“It gets better.”
That is what I kept hearing after I had my baby. And every time I heard those words my brain would scream “WHEN?!”. I felt like I was drowning. I was raw – literally, figuratively – all of the ways in which someone can be raw. Isolated, yet with constant calls/texts/notifications. Alone, yet surrounded by people. Stagnant, yet always moving/doing. Silent, yet screaming inside. Feeling everything, yet nothing at the same time.
I don’t believe you can truly ever be prepared for the day you become a mother. You can try. You can ask a million questions, take a million classes, read a million books, but the second you hold that innocent child in your arms – everything changes. It’s a strange concoction of pure joy and complete terror. Here it is – this thing you made – now keep it alive. Oh, and while you are it, make sure to raise it to have upstanding morals, good character, and without traumatizing it too much along the way. [No pressure, right?!] Wrong, lot’s of pressure – all the pressure – [What have I done?! What do I do now?] These feelings are “normal” they say. [Who is they anyway? Why do they always have an opinion?!] After your hormones settle down, after you get home, after you get in a routine, after the “shock” wears off, somewhere – sometime – you embrace the joys of motherhood and find peace with your new role. For some reason, this wasn’t as easy for me. My feelings grew stronger, more terror, more overwhelmed, more anxiety, more confusion, and eventually converted numb, mundane, empty, helpless. LOST.
A looming shadowing lurking over you, keeping you from fully enjoying your new baby, your family, your life. A weight with more pull that any gravitational force – causing your feet to drag like concrete blocks.
Let’s discuss my experience.
There is a stigma here, I’d like for you to try to set aside your previous thoughts, feelings, judgements concerning mental health. If you are unable to continue reading with an open mind – please click away from this post. This is a safe space. This space was created with love for others who might stumble across it looking for someone to relate to, a story to read, or out of general interest on the subject matter. This place is for expression, relation, uplifting interaction. It is warm. It is comfy. It feels like home. Let’s keep it this way. It should go without saying that negative comments will be removed as they are not helpful.
Postpartum depression is only part of my story.
While I was born many years ago, this part of my story begins in fall of 1998.
Specifically it begins on October 13, 1998 – the day my brother died. Most people who know me personally are aware that I have a deceased sibling. What those people may not know includes the following: His name was John. He died at the age of ten from brain cancer. He was a light this world needed – a light dimmed far too soon. His death shaped my life. It is the reason people pitied me in middle school. It is the reason I feel uncomfortable when people ask, “Do you have any brothers or sisters?”. It is the reason I have depression (one of several). His death left a void so deep inside of me, there are days I am afraid it will never be filled. However, his death does lead me into positive ventures as well. It is the reason I joined a sorority that supports Make-A-Wish Foundation. It is the reason I went into healthcare as a profession. It is the reason I stay close with my friends and family. His death makes me live. So, there is a happy ending if you dig deep enough to find it. Needless to say, this was a traumatizing event in my lifetime. Paired with my genetic susceptibility, it seemed inevitable that I would suffer from some degree of depression. And I did, I do, I will most likely until my last day on earth – not to be morbid – just honest. There is so much more to be said about raising a child after suffering the loss of a close loved one – yet this post is not the place nor the time. [I anticipate a future post soon]. This is for you to understand me a little bit more.
