On June 3, 2011, I found myself in The Rockyview Hospital being held in a locked white room with only a bed and some supper that the crisis team had kindly brought for me. I was out-of-my-mind sleep-deprived with obsessive thoughts, hopeless, soul-crushing postpartum depression, and the idea that anyone in the world would be a better mother to my son than I could ever be. I was practically non-communicative and gently rocked myself back and forth—desperate to shut out the world.
When I first got pregnant, I was immediately met with a network of support from close family and friends. Everyone was so excited for us. They indulged me in my long laments of pregnancy. They threw me beautiful baby showers and helpfully dispensed copious amounts of all of the parenting advice I should ever need.
Then I had my son, and it all got real.
It started before he was born, with five months of bed rest rendering my body extremely weak due to loss of muscle mass and inactivity. When the time came to actually begin the birthing process, I felt extremely relieved that it was all almost over. Unfortunately, 72 hours of labor including several scares over the baby’s plummeting heart rate ended in a traumatic forceps delivery. The pain I was left to endure was too much for my mind to process.
Suddenly, the visions I had of toting my little bundle of joy around town with my friends became an insurmountable impossibility. The happiness I thought I would feel was as elusive as the sleep I was no longer experiencing. As postpartum depression almost immediately took hold of me, I wondered how I had gotten to this place. Why had I wanted this? What had I done?
My brain became so foggy that I lost the ability to make basic decisions for myself and instead would often remain frozen in place, incapable of moving while experiencing multiple panic attacks. Food was repulsive and another source of extreme stress. I felt like I was failing as a new mother, as a wife, as a person. I forgot how to use my cell phone, couldn’t fill out a basic form asking for my name and address, and obsessed about small details like