The Night Postpartum Depression Almost Killed Me
Last summer I tried to commit suicide. Obviously, I didn’t succeed. Is “succeed” the right word to use here? I also use the words “tried” and “attempted” very loosely, because, well, there are different variations of those words.
Make no mistake. I’m not making light of the subject. It’s one that I am acutely aware of. I’ve walked the plank. I’ve stared down at the rushing waters. I’ve watched the thick, ravenous waves calm to nothing. I’ve waited for that moment of peace, and then I jumped.
Before what I call “dark episodes” appeared, I was very opinionated about suicides. How selfish! How weak! There are people who have it much worse than you and you couldn’t handle life?
When I made the decision to end my life, I wasn’t as meticulous about it as I had maybe fantasized I would be. As a tortured teen everything made me want to end it all, or so I thought. You know those days when that love of your life breaks your heart and there is no way for you to go on? Or you can’t handle the pressure of another college application or an imperfect grade? For no particular reason other than being a perfectionist, I had a difficult time as a teenager. I would romanticize about the idea of suicide. I even drafted dramatic letters to leave behind.
No, when I had made peace with my decision last year, I had no interest in leaving a note. I had no interest in anything at all.
What I didn’t know at the time was that I was suffering from postpartum depression and PMDD (Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder). What I was very aware of though, was my inept ability to be a mother, my constant failures, lack of patience and my inability to control my temper. My three-year old hated me. My one-year old didn’t love me. And I couldn’t blame them. I was messing up. I handled each challenge wrong, daily. I’d berate myself to no end on how I handled a simple situation wrong. My reactions and overreactions were just making matters worse.
It occurred to me, like a switch being turned on and as if it were the wisest revelation I’d ever had, that someone else could do this better than me. Someone else could be a better mom to my kids. They deserve better. They deserve someone with more patience, more joy and more certainty. My husband deserves a better wife. I wasn’t happy and I wasn’t able to make my children happy.
Sounds sad doesn’t it? But it wasn’t to me. This epiphany freed me! So quickly the idea engulfed me. I even got excited about it. Sure, my family would initially be upset, but after the healing set in, a new woman would swoop in where I left off. She’d magically heal all the wounds. No one would be willing to admit it, but deep inside they’d know they were better off.
I’ve heard those words before. Now I get it. I understand why thousands have walked this plank. I can’t say how they felt, but for me, it was a giant weight lifted off my shoulders. It pained me that I wasn’t the mother I hoped I would be, nor the mother my children deserved.
Each time a depressive episode occurred, I’d walk further into the dark. I’d find more reasons to end my life. Each time, I’d dive deeper into another reality where I didn’t exist and each time I became freer. I was allowing the depression to swallow me. The shadows found each crack and burrowed through, exposing more scars, more fragility, and then burrowed some more. This black hole of nothing was comforting. I’d welcome these moments that gave me the opportunity to imagine a time when I ceased to exist. Each episode was training for the final act.
On the night of my attempt, my husband and I had a minor argument about nothing in particular. Ticked off, he left the house to let off some steam. I was elated. As if on command I allowed myself to sink. I spiraled quickly until I was completely lost. This was it. It would be tonight.
I read a story to my eldest child, tucked him in and whispered, “good night, mama loves you.” Just like I have every night since he was born. I then moved onto my 1 year-old’s room. I was already a ghost. I felt no emotion towards either child. Like a robot, I just went through the motions of their bedtime routine. I nursed my baby one last time.
Nursing has always been extremely important to me. It didn’t come easy with my first child. I sought the help of numerous professionals to determine what was wrong with me. Why was nursing so difficult? Why didn’t my baby latch? I refused to consider other options. I suffered through the agony of cracked and bleeding nipples and tortuous pain. I felt if I didn’t breastfeed, it would mean I failed. But the only person keeping score was me.
With my second child, nursing was a breeze. I was so proud of the hurdles I crossed to get to that point. When I returned to work and my supply was alarmingly low, I wouldn’t consider formula. I wouldn’t even allow my husband to bring up the idea of supplementation. I, yet again, set up this picture-picture expectation for myself. I wouldn’t break from it. Deep inside, though, the pressure was breaking me. I also wasn’t connecting with my second child the same way I had with my first. When I expressed concern, friends and even my doctor insisted this is just what happens with baby #2 — the initial wonderment is gone. I hated that reasoning, but started believing it. Guilt-stricken for not being as emotionally present with baby #2, I thought, I’ll be damned if I also “shorted” her by not giving her breast milk like I had for her brother.
