Posted on January 23 2017
I've always felt awkward and uncomfortable sharing personal things. I don't mind talking about the silly anecdotes of child-rearing or the tips and tricks for marriage I've picked up along the way. But when it comes to the truly, deeply personal issues of my life, there are select few people who I feel comfortable enough to open up with. This has been especially true in regards to my battle with postpartum depression. Even the majority of my family does not know that I used to spend hours on my bathroom floor, praying for my life to end. Or that I spent a weekend in a psych ward, away from my family, my babies, because I had gone so far down into the darkness my doctors weren't sure if I was safe from myself. No, most people don't know these things about me, but they're about to.
Postpartum depression is a dirty term. A secret whispered in the dark. A warning to women to get their acts together. Or, at least, that's how it always seemed to me. I wonder how much differently my story would have been if even just one person had been willing to talk to me, openly and with hope, instead of pushing me away and telling me to "just go get on medication." That's the thing about stigma, it makes something so many of us face seem so strange and wrong and evil.
After having my first son, I was warned I may be hormonal. I may even get the "baby blues." But no one ever really took the time to discuss PPD with me. No one thought to give me resources to utilize when I started noticing something wasn't quite right. At first, I told myself I was just sad because my husband and I were so cut off from our friends and family. Being a military family on the opposite side of the country from all of our loved ones made the new journey of parenthood seem so daunting. Surely it would get better. I would make friends and join play groups and settle into motherhood and start to feel happy and be able to enjoy my baby.
But I didn't. I couldn't. Everything felt too overwhelming. Too stressful. Too scary. Just, too. More often than not, I found myself curled up on the floor of my bathroom, sobbing and praying out loud, begging God to take me out of the world. I would stay there until the cry of my infant in need of nursing drew me out of my cave. Looking back, I'm so thankful I was able to breastfeed, because I honestly believe it saved me from myself at times.
A few people made comments to me as the months progressed that I may be experiencing PPD, promptly followed by the directive to get on medication. I was very adamant that I did not want to go on medication, but I still finally decided to reach out to my doctor and ask for guidance.
"Hello, appointment line, how can I help you?"
"Uhm. I think I need help. I think I'm going through postpartum depression and I really think I need help."
"Well, we're pretty booked up, so... Are you going to kill yourself?"
In the span of a few minutes, I had managed to work up enough courage to ask for help and then promptly decide to never do it again. And so I suffered. And I did so silently. I lost my faith in my God for all my unanswered prayers. I lost interest in ever little thing I used to enjoy. I felt betrayed by those closest to me for not seeing my invisible pain.
Needless to say, the PPD wasn't only affecting me. It was also eating away at my marriage. Our son was around six or seven months when we sought out the help of a marriage counselor. Being a mother herself, and a woman of compassion, she could see that something was not right with me, and she made a point to see me one-on-one to help me through it. After a couple of months, I felt normal again. I had avoided the medication but I had still managed to get adequate care to heal. I had done it. We had done it. And then I got pregnant again.
Fast forward to the birth of our second son. It was as magical as I could have ever hoped it to be. Our first son's birth had been a very long, traumatic experience. Our second son's was healing. It was renewing. It was awakening. It was all that and more. I was honest with my doctors about my PPD history, but I was confident that because the birth of this child was so different, the postpartum experience would be as well. I had no idea.
It wasn't immediately that the PPD reared it's ugly head. It was a slow crawl, a creeping back in. I slowly lost interest in things. I slowly stopped having any energy or drive. I slowly stopped being able to get off the couch. To get dressed. To feed myself. So slowly, in fact, that the first time I considered taking my life I was shocked. I snapped myself right out of it and went to love on the boys. I focused on them, poured myself into them, and drove that dark thought to the back of my mind, and sought the help of a counselor once again as soon as I could. It had worked before, it was sure to work again. I was very adamant still that I did not want to be put on any medication, but as the months drug on I came to realize I might not have a choice.
Because PPD is not discussed enough, or to enough of an extent for both mothers and fathers to understand, we don't. I had a better understanding because I had been through it once before, but trying to explain to my husband that I was sick was one of the hardest things I've ever done. He didn't understand that this was not a choice I was making. He didn't understand I wasn't just "in a mood" or frustrated. He didn't understand that the actual chemical balance in my brain was so far off that my body could not regulate it or fix it on it's own. There were nights I begged him to help me. There were nights I tearfully tried to explain it all to him. There were so many nights like that, but he needed to hear it from someone besides myself, and because no one ever talks about it, that just wasn't going to happen.
One of the stark differences between the PPD with my first and the PPD with my second was that, the first time around I just wanted to die, but after our youngest, I was considering taking my life. That was one of the big flags for me that showed me counseling on it's own was not going to heal me. I was so far gone, also, that any and all suggestions my counselor made for me to try to get on a path towards healing were so overwhelming even to think about that it would send me into a tailspin. Once again, everything was too much, too heavy, too hard.
