The Silent Fear
I have always suffered from depression. From the time my hormones started pumping at 12, I have been depressed. When I was 13, I thought of suicide all the time. I planned out where I was going to do it, when, and how. It wasn’t until my best friend actually attempted suicide that I realized what it would do to those I left behind. And so, being a people-pleaser and a “good kid,” I suffered. I sought other ways to punish myself for being abnormal, participating far longer than I should have in an emotionally and physically abusive relationship. By the grace of God and the loving insistence of my mother, I finally found my way out of that and into the wonderful (sarcastic) world of prescription drugs and talk therapy, where I languished for the next 6–8 years.
I was medicated but didn’t want to be — fighting my way out as hard as I could, and going for long periods of time without my meds to “see if I could do it.” I always failed and came crashing back down. When I was 19, I experienced an attack at the hands of my roommate (who I think was bi-polar and possibly schizophrenic), and after running 100 miles (by car, I’m not a runner) and into the arms of my loving boyfriend (now husband), I completely decompensated. I called my mother one day and said “if you don’t come and get me, I won’t be here tomorrow.” She promptly made appointments and I got back on my medication. This time, I tried several different ones until we found one that worked and didn’t make me feel like a zombie.
It worked well — I weathered several storms, including a terrible accident that left me unable to walk for several months, and I came out the other side relatively unscathed. I studied psychology and began to truly understand how our brains function (or mal-function). I loved, I laughed, I married, I had a child. I thought I might be cured. When I had my first baby, I went off my meds for his safety. I was ok. I was better than ok, I was happy. Postpartum was difficult, but medically, not psychologically. I stayed off meds for the next three years, and then got pregnant again. The pregnancy was great despite being labeled high risk.
After my second beautiful baby boy was born, the trouble started again in earnest. It was like a sleeping giant had been lying dormant for the last 10 years, and this baby’s cries woke him up in a really bad mood. My baby cried all the time. I mean, all the time. He wasn’t just colicky (I hate that term by the way), it turned out later he suffered from a severe case of silent reflux. Everything was a struggle, from breastfeeding to diaper rash, and neither of us slept for months.
Almost from the moment we came home, I knew something was different. Something was wrong. I wasn’t bonding with this child the way I had with my first. He didn’t love me… how was that possible? I repeated over and over again to anyone who would listen… “there’s something wrong,” “he’s not ok,” “I really think he hates me.”
After the first few weeks, I knew this was more than “baby blues” and lack of sleep and I started telling people that I was in trouble. No one would listen; they said “It’s just new mommy syndrome,” “It’s just the baby blues,” It’s just… (insert platitude here). I kept saying that I was afraid I would hurt him, that sometimes I thought about what it would be like if he wasn’t here anymore. I knew there was something wrong, but still no one would listen.
I read all I could on the subject and self diagnosed myself with post-partum depression. I knew I needed to get to a doctor. I couldn’t get in, due to red tape of insurance, pre-authorization, and scheduling. I read something that was a lifesaver during that time… I read that I could leave my baby at a fire station if I felt I couldn’t care for him anymore. Apparently if you leave your baby at a fire station there is a program that will make sure your child gets fed and cared for until next of kin can be located. I can’t believe now that I ever even considered such a thing, but I was honestly scared I would harm him. I clung to that idea… that I would make it through, but that if I ever felt like I couldn’t take it anymore, I had a way out. Maybe not permanently, but I had the ability to get the baby away from me so that I wouldn’t harm him.
Judge me if you like, but post partum depression and post partum psychosis are terrifying. I felt like I was outside myself looking in… seeing this helpless mom who was terrified but just couldn’t take it anymore. I knew intellectually that this is what parents who shake their babies to death go through. You don’t want to do it. You just can’t stop yourself from thinking about it every moment… and it begins to take over.
My story has a happy ending. I made it through until I could see the doctor. I got back on medication and accepted that this is my normal, and I don’t try to go off my meds anymore. My youngest son is now 6 years old, and he and his 9 year old brother are the lights of my life. In fact, as I was writing this, the camp director called me to let my youngest talk to me, because he “missed mommy.” Now that the dark days of mental and hormonal instability are past us, we are as close as a mother and son can be, and there is no shortage of love from either of us.
I write this not for sympathy, and not because I feel I am in any danger of something like this ever happening again. I write this in the hopes that it will reach some mother who is feeling helpless, ignored, and out of control. Hold onto this… you can leave your baby at a fire station if you can’t care for him/her anymore. And get help. Don’t just ask for it, demand it. Take your life and the life of your child into your own hands and demand help. No one will understand if they haven’t been through it. You don’t need to make them understand. You just need to hold on until you have the strength and the support you need to fight your way through. You will be ok. Your baby will be ok. Do not feel guilty and demand help.