As a writer, I feel like I have a need to put things down on paper. But for months, I would stare at a blank page, pen in hand, or at a file on a screen where the cursor just blinked against a white background. There was so much to say, but I couldn’t find the voice to say the truth: I was dead inside. It was as though I was in a pit — a deep, dank, dark pit, with dirt on the ground, just a hint of light from the top to let me know that there was, indeed, a way out, and walls of stone that had the tiniest sliver of ledge.
For months, I just lay in that pit, the cool dirt numbing some of the fear and the pain, before it became viscous, thick mud that covered me and weighed me down. At times, I tried to climb the wall. Sometimes I went nowhere. Other times, I made it a few feet off the ground before slipping and stumbling backwards to rock bottom. Once, I thought I would make it to the top, before my bloody, broken fingers could no longer hold the weight of my grief, and with a sickening scraping of flesh against rock, I fell. And I hit the ground hard.
So painfully, achingly hard that I thought I would die. I wanted to die. I could no longer breathe. I could no longer find the will, and I thought the sky was black. There was no light. There was no way out.
But the night sky is never truly black. Pinpricks of light, millions upon millions of miles away, peek through the velvet blackness like little rays of hope, telling us that there is light somewhere, that there is a way out.
That we are not alone.
That we are not dead.
After my now 3-year-old son, Michael, was born, I had the “baby blues.” I never thought much of life post my now 7-year-old twins, Bobby and Maya, because I was in a haze of NICU PTSD, where I was just happy to have living babies at home. When they were only a few months old, I rediscovered my joy in running, and life was good. I became a triathlete and had a variety of races, including a half-marathon and the Marine Corps Marathon, under my belt.
Then Michael was born. I was tired. I had gained 30 pounds that, even with breastfeeding and a healthy lifestyle, wouldn’t budge. I couldn’t really run as much as I wanted, although I did manage to complete the New York City Marathon at four-months postpartum. The blues waxed and waned. Sometimes, I felt down, but a lot of the time I was “okay.” I was exhausted. I was homeschooling the twins. I was coaching youth cross country and teaching fitness classes. I was writing and balancing life as a bereavement doula and childbirth educator. I was busy and that was all, I decided — life went on.
I had my now 1-year-old son, Lucas, and even knowing the signs, I made excuse after excuse for my emotional state. Immediately after he was born, I remember feeling like I had to show that I was strong, that I had overcome my cervical incompetence and history of miscarriage and loss. I had a C-section on a Monday afternoon and was home 36 hours later. I was Superwoman.
And then came the nursing: a nonstop feeding frenzy that left me broken and bleeding.
The lack of sleep that left me in a fog.
The teething that made it feel I could do nothing to ease his pain (or my own).
The swelling, aching joints that made it impossible to move, let alone run.
I finally went to the doctor, where blood work revealed the addition of rheumatoid arthritis to my Hashimoto’s diagnosis, and I was convinced that was the source of all my ills. After crafting a treatment plan, I told myself that if, after six months, I still felt awful and was still battling what I refused to admit was postpartum depression, I would reevaluate.
But it wasn’t just feeling physically like death warmed over. Emotionally, things were all over the place. Living with a child on the autism spectrum was a struggle. Living with a child who has some anxiety issues (like her mom) was a struggle. The terrible twos that moved into the terrible threes were a struggle. Life with a baby was full of struggle. Add in homeschooling, homemaking — you get the picture.
I wasn’t running.
I wasn’t writing.
I, simply, wasn’t. “I” had ceased to exist.
And one day, on the day before Lucas would turn 8 months old, when I felt like I had been climbing out of the pit, I suddenly was flat on my back. I can’t even remember what the final straw was, but I was done.
