It was nights like last night that used to leave me lying in bed the next morning thinking about what their lives would be like if I just didn’t wake up anymore. Who would be first to find me? My husband? One of my kids? Should I write a note just in case? What would it say?
I hadn’t thought about actually killing myself but I do remember fantasizing about no longer being a burden on anyone. It was about four months after the birth of my daughter that I started daydreaming about how I’d die. I would create these long drawn out scenarios of myself driving off the freeway or into oncoming traffic making sure my side of the car got most of the impact so my daughter would be safest in her car seat behind the passenger seat. These types of fantasies didn’t happen too frequently and I could easily dismiss them because they would take too much energy on my part to actually see them through.
The fantasy that did haunt me the most was simply not waking up anymore. Not as a result of taking too many pills or anything serious because we never have anything that strong in the house anyhow. But I would imagine willing myself to stop breathing or maybe having a stroke or heart attack. Something completely unlikely yet every time I fantasized about it I created it with more and more detail.
One night I was nursing my daughter as we were falling asleep. I had been fighting a gnarly stomach bug and I was completely wiped. Once she was asleep I began trembling. I was freezing so I asked my husband to pile another blanket on. When I continued shaking I asked for another blanket. I remember the weight from all the blankets but I couldn’t stop shaking and it seemed to just get worse. It must have been late April, early May but I was so cold and shaking so fiercely I felt like I was seizing. I couldn’t speak because my teeth were chattering uncontrollably. I just remember thinking “move your tongue, don’t choke on it”. I remember remaining conscious throughout the whole episode and wondering why I wasn’t passing out. Then I thought, what if I don’t wake up after this is over. Had I finally willed this to happen?
After a while the paramedics came into my bedroom. I don’t remember who called or when but by then I could feel the trembling starting to let up. I could hear the firemen asking me questions but I can’t remember what they said or what I answered back. I just remember asking where the baby was.
They checked my vitals and told me I was likely dehydrated because of the stomach bug. They asked if I wanted to be transported to the hospital or if I wanted to go on my own for IV fluid. The shaking was almost gone completely so I decided I’d go on my own after I fed the baby.
It’s still hard to admit, and I live with deep guilt about it every day, but that night part of me hoped it was something more serious. It wasn’t until then that I realized I had wished severe harm on myself. It was with that realization that I finally admitted to myself something was wrong.
Like a lot of parents, many of my memories have been erased or become cloudy due to lack of sleep or just being replaced by new memories. But there are those few days in our lives that we remember so clearly we could easily relive them over again if we wanted to.
Like the day my daughter was born. I remember being in labor and calmly walking out of our house to the car to head to the hospital. Walking through the parking garage I was becoming anxious but excited. I remember settling in to our room and looking at the incubator to my right in disbelief that she would be there soon. I remember the dull pressure from each contraction coming through despite my epidural and then feeling her little head coming through so easily after just 3 simple pushes and being placed right on my chest. All of it and so much more, clear as day and like a dream you don’t want to wake up from.
Pushing her older brother out took much longer and being my first baby we struggled a bit in the first few weeks with feeding and sleeping. But once we got into a routine he was the easiest baby. I never felt tired with him. I never experienced that new mom exhaustion. I always say he tricked me into having another baby because when my daughter came she quickly knocked me on my ass.
By the time my daughter was six months old, I was surviving each day with only 3-4 hours of frequently interrupted sleep per night and sporadic naps when I could fit them in while also chasing after a two-year old. I was running on fumes but told myself it’s only temporary.
They say hindsight is 20/20 and looking back I probably would’ve done things completely differently. I never co-slept with my two older kids because I didn’t know anything about it. I was heavily convinced by “them” that it was dangerous and that I’d never get them out of my bed and all that other bullshit people say to scare new parents. And I fell for it. Hard. If only I had let her sleep close by. We both would’ve gotten so much more rest and I would’ve been able to understand her better. I carry an immense amount of guilt about that now that it brings me to tears each and every time I think about it.
Along with the complete and total exhaustion I was eating like shit. I wasn’t taking care of myself. I was picking fights with my husband partly because I was so angry and frustrated and depressed all the time. And partly because I thought if he leaves me then we’ll have to share custody and I’ll be able to get a break. I was a complete. Fucking. Mess.
A few months after the uncontrollable trembling episode, I was sitting on the sofa nursing my daughter who was a few weeks shy of turning one. All of a sudden I begin to feel an immense pain in my chest like someone had just punched me, hard. Then I started to feel as if my ribs were being crushed inward. I couldn’t breathe right and I was starting to panic. I told my husband and we both wondered “Is this heart attack?” He took the baby and I got up to walk around. Of course it’s not a heart attack, right? The pressure began to subside after a few minutes but the next day I made an appointment with a cardiologist just to be safe.
When I arrived at the cardiologist’s they ran the usual tests: checked vitals, EKG, pulse-ox, etc. When the doctor came in to see me he told me all my tests were normal but he wanted me to describe what had happened again. I had my daughter with me and I was nursing her as I told him about the chest pain. After I was finished he asked me about my daughter. He asked how old she was, how often she feeds, how she sleeps at night. I thought it was strange that he asked so much about her. I just wanted to know what was wrong with me, not talk about my kids. Until finally, he asked me how I was sleeping, how I was eating, how I was feeling. THIS threw me. I could feel the hugest lump coming up in my throat. I fought hard to keep it down but I cracked. I broke down in this man’s office, part exhaustion, part relief, partly because that was probably the first time someone had noticed I was completely falling apart. He told me I likely experienced a panic attack and that if I didn’t start getting some rest and good food in I’d likely experience them again.
