My first pregnancy ended in miscarriage at ten weeks and left me feeling gutted and broken. I loved and wanted that baby. I didn’t know how to grieve a child that I never got to hold. I blamed myself, and I couldn’t bear having an empty womb. My doctor advised me to take six months and heal emotionally, but I wanted to try again immediately after our loss. Four months later, I was pregnant again. But I felt terrified and robbed of all the joy I should have felt. I didn’t want to love this baby until I had him in my arms.
Nine months later, I held my beautiful baby boy in the delivery room. I’d just had an awesome non-medicated birth. My CNM and the hospital staff were amazing in caring for me, and my sweet boy was healthy! I was so sore but on cloud 9. We went home, tired but excited.
My husband took a week off of work; then I was on my own.
I had flat nipples. I didn’t even know that was a thing. My sweet boy couldn’t latch, but I was determined to figure out breastfeeding. It wasn’t long before my nipples were bleeding, and every feed made me sob from the pain. I also produced an oversupply of milk, and my breasts always ached. My bruising and stitches from birth were excruciating and taking forever to heal. Pain was my life.
My son hated sleeping, too. He didn’t sleep more than an hour or two at a time for his first six months of life. We eventually did figure out breastfeeding, but then he wouldn’t take a bottle. My boobs and I were on deck all night every night. I was losing it.
During the day, I used to lie on the floor in his bedroom, crying until I couldn’t breathe, just begging for someone to help me. But no one was there. It was just the baby that I should have been overjoyed to have… and me.
The guilt was suffocating. I lost one baby. So many other women lose more. I was lucky. Why did I feel so ugly and dark? I started having mini panic attacks, and then I started lying awake in bed at night (even when my son was finally asleep), wishing I could disappear. At that point, I didn’t want to hurt myself or my baby. I just wanted to stop existing.
I didn’t tell a soul, not even my poor husband. He knew something was wrong, but I hid a lot, and he didn’t know what to do. Eventually, my hormones began to regulate, and my sweet boy figured out how to sleep. The sun started to shine in my life again, and I felt like a new version of myself.
Almost three years after my first baby, my second son was born. The birth was quick, and my physical healing was fast. Breastfeeding still sucked, so I pumped and fed. My second baby loved his sleep. I felt amazing!
But depression and anxiety still found me. The feelings weren’t constant, but they were way more intense. One night I could not fall asleep. These thoughts kept running through my head like a broken record, “My baby is going to die. He’s not okay. My baby is going to die. He’s not okay.” Fear paralyzed me. My baby was perfectly happy and healthy. There was no reason for me to be so worried.
A few weeks after that, the thoughts changed to say, “I can’t do this. I can’t do this. I can’t do this.” Then they started saying, “I want to die. I can’t do this. I want to die.” These awful thoughts peaked one night after I’d put the kids to bed. My toddler was wild and hated bedtime, so it had been a rough process. I sat on the floor outside their closed doors and started picturing different suicide attempts. It made me feel calm.
My self-preservation alarm sounded in my head and snapped me out of the darkest corner to which my mind had ever ventured. When you’re deep in depression, reaching out for help seems impossible, but I forced myself to stand and walk into the kitchen where my husband worked on his laptop. I told him, through my tears, what had just happened. He held me while I cried and helped me make a plan.
I didn’t want to take pills or see a therapist — I still felt so ashamed. Instead, I practiced mindfulness and identified my triggers for depression and anxiety. That, along with just letting my hormones regulate, actually really worked for me. I still wish I could go back and tell that momma, both times, that pills and doctors would have been just fine, too. They might have helped even sooner.
Today my boys are five and almost three. I still have to practice mindfulness and remember to take care of myself, but my mind is strong and healthy most days. I survived.
I wrote a book of stories about women struggling through pregnancy loss and PPD. It’s called “Hush Now: Short Stories.” I wanted to add my voice to all of the other brave women that are trying to end the stigma. Mental illness is real and terrifying, but nothing to be ashamed of.