bouts of hopelessness and helplessness — but I never had feelings of wanting to harm my baby, and I was definitely very bonded with him. I attributed my dark mood after Nolan’s birth to the fact that I was also going through a very hard period separate from his birth — my relationship with his dad was crumbling. But I know there were people around me who suspected it might be more than that.
I remember Googling like mad seven years ago, searching for a definition of the difference between baby blues and postpartum depression. On the one hand, everyone says that new parenthood encompasses soaring highs and devastating lows (mostly brought on by lack of sleep). On the other hand, symptoms of postpartum depression can be vague and all encompassing (what new mom doesn’t experience changes in weight or “sleeping less than usual” after their newborn enters the world?) How are you supposed to know if you’re suffering from depression or if you’re just a typical sleep-deprived and overwhelmed new mama? Newborns are indeed overwhelming and sleep deprivation will make even the most sane individual a wee bit crazy.
And it’s OK to feel crazy, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m clinically depressed or even full of the blues. It just means I’m a totally normal new mom, readjusting to the complete realignment of my life.
I feel better after that Superstore hug. I shed a few tears and then stand up and pull my sweatshirt grimly to the left to cover up the milk stain that had spread across my breast. My baby, in all likelihood, will be perfectly OK and sleep will come back and I am going to make an immediate appointment to get the ducts cleaned in our house.
This too shall pass, and we’ll bounce back as we always do.