I’ve been wanting to write a post about my third daughter Lucie for the past week or so. I’ve thought about how to start it and how I would try to make it witty and easy to read. I wanted to write something lighthearted about her infectious laugh, her beautiful blue eyes, or the way she jumps up and down when her big sisters walk into the room.
But there was something pulling at me to share the full story of how I became Lucie’s mother. It wasn’t that same as when I had my first baby or my second. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it through those early days or ever be myself ever again. What I’ve realized six months later is that we are constantly changing and evolving as people and as parents. I won’t ever be who I was before I saw two lines on that dollar store pregnancy test. And I’m okay with that.
You see, I am a warrior.
When you become a mother, everyone warns you. Watch for the signs. Ask for help. Know that you’re not alone. It’s okay if the baby blues become something else. Talk to your doctor. There’s no shame in taking medication. We’re here for you. We love you. Let us help.
But how can you ask for help when all you feel is shame?
I remember after I gave birth to my first daughter Fiona I was hyperaware of my risk for postpartum depression. I struggled with depression for most of my life and sought treatment for anorexia and bulimia when I was younger.
Three months after Fiona arrived, my best friend and my sister came to town for a visit. We were all having a great weekend, spending time together and catching up. But when I went upstairs to use the bathroom, I suddenly found myself on the floor, sobbing and unable to catch my breath. Looking back, I realize it had been building up for a while.
At that very moment, though, I was in complete shock. From the bathroom floor, I called my doctor’s office and said I needed to get in ASAP. I did. They put me on Zoloft. I went on my merry way. I felt fine. Not great, but fine.
I didn’t want to talk about it.
I wanted to be a great mom.
Great moms don’t have postpartum depression. Postpartum depression is shameful. How can you be depressed when you’ve just brought a life into this world? How can you be so selfish? Those thoughts played on an infinite loop in my mind.
I told myself that it was normal not to feel great. After all, I hadn’t slept through the night in months. I was breastfeeding around the clock. I was 30 pounds over my normal weight. My body ached at night as I tried to co-sleep without smothering my precious baby girl. I thought this was how motherhood was. I just had get a grip and learn to live this way.
Then we made the decision to have another kid. While I hated being pregnant, I loved the magic of having a life growing inside of me. But with our second, it was a truly challenging time — my husband had been laid off, we lived in a state with zero family, and had a mortgage, two cars, and an immeasurable amount of stress.
Somehow, though, we all made it through. When my second daughter Maeve was born in a successful unmedicated VBAC, I felt like a fucking birth goddess. There was no way that I was going to feel depressed. I had just achieved something amazing.
Yeah right. Fuck off, I was a rock star.
Ha. Ha. Ha.
The first night home with Maeve, I was sitting in my room trying to nurse her. Everyone else in the house was asleep, and I was halfway through Season 3 of Lost (which was stressful enough and would put anyone on edge). But something didn’t feel right. It came out of nowhere: My skin started to feel like it had bugs crawling on and under it. My heart was racing. I started to sweat. And again, I couldn’t breathe.
I woke my husband up, handed him the baby, and said we had to leave right then. We had to go outside. I couldn’t stay in the house. I was convinced I was dying, as tears poured out of my eyes. I couldn’t control myself and begged my husband to take me to the ER. I was dying from a heart attack right in front of my newborn baby.
But I wasn’t dying.
That was my warm welcome into the world of postpartum anxiety.
Once again, I called my doctor’s office. After a few chats with my midwife, I decided to go back on Zoloft. I was told that because I’d already suffered from postpartum depression with my first pregnancy, I was at increased risk for postpartum anxiety.
If I’m being honest with myself right now, I should have asked for more help. I knew I wasn’t okay. But once again I said to myself, “Get your shit together. This is what being a mother feels like, you weak woman!”
Months went by, and then the fog began to lift. I started substituting formula for breast milk to give myself a break once in a while. I got more sleep, my body began to belong to me again, and I was working out, all while raising my two rambunctious girls.
Now let’s move forward a few more months to early June 2016.
