I really don’t know where to start. There are so many pieces to this story. Do I begin when I was in the hospital so many times in that 9th month of pregnancy? Do I start with the first time (out of many) that I heard, “if you develop preaclampsia, you and your baby could die”? Or when a dog attacked me at 37 weeks pregnant, leaving a cut across my stomach? Or when I stopped sleeping? Or when I stopped eating and lost 20lbs in one month? Or the first time I had intrusive thoughts of getting hit by a car, or falling off a cliff?
The incredible transformation I’ve experienced this past year is indescribable. It is hard to put my story into words. But I will try. My purpose here is not for people to tell me I’m “brave” and “strong,” but for other moms to hear that I’ve been there, I’m with you, and you’re going to be okay, I promise.
I’ve never in my life felt such despair, without hope and literally in a state of terror. I’ve experienced depression and anxiety before, but postpartum depression is a whole other animal. This was completely out of my control. It knocked me to my knees, and I didn’t think I’d ever get up. It was rock bottom…on steroids.
In the beginning, I could barely lift my body off of the couch. It was physically painful to move. I remember getting ready to go out with my husband and baby. I looked at my drawer of clothes and cried. Picking out what shirt I was going to wear felt like climbing Mount Everest. Everything was heavy. Everything hurt. I was so scared, so embarrassed, filled with guilt and shame. This wasn’t what I had expected with new motherhood. I’d never felt so horrible before and the scariest part was that I believed I would be that way forever.
My baby was very colicky. He didn’t stop screaming. And when the colic stopped when he was 3 months old, I finally had a moment to process what had just happened. That’s when I slipped into the darkness. I stopped eating and sleeping. I actually became afraid of my baby. Every time he’d cry or make a sound it would jumpstart this intense hypervigilance and anxiety.
I can’t believe how well I cared for him during this time. I feel grateful that even at my worst, I felt this intense animal love for him and I knew I had to stay around to be his mother. I couldn’t give up, it was never an option. My family was incredibly worried about me. I told my husband and parents that I had fantasies about disappearing and that scared me. I also told them that if I ever got to the point of feeling suicidal, I would let them know.
My journey towards healing has been a marathon, not a sprint. I’m okay for a couple weeks, and then I’ll be slammed with a few horrible days. Nothing will trigger it, which is confusing. I’m learning that this is part of the illness and this isn’t something I can control. Part of why I want to share my story is to help break the stigma of mental illness. Depression is not something you can positively think or exercise your way out of. It’s an illness and it needs to be treated like one.
I had to get on meds, which was very hard at first because I had never been on meds before. But I am so grateful for them now. They helped me climb out of the darkness. Meds, along with an incredible support system is what saved my life. My people were there for me, they sat with me while I was in my darkest hours, they walked with me, they listened, they rubbed my feet, they told me over and over again how much they loved me and they knew I would be okay. A friend of mine told me something that helped tremendously, she said “you were not put on this earth to have this beautiful baby and just disappear.” Even at my worst, I believed this to be true and kept that thought in the forefront of my mind at all times.
I’m one year postpartum now and I’m feeling much better. I’m on the right dosage of meds, I’m exercising and learning how to care for myself. I’m making my art and I’m feeling excited about the future. One of the amazing things that has come out of this experience is that I’ve felt inspired to help other moms like myself. I have a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology, but was always a bit lost in regards to what population I wanted to work with. It’s pretty clear what I’m meant to do now. I just signed up for classes to get certified as a postpartum doula and I plan to be a maternal mental health counselor/postpartum doula.
If you are struggling, please know this…it is not your fault, there is help, you will feel like yourself again, you will be okay. And lastly, you were not put on this earth to have your beautiful baby and just disappear.