Ten years ago, shell shocked, exhausted and swollen, I left the hospital, toting a newborn in a car seat. The car seat we spent hours installing, then had checked at the local police station to ensure we had done it properly. My entire pregnancy had been dedicated to eating the right foods and reading the right books. Every step of the way I knew how big my baby was, what was developing each week and that pregnancy was, in fact, ten months and not nine.
I decorated the nursery, bought all the necessary items, and a few that were completely unnecessary. I acted just the right amount of surprised at the surprise shower I knew I was having. In my head was a vision of what life would be like with my new baby — soft focus images where I gazed lovingly as he slept in my arms, serene smiles as he breastfed, quiet strolls through the park.
Not once did I ever imagine the feeling of a cold bathtub against my back as I sobbed uncontrollably, huddled for hours in a ball on the bathroom floor. Then the gentle rap at the door as my husband told me our son needed to be fed. The immense strength it took to turn the handle and let him be passed through. And the relief when it was over and I passed him back, settling back down into the fetal position, cold tile pressed against my face.
I had postpartum depression with both my children, both were equally hellish.
With my first I didn't know I had PPD, not until more than a year later when I read an article about it. As I went through the checklist, I felt the vice that had been wrapped around my heart release ever so slightly.
Since my son was born I had been plagued with guilt. I wasn't the mother I thought I would be. The mother I felt I should be. There had been no instantaneous connection all the books talked about. Instead I walked through my days feeling completely overwhelmed, teetering on the edge of panic. Nothing I felt fit in with what all the other mothers were saying. I lived in a state of silent shame, saying things I knew people wanted to hear and berating myself internally for not feeling them.
What mother locks herself in a bathroom crying for hours at a time, feeling resentful when she has to open the door to feed her baby? What mother willingly passes him off to anyone who offers? Not because I wanted to but because I knew how relieved I would feel when he was taken from my arms. What mother is too afraid to be left alone with her child?
What type of person contemplates putting their hand on a red hot stove burner so they can go to a hospital and just get away for 24 hours?
The serene strolls in the park I had envisioned were replaced with the reality of white knuckles as I gripped the stroller handle, sometimes so hard my hands went numb, afraid the stroller would get away from me and roll into traffic or into the lake nearby. My anxiety began leaving me house bound, my biggest excursion of the day walking to the mailbox. Eventually my husband took a partial leave of absence from work to help me care for our son. On the days my husband did work, I would go with him spending the entire day walking around the mall, my son in a baby carrier, or sitting in the storage room while he napped on top of me. I couldn't bear to be alone.
With my second son, I had a plan in place before he ever saw the light of day. Worked out with my doctor, my husband and the friends and family who would come over to help me, bring meals and make sure I wasn't alone, I felt secure we had all our bases covered. My meds were ready and waiting. I was prepared.
Nobody, least of all me, expected the downward spiral that would take place four weeks after my son was born. The call to my husband to come home because it was taking every ounce of my strength not to go upstairs and cut open my wrists. The thoughts were crazy, I knew this. But knowing it was crazy wasn't enough to quell the impulse to do the unthinkable.
A friend came over to watch me while my husband closed down our store and came home. This was followed by an emergency call to my doctor, a change of meds and a flurry of desperate emails to everyone I knew asking for any help they could give.
It's been ten years since those dark days when I didn't even know what I was going through had a name. I love my kids and my life is full. The woman who needed to be physically restrained to keep from hurting herself a distant, but very clear, memory.
Postpartum depression is a long, difficult journey, but there is a light at what feels like an endless tunnel. There will be days that light is only a pinpoint, while others it will appear almost within reach, only to recede again. But as time goes on, you realize the light continues to get brighter. Fight for that brightness. You're worth it.