Maternal mental illness is the No. 1 complication of pregnancy and childbirth in the United States. BuzzFeed Life spoke to a group of mothers about what it feels like to recover from postpartum depression and its related mood disorders.
1. I felt like I could breathe.
"I woke up one morning and noticed that I felt joyful. It seemed like such a strange feeling because I realized I hadn't felt it in years. I felt like I could breathe."
—Sarah Bouvier, Rhode Island
2. She finally felt like mine.
"After a few months of medication and therapy, I remember looking at my daughter one day and feeling like she belonged to me for the first time since she was born.
"The stresses of each day mattered less and I smiled more. The fits of rage the postpartum depression and anxiety caused? Fizzled away. Days were still hard and nights were still harder, but finally feeling connected to my baby gave me back enough hope to keep doing the work to get better."
3. I was able to leave my house without anxiety.
"I'm not sure there was a moment where I knew I was recovering — it was thousands of little things that changed on the margin. Being able to leave my house without anxiety. Loud noise not making me feel like my ears were bleeding. Smiling and not feeling like an imposter. Having an appetite and tasting food again. Wanting to see friends. Feeling like a partner rather than a burden to my husband."
4. I cried tears of joy instead of hopelessness.
"A few weeks after starting on medication, I willingly held my son for the first time. Not because I had to change or feed him, but because I wanted to. Previously, I would see him and wish he wasn't there; I looked at him as a mistake. But on that day, I looked in his eyes and my heart skipped a beat. And I cried again, but tears of joy instead of hopelessness."
—Jen, New Jersey
5. I didn't want to not exist.
"Recovery is a spectrum for sure, but my most powerful moment was waking up one morning and feeling a tiny light in my brain. It was the first day in a year that I didn't want to not exist."
6. I started to get back in touch with the ability to take good care of myself.
"It was a long journey, but I realized I was changing when I started noticing the color of the sky. I started to exhale and get back in touch with the ability to take good care of myself."
7. I could finally enjoy my children instead of trying to be the perfect mom and wife.
"I knew I was finally in recovery when I could logically talk myself out of intrusive thoughts, when I could calm myself during times when I would have panicked and had self-doubt. I realized I was getting better when I started to enjoy my children instead of trying to be the perfect mom and wife."
8. It had been a long time since I'd laughed.
"There was a moment when one of my girls did something funny — I can't remember what it was exactly — and I laughed. It was such a small, simple, everyday laugh, but it caught me off guard. It made me realize that it had been a long time since I had laughed. Postpartum depression had stolen my joy, but I was fighting back and winning."
9. The flashbacks finally stopped.
"Recovery has been a process. I knew that I was doing better when I could talk about my birth without crying or having flashbacks/panic attacks."
10. I felt an overwhelming love for that little boy.
"I remember my son looking right at me and giving me the biggest smile and for the first time ever, I felt an overwhelming love for that little boy. Slowly but surely I gained energy back and started to truly enjoy motherhood."
11. I began to appreciate my baby's sounds and smells.
"It wasn't an exact moment, it was all the little things I began to notice about my son. The entire first year was a blur for me, it still is. But I remember once I started to come out of the fog I began to notice how perfectly and adorably his hair curled at the nape of his neck, how his giggle really sounded and resonated within my heart unlike it ever did before, and his smell — that sweet baby smell that I loved so much with my first son."
12. I recognized relapse and got help.
"When I started to slip back in to postpartum anxiety after the birth of my second child, I picked up the phone and called my midwives. I didn't wait to see if it got better or try to talk myself out of the catastrophic thinking, I got help right away.
"I was able to identify the problem and immediately take care of myself. It felt like business as usual. The fact that this realization was such a non-event made me feel strong and helped me start to heal."
13. I forgot about my obsession.
"I was obsessed with watching the Weather Channel. I'd watch it every night. If it was going to rain, it meant I couldn't take my triplets outside and run them, or swing them and try and wear out some of their energy, and I would panic. It took five years, but I woke up one day and realized I hadn't watched the Weather Channel the night before."
—Lisa, New Jersey
14. Smiling didn't make my face hurt.
"My son laughed and it made me smile. It wasn't a forced smile that made my face hurt. It was genuine. I was able to feel joy again."
15. My life came back in little bits.
"I don't think there was really one moment. My life came back in little bits, slowly over the next year. I found myself having more and more happy moments, [which] turned into happy days, happy weeks, and eventually whole months of happiness."
16. I stopped thinking about wanting to die.
"I started to enjoy my old hobbies again. I could play with my daughter and soothe her when she was upset instead of hiding when she cried. I stopped thinking about wanting to die.
"I'm currently struggling with postpartum depression again after the birth of my second child, but I know that there will be a day when I feel better. "
17. I stopped crying every day.
"I stopped crying every day. I wasn't afraid to be alone and started eating again. I hadn't eaten in weeks, but I started eating meals three times a day and taking care of myself. One day I realized it was no longer physically painful to smile."
18. I just wasn't miserable.
"I was in my car alone — a rare moment — and it suddenly hit me that I wasn't miserable. It wasn't even that I felt happy, I just wasn't miserable, and the absence of that feeling was such a relief."
19. I had this overwhelming feeling of love.
"My son had his first set of 'school pictures' taken at daycare and I had just gotten the photos back. I remember standing in the kitchen looking at them and thinking, 'That's my monkey!' And I had this overwhelming feeling of love and so much happiness that I was his mom."