I spent my formative years thinking “this is the grief process” and “it will get better with time”. I did not seek help, although it was offered. Instead I found my solace in creative activities – writing, dance, music – and through friendships. I pushed away the darkness as long as I could. In college, I did the same with new friendships, new writing, and long nights of studying at the library. I pushed away the darkness again – until I couldn’t any more. After several poor clinical experiences, I found a psychiatrist and a diagnosis I could trust. Generalized anxiety disorder with panic episodes and major depression. [Major depression? What is minor depression? How do you become majorly depressed?!] I worked with my doctor to find a medication regimen that worked best for me. I spent the next eight months of my life living happily – for the first time in as long as I could remember. I was able to feel real joy again – something I didn’t even realize I missed. I could breathe again. The weight had been lifted – the shadows gone. Shortly after my husband and I turned thirty, we had the “will we have kids” talk. I have had PCOS since I was a teenager. I am overweight. I have irregular periods. We had not prevented pregnancy for over five years at the time. Previous physicians told me, “it will be hard for you to conceive”. Mutually my husband and I decided that we would not undergo fertility treatments for financial reasons, and thus we figured we would not have children – instead we would travel and raise our two yorkies together. That was fine with me. And one faithful day in July of 2016 I thought to myself “well my period is late again, I guess I will test just to be sure”. Staring back at me were two pink lines. [TWO?!?!?!] Yes, two – the double stripe sign of soon to be motherhood [Surely this wasn’t real, right?!] Four pregnancy tests, a tearful phone call to a friend, and a pinteresting session later of “how to tell your husband you are pregnant” – it was real. I was pregnant. Immediately, I panicked. [What about your medicines?? Won’t they hurt the baby?] I called my psychiatrist and my obgyn, left hormone filled messages about my fears, and was reassured quickly that it was okay. I elected to wean off my medications for my pregnancy and surprisingly I did just fine. I was in my graduate program and working full time in the ICU. Busy was an understatement. I was distracted from the darkness, and I was one big ball of hormones. [I had survived without medication for 24 years – what was nine months?] And then on March 2, 2017 at 8:00 p.m. on the dot, my whole world changed – my son was born.
A beautiful, healthy 8lbs 4 oz angel delivered via emergency c-section. The best thing to ever happen to me.
TRIGGER WARNING. Also – slight disclaimer – I love my child more than anything in the entire world, I have always loved him. I always will. In no way, would I ever harm him or allow another individual to harm him – emotionally, mentally, physically. He is my world. The following is shared for others to read and understand – to break the stigma on mental health. Please be kind.
I have never loved anything or anyone so much in my life. I can say this now without question. Yet, upon his arrival and the first eight weeks of his life I wasn’t so sure that this was the case. I loved my child because I knew I was supposed to, because he was part of me, because we spent hours together bonding, and because there was an instant connection between us. There was an immediate feeling of love – infatuation. I believed it was true love until it began to fade a few days after leaving the hospital. It wasn’t that I had complete apathy. I knew I loved him – I just couldn’t feel it. It was as if there was this wall between us, keeping us apart. It was almost as if I was looking through some sort of opaque window at him. It seemed robotic. I wanted so badly to feel this “indescribable love” I had heard so much about. Yet, I just couldn’t seem to reach that place.
The first two weeks home from the hospital were hell. I was recovering from my delivery, a hormone drop, latch issues, supply problems, pumping routine, and attempting to keep an infant alive. It was the longest, yet quickest two weeks of my life. Looking back it seems like a small blip – living in the moment, it seemed neverending. Every day I would cry. I was told “this is normal, it will get better”. I held out hope that it would. Week 3 after my son was born, he was diagnosed with acid reflux and started on medication. He cried every day without fail from 3:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m., which meant I cried too. Week 4, Week 5, Week 6 – all came and went. Sometime during Week 7, he stopped crying during the afternoons, but I did not. [It will get better, right?!] Throughout this time I had extremely vivid dreams/daydreams of different ways he might be injured or even killed – falling off the counter, tripping while I carried him, or just finding him blue in the middle of the night. It was almost like PTSD. I would awake with a racing heart rate, sweaty palms, gasping for air, searching to see his face to reassure myself he was okay. And, he was. He was perfect. I was not.
Week 8 postpartum, I got help. I had finally decided it was only getting better if I made the decision to make it better – it being myself. I decided it was time. This was the first time I understood having unconditional love for my child. I wanted him to have an emotionally connected, stable mother. I wanted to show him what happiness could mean. And so I started back on my medication, even though I was breastfeeding. And I am a better woman, mother, person for it. By week 12, I didn’t cry anymore in the afternoons. Instead, I cuddled my baby. I hugged him. I kissed him. I LOVED him – truly, irrevocably loved him. And, it got better.
So I leave you with this:
It gets better – when you admit it to yourself, when you reach out for help, when you TRY to get better, when you come above water, and when you can finally take a deep breath again. It WILL get better. But, you have to be the reason it does. And when it does, it is worth it. I promise.