Bonding With My Baby Despite PPD

I want my son to know I loved him through the pain

While giving my 2-year-old son a bath the other night, I decided to tell him that I wrote a book. I'm not sure why I decided to tell him, but it seemed like an interesting conversation to have with a 2-year-old.

"Did I tell you that I wrote a book?" I asked as I handed him a washcloth.

"No," he replied. "You not write a book."

"Yes," I continued. "I did write a book. A real book with lots of words, but no pictures."

"With ABCs?" my son asked.

"Yes," I said. "A real book with lots of ABCs. And guess what? It's all about you," I continued, even though I'd lost his attention to a blue octopus that squirts water. Sitting back and watching my son enjoy his bath, I stopped talking but kept thinking.

Because I have written a memoir about my postpartum depression and anxiety and continue to work as an advocate to improve maternal mental health, it is inevitable that my son will someday hear my story. I know a day will eventually arrive when I tell my son more about the book and my experience after his birth.

Watching him in the bath, I thought about the confusing message this might convey, and how I would explain the deep love I felt for him even during the sadness and anxiety that engulfed me when he was merely 3 days old.

I plan to tell him that, "Even though I was in a dark, cloudy fog for a bit, I still loved holding you in my arms. Even though having postpartum anxiety and feeling so misunderstood was the worst experience of my life, I never wished I hadn’t had you so that I could have avoided it.”

People often worry that postpartum depression and other related illnesses will disrupt the crucial mother-baby bonding that occurs during this formative stage (and they can). But fortunately, PPD and PPA did not interfere with the special relationship I have and cherish with my son. And despite all the initial sadness and fear I felt due to my illness, today my son's presence fills me with joy, amusement, and love on a daily basis.

I will let him know that I feel the strength of our bond when:

We whisper 'I love you' at bedtime.
We read books and you finish some of the sentences for me.
We build block castles and you congratulate me, saying, ‘Mommy, you did a good job!’
We run outside, arms stretched out in airplane position.
We bop our heads from side to side while listening to music on the radio.
We dance together and you imitate my every move (when you're not spinning in circles.)
We nuzzle nose to nose and I feel your soft skin pressed against mine.
We lock eyes for a moment and a secret smile spreads across your face.
We sing our favorite songs and you correct me if I sing the wrong words, sighing 'Silly mommy, that's not the right way.'
We share a snack and you clumsily (yet forcefully) attempt to stick my share in my mouth.
We cuddle, tickle, and take turns giving each other raspberries.
We're laughing and your little boy giggle erupts into a resonating and gurgling belly laugh.
We walk hand in hand, knowing the bond between the little boy hand and the big mommy hand is bigger than a mountain.

Sitting on the bathroom floor, I also recalled something a friend recently said to me in reference to my postpartum depression and anxiety: "It's so great to hear how you talk about your son. You enjoy him so much despite everything that happened in the beginning."

When my friend made that comment, I felt the need to defend myself, to explain that my postpartum depression and anxiety symptoms didn't involve a lack of interest in my baby or a desire to be away from him. But as I thought about the comment a second time, I realized I could look at my friend's comment in another way.

She wasn't implying that I had done anything wrong to my son by having postpartum depression and anxiety; she was simply pointing out how well I had bonded with my son, how strong our relationship was, and how evident it was that our household cultivated love.
There are so many misconceptions about postpartum depression and anxiety. One is that women suffering from these conditions don't love their babies. This certainly wasn't and isn't the case for me. And in an odd and interesting way, the bond I have with my son is especially strong because of my postpartum depression and anxiety. Our relationship began during a turbulent time, yet together we made it through the darkness and into the light.

A version of this piece ran on, and is reprinted here with permission.