In my emptiness, I created a plan. I put Lucas and Michael to nap while my husband took the twins to the local pool. As soon as they left, I found the bottle of pain medication from my C-section, and I wrote a note. I decided I would take the bottle and then I would lie down with Lucas. He would stay asleep if I was next to him, and Michael was a several-hour napper who, if he did happen to wake unexpectedly, would come into our bed and snuggle himself back to sleep.
I went to the kitchen and got a glass of water. My hands shook so badly that water spilled, and I had to clean it up. I couldn’t get past the child safety on the bottle. When I finally did, the door opened and my husband came in: He had forgotten the goggles for the twins.
I threw the bottle in a bag, lest I get caught in the act. I told him my last goodbye, and in a way, it was almost like he knew…like he didn’t want to leave.
But he did leave, and I fished the painkillers out of the bag. Throwing them in had caused the child safety lid to reset, and before I could open it, Lucas cried. I immediately went to him and tried to soothe him back to sleep, but no amount of singing, kissing, or nursing did the job. He was awake. He was happy and smiling and laughing. He looked at me with his big, blue eyes, and I just broke down into sobs. I’m surprised I didn’t wake Michael.
I almost missed seeing those eyes again, kissing those cheeks again, hearing his laugh again. I almost missed Michael’s sweet little voice when he sings and Maya’s sense of wonder when she discovers something new. I almost missed Bobby’s never-failing ability to snuggle you just when you need it most.
I almost lost all of those things — forever.
My postpartum depression never presented as hurting my children; if anything, it was the opposite. They were on the pedestal, and I just wasn’t good enough. I could never be good enough. No matter what I did, I always fell too short. My husband was, by far, the better parent. Hell, anyone was a better parent. I was just a space-filler. I sucked at motherhood. I was a terrible teacher. I was an awful runner (could I even use that word anymore?). I was unhealthy. Unworthy.
This battle was ravaging me from the inside out, even though most people on the outside had no idea. I was still volunteering, doing all sorts of things, hosting this gathering or that. No one knew that I was barely hanging on. No one knew just how low I was. And I couldn’t tell them. I was afraid, and I didn’t even know what of. Of being perceived as weak? Of being considered the failure that I thought I was?
When my husband got home from the pool that fateful day, I told him what I had done. In typical fashion, there was no guilt; he simply took the pills away. We sat and talked. I cried. I confessed how awful of a mother I was, how terrible of a wife I was, how I didn’t deserve my family and that the world would be better without me.
I told him that I was still battling my eating disorder and it had a hold of me in a way that felt worse than before. I told him that I was broken and scared. And he held me while I cried. He didn’t try to tell me that I was wrong or tell me all the ways that the world would be different without me. Instead, he just told me that he loved me and asked me what I needed.
I would like to tell you that immediately things became 1950s sitcom perfect, but they didn’t. Yet one day at a time, over months and months, they’ve gotten better. I’m not perfect (and I never will be). I still make mistakes, but I’m trying (desperately at times) not to beat myself up over them and to just move forward. I’m not out of the pit yet, but help came from the darkness and a rope was thrown down. I’m still climbing. It’s a slow journey up, but I know I’ll get out, and that’s not something I knew before.
I feel like I sleepwalked through a period of my life. I missed so much that I was present for, and it’s only been the last few months that I’m really and truly awake. Every single day, I’m making the choice to continue to open my eyes. Regardless of what happens, each moment is such a gift, and I don’t want to lose a second.
If you think that you might be suffering from postpartum depression or if you can’t (or won’t) put a name to how awful you are feeling, there are resources available. You can find anonymous help at www.1800ppdmoms.org and www.postpartum.net. Many hospitals also have lines that you can call to speak with someone. While my PPD didn’t present as wanting to harm my children, if you feel that your children may be at risk, please reach out to a friend, neighbor, family member, or even your local police department, and find a safe place for your children until you can get help for yourself. You are not just a mom; you are the mom. You are worth more than you know, and not just because you are an irreplaceable mother. You are worthy in your own right; please seek out help if you need it. Don’t wait until it’s too late.