*Trigger warning: Suicidal Ideation*
It’s 3 a.m., and I want to die. I’m imagining a gun in my mouth, the “click” of a trigger, a bullet cascading through my skull. Or a gentler method would be going outside, into the laundry room, turning on the leaf blower, reveling in the pungent smell of the gas until slowly, slowly, sleep. Sleep sounds so good, especially the eternal kind.
I’ve moved on to imagining my limp body dangling from a rope tied to a ceiling fan. (Would it hold my heavy frame? Would I get just to the brink of unconsciousness before the fan and the rope break, and I come crashing down to the floor, sawdust and debris covering the room as I lie in a lump of embarrassment and failure?) I look down at the newborn in my arms. He has started to drift off, bottle still in his mouth. I gently tap-tap-tap the bottom of the bottle to rouse him. He resumes sucking.
He is not the reason I want to kill myself.
He is the reason I want to kill myself.
It’s not the late-night feedings. It’s not the sleep deprivation. It’s not the trauma my poor lady parts endured to bring him into this world. It’s not the shock and adjustment to motherhood, to a new person in the house. It’s not him.
It’s reading endless articles on attachment, wondering if I’m setting him up for a secure emotional bond. Or if I’m fucking him up for life. Probably the latter.
It’s hearing his cries as my brain slowly comes back to life after a quick power nap, and wondering how long he’s been needing me, and feeling like I took too long to wake up, and surely this is considered neglect.
It’s wondering if he’s getting enough food. It’s wondering if the amount he’s spitting up is normal or too much. It’s wondering if this new formula is better than the old one. It’s wondering if I should have just toughed it out and breastfed. He won’t be as healthy as those babies. He won’t be as smart as those babies. He won’t be as attached to me as those babies are to their mothers. All because I was too selfish to try harder. I’ve already failed him at a few days old.
It’s obsessing over his feeding schedule. And his nap schedule. And am I being too rigid? Babies need routines, right? The baby book said…
It’s constantly thinking, when will he sleep through the night? And then hating myself for wanting him to grow up too fast.
It’s meticulously counting how many times I yelled or grunted or screamed in frustration today. And calculating how close he was to me at the time of the event. He was in his crib. He couldn’t hear me. Could he? And rationalizing that I’m not as bad as those other mothers. They shake their babies. I just lost my cool. He’s okay. He isn’t damaged, yet. I google “screaming at baby,” “maternal anger,” “screaming mother and infant attachment.” I read the National Institute of Health’s 114 slides on “maternal rage” and “postpartum depression.”
Is this me? Is this what I’m doing to my son? No, I don’t leave him in the crib for hours. No, I don’t neglect to pay him attention. No, I definitely don’t feel difficulty bonding with him. I talk to him constantly. We read. We sing. He’s fed. He’s changed (more times a day than I can even count). He’s bathed the requisite two times per week, taking special care around the umbilical cord and his circumcision. I file his nails. We do skin-to-skin time. We do tummy time. I’m doing everything right. I’m doing it right. I’m doing it right.
And yet, I’m not. He cries. I don’t know what to do. I’ve gone through the mental checklist. I’ve gone through an actual checklist from the baby app on my phone. He cries. He hates me. I’m failing. I’m a failure. I’m a failure of a mother. He’d be better off raised by his dad, or his grandparents, or anyone but me. He would be better off without me.
I look down at the beautiful, tranquil newborn sleeping peacefully in my arms. I remove the bottle so gently, he doesn’t stir. I stare at his perfect face — his plump cheeks, his long eyelashes, his tiny tuft of hair on his little head. And I think, he is better off without me.
I look at my baby sleeping peacefully in my arms as I imagine a gun in my mouth, the “click” of the trigger, a bullet cascading through my skull.
That beautiful newborn is now a snaggle-toothed 7-month-old. I still spend my nights gazing at his sweet face before I lie him down for bed. Except now, my thoughts are focused on the immeasurable love I feel, or on his sweet baby scent, or on how much I will treasure these moments when he’s too old to be rocked before bed.
I no longer think of self-harming. I think about how far I’ve come emotionally and mentally, and I can only compare it to a black fog slowly lifting. Now I can see the sky and the sun. But it did not happen overnight.
The path toward healing began at my post-op appointment with my OB-GYN. As the nurse checked my blood pressure, asked me the routine questions, and led me to the exam room, I kept thinking that I should really try to contain the streams of tears running down my face. These people are going to think I’m CRAZY, I thought. When asked, “Are you okay?” I gave them a trite response of, “Yeah, it’s just hard, you know? I’m so tired.”
“Oh, yes, I totally understand,” but the nurse’s face seemed to suggest more. She saw me. And she wasn’t judging, but she knew.
When the doctor came in, he had that same empathetic look. I would’ve almost taken it as condescending if he didn’t look so genuinely concerned. This intellectual, all-business, straight-to-the-point physician was connecting with me on a human level.
“I think you have postpartum depression.”
The rest of the visit was marked by his insistence that the stigma be removed. “It doesn’t mean you’re crazy. It doesn’t mean you need to be medicated for the rest of your life. But I think you need something to help you get through this.”
I left his office with a prescription for low-dose Zoloft that I had no intention of filling.
Later that night, I recounted the events of that visit with my best friend. We had always openly shared our struggles and successes with one another. But I lamented to her that I had no plans to fill that prescription, as I did not have postpartum depression. I was not crazy. Women with postpartum depression drown their babies in the tub. Smother them with blankets. Throw them into lakes. That was not me.
“Plenty of people have PPD, Hillary, and it doesn’t mean you’re going to kill your kid.”
It wasn’t like her not to take my side. But then, it isn’t like me to be judgmental about mental health issues. Plenty of people in my family and circle of friends have struggled with anxiety or depression, and I’ve always hated how our society still stigmatizes mental health. So why was I being so close-minded?
I googled “postpartum depression.” I started with the National Institute of Mental Health’s list of symptoms. “Feeling sad, hopeless, empty” — check. “Crying more often than usual or for no apparent reason” — check. “Eating too little” — check. (This one really made me see I had a problem; never in my life have I had trouble eating!)
The list went on and on. I realized I needed to be honest with myself. I texted my best friend, “You’re right. I’m reading stuff about PPD, and that’s definitely what I have.”
I filled the prescription the next day. I scoured the internet for more resources. I read blogs. I got on message boards for moms who were suffering. Their shared experiences brought me comfort and affirmation. In fact, when you google “postpartum depression” the first thing you’ll see is that it is “very common: more than 3 million U.S. cases per year.”
It doesn’t get better overnight. But it wasn’t long after starting my medication that I felt an ease of symptoms. I also saw a therapist. Talking through things helped tremendously. And I cannot overstate the role my husband, best friend, and other family members played. While they couldn’t relate, they listened. They didn’t judge.
And slowly, my confidence increased. I saw more signs from my son that he was well-adjusted, and he did love me, and I hadn’t messed him up. Now, he’s a smiley, giggly sweetheart who loves to give baby kisses and get his belly tickled. And I know in my heart no one can love him and raise him like I can.
If you or someone you know is experiencing postpartum depression, anxiety, or having suicidal thoughts, there are many resources and ways to get help. Most importantly, know that you are not alone. Click here for resources to seek help.