My dream, for as long as I can remember, was to be a mom. With my first baby, I was sick before I had a positive pregnancy test. This would turn out to be my first sign of pregnancy with all three babies. My first OB appointment wasn’t until I was 12 weeks, and by then I had lost 10 pounds and was living off of Dr. Pepper and fries. I was nauseous the whole nine months. I also developed a condition called cholestasis at the end of my pregnancy and my doctor, who knew almost nothing about the condition, didn’t do anything to help me manage my symptoms (extreme itching). I was just too sick and tired to question anything. I was literally hoping I would survive.
At 39 weeks I was finally induced and had a beautiful baby girl. I felt better immediately! Those first three months were complete bliss. I took the time to heal. I took naps daily. I would dance with her in my arms to Michael Buble’s Christmas album and read her Guess How Much I Love You. Food tasted so so good. I could shower without throwing up. I could sleep. It was like the sun had finally come up after a very long night.
Two years later I was pregnant again. At 11 weeks I had my first anxiety attack. I got out of the shower and started itching. I thought I had cholestasis again. (I didn’t, it was just dry skin. Ha.) But that was the first, of many, attacks. The first one was the scariest. I really thought I was going to die. My body tensed all over and shook so badly, it was hard to form words. I called my husband sobbing and shaking, begging for him to come home from work. After, I was exhausted. My body was sore for days and I was terrified of having another one. Sometimes vomiting set it off, sometimes I just had one. I got to the point where I could anticipate them coming, like a storm in my bones. I just kept telling myself that I only had to make it a few more months and then I would feel so good again and be on that new baby high.
When my second daughter was born, I bonded with her instantly. I knew she was MY baby and I loved her fiercely. But resting is hard with an absolute tornado of a toddler. My cousin got married a couple of months after I had her and their reception was at a barn. My whole family was in from out of town and it was a chance for me to catch up with some of my favorite people. My toddler ran out (laughing) into the mud with the horses and I had to chase her down in a dress and heels while holding a newborn. I was furious and we left early. It was the day before mother’s day and as we drove away I screamed “HAPPY FREAKING MOTHER’S DAY TO ME!” I sobbed the whole way home. I had another attack that night.
I read up on postpartum depression and anxiety and even though I checked some boxes, I thought I wasn’t that bad because I was still functioning. I had bonded so well with my baby, after all, and no website talked about wanting to sell your toddler to the zoo.
But I talked to a family doctor, who prescribed me some medication. My attacks got worse, even though I stuck with it for six weeks. I would pray that I would just stop breathing so that my husband could have a better wife and my kids could have a better mom. I never planned out a suicide, but I was close. I stopped taking the medication and tried working out, taking better breaks, eating healthy foods, meditating, etc. I thought it was working and gradually my attacks and those horrible thoughts went away. But I still had to fight every day to be happy. Sadly, I thought this was just my “new normal.”
I got pregnant again three months after I stopped nursing. I was sick, like I had been with both girls, but this was the first time I went to the hospital to get fluids. GAME. CHANGER. I started getting better at 13 weeks, the earliest I ever had.
I switched to a midwife group halfway through my pregnancy and for me, it was one of the best decisions I could have made. They asked me how I was doing emotionally at my appointments (my doctor never had) and they took the time to listen to my concerns. For the first time as a mom, or soon to be mom, I felt like I was being taken care of by a medical professional. When my midwife broke my water at the hospital, she stayed with me until my son was born. It was an amazing experience. However, I was scared to leave the hospital and face those tough-loving little girls. I ended up having a great first two weeks. I went to the mall, I took my daughter to preschool, I was cooking. (I’m going to tell you what my midwife told me: “You shouldn’t be doing those things that soon after having a baby.”) But I was so proud of myself. I had beat PPD! And then I crashed.
My husband was on the alert for signs of PPD and he told me to make an appointment. I was offended. I was having a bad day! Couldn’t a person have a bad day? But then I had another, and another. I started thinking my baby looked like my dad (who I didn’t have a good relationship with) and it freaked me out. Sometimes I couldn’t look at my sweet little boy. One day, I just couldn’t stop crying. So I called.
The phone call went like this:
Receptionist: “Hi, what would you like to make an appointment for?”
Me: “I’m just *sob* having *sob* a really hard *sob* time *sob* emotionally *sob*.”
I was so embarrassed. I felt like I had failed. I had failed at being happy. I had failed at being a good mom. And I had tried so hard.
I cried through the appointment and my midwife held on to me as I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and psychosis.
I felt nothing but shame filling that prescription and I felt no hope taking that first pill. “What if this is just how I am?” I thought.
I told my mom later of my diagnosis and she was shocked. “Will you always have psychosis?! Isn’t that a permanent condition?” This didn’t help, but I can’t blame her because “psychosis” is a very scary word. When I posted my story online, my friends and neighbors were equally shocked. “I had no idea!” was the common response, but turns out you can hide a lot of crazy.
I’m also realizing that PPD is a tricky little demon who wears many hats and is a master of disguise. It looks different on everyone.
But a straight up miracle happened, and within a week, I felt like myself for the first time in three years. My “crazy thoughts” went away, I could get through the day without a nap, and I fell more in love with my family than I had ever been before. I feel in control of my life and my emotions, rather than feeling controlled by them. I have more confidence. I’m more laid back. I still have hard days, like everyone. But my good days far outweigh the bad.
I wish I could hug every mom-to-be, new mom, and not-so-new-mom who ever feels like I did. I wish I could erase the shame, guilt, and feelings of failure associated with PPD and all mental illness. If you think you might need help, please please please call a doctor, midwife, therapist, or anyone else who can get you help. In the meantime, here’s a hug.