It Found Me.
It found me. I moved 2,600 miles away, built a new life in the sun. Kept her a secret, giving birth to her on a quiet Monday morning in the privacy of our home. I thought I had fooled it, hiding out in the bright bedroom on our second floor, my baby asleep and breathing on my chest while I stared obsessively at her, memorizing her features. I sent my husband out of the house with confidence, kept my house clean and my hair curled. I did everything right this time.
But it found me. Lurked outside my house and snuck in uninvited on some hot Tuesday afternoon.
Postpartum depression tells you ugly, horrible lies. It tells you that you are not ok, you are not enough, not now or ever. It tells you that life is hopeless, suffocating, and it will never get better. And you believe every word, because these lies are big enough to engulf you. Too big and too horrible for fiction. Too rooted in your own worst fears to ignore. So you lie in bed, when you can, with your eyes wide and full of tears, nodding reluctantly as you accept each thought. You feel guilt for what you cannot do, and guilt for the way you do the things you’re able to. You see your real, beautiful life through a perverse filter that ruins it. But it all feels real. And forever.
We told ourselves it would be different this time. We lived in the sun now, it was a different time of year, I knew what to expect, I was planning on placenta encapsulation. I would nonchalantly tell my midwife things like, “if we’re going to cry, let’s go cry at the beach!” All arguments, I now realize, that suggest this is something you can totally avoid or control. And maybe some people can. And maybe I could, with the right or different tools, and plenty of time to heal. But if there’s one thing I don’t have time for, it’s feeling like a sad, faded, wrung-out version of myself when I have two children to care for, when I have no sleep and a probably unhealthy calorie deficit to deal with. Laundry to fold, dishes to wash, life-stuff like that.
And so, when the tears started coming again and wouldn’t stop, and I began to believe I’d never be able to cope, and my whole life looked dark, my husband sat next to me and dialed the number on the back of my insurance card. A nurse had to ask us a whole bunch of questions, like whether I felt like harming my baby or myself, which is necessary but also completely humiliating, to which I answered, “no.” I was just overwhelmed, I said. Just trying to solve the problem while I still realized it was temporary, and not the undeniable, insurmountable truth of my whole existence. I just wanted to call for help before I was totally underwater. She asked me another series of routine questions, stopping with tenderness when my voice cracked on each answer, pausing to suggest I might hire a high school girl for some help. I felt like a jerk. I have help, I thought. I had my mother-in-law downstairs, and my husband curled up next to me on the bed, squeezing my shoulders each time my voice cracked. It wasn’t a problem of support, I knew I was lucky for that. And it made me feel more worthless, more unworthy, more totally, unforgivably weak and ungrateful. I would think about the women who had no help. Husbands deployed or distant in some other way, gone to work or unwilling to help. How they made it through 10-hour days for months on end. And I felt ashamed.
I got an appointment at a satellite office near my house. It was appropriately run down, sandwiched between a pancake house and an unkempt retirement home. I waited to be called, while my husband did laps with our half-asleep and fully fussy baby in the stroller. Just two weeks earlier, I had emerged from the birthing pool with thick, blonde hair and miraculously preserved curls. My skin glowed and I had light within me. But there I sat, not long after, fuzzy hair crammed into a bun with the roots showing, wearing an old giveaway t-shirt and black jeans, the soft center of my belly protruding. Eyes probably sunken, makeup probably washed off by tears from earlier that day. I don’t know for sure, I didn’t want to look.
We met the Doctor. He joked that my baby was half cyborg, commenting on the white noise coming from her carrier. I made an attempt at a laugh. He asked me what the problem was. I did my best to state the problem clearly, calmly, without a crack in my voice. This is not my fault. This is a growth on my leg. A broken bone. A persistent cough. Then why did I feel so much shame going to him about my dirty little secret, the shameful truth that I had surrendered so easily and so early to something I knew on my better days I could beat? How can you talk to a man about something he’s never lived exactly? He must be thinking how trivial and insignificant this is, this thing that feels like an endless black hole to me. After this, I thought, he can go and get a sandwich, be home late from work, do whatever he wants. That’s the thing about Postpartum Me. I can smell the freedom on everyone’s breath. Everyone here can do whatever they want. I’m just boobs and laundry and Groundhog Day.
He spent about 6 minutes with me, and I left with a prescription for Zoloft and some hurried advice on how to manage my dosage. I hadn’t taken medication of any sort, even for headaches, in months. I try to cure everything with food, exercise, oils, and common sense, but here I was crawling back to the doctor when things got bleak. I took my prescription to the pharmacy, and handed it to some young kid to be filled. He probably couldn’t care less—spending his days treating yeast infections and high blood pressure and who knows what else—but I made it some kind of point, for other women out there, to hold my head up and look him in the eye when we exchanged.
My husband had already headed out to the car with the baby to get her to sleep in the warm, running car. I left the office with the white paper bag in my hand, made my way down to the ground level, catching my blurry reflection in the gold, mirrored walls of the elevator. This isn’t me, I thought. Nothing about this is me. Except the not-taking-this-shit-laying-down thing, the getting-to-the-doctor-the-day-it-got-bad thing, the being-honest-with-myself-and-open-with-my-husband thing. Those things are me. And so, I felt a little bit of hope.
We got home and I leaned over the washing machine in the garage and popped the first blue pill before we went in the house. As a symbol, maybe. That I wanted to enter with this step behind me, already on the way to a different beginning.
This article was written exactly 3 weeks postpartum. 5 months, or a lifetime, ago.
An update: I was determined to win this time, I clawed my way out. I fought that bullshit like a jungle of lies with my machete. Cutting them back one at a time. I’m on the other side now, taking deep, sweet breaths and looking forward. Back to living in the sun, where I can savor my babies and wish for time to stand still. I’m tired, I’m happy, I’m exactly where I’m meant to be.