I’m not sure where to start with this post. It’s hard to talk about. In fact I have not shared much about this topic with anyone including those that I am closest to. They know that I “struggled” with Post-Partum Depression with both of my children but most don’t know what that struggle entailed as far as the every day battles.
I feel compelled to share this story today because it is suicide prevention awareness month and what better way to bring light and awareness than by sharing my own personal story about my battle with PPD and anxiety. I am still alive. I am here today and ABLE to share my story…others are not. There are babies out there without mommas and spouses without partners, mothers without daughters and the list goes on and on.
The “who” is important of course…those are women who had family and lives and were wonderful people who will be greatly missed and we owe them that acknowledgement for their lives but more importantly we need to talk about the “why”. Why are women taking their lives? Why do they feel that is the only option they have? Why did they not get the help they needed? These are the important questions and I am no expert in mental health but what I CAN do is share the answers to those questions I have found in my own experience.
So here we go…it’s going to be a long story because I cannot sum it up in a short post and frankly that does not do justice to myself or the other women who have suffered in this same situation.
This is not a “happy” post. This is not a post about the “joys” of becoming a mother…because we’ve been sharing about that a LOT. As women, we share all the cute pictures, we share the first steps, the first baby food bites, the first giggles. We have seen all of that and while it is WONDERFUL and AMAZING, it is not the whole picture. THIS post is about some of the darker times…the things that nobody tells you when you’re about to become a new mother and it needs some attention because it is literally taking lives every day.
This is my story.
I was 23 years old when I took a pregnancy test that turned out to be positive. I was dating my now fiance at the time and we while it was not the path we expected our relationship to go down so soon, it was happening. I was terrified. I was about to start my final semesters of college and I had no idea how this would affect my plans. My fears quickly turned to excitement and I took ownership of the fact that I was going to be someone’s mother. From that point on I started painting a picture of what that life would look like. I knew that I would be a great mom because I loved kids. I had two nieces and nephews (who I adored) and I had two more nephews on the way! I was sure that my love for my child would far outweigh any of the sleepless nights everyone had been warning me of. I was sure that my love would outweigh the crying and fussy-ness during the day. I wanted to have a natural childbirth and I wanted to breastfeed my son because I felt that as a woman, I had the strength and courage to do those things that seemingly came so naturally for other women in my own family. I watched videos, I read every book, I went to birthing classes. I did everything I could to prepare for this change in my life. I continued to go to my college classes and was determined to get my degree. I wanted my son to know that I followed through with my dreams and goals no matter how difficult my situation. I felt ready to take on this role. I felt confident and I was ready to embrace all that came with the package of being a mother.
I was not prepared for what happened though.
I was scheduled to be induced on a Thursday afternoon about a week past my due date. I did not want to be induced, however my Dr showed concern that the pregnancy was going late and that I had no signs of labor or early contractions. She felt it was beginning to become more harmful to the baby the longer we rode it out. I agreed with her and went to the hospital as scheduled and started the induction process. I was told in the morning after a long and uncomfortable night that the induction was working and I was having strong contractions all throughout the night. I was ECSTATIC to hear that news and thought “this is really happening, I’m going to meet my son very soon!” I labored the entire day Friday and the entire night. Early Saturday morning they decided to try to break my water in hopes of moving things along.
After two attempts and hours later they broke my water. This time she said that if there was no progression soon they would have to do whatever they needed to do to get the baby out. This meant a C-Section and I was afraid of that outcome. (Looking back I am grateful for my Dr and am well aware that safety of baby and mom comes first and that means doing whatever needs done) but for someone whose medical history involved nothing more than a few stitches in my chin after tripping over a pillow into the corner of a glass table when I was younger, I was understandably filled with terror at the thought of my insides being taken out and moved around and then sewn back up.
Sidenote: A C-section is a MAJOR abdominal surgery. It is NOT natural and it IS painful. Yes, they numb you. No, that does not mean that you “don’t feel a thing”. In many cases (especially emergency situations) it is traumatizing. In other situations where a major surgery is opted for, the patient would have time to weigh their options and make a decision and prepare for what is to come. In my story (and in many others) it came as a shock and my mind and body were not ready for what they were about to be put through.
Everything after that went VERY quickly. The Dr told everyone to leave the room so that I could be given a spinal block. I couldn’t even have my fiance in the room with me. I was holding the hands of a nurse that I didn’t know and shaking while she told me everything would be okay. I was rushed into the O.R and everything was just a blur.
I was exhausted and cold and shaking and feeling the tremendous pressure of the surgery taking place behind the curtain covering my belly. I didn’t know how it was supposed to feel so I kept telling myself it was all normal and it would be over soon. FINALLY, I felt a huge tug in my belly and the Dr held my son up over the curtain for me to see. I waited for him to cry (he did) and I cried with relief that he was here and he was safe. They laid him next to my face and I kissed him and they took him away to clean him up and put me back together. I was too tired to feel anything else. The surgeon told me I could close my eyes and rest while they finished up. I did.
I woke up in the recovery room shaking from head to toe and hooked up to a million things. Everyone else was so happy. Smiling, congratulating me, asking me questions and I felt like I had just gotten in a wreck, more like a head on collision with a semi. I couldn’t function I was so out of it. They brought me my son and said I was welcome to try to nurse him now. It was the last thing that I wanted to do…I didn’t have the energy to move and his 8lb body felt like it weighed a thousand pounds in my arms. I couldn’t keep my eyes open and still they told me that I needed to try. I did try because this was what I was supposed to do, this was my moment I had been waiting for. I couldn’t fail at this. I tried unsuccessfully a few times until finally just cuddling up with him and shutting my eyes.
The rest of the hospital stay was much easier after I came around. Everyone was doing everything for me and all I had to do was just sit there and hold my baby. It should have been nothing more than complete bliss…but something still felt “off”. I was happy to let everyone else hold him. I was afraid of holding him for too long by myself. I remember one of the nights there while my fiance was sleeping on the couch I was laying there staring at the T.V and my son was laying in the bassinet asleep about 10 feet from me. I remember thinking that I should get up and hold him because he should be held my his momma but I didn’t because I was afraid.
We left the hospital the following Tuesday and it was completely overwhelming. We had been there for 6 days and it felt like it was “too soon” to be leaving. I didn’t feel prepared to go home where I would be taking care of this precious little person on my own. It hit me like a ton of bricks that we HAD to take him home. He was our responsibility now and again, I was lost. I still hadn’t figured out how to nurse him and had very little help from the hospital staff. Every time I tried, someone new came in the room. One time, I was almost in tears out of frustration from trying to get him to latch but he just was screaming and nothing helped calm him down; when in came yet another nurse to have me sign papers for this or that (I have no idea because I was completely overcome with anxiety). She was going over everything so fast that I couldn’t understand her and my head was spinning.
We finally left the hospital (which was challenging in itself because I had the pain of a fresh surgical incision making it impossible to fully stand) and we headed home. I will never forget the day we brought him home and not because it was joyous or because I was happy to be back in the comfort of our own home but because it was emotionally wrenching. Jason wanted to make a video of baby’s arrival to his first house and I went along with it because I didn’t want to take that away from him or from my son later down the road. He was recording and I was mustering every ounce of strength I had in me to get through the recording without breaking down. I wanted to be strong. I didn’t want my son to be watching the video when he was older and feel anything other than happiness about his entrance into this world. I didn’t want to burden anyone with the weight of the pressure I felt. The video was short. As soon as Jason turned the camcorder off…I went into the bathroom and burst into tears. It was all too much. I cried and cried and cried during the first few days of being home. I couldn’t stop crying. I felt totally un-equipped for my role as Forrest’s mommy and I couldn’t understand why. I thought I was meant to do this and here I was…drowning in the despair of my failure. I couldn’t nurse him. I couldn’t console him. Every time I tried to nurse he would struggle and fight so hard to get away from me that I felt I was physically hurting him by even trying. I was embarrassed that I couldn’t feed my own son. I still shudder when I see anyone commenting the words “breast is best” because I tried so hard and failed. I told myself that I was worthless because here I thought I could take on the role of “mom” so valiantly and not only did I fail at having a natural birth, but I failed at feeding my son and consoling him. (I would like to add, I no longer have any of those feelings..and I do not consider myself a failure, this is all to convey how absolutely consumed you can feel by suffering from PPD). I felt totally alone and I didn’t reach out to anyone because I thought it was just me. I was afraid that there was something wrong with me and I was genuinely afraid that by voicing the emotions I was going through that someone might actually take my son away from me deeming me “unfit” to take care of him.
There were days during that time that I wanted to die.
Not because I didn’t love my son. Not because I didn’t like being a mother. Not because I was selfish. I wanted to end my life because it was so overwhelming that I did not think I had any other choice. It is hard to even type this now because the thought of it makes me cringe. I felt so alone that I thought that was the only answer. I should have talked to a doctor. I should have reached out. I should have felt safe to do those things but I didn’t. I felt judged. I felt like I had to put on a show for other people’s sake and for my own. I should never have felt like I didn’t have options.
The days and weeks went by and I remember the night he was one week old because I literally had to convince myself to get through the days minute by minute. It was about 2am and I was up waiting for Jason to get home from work and I had the realization that I had been a mother for one week. I burst into tears again but this time out of happiness. Real, pure happiness. In my mind, I had jumped over a huge hurdle and made it to the other side. WE had made it. It was only a week in, and I knew we had a LONG way to go, but considering where I had been…I knew we could make it further. I knew that it was going to be hard but I knew I had to get through it for Forrest and for myself.
The depression lasted for probably a few months but it got better and better with time. The first week was by far the scariest though and it was when I was most vulnerable to harming myself.
Forrest is 3 now and I’m happy to report that he is an amazing human being. He is so smart, hilarious and the most ornery little thing anyone could create! I don’t know what I would do without him in my life and considering that he is attached at my hip, I don’t know what he would do without me either. I am lucky to be here when so many other mother’s are not. I cannot stress the importance of sharing YOUR story with others and raising awareness enough! No new mother should have to go through that alone and feel as though she is failing. I truly had no idea at the time that I was going through it until I had gotten through it. If you see someone who is struggling PLEASE reach out to them. If you know someone who is going to be a new mother and you have been in my shoes, please don’t hesitate to share with them the signs of PPD so that they can get help if they start to experience those feelings. This is just MY story. There are so many others and the more we can have the courage to talk about it, the more lives can be saved and the more babies who won’t be left without their mothers in this world.
P.S.- I finished school and graduated 2 months after Forrest was born with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree!
**I would also like to add that my fiance is and has been a wonderful partner through every step of my life with him. He did all that he could to help me, the problem was that I didn’t feel comfortable to even share with HIM some of the emotions I was going through. That’s part of suffering from Post-partum…you don’t want anyone to know how awful you feel. That is why is important to check in on those new moms and make sure they are doing okay emotionally.
I hope this post inspires you to find the courage to share your own story and PLEASE share for anyone who may be going through the same thing. You never know whose life you might be saving.