Opinion | Feeling gratitude for my postpartum depression
After 18 months of postpartum depression, the writer learnt to lean into the idea of motherhood
My first baby was born exactly four weeks before my novel The Windfall hit shelves in North America. It was a busy summer of no sleep, high highs, low lows, and a lingering depression and anxiety that was easily explained, or so I thought. At least I was waking up in the morning and showing up for my publicity events looking pulled together. As long as I was crying behind closed doors and nobody could see me doing it, I was fine.
But then the dust settled, the book-related events slowed down, the book took on its own life in the world and I was still breaking into tears at unexpected times.
Motherhood didn’t seem to quite fit me. I tugged at the edges, hoping to pull it into place on my body but it just didn’t work. I felt like an impostor, stumbling over the words “my daughter". In solitude, I loved having a child, felt a deep contentment I have never felt before, but then anxiety would flood through my body, leaving me feeling vulnerable and scared, worried that this contentment would be ripped away from me and destroy me. I clutched my daughter in terror, unable to hand her over to grandparents or nannies. When my husband had her, I lay awake listening for them. I scalded my hands in boiling water while using my fingers to scrub every bit of her pacifiers and bottles, scared to let gloves touch her things. My happiness made me so frightened of the world.
So I did what I have been told to do since before Sheryl Sandberg put the words on the cover of a book—I leaned in.
And I got pregnant again, when my daughter was just six months old. I needed to lean into the idea of motherhood, I reasoned. It took me so long to be able to call myself a writer, what right did I have to immediately call myself a mother.
Pregnant again, for a while my problems lifted—I stopped crying, my postpartum hair loss transformed back into lush pregnancy hair, the weight that I hadn’t yet shed could now be explained by the new pregnancy, the need to nourish the life inside of me.
I had been pregnant for longer than I had been a mother; it was an identity I knew how to wear.
And then my second baby was born and suddenly I had a toddler and a newborn and I tried to call myself a “mother of two" with the confidence I had promised myself during pregnancy. Initially it almost worked but then the same things crept up—the sleepless nights, the anxiety, the depression, the inability to let go of my children, this time two of them with their continuous needs and demands, a new book that was hurtling towards its deadline with mostly blank pages, the struggle to simply take a shower and put on clothes that weren’t sweatpants.
I lost weight rapidly and unhealthily and late one night, when my whole house was asleep, I called my father on the other side of the world and dissolved into sobs, barely able to get my words out. My father surprised me by suggesting I speak to someone. Reluctantly, dismissively, I mentioned it to my gynaecologist, who immediately called a therapist and made him see me the following day despite his calendar being full for a month. Sitting in his beautiful office I finally said what probably should have been said 18 months ago—postpartum depression.
It was diagnosed, and treated, and I took the anti-depressants and then I slowly got off the anti-depressants and now I can call myself a mother of two and I can also leave my children in the care of other people while I return to my writing. Had it been diagnosed the first time around, I probably would not have had a second child but now, I look at my two daughters, quickly becoming best friends, constantly mistaken for twins, laughing with each other, holding hands and sharing apples, and I am so grateful for my undiagnosed depression.
I am equally grateful for the diagnosis and cure the second time around because I don’t think I am equipped for three under 3, and then four under 4, and where would I stop? At half a dozen children? A dozen? I wouldn’t have been able to outrun the depression forever.
Now, on the eve of the release of my next novel, I think I have finally figured out a way to just stand still for a bit instead of leaning in so far that I topple over.
Diksha Basu is the author of The Windfall (Bloomsbury). Her new book, Destination Wedding (Bloomsbury), will be out in July.
FIRST PUBLISHED19.06.2020 | 01:15 PM IST