The morning started off like any other. I took the girls out for our usual morning routine and on the drive home, I was chatting with my my birth doula on Bluetooth. She was pregnant at the time, and I said to her, “You know, I’ve only had one period, but it’s kind of late. That’s weird.” She laughed and said, “ Oh my god! What if we’re pregnant together?”
I was so stunned by the thought, I almost had to pull over.
There was no way. No way. Not at all. Fuck that. I’m not doing that again. No. Absolutely not.
At home 20 minutes later, I ran into the bathroom while my husband and girls watched cartoons. There was no anxious countdown to reading the results — the thing lit up like a damn Christmas tree right away.
When I told my husband moments later, he laughed. Then he looked at my face, and in seriousness, asked me what he could do. I told him to take the kids to a movie and pour me a glass of wine (it was 10 a.m.).
I sat at the base of our stairs holding my head and crying for the next two hours. I was getting better. I was getting so much better. I wasn’t meant to do this again so soon. I had a 3-year-old and a 9-month-old.
Exhausted and with no tears left, I pulled myself together and called some of my family.
“It better be a fucking boy.”
That’s what I repeated to myself for the full nine months.
Somewhere around 20 weeks pregnant, I woke up in the middle of the night struggling to find my breath. That same panic and anxiety that hit me after my second child was happening again. Only this time I was pregnant.
I managed to talk myself off the ledge. I meditated and breathed my way out of that shit as hard as I could until I fell back asleep. Two hours later, it happened again.
And again and again.
It happened every single night, four to six times. I started to lose sense of my own reality. I scrambled to keep up with my children. My marriage was suffering. I couldn’t even keep on top of doctor’s appointments.
When I did make it to my appointments, I begged them to help me. I told them that I couldn’t do this, that I needed help. They all kind of shrugged their shoulders and said, “Well, we can put you back on Zoloft because that’s pretty safe for pregnancy.”
So I went back on it. I tried six different dosages.
None of it helped. The panic grew worse.
My poor family. My parents, my husband, my kids, my friends — they had to listen to me and see me in such a horrible state. I clawed at my skin. I tried to make it stop. It wouldn’t stop.
I went in for my 32-week checkup and saw a midwife I’d never met before. Her name was Laura, and I’m pretty sure she saved my life.
“There’s no reason for you to have to keep living like this. You need to see a specialist,” she said.
She sent me to a psychiatrist and therapist at a place that specializes in postpartum/perinatal depression, anxiety, OCD, and psychosis.
At my first appointment, the doctor said, “I’m so glad you’re here. You are going to feel better. You are going to feel so much better.”
I didn’t believe her. I walked out of that office in a haze, with a prescription for another antidepressant that also tackled anxiety. She assured me that my mental health was the most important thing at stake. Without a healthy mom, you cannot have a healthy baby.
It didn’t happen overnight, but slowly the panic became easier. It slowed down. I could breathe.
And thank god, it did, because on a sunny day in the middle of February this year, I gave birth to Lucille. Lucie. Luce. (Lucifer, if she’s being bad.)
She’s beautiful. She’s loud like her sisters. She’s long and lean. She has blue eyes like her daddy and a smile like her mommy. She’s a handful like the other two, but she has a calming presence about her. This little girl was in the thick of it with me. She is the only person in the world who heard my heart racing and felt my silent screams as I tried to fight the panic.
Since her birth, I’ve been taking care of myself and facing the truth of what it means to be a mother who struggles with anxiety and depression. Lucie wasn’t planned, but none of motherhood really is.
Without the struggle of my pregnancy with her and her very powerful (and fast) birth, I would still be sitting here in shame. I would be pushing these feelings down inside me. I had no choice but to speak up and get help during my pregnancy. It was Lucie who pushed me to rediscover myself as a person and as a mother.
Lucie just got two teeth and hardly made a peep about it. She lights up the room and adores her sisters. A year ago, I didn’t think this was where I would be. But here I am.
Here we are.
Still going strong.
I’m a warrior mom.