Yet here I was, absolutely unconcerned about the fact that I was truly planning to end my life that night. If I am not around, my child does not breastfeed. This simple equation was lost on me.
As I rocked my sweet little one to sleep, a few tears fell on her cheek. I apologized to her for not being enough, for giving her a rotten start at life. And that was that. Looking at my precious baby did not snap me out of this disturbing reality, instead I was steadfast. Looking at her innocent face made me certain I was doing the right thing, for her sake.
For the first time in a very long time, maybe since my pregnancy, I was at peace. I felt comforted by my plan. I felt that for once, I was really doing something right for my family.
As I lay my baby in her crib, I suddenly became aware that I didn’t know the date. What was today’s date? Being a mom means we lose track of days. But wait, this is the day of my death, I’d like to at least know the damn date! I checked my phone.
June 5th. Ten Days before my son’s 3rd birthday. When he is older and someone finally tells him what really happened to his mommy, he will put together that it was just 10 days before his birthday. Shit.
I started to waver on my plan, just a little. I started to bully myself, just hurry up already. Do it quickly before you change your mind…again! I didn’t want to think about what I was doing, I just wanted it to be done and over with. Numb, I made my way to my bedroom.
I’m not going to fill in these details, but minutes later, my husband’s car pulled into the driveway. I quickly put away all evidence and cried myself to sleep. Upset my moment had been taken from me, I promised myself to complete the task the next chance I get.
I woke up the next morning to my baby’s cry. I was sore. I was physically sore. My head pounded. My legs were weak. My chest felt as though I had been punched and I was literally surprised to not see bruising there. I felt beat up. It was that morning I finally realized I needed help.
Postpartum depression is another “thing I had an opinion about.” Suck it up! There are so many people that have it worse. Stop being so selfish! You just can’t handle that all the attention is not on you!
I didn’t know I was suffering. I just saw myself as a horrible parent. My husband just saw me as someone who turned very cold. Our marriage was suffering too.
That day I called a few therapists until, finally, I found one that specialized in postpartum depression. Was that what I had? I didn’t even know, but figured it was a good place to start.
For the first few months of therapy, I had more dark episodes, but now I had some tools within reach to dig myself out, instead of slipping deeper. I have no doubt that if I didn’t start therapy when I had, that I would no longer be here.
My mom has suffered bouts of depression and anxiety, but don’t tell her that. She’s been denying anything of the sort for decades. In fact, she completely dismisses any mental illness at all. I’m told it’s a “generational thing,” but something doesn’t sit well with me about that. Why is that an acceptable excuse? I think of how much calmer my childhood could’ve been if my mother had just accepted her mental illness.
Like mother, like daughter though. I, too, denied I needed medication. I just need to talk. Then one session my therapist asked about previous medications?
Birth control. Oh right. Ah, the days of singledom when an outgoing gal as myself had the need to take control of her reproduction.
“Yes, for about ten years…”
And there it was. My therapist didn’t need to spell it out. For ten years I had been on a drug that controlled my hormones. Come to think of it, before birth control, I was extremely anxious and depressive. Having babies and nursing them definitely puts your hormones through a whirlwind, we all know that. Is it possible that birth control, being pregnant and nursing (repeat) kept my depression at bay?
I finally agreed to try something. After a lot of research, several discussions and appointments with my OB/GYN and many conversations with my husband, I started medication for anxiety and depression.
Talk therapy and medication has kept me from sinking again. I am positive of this. It’s not a cure-all, but at least I am now allowing myself access to help when things get tough. I’ve also come to the realization that my kids do not hate me — far from it; I am the center of their world. I also don’t suck at this mom thing. I’m actually doing pretty well at it…and I’m owning that! I dug through the weeds and found plenty of other moms doing the best they can, just like me. I was so afraid to expose what I interpreted as failure and defeat. Everyone seemed to be able to handle this motherhood thing with ease, except for me! All I could see was their perfect lives pasted on Facebook and Instagram.
Now, one year later, I am so much stronger, confident and yes, even happy! I am a survivor. I still have my moments, but I am taking care of me first and because of this, I am a better mom and wife. I had read all those stories before about the moms being “a better mom when medicated,” and those shockingly sad stories about postpartum depression. But for some reason, I couldn’t see myself in those stories. This is something that happened to other women, not me.
I don’t know how to correct this pattern of fear or stigma around mental illness in our society but I am encouraged to see the amount of resources and awareness around the subject. Taking on society’s view is a little too heavy for me right now…but what I can do, is hopefully reach someone else just like me. Maybe another mom is right now dealing with the same monsters I had. If this is you, please allow someone to turn on the light. Those monsters are not real.