Dear family and friends,
The following is the story of my ongoing battle with postpartum depression. Please be aware that the following post may contain triggers for anyone currently struggling with mental illness. Please also be aware that it's not a comfortable read.
Two pink lines. My heart is racing. I’m nervous. Excited. Terrified. This isn’t my first rodeo, I already have two incredible children. Two rambunctious, crazy, intense, loving, complicated children. This child was planned, but the moment I saw those two pink lines, I knew this was the beginning of the end. I knew this baby would be our last.
I’ve always wanted a big family. When my sweetheart and I started dating, I told him I wanted six kids. I was serious. Being in a big family has so many perks, and I wanted nothing more than to give my children, my perfect little boys, this big family. But then I saw those two pink lines. How could it be? How could I know this was the end? How could I stop at only three children? I wasn’t even thirty. I was still a baby myself, but I knew. This would be the last time I’d be sitting on the cold, hard edge of this white bathtub with happy tears in my eyes as I watched that gloriously dark pink line appear in the test window.
My mind begins to swirl with visions of the future. Tiny baby socks and shoes. Midnight snuggles. The feeling of the perfectly new, pink skin against my cheek. The smell of gentle baby breaths, the little coos and sighs. I have so many hopes and dreams for this perfect new life. I’m filled with emotion as I anxiously await the ultrasound where I’ll know if this little person growing inside me is a boy or a girl. I’m helplessly sick, but I don’t care. There’s a new little one coming to our family.
Beneath the visions of the miracle of childbirth and the anticipation of filling our home with tiny baby paraphernalia is a deep, dark, churning river of fear. I’m fearful for my children. Fearful for my husband. Fearful of the consequences of this decision. I’m not like other women. The decision to have a child is the heaviest decision I could make in this life, even more burdensome than the decision to marry. The decision to have a child, for me, is the decision to plunge into the fiery depths of life-threatening postpartum depression.
The pregnancy, like any other, was a beautiful, wonderful, confusing, tumultuous time. As I watched the vivid mental images of the exciting days ahead play on a loop in my mind, I scrubbed the bathtub with a toothbrush. I painted the nursery blue, and then filled it with every pink artifact I could find. Every detail meticulously planned. My baby girl was going to have the perfect life in her perfect nursery. I just knew it. Or did I? As my belly began to swell, so did my uneasiness about the future. With each perfect child who had wriggled his way into our family so far, I had experienced this devastating crash and subsequent mental war. Would it happen again? How could I know? I worried. I paced. I continued to scrub the bathtub. Nesting is normal. My pregnancy was normal. Maybe this time, I could be normal too. I clung to that meager pink shard of hope. This baby was a girl. Maybe things would be different.
The day our tiny princess was born was the most precious day of my entire life. Everything was perfect. From the magnificent man holding my hand to the photographer. From the ice chips, to the doctor. Perfect. She was born in a hurry, like she knew our moments of bliss would be numbered. I have never before, felt such love, tenderness, and serenity all at once. For two short magical days, I experienced such profound beauty that I’m certain I will never be the same.
Maybe that’s why the crash was so devastating. The stark contrast between the euphoria of our first days and the anguish of the days that followed was too much to bear. It felt as if my heart was being ripped from my chest and I was being flung into an abyss of endless darkness.
I cast my eyes around the blackness of the pit. I can’t see anything, not even my own hand in front of my face. The darkness is so thick it is almost tangible. This barren wasteland is my mind. There is nothing. No warmth, no light, no hope. My world is silent. Not even my screams can be heard. I am alone. Just when I am prepared to drown in the darkness, I hear someone calling for me. It feels safe. It feels like home. I reach upward for the hand I am certain I will find, for the life-saving warmth that must await me after this painful exertion, only to feel the tips of his fingers slip from my grasp. And again I am plunging into the icy depths of this cavern.
Is there no hope? Is there no light? Is there no one who can reach me? How did I get here? Where am I supposed to be?
I’m angry with the darkness. Its presence mocks me. This isn’t where I’m supposed to be.
I’m supposed to be safe at home with my family. Snuggling on the couch and giggling with my little ones. I’m supposed to be reading bedtime stories and tickling toes. I’m supposed to be sighing in contentment as the tiniest of them all wraps her miniature hand around my finger. I’m supposed to be holding my husband’s hand and sharing a goofy grin each time our eyes meet. We’re supposed to lock our doors and feel our home bursting with love and peace and joy. And light.
I can almost hear them. I can almost hear those babies singing. And then the deafening silence returns.
The darkness of the cave is thick and heavy, and it exhausts me to keep my eyes open. As the cold wisps of darkness begin to envelop my entire being, the ground begins to crumble beneath my feet. How is this possible? Surely there is nowhere lower than where I have already fallen! I stumble across a widening gap in the weakening earth, and in an instant, my eyes close and I am transported to another place in my mind. A place where I have control. There’s a light here. Not a warm light like the home I left behind; a single cold fluorescent bulb. The room is chilly. Everything is gray. I am numb. In the middle of the sterile room is a long wooden table, and on the table, two objects. I move closer and recognize the metal on the left. A knife. And to the right, an orange bottle of pills. I know this place. I breathe a sigh of relief. This is where decisions are made. This is the only place where the choice is mine.
Every bit of desire within me calls for me to pick up the knife, and when I do, I feel power in its cold, molded handle. It feels comfortable in my hand. The smoothness of this whetted blade should frighten me. I’m certain that it is terribly sharp. In an instant, I choose to take the edge off the numbness; to bring warmth to this gray place. I drag the cool blade across my wrist, and the grayness of my mind is instantaneously replaced with color. Red. I feel the warmth of the blood rising up through the stinging skin, and for a moment I feel alive. For a moment, I feel something. In that moment, I realize that I hadn’t felt anything in a long time. Not for myself, not for my family, not for anyone or anything. I lift the knife again, prepared to flood my world with color once more, when the residual red is extinguished, and the gray room has turned black.
In an instant, I hear a baby cry.
I hear a toddler scream.
I hear a man sobbing.
And then I realize what I’ve done. I recognize the darkness within me, and I see it flooding my home. Smashing the windows, engulfing every light. The choice is no longer mine to make, and I reach for the pills with increasing urgency. I gather every ounce of feigned love I can muster and declare it as emphatically as I possibly can. I wrench the bottle open, and immediately feel myself seized by a force much stronger than I could have ever hoped to be.
The impact of whatever has grabbed me catapults the bottle from my hands, and pills scatter. Knowing that they are my only chance to take control, I fight with the force that is now attempting to restrict my every movement. In one last, desperate measure to reach the pills, the elixir that will save us all, I kick against my adversary with all the energy I can summon. We slump against the wall, and I gasp for breath. When I open my eyes, a sob catches in my throat as I recognize the arms wrapped around me. The steady arms that have saved me from myself. The man they belong to. His fingers softly brush the tears from my cheek, and the quiet strength in his gentle hand presses my head into his chest.
I am haggard and battle-worn, but for a moment, I am home.
If you are struggling with postpartum depression or any of a whole host of other mood disorders, please check out these great resources. And please, please, don't stay silent. Get help. Share your stories. You can make a difference.
Postpartum Support International
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline