When I was 16 years old, I liked to write poetry and smoke hand-rolled cigarettes. I also loudly proclaimed one day in the aisle of a suburban Kansas City Target that I was never having children. And that was stupid. Because I am terrible at follow-through. At the very moment that I made my proclamation, a woman walked past me with three kids in tow and a baby in the cart. This woman knew the unlikelihood of my statement, informed me that she had felt the same when she was my age, and wished me luck. I was not impressed; 16-year-old me didn’t need luck. I was a gifted idealist, and by the time I was this woman’s age I would surely be living on a coast somewhere, being paid to write, changing the cultural landscape, drinking gin, and spending the majority of my time without pants. I would definitely not be dragging a bunch of shitty kids through a Midwestern Target. Four years later, I was a 20-year-old blackjack dealer living in the corn wastelands of Iowa. I had abandoned an English degree to drop out of college and follow a boy out of state. I was also about to deliver a baby I never intended to make. And I did just that, on the coldest day of the year and without the help of any medication. It was supposed to be beautiful, but it was awful. After my child was born, there was no class to teach me what a mother is and how to be one. Nobody gave me any lectures on tape or bothered to show me a slideshow. After a day and night in the hospital, I returned to my embarrassingly modest rental apartment with this baby that I had spent nine months convincing myself that I wanted. And that was when I realized that I had no idea what to do with her. Depression followed, and I turned into someone that I didn’t know anymore. Once, I had been brave, outspoken, and independent. Now, I was anxious, paranoid, and disassociated. I was prone to fits of terror that led to rage that led to self-loathing. Anytime the doorbell rang, I would run and hide, sometimes crawling across the floor so as not to be seen by the church lady on the other side who I was sure only brought by baby gifts and diapers as a cover to kill me and steal my baby. It was around this time that I started thinking about dying. Those thoughts were what finally motivated me to move back to my hometown. Meeting up with old friends and being around familiar landmarks was phenomenally helpful to my frazzled brain. Even still, going back home meant that, now, I was the mom dragging a kid through the exact same suburban Target. Despite my feelings of defeat, I was no longer isolated, which meant I had some support in the form of family and friends to help take care of my kid. Unfortunately, this did nothing for my depression. I was still so confused, so upset with myself that I could hardly get out of bed for nearly a month. I used that time to listen to a lot of Bowie and read all of seven of the Harry Potter books in two weeks. And somehow that was actually the best thing I could have done. The love that Harry Potter’s strong female characters display toward their children — Lily Potter’s sacrifice for her only child, and Molly Weasley’s downright daring devotion to her many offspring, for example — gave me an entirely new perspective. When I was growing up, my father was completely absent, and my relationship with my mother was tense. Until I saw a fictional account of parenting that was both fierce and tender, I had no idea that being a mother didn’t mean resigning myself to the role of despondent villain à la Betty Draper, or that I didn't actually have to give up my entire life and all my dreams to cut crusts off of sandwiches. I could be a fully realized, dynamic and flawed human being who also happened to have someone depending on her for guidance, and manage to not completely fall to pieces.
With that, I began to understand that my identity hadn’t been stolen. It had been enhanced. Additionally, I realized that I was capable of love and vulnerability, even if those feelings were the very foreign cause of all my fear and anxiety. I embraced emotion, which I had avoided all my life, and finally stopped mourning my own death. As I began to gain a clear self image, my postpartum depression lessened, and my baby and I moved on with our lives. Lives that became very good ones. I began working full-time and went back to school. The kid also started school and has grown to be an exceptional person. She’s a ballet dancer and a student council representative, and she’s the only kid in the fourth grade who dyes her hair and wears purple lipstick. Every day, I am so glad that I didn’t let her down. The fact that my depression was resolved through the acquisition of a support system and various coping mechanisms is, like anything, unique to my situation. PPD is a serious condition that affects three million women in the U.S. every year. If you’re struggling with difficult feelings after having a new baby, please reach out to a medical professional. Your Ob-Gyn, your family doctor, or the Postpartum Support International hotline (800-994-4773) are all good places to start. My daughter and I have accomplished a lot since I stopped crying and crawling on the floor, and I’m now able to say that we’re in an excellent place. I have a career in which I find so much joy, frustration, and reward. I have a partner who is easily the most brilliant, talented, supportive, and entertaining man I have ever known. He is one of the most welcome presences and biggest helps I have ever had in my life, and the kid likes him, too. Also, I’m lucky enough to have a posse of friends who I’m sure will conquer the world someday. And I wouldn’t have any of this without the kid I didn’t think I wanted. Having an unplanned child at the worst possible time forced me into an awareness of my ability to do difficult things. It gave me the discipline, grit, and desire to accomplish. Thankfully, my child is a better person than I have ever been, and I am better because of her. And thanks to our unique bond and outrageous fashion choices, we look freaking awesome walking through Target together.