I feel weak.
It’s not like the weakness you feel when you’re about to pass out. Rather, it’s the weakness of not doing enough, not being enough. I have no energy, yet it’s 3 a.m. and I’m wide awake. My eyes were open before I heard her cries. Instinct? Maybe. But it doesn’t make it any easier for me to get out of bed.
There’s a guilt that forms in the pit of my stomach as I slowly make my way to her bedroom followed by the feeling of resentment. Am I resenting myself for feeling like this when all I ever wanted was her? Or am I resenting her? Either way, I hate feeling like this, and I shouldn’t feel like this, but it’s hard to see past the looming dark cloud that’s been hanging over my head for nine months now.
I pick her up.
Her crying automatically stops, and she melts into my arms like it’s exactly where she is supposed to be. It IS exactly where she’s supposed to be, after all. My crying starts. How in the world can something so precious, so perfect, belong to me? I dreamt of this moment my entire life. She and I—3 a.m. solitude—rocking back and forth, cuddling her into my chest. I watch her eyelids flutter closed once again and her shallow breaths making her chest rise and fall.
I sit there long after she’s returned to her slumber, and in the darkness, I wonder how in the world I got in this darkness myself.
This is the life so many women only dream of: a loving husband, adorable daughter, beautiful home, a fabulous career. Why can’t I get out of my head? I put her down into her crib, turn back to check on her once more. Her face is basked in the glow of her night light and for a fragment of a second, a smile creeps across her face. I wonder what she’s dreaming about. Could she be dreaming of me? Or is she dreaming about what her life would be like if her mommy was happier, more present?
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9 a.m. She wakes for the morning, and I start to go through the motions of what our daily routine looks like. Breakfast. Shower. Dress. Play. Leave the house. The four walls constantly feel like they’re closing in on me when I’m here alone. So I leave. Will it be a baby group today? Yoga? Or just a drive while she naps with a hot coffee in my hands? Either way, the visions won’t leave my head, and I try my best to outdrive them. The transport truck coming towards me looks too far over the yellow line. Will the truck hit us? Will my husband ever know we’ve gone off the road? How long will it be before someone finds us? What if I survive without her? What if she has to grow up without me?
I shake my head. I have no idea where these thoughts come from, how they creep up on me and paint my brain with the notion that things are constantly going to take a turn for the worse. With tears in my eyes, I turn around and drive home.
One year. How is she a year old already? It’s been a few weeks since I’ve been back to work. I’m finally settling into a routine and love seeing my colleagues again. The lunchtime banter helps my mind relax and takes away from the thoughts of what she’s doing with her babysitter. Some days, however, I think about all the things I’m missing out on while she’s in someone else’s care. The new words, the giggles, the milestones. Does she miss me? Does she hate that I’ve left her?
Other days, I can’t wait to get to work and escape the four walls of my home again. Will I ever feel like myself? I put so much energy into work and ensuring I’m present with her when I return home from work. I’m exhausted. I sit on the floor and play, watch her little quirks, and thank God for giving me this life.
But for him? My supportive husband, who is such an amazing father? The energy I have left is given all to her. So I yell at him. I’m irritated with him. Why can’t he do anything right? I swear he leaves the cupboard doors open on purpose; leaves his jeans in front of the hamper. He looks defeated as I raise my voice to him again. Why am I raising my voice? This isn’t me.
This isn’t me.
She is two now. I don’t even know who I am anymore. It’s not just me who’s noticed how much I’ve changed. I pick up the phone and dial a number. I hang up immediately. I try it again. This time there’s a ring before I hang up. I pace the floors and run my hand over my face. How hard is it to make a stupid phone call? This time, I let it ring, and the secretary answers. I make an appointment, I wait for the appointment, I ramble on. I’m told this is normal. I don’t feel normal. I feel like a shell, an empty shell.
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Postpartum depression. Anxiety.
Me? No way. I’ve never dealt with anxiety before in my life. I’m OK. It’s just been a rough year, and I’m having a hard time adjusting. And depression? I’m not depressed. I’m happy, sometimes. I’m allowed to have bad days. This many though? Probably not. How long will I have to be on this medication? What if it doesn’t work? It will work. It has to work.
It’s been a month of this daily pill before bed. I see a glimmer of sunlight shining through the clouds. The fog I’m in starts to lift.
There’s more of me to give, and I’m OK with giving it. I laugh more. I smile more. I’m no longer just a shell. My therapist teaches me breathing exercises. Inhale. Hold. Exhale. Count down from 15.
I’m here. That one tiny pill changed me, and something I was in denial of—ashamed of—is the reason why I’m still here. I’m finally feeling like myself again. The clouds hanging over my head have parted and the most beautiful ball of sunshine beams down on me. It warms my face. Inhale. Exhale. I laugh. The laughter comes naturally; the smile on my face is real. My empty shell is full again. I’m thankful. I’m grateful. I’m beyond blessed. I wake up in the morning with purpose. I play with my daughter. I hug my husband. I go for walks with my dog. I still have a journey ahead of me, and maybe it’s a journey I will always be on.
But I’m here.
One in seven women will experience postpartum depression and anxiety in their lives, with up to 50% of them not being diagnosed. While I never thought in a million years I’d be one of them. I am. I struggled for a long time before I took the initiative to make that call to my doctor, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, along with contacting a therapist.
I’m one of the lucky ones. My support system walked by my side throughout the journey and noticed the cues that I wasn’t myself long before I did. Not everyone is this lucky, and I wish more than anything this wasn’t the case. Mental illness is everywhere, not just in new mothers, but we are one of the most undiagnosed groups of mental health illnesses out there. We are busy at home with our children. If we don’t return a text, people just assume we’re feeding, changing, rocking, bathing them. We’re sleepless, running on coffee, dry shampoo, and a prayer. We think it’s normal. Oh, it’s just because of the sleep deprivation, right? It will get better, right?
It breaks my heart into bits when I hear about a mama taking her life, and I wish I could reach out to anyone who needs the help. I wish I could be the support system I was so lucky to have for a mama who doesn’t have one. If you or someone you know is struggling, please reach out. Reach out to a loved one, call your doctor, and arrange for a chat with a therapist. It will be the best thing you could ever do—for both you and your baby.
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If you know someone who has a new baby, give her a call. Drop a hot coffee off on her doorstep. Tell her she looks beautiful even when she’s wearing a two-day-old t-shirt that’s covered in spit-up. Let her take a nap. Throw in a load of laundry. She may have a smile on her face, but I’m willing to bet inside she feels like she’s crumbling, like she’s not enough. I bet she feels as though she’s being stretched thin and there are not enough hours in the day to accomplish what she needs to. Reach out.
I’m a better mom and a better wife because I dealt with the demons that were trying to drag me down.
I am worthy of living my best life, and Sertraline is what keeps me living the life I was meant to live. Maybe I’ll one day live my life without that one pill a day, and maybe I won’t. But I don’t feel ashamed. And neither should you.
To the mamas out there who are struggling, you can do this. Please don’t forget you need love too . . . the kind of love you so freely give to others. Do this for you. Do this for your beautiful family. Do it for me. Do it for the mama who didn’t have the strength to.
I’m proud of you.
Originally published on Vocal Media