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My Truth About Motherhood and Postpartum Depression

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

Having my youngest daughter almost killed me.

Now, she is love and joy and light and enchantment. Now I can’t imagine my life without her. But before, as she lived deep in my womb, as she shuffled the hormones within me, she scrambled the essence of who I am into a wide array of feelings and emotions and tears that I couldn’t control. Her birth was the catalyst for a despair that I was able to hold at bay until she came and I could no longer hold the ropes steady. I fell into the well of postpartum depression and anxiety, one so murky and so cold that I wasn’t sure I would be able to tread the water I found myself in at the bottom of the pit. I wasn’t sure I would survive such darkness.

These are the risks we take as mothers.
She laughs. She curls herself around me as best as a 2-year-old can. Her knees are burrowed into my sides, her arms folded around my neck. She tells me, “I love you so much,” and I can feel the truth in her words. I am here because of her. It is surreal to think that at one point in my life, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be. Those beginning sleepless nights when she was a newborn opened the portal for dark thoughts to come forth. Once they entered my mind, it took two years for them to leave.

Too much of this is fatal.

I could blame it on a past I hadn’t dealt with, on a tired, negative story I continued to tell myself. We all have one of those. We all have things in our lives that we can’t release because who would we be without such heartbreak? For me, it was my father’s massive stroke that left him partially paralyzed and unable to speak, my sister’s incarceration and drug abuse, my grandparents’ deaths. It was my older half sister’s death from alcoholism and my aunt’s threatening phone calls to my mother. It was the pain I experienced during pregnancy, the hernia that I had surgery on in my second trimester, the pinched nerve in my foot, the weight gain and the lower back and hip pain. It was a dislocated tailbone that I have no idea how I got. It was raising my first daughter, a wild girl. It was moving to a new city and not knowing anyone except my husband’s family and feeling so utterly alone. It was stay at home motherhood. It was keeping all of this within me until I couldn’t anymore. My daughter wouldn’t let me.

Six months into my daughter’s life, I knew I was struggling with postpartum depression. Again. In a strange sense, I didn’t want to believe how bad it was. I had seen a therapist on and off before and during my pregnancy because I had experienced postpartum depression with my first daughter. I thought I had done the legwork, thought I had prepared myself for what may come. I had been pregnant before. I knew what to expect. It turns out that a therapist can only help you if you’re honest with them. I wasn’t open with the woman sitting in front of me with her legs crossed, her pencil in hand, blinds closed. I didn’t tell her how low I had often felt, how I had thought about hurting myself, of wanting to make the pain stop, of wondering if suicide was an option. I kept it close to my heart, not even wanting to admit such things to myself.
“What can we do?” my husband asked me one day when my youngest daughter was a year old. I had spent the night crying on the bathroom floor, counting the tears pooling in the crevices of the tile. It was something I had done many times.

“I don’t know,” I said. And I honestly didn’t know. That’s the thing about depression. It doesn’t let you know how to stop it.

“You need to call somebody. Call your therapist.”

“I emailed her and she never got back to me,” I said.

“Then call someone else,” he said and hugged me so tight.

I did what I was told. I called my insurance and they set me up with a 6-week cognitive behavioral therapy course rather than see a new therapist. I can’t say what the course was about. I didn’t have the capacity to learn how to train my thoughts when I couldn’t even be honest with them in the first place.

I sunk lower into my well.

All the while, my little girl grew and loved me. She gave kisses and hugs, cuddles and smiles. She looked at me as if to say, “Why can’t you see me? I am love and I am right here.” That’s another thing with depression. It doesn’t let you see the good right in front of you.

I fell, but continued with my life. I got up each morning. I took care of my two daughters. I got them dressed, got myself dressed, I bathed and showered and tried to exercise twice a week and ate healthy food and went to play dates and journaled and wrote and talked to my mother about my father’s health and whereabouts of my sister. I tried to smile more for my husband, to not burden him with the dark thoughts, to appear happy and healthy and glorious. It was a lie, but a lie I lived well.
Eventually, I found the bottom of that well. Fires raged through my idyllic city of Thousand Oaks, California, where only the night before a man had opened fire at a local bar, killing 12 people before turning the gun on himself. Our city became one of the many to experience the horror of a mass shooting in America. My husband’s entire family lives in or around Thousand Oaks. We were all affected. We all had to run, at some point, from flames barreling down the hills towards our homes. We all had to drown out the emotions revolving around a mass shooting in what was once considered a very safe city.

I couldn’t keep it in. I suppose that’s what happens when you reach the bottom of your own personal well. To fear fires engulfing your house, to fear being shot at while getting a friendly drink at a bar, it was all too much. I had panic attacks, followed by periods of extreme sadness. I couldn’t sleep at night. I would cry and cry, oceans upon oceans of tears, until my mind would spin into a spiral of darkness and depth. I thought of ending my life. The honesty in these words makes my hands shake.

“This isn’t working,” my husband told me. He was right. The current medication I was on was just not working. I needed to see a new therapist. I looked into my daughter’s face through my tears and pain and the narrow world I had built around myself, and I truly saw the little girl I had formed. She was there all along. Her brown eyes matched mine, her little circular face was so similar to my own roundness. She was thoughtful and sweet, loving and warm. I had chosen to create her, to bring her into this world and care for her. This world was so full of fire and violence, and it was my duty as a mother to support my daughters in a cocoon of love so they could get through such tragedy. It was my duty as a mother to choose to live for them and live them well.

I looked out of my insurance network for a therapist who specializes in postpartum depression. I found a kind, supportive, honest woman that I pay out of pocket for because this is how insurance and health care in this country works. The best often isn’t free. We make it work because it is my life we are talking about and we have to. My therapist is kind enough to charge us on a sliding scale, something I am deeply appreciative of. With the help of my psychiatrist, I switched antidepressants to one that works better for me.

Now, in this moment, I am grateful for the two healthy daughters I get to hold in my arms. I am thankful for their resilience. Though their births sent me spiraling into a world of hurt, I may not have gotten the help I needed had they not graced themselves into my life.

I know that depression may always live within me. But I am better armed today with the shields and swords I need to battle it. I’m on the right medication, and have a supportive therapist and husband. I have opened up more and more with the people in my life who love me that I have a mental illness. I have found a new spiritual home full of self-love and acceptance. I have released the 10 years of pain and negative stories about myself that started with my father’s stroke.

I am one of the lucky ones. Not everyone escapes the claws of depression. Not everyone rises like the phoenix they are meant to be. I wish I didn’t wait so long to get the help I so desperately needed. I wish I was more honest with the loved ones in my life, but I was so scared of what they would think of me if they knew the truth. This is another risk we take as mothers. We put on our coats of strength, our scarves of smiles, our shoes of “I’m fine” when in reality, beneath all of the cold the armor, we are sometimes tired, scared, alone.

They say you will change once you become a parent. They say you will be forever different. I want us as mothers to band together in the face of such change. I want us to take back the experiences of motherhood. The rawness of it. I want us to live authentically.

I want to live authentically. My youngest daughter almost killed me, yet she is the same daughter that also saved me. For this, I am forever grateful.

Originally published: January 11, 2020
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