My son was born on a Monday evening in early June. The weather was warm and my belly was full from a dinner out with my husband. My baby was a week late and we had a scheduled induction. The process was long and painful. The stress of the induction put both myself and my son at risk. His heart rate often started to drop which caused panic among the doctors and nurses. However, despite infection, failed pitocin and the cord being wrapped, he was born without a C-section. I had always envisioned the moment they would lay him on my chest. I dreamt of being the first face he would see and whispering “I’m your mama.” But that moment didn’t come. He came out, was silent and was immediately given to the NICU team. I watched from the hospital bed and somehow couldn’t find myself in the crowded room. My voice, usually loud and firm, came out quietly and begged “is he okay?”
No one responded.
Did they hear me? Did they not know? Did I not matter anymore?
I’ll never know the answer why.
Minutes seemed like hours but he came to me. He was beautiful and healthy, peaceful and sweet. And yet, I was terrified. My body was shaking from the epidural but, at the same time, I felt a shake in my soul.
When we brought him home, I placed him in the bassinet near our bed. I laid there next to him, just me and my intrusive thoughts. I changed his sleep clothes daily for fear of SIDS. Is this one too tight? Is this one riding up too much? Is this one too heavy?
I spent a good part of the first six weeks laying awake while he slept. I’d repeat in my head “Don’t die…don’t die…don’t die…don’t die.” Somehow, my anxiety had tricked me into thinking I could gain power over all of it; with the right outfits, the perfect bassinet…but I couldn’t, and my pleas to God were just my mind torturing me.
Our days continued and he was a happy, easy baby. But, I was a quiet and emotional shell. My anxiety rode so high that I’d get half-way to work, pull over in a parking lot, and cry. My hands shook constantly. My patience was low and my desire for perfection was intense. I filled my days by cleaning and organizing to distract my mind; this eventually turned into a larger problem. Everything from driving, elevators, grocery stores, kitchen knives, door locks, stairs and even the temperature of our home caused me anxiety. I no longer felt social and I begged and pleaded with my husband to let me stay home. I wanted to stay home from everything. From work. From parties. From family events. The idea of pretending made me angry and even more anxious.
People accused me of being an alcoholic because my moods were out of control and, oftentimes, the only way I could manage social events was to drink. Though it may have appeared that way at times, the false judgement caused me even more guilt and shame. I had an amazing husband, parents, in-laws, and family…and yet, I was alone. It took me a long time to realize that while I was suffering, I hid it well. I remember thinking, “is this how it’s supposed to feel?”, “How can I love him so much but be so unstable?”
In April, of the following year, things became so bad that I started to not leave the house. On forced occasions, I would cry and fight with my husband. I hated when he would leave but didn’t want to go with him. In those days, it seemed like we might not make it through and that realization was my turning point.
In May, I made an appointment with my primary doctor and said, “I need help. I think I have postpartum depression. I think it’s going to cause me to divorce my husband and I don’t know why.”
The fight that comes after you ask for help isn’t easy. The medication, the trial and error of different doses, the brain zaps from weaning off, the neutrality of your emotions, the therapy, the marriage counseling and the sadness of feeling like you have failed as a wife and mother are very real.
However, I didn’t fail. By asking for help, I actually showed my strength. I succeeded by putting in the work and fighting for my life. I found a community of women who looked at my struggles with such normalcy and empathy that it helped me see a light at the end of the tunnel and, little by little, the panic subsided.
302…is the number of days it took for me to realize I was drowning.
41…is the number of days after that moment when I finally asked for help.
29,635,200 seconds…493,920 minutes…8,232 hours of loneliness and pain. And through all of this, I found my strength.