I remember the day. I took my three year old son to preschool. While driving home with my newborn in the car, I felt like crying, crying and crying and crying. I was so tired. I had an eerie feeling that I could just swerve out of my lane and into the lane of oncoming traffic as a semi-truck approached. I was terrified. These are not easy words to write, and I know they are not easy to read. It has taken me nine years to put them to paper. I have barely spoken them but to a select few. Shame, guilt, fear. I have been given courage by time and by supportive friends who have also shared their stories, and by women less fortunate than I who need help. All of our help.
I managed to guide the car home and cry the day away, my husband was home with me on paternity leave, or at least part of the day, I don’t recall, and I remember saying, “I’m crying a lot, something’s not right.” I have a history of depression but I did not suffer from postpartum depression with our first son. “Oh, I bet you’re just really tired,” he said. “I don’t know, this feels different,” I said. “If I feel this way tomorrow morning, I’m calling the doctor.” “OK.” I cried all day. Took care of the baby, slept, cried, nursed, cried, cried, nursed, cried, was exhausted, felt every move would break me. The next morning, I felt like a blanket of lead covered my entire body and I couldn’t lift my arms, my legs, the weight was staggering. I cried and cried. I called my OB/GYN. “Something’s wrong, I’m scared.” I was able to admit the thoughts I’d had about the truck. I don’t remember if I admitted them to my husband that day or if it took longer to be honest with him. I was afraid he’d take the baby away. My doctor got on the phone. Not a nurse, not a PA, no one to take a message. My OB/GYN herself. She said “Are you alone?” “No, my husband is here.” “OK, don’t be alone with the baby. If you need to, come to the office and we’ll sit with you. I know a really good doctor who can help you. I’m calling him now. Here’s his name. Call for an appointment. It’s going to be OK.” I was made to check in with them regularly, they called me as well. The goal was to get me an appointment with a postpartum psychiatry specialist as soon as possible, but in the meantime, that I not be alone. And that both the baby and I were safe. They had raised the alarm.
I cried some more. But it was relief. It was gut-wrenching relief. Within a day or two, I don’t remember, I had an appointment. It’s not a time in one’s life, at least for me, that I want to remember detail-by-detail because it was so mind-bogglingly awful, it was so against what I had been always programmed to believe I should be feeling two weeks post-birth of my amazing second son. I was so fortunate. How could I be so miserable? But I was. It was. I went in a fog to see the psychiatrist. I still don’t remember if I brought the baby. I must have, he was nursing so often, or maybe not. I think my mom was visiting, helping. I was in a daze of shame, fear, sadness, and desperation. Details are foggy although I can remember what I was wearing: the oddest red linen shirt and black linen pants from consignment, the only thing I could fit in. Strange how memories pick their spots in our brains.
The psychiatrist was exactly who he needed to be. He was kind and gentle and he explained the fight or flight physiological changes that were going on in my body causing me to feel so overwhelmed. He prescribed a medication to calm that anxiety because, he said, as a new mom with instincts to protect her offspring, that adrenaline would continue to produce in my system and I’d be in a heightened state without the medication. But he also said I had to get sleep. Uninterrupted. Six hours. Every night. No matter what. Six hours? He gave me lots of ideas for keeping melatonin even in my system such as not turning on lights while changing diapers, and many other things. But, the main issue was the uninterrupted sleep. I was still trying to nurse, and remember, I had a three year old. I needed night sleep. With my first son, I nursed him in the morning, and then I’d fall asleep with him. Everyday. I slept every single time he slept. We’d nurse in bed, sleep for two or three hours, nurse some more, sleep some more. I couldn’t do this now. In retrospect, I probably suffered with my first, but I slept enough to shoo my symptoms away, and this was thirteen years ago. I certainly had enough anxiety to last a lifetime but simply chalked it up to “first baby syndrome.” Now, I believe it was postpartum anxiety.
Women, moms are told so many different, often conflicting things about how and who they should be. Work, don’t work, nurse, don’t nurse in public, co-sleep, sleep train. Every child is different, every mother is different. It is the judgment and lack of support that often sends us off the rails. I am fortunate to be married to a man who has essentially said, “It’s your choice” when it comes to nursing. He couldn’t bear to see me so exhausted, so used up, trying to do it all and be so perfect, and for what? So, when I told him that after four weeks, I wanted to stop nursing and start sleeping, he was overjoyed. I nursed my first son for nine months until he got so restless he would not sit still to eat facing in, there was just to much to watch in the world. He self-weaned. I nursed my second son until I needed to do what was best for my mental health, and the health of my family, so that I could sleep and heal.
My doctor, in that first appointment, promised within three days, three days, the medication would start to work, and it did. Once I started sleeping, the sun began to shine on me again and I felt like a loving, happy mom. I was still exhausted, I still cried, I still struggled, I still had to see the psychiatrist, but I did not feel helpless. I had support and help and two boys and a family. Today, I have a happy twelve year old and a nine year old who completes our family in a way I could never have imagined. I am grateful and fortunate beyond words that I got help. So many women don’t, can’t, are afraid to ask, don’t have access, are too ashamed, are alone. Climb Out of the Darkness is a way to raise awareness and money for these women so they can get the ante- and post-natal health care they need to be the mothers they truly are. Please seek help if you need it. If you have no where else to turn. Email me privately. I will help. I’ve been there.