Ambivalence about motherhood is rarely spoken about, at least out loud. And when the crying jags that make up the baby blues progress into full-blown postpartum depression, the subject, like any mental illness, tends to be taboo. There’s little I wish to recall about those dark early months of my daughter’s life, when I was hanging onto my sanity by the barest of threads. I remember not wanting to be a mother and not wanting to live.
I did not find breastfeeding to be the soul-bonding experience everyone gushed about; the mewling, pink-faced creature in my arms clamped onto my nipples with the painful force of a mechanical vise. I cried through much of it, whispering “I can’t, I can’t” over and over like a broken doll or a keening child, but I soldiered on because a part of me knew I was doing the best thing for her—even as I considered obliterating my existence because I thought she deserved better. (Logical thinking and I weren’t on speaking terms.)
My husband rallied the troops and forced me to seek help, physically hauling me to the offices of my therapist and psychiatrist when I couldn’t think or act for myself. When I thought I would have to give up breastfeeding, I was beside myself with guilt, the same heart-rending condemnation I felt when my husband gave our daughter a bottle of formula because he pushed me out the door for some “Jasmin time” alone or when he talked me into getting a few extra hours of sleep.
My doctor pulled up several studies indicating that certain antidepressants had little or no ill effects in babies who were nursed by medicated mothers, and after weeks of discussion and research, we decided to proceed with treatment while I continued to breastfeed. That’s the personal choice I made; other women have chosen differently and there’s no conclusive “yes” or “no,” “right” or “wrong” answer. For me, it was like a veil had been gradually lifted and I was able to bond with my daughter for the first time. When she gazed up at me and gave me her first real smile, I felt only a tremendous lightness of spirit—and the overpowering presence of love.