After a particularly hard night, my husband came home to find me sobbing on the living room floor, and once again I begged him for help. I told him I felt like I was out of control and I needed help. I told him I was scared. And I begged. And I cried. And he finally heard me. The next morning, I had an appointment to see a doctor to discuss getting on medication. I almost didn't make the appointment, and in fact I was nearly an hour late, because as soon as we were heading out the door, I had a full-blown panic attack. My husband ended up shoving us all in the car and getting us to the clinic, regardless of our lateness. Thankfully, they were still able to get me in. I was so scared, but not as scared as I was about to be.
I'll save you all specific details, but after many questions spoken in soft tones by a man who was trying his best to be comforting, after many words were spoken, answers given, notes taken, I was sent down to the ER to wait for a psychiatrist to come and speak to me. Somewhere between the second story clinic and the first floor ER, a few key things I had said had been either misheard or meddled with, because in a span of about five minutes I went from a young mother who was taking precautions and trying to get better to a suicide risk who had a plan in place to take her life. In their defense, I know the military is under a lot of scrutiny right now for the treatment of their mental patients, and I understand wanting to cover your own butt and avoid any liabilities. I just wish I hadn't been one of them.
After several hours in the ER, I was taken to the psych ward at a nearby civilian hospital. Although I went voluntarily, I was told that if I changed my mind, they would put me under the Baker Act and I would be held against my will. They had taken my clothes, my wedding ring, my phone, everything. I was terrified. I had been promised that I would still be able to have the baby come to nurse, and as I entered, lead by an older nurse, into the psychiatric ward, she informed me I would not be allowed to see my family, and the doors shut behind us.
Being there was terrifying. I have never witnessed firsthand the mistreatment of human beings in the capacity I did while I was there. My heart broke. People being left to sit in their own feces for extended periods of time. People who were clearly not of sound mind being yelled at and told they were crazy. I was told I didn't deserve special treatment when I informed the staff of my food allergies. I was told I shouldn't expect special treatment when I asked for sheets and a pillowcase that did not have blood stains on them. I was told I shouldn't expect special treatment when I was given the wrong medication and was too sick to get out of bed for meal time. I was threatened to be held there and not be able to go home, again because I was too sick to get out of bed from the medication I was wrongfully given and asked to not take part in a voluntary game activity. And, here's the thing, I never expected special treatment. I never expected them to treat me any differently than any of the other patients. I did, however, expect them to treat all of us like human beings, and they did not.
Although I wasn't allowed to nurse the baby, they had provided me with a pump to use "whenever you need it." For safety reasons, they kept it locked up behind the desk in the front lobby, but I was told all I had to do was ask for it. I quickly became engorged, and no matter how painful it became, the staff always had a reply as to why I would not be allowed to use the pump. Usually it was something along the lines of "well you're going to have to wait for another nurse to get it for you" despite the fact that it only had to be rolled about two feet from where it was to me. Over the course of the two days I was there, I was only allowed to pump three times, and I was only provided with one 2ml tube to pump into. Thankfully my husband was allowed to bring me some bags, but that was a whole other battle.
It was terrifying, and I tried my best to keep myself in check. I cried in my room in private, between rounds, so the nurses didn't see me. The one time I was caught crying I was chewed out. I can't explain what it feels like to be made to feel as though you are crazy, while knowing that you're not, but doubting yourself because you're in a place where everyone actually is crazy and none of them think they are. Thankfully, despite the nurses mistreatment, the actual doctors and psychiatrists that took care of me reaffirmed that I had not lost my mind, and that I should not have been sent there. They worked diligently to get me released as soon as they could, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a very smug look on my face seeing the nurses bewildered expressions as I walked the eff out of that place.
It took awhile for me to come to terms with that entire experience. No matter how many showers I took, I couldn't wash it away. But as the medication (the right medication) began to regulate my hormones and chemical imbalance, I moved past it. And past the PPD. It was as if a fog had been lifted from my entire being. I remember very distinctly looking at myself in the mirror clearly in what felt like forever and seeing just how badly I had been neglecting myself. It didn't take much time at all for me to completely turn myself around. I started reading again, something I loved deeply but the PPD kept me from. I taught myself how to do intricate braids and how to contour my face. I learned new recipes. Spent time with friends. Made new friends. I was finally able to enjoy my family, and be present with them.
While some of the things that happened to me were scary, I don't ever want that to deter anyone from seeking help with PPD. Know that 1 in 7, if not more, women suffer from postpartum depression, and if you are one of those women, you are not alone. Mental illness is real. It is far more common than we are lead to believe. And there is help. Don't be afraid to reach out to friends, family, and especially medical professionals for that help. Even though the road to my recovery was bumpy, I am finally able to be the mother my boys deserve and the wife I vowed my husband I would be. I am finally someone I know and like again. I'm finally me. Don't ever let the stigma surrounding mental illness or PPD stand in your way. Don't ever give up hope.