Women with colicky babies are more than twice as likely to have postpartum depression – at least that’s what a doctor told me. While some women may survive months of arduous colic with their spirits intact, excessive crying can certainly trigger depression. According to Science Daily, having a colicky baby is linked to an increase in maternal depression and a decrease in overall family functioning. [I cannot think of a more obvious conclusion or more unnecessary study.] From personal experience I can tell you, even though it may sound like hyperbole, colic is a form of psychological torture.
I didn’t feel the immediate attachment to my son that I did with my daughter. Perhaps the emotional scars from his birth impacted that because I noticed that difference the first time I held him. When I handed him off to my husband, a nurse or my sister in the delivery room, I felt relief. I focused more on ordering food, getting to the recovery room and checking in on our daughter at home. For the next 36 hours in the hospital, I tried to feel the connection that I knew was possible – the one I felt with my firstborn – but it didn’t happen. I preferred he be in someone else’s arms.
His birth was traumatic for me. While I’ve heard plenty of more disturbing birth stories, my experience with him still traumatized me. My recovery was rough. Breastfeeding was more painful and he nursed for four minutes at a time, every 10-15 minutes, around the clock. And he was an intensely difficult baby.
Two weeks and six days post-birth, the colic began. His constant inconsolable screaming kept me planted with him in my lap on the yoga ball. The continuous sound of a crying baby is so disturbing, it can break the will of prisoners when used as a torture technique in psychological warfare. The effect is even more severe when that screaming baby is your own. It’s fair to assume the colic fed the depression.
I didn’t want to see people. I didn’t care. The heaviness in my chest felt like weights holding me down under water. I lacked the energy and desire to fight my way out. It had all been sucked out of me. I stared at my children and zoned out. I was a shell of myself just going through the motions. It felt like a scene from a movie… people talking and laughing and moving fast all around me, while I am stone-faced and frozen in a fog, unable to absorb that life surrounding me.
Absolutely everything took an extraordinary amount of effort. Obligation and responsibility kept me feeding and changing my kids. Most days that was all I could do.
The months of inexplicable and inconsolable screaming didn’t help matters. There’s no doubt a significant emotional and physical toll when you have a colicky baby. I loved him. But I couldn’t feel it. I had recurring debilitating disturbing thoughts. I feared what I might do if one day he finally pushed me over the edge.
My brain was overpowered by the thoughts – actually, more like vivid visions – of horrible things accidentally happening to him: slipping out of my arms as I walk down a flight of stairs, falling out of my arms as I am looking over a ledge, suffocating in his sleep, or getting attacked by a dog. They were absolutely all-consuming and I had no control over the visions spiraling in my head. Most of the time these intrusive visions would cause fear, heart palpitations and shortness of breath. It was when similar thoughts of things happening to both myself and my son brought a feeling a relief, that I really became scared.
I felt a ton of guilt and the accompanying shame was almost unbearable. Only a horrible mother doesn’t like her baby. Something must be wrong with me that I can’t console my own child. What kind of mom envisions throwing her baby off the roof? My kids would be better off without a mother like me. A good mother would not hate taking care of her baby. Only a neglectful mom – like me – lays on the couch all day and lets her toddler watch TV day after day. What kind of mom envisions jumping in front of a truck with her baby?
The thoughts were terrifying. Thoughts that I wouldn’t dream of telling anyone. I credit a friend for giving me the push I needed to go to a therapist. Looking back, I think she could sense I was in a bad place and she opened the door for me to feel comfortable talking about it. She said something along the lines of, “One time when my son was crying uncontrollably, I envisioned throwing him out the window. That’s when I set him down and talked to my husband about how I was feeling.” Tears poured down my cheeks and I shared some of my dark thoughts. That night, thanks to her, I shared some with my husband. He encouraged me to make an appointment with a therapist. I started seeing her weekly for the next year. She helped my husband understand why I often wasn’t able to get off the couch by saying, “imagine your wife has the flu”. Would you expect me to do anything other than lie in bed when I have the flu?
Months passed and I continued to be fatigued, detached, despondent and irritable. Nothing was enjoyable. I paid zero attention to my physical health or personal care. Externally I showed my son love, saying and doing what I was supposed to – particularly when people were around. But inside, I was empty. I was disconnected and numb.
Depression can rob you of the desire to seek help and prevent you from putting in the effort to try. I am a firm believer that everyone would benefit from talking with a psychologist or therapist. A trained professional can help us navigate through our thoughts, not only when in an especially dark place.
My son was nine-months-old when I started to feel again.
I physically felt the weight on my chest lighten and I could breathe. Now, I am so madly in love with my son. When I see his smile or hear his giggle, my heart explodes outside of my chest. It just took a little longer to get there. Most days are overwhelming and I still have dark moments, but I am me again.