Disclaimer: The following article mentions the topic of suicide or other sensitive subjects, which may trigger negative thoughts and feelings for those currently suffering or still recovering from a mental or mood disorder. Reader discretion is advised.
Brave….I have learned a lot about that word and that feeling becoming a mother. Although I am brave now, sometimes I am still terrified. I am terrified writing this now. Terrified that I might show my weaknesses, that I might be judged for them, that my children and family might feel the effects of those judgments. The world has come a long way in understanding postpartum depression, but education and understanding still need to progress.
I was a young mother when I gave birth to my first child, a son – 9 lbs. 14 oz. – a large baby for my then small frame. It was almost two weeks over I wasn’t even given an option for a natural birth, experiencing my first c-section. I felt then that the task of motherhood was large, but looked at it with bright eyes and thought that I had the strength to accomplish it. I felt as though the world knew that I was going to fail and I wanted to prove them all wrong. I would be the best mother for my son. I would protect my child from all of the unclean, scary things this world had and somehow I would prevail. Things were good, challenging, but this young version of myself was full of hope and dreams and possibilities. I went to college one month after my son was born and I completed my associate’s degree two months before giving birth to my second child, another beautiful son, and decided to be a stay at home mother and put off my educational pursuits until later in life.
Almost immediately after coming home from the hospital with my second child I began to experience panic attacks, although I did not know that at the time. Overwhelming sorrow and hopelessness began to set in. When he would cry in the night, I would dread going to check on him. I felt as though I was failing in every way and I would never be the mother my children needed. I had racing thoughts and negative self-talk. I felt utterly alone and like a failure. I wanted to tell someone what I was experiencing, but was so worried that they would think I could not handle it or that I was somehow defective, that I never spoke up. I was so hung up on the stigma that those who took antidepressants were simply not trying hard enough or just needed to eat better or exercise. So I didn’t. I pretended that everything was perfect. That I loved being a mother and that it was all going according to plan.
One night after attending a party at a friend’s house where other mothers spoke about their children and the way they were mothering, the anxiety was so great that I drove home thinking if I drove off the road right now and died it would be better for my children and family. I came home and sat down to feed my then ten month old son and the devastating feeling came back. I wanted to run away or pass out. Anything to end this feeling. I stood up and walked into my bedroom and locked the door. I woke up in a hospital bed four days later.
I had tried the only way possible to quiet my mind that I could think of in my emotional state and that was to pass out by wrapping a scarf around my neck. The scarf was attached to the bar in my closet and when I blacked out I was stuck in the loop, completely starving my brain of oxygen. My husband who had knocked on the door repeatedly, finally broke the door open to find me nearly lifeless on the floor. I was so ashamed of what I had done. I did not intentionally wanted to end my life, but could not go on with the intense anxiety and sadness. I saw the pain in my husband’s eyes, although he knew I had not myself he did not yet have the tools to help me.
Everyone who knew me was shocked to find out that I was suffering with postpartum depression. The sweet young mother who took her boys for walks around town and went to the local library for story time. The girl who loved to bake cupcakes, make crafts, and belonged to a scrapbook group. I was prescribed antidepressants and started to see the possibilities in life again and the anxiety lessened. Through the use of medication and therapy as well as finally being able to open up to my friends and family, I started to feel more like myself.
I gave birth to my third son three years ago, and while I did struggle after his birth, I knew better than to believe the lies that this illness whispers to me. I had tools to use this time around and knew what resources were there for me. I had a support system in place and those around me knew what signs to look for. I knew that I could communicate my struggles with my partner and that we would work through them together.
This was eight years ago this month and the month of May always brings around a lot of emotion for me. I have worked very hard at fighting and managing my mental illness and know that it is important to seek out therapy and ask for help. I hope that if anyone reads this and connects with my story, please know you are not alone. Please know this. And if you can’t know it right now, know that I love you and your family loves you, take this mother’s word on that, a mother who almost had her opportunity to be a mother robbed by this illness.