I had allowed myself to suffer in silence and alone. I didn’t allow myself to outwardly show signs that I was hurting because I foolishly gave higher priority to appearing that I had my shit together, and believe me, it worked. I very often was asked how I managed to do everything I did with my kids, how I wasn’t completely exhausted all the time, how I always looked so put together despite two small kids. That’s how sick I was. I was mentally and physically breaking down but there was no way I would let anyone know what I was going through. How FUCKED is that?
In fact, it wasn’t until a few years later that I finally let anyone know what I went through. I don’t know that my husband fully realized what I was going through although he patiently bore the brunt of my emotional ups and downs.
As I started to share my story with friends and family members, I started to realize that not only was I not alone in going through postpartum depression, I was also not alone in hiding it. But why? Why were we so ashamed? Why were we choosing to suffer, and some suffer greatly, instead of seeking help?
FINDING SUPPORT: YOU’RE NOT ALONE
According to Postpartum Support International, 1 in 7 moms and 1 in 10 dads suffer from postpartum depression and “15 to 20% of women experience more significant symptoms of depression or anxiety.” Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are indiscriminate and can happen to anyone regardless of age, socioeconomic background or birth experience. While we more commonly use the term “postpartum depression”, there are several perinatal mood and anxiety disorders people may experience such as anxiety during pregnancy or postpartum (PPA), pregnancy or postpartum OCD (PPOCD), postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder (PPTSD), bipolar mood disorder, and postpartum psychosis (PPP). If you feel you or someone you know may be suffering from any of these perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, would like more information or would like to find a provider near you, visit Postpartum Support International for local resource information and services.
So if as many as 1 in 7 women suffer from postpartum depression, why are we all doing so in silence? Now, while I could go off on a tangent about the societal pressures placed on women and parents these days, I’ll spare you and simply say SHARE YOUR STORY.
If you suspect you or someone you love may be suffering from some form of perinatal mood or anxiety disorder, ask yourself these questions from Postpartum Support International:
- Are you feeling sad or depressed?
- Do you feel more irritable or angry with those around you?
- Are you having difficulty bonding with your baby?
- Do you feel anxious or panicky?
- Are you having problems with eating or sleeping?
- Are you having upsetting thoughts that you can’t get out of your mind?
- Do you feel as if you are “out of control” or “going crazy”?
- Do you feel like you never should have become a mother?
- Are you worried that you might hurt your baby or yourself?
If you’re experiencing any one or more of these symptoms it may be helpful to seek help and share your experience with someone you trust.
I was worried that after the birth of my third baby I would fall back into postpartum depression especially since my husband was deployed for the first seven months of his life and even missed his birth by 7 days. But my recovery with my third was the smoothest transition to date so I was definitely not prepared for the emotional eruption that followed the quick, easy and fulfilling birth center birth of my fourth baby. I’m 18 months postpartum with him and can honestly say I finally feel like the fog is lifting. I can more clearly complete goals and meet deadlines I set for myself. I have fewer episodes of uncontrollable rage (rage was something new with this PPD and I hated every second of it). And I can actually feel myself enjoying my kids again where before I too easily drowned them out.
For me, it was helpful to talk about what I was feeling with friends and other moms, something I never thought I’d do. If I’m being completely honest, it still made me a little uncomfortable to hear myself saying it out loud but I told myself to lean into that discomfort for the sake of my well-being. I was just telling my husband the other night that despite how hard things may have been for us at times we’ve always been so lucky, so blessed. And, we are. I’m so thankful that I work in a profession that allows me access to resources that just happen to be close friends of mine as well. Not everyone has that, in fact, very few do.
While it’s helpful to put together a list of postpartum resources during pregnancy, it isn’t too late to do so after baby is born. If you need help locating resources, try contacting local doulas, childbirth educators, lactation consultants, labor and delivery nursing staff, midwives, or obstetricians. Any and all of these can be valuable resources and starting points to get you the help you need.
TIPS FOR PARTNERS
I always suggest that partners be hyper-vigilant the first few days and weeks after baby is born and to pay attention to what their recently postpartumed loved one is and and is not doing. For example:
- Are they eating regularly and actually finishing a meal?
- They’re likely tired with a newborn, but are they finding some time to get some sleep? Are you as the partner encouraging and facilitating the opportunity for them to sleep?
- When is the last time they showered or wanted to shower?
- Have you noticed they’re having difficulty concentrating or clearly answering a question?
- Do they seem unusually quiet or do other aspects of their personality seem off?
Postpartum Support International offers these suggestions:
• Reassure her: this is not her fault; she is not alone; she will get better.
• Encourage her to talk about her feelings and listen without judgment.
• Help with housework before she asks you.
• Encourage her to take time for herself. Breaks are a necessity; fatigue is a major contributing factor to worsening symptoms.
• Don’t expect her to be super-housewife just because she’s home all day.
• Be realistic about what time you’ll be home, and come home on time.
• Help her reach out to others for support and treatment.
• Schedule some dates with her and work together to find a babysitter.
• Offer simple affection and physical comfort, but be patient if she is not up for sex. It’s normal for her to have a low sex drive with depression, and rest and recovery will help to bring it back.
Everyone’s postpartum journey is different but it’s important to know you’re not alone. Reach out to friends, family members, online or in person support groups, and professional help. It not only takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a village to nurture and heal your postpartum and parenting journey.
If you think this article can help someone you know, please share and let them know it’s ok to not be ok and they’re not alone.