My son was born a few months after my 18th birthday. I was instantly in love with my little man. I had my husband, my friends, and my family all close by. I was around people all the time, but after a few weeks I started feeling very alone. My self-image also suffered. I thought I wasn’t pretty anymore. I didn’t have a job so I felt like I wasn’t contributing, and I was failing two classes at school. I also felt anxious about having someone need me so completely. I felt like I was being suffocated.
Then, the dreams started. I would dream that someone was trying to steal my son from me and would wake up with my heart pounding. I remember waking my husband, making him search the whole apartment to make sure no one was in the house. I also asked him to check and recheck the window and door locks. At the time, I didn’t realize that I was having depression or anxiety. I simply thought that it was what all mothers went through.
Eventually, my panic attacks got better and I decided to go back to school. A year after that, I was pregnant again. This pregnancy was harder on me then my first. I had migraines several times a week, could only eat a few things, and spent a good period of time in bed. After our second son was born, our marriage struggled. I started getting chest pain and severe abdominal pain. I was never happy with anything, but instead was irritable or angry. At one point I was so tense that I could no longer turn my neck.
I didn’t understand mental illness, and I knew virtually nothing about postpartum depression. I thought people that took medication for depression were looking for a quick fix.
Shortly after my youngest son turned two, I got divorced. I was going through the motions of daily life, but my mind was always somewhere else. I felt guilty because I loved my children, but I knew I wasn’t giving them the best. I was irritable and angry with them when all they wanted was a few minutes of my time and attention.
Fortunately for me, my sister pushed me to get help. I was in nursing school at the time, and I was lucky enough to have some very good professors that also saw the signs of severe depression. I found a therapist and began medication. The medication didn’t fix my problems or change my situation, but it helped me feel like me again. I was able to get out of bed and function, securing a good job and taking care of my children.
I eventually remarried and had another baby. This time it was different, especially because I started medication soon after the birth. For the first time, I truly enjoyed my baby. I loved my older children, but I never enjoyed their infancy. This happier outlook on motherhood allowed me to enjoy my son.
Professionally, I have worked as a psychiatric nurse both with children and adults. I have learned that depression can manifest as pain without a cause; depression can make you feel tired, angry, or numb. Anxiety can cause headaches and increase your stress hormones (panic attacks can mimic symptoms of a heart attack).
Now, as an obstetrical nurse, I work with moms and babies every day. Maternal mental health is very important to me. I want all mothers to understand that they are not alone. Motherhood is hard, but it is also wonderful. I want to tell mothers that are struggling to not let your pride and misconceptions stand in your way of getting help. Mood disorders are so very real, and they can happen to anyone. I am a mother, a wife, and a nurse. I have depression and anxiety. I am still writing my story, still fighting my battle, and right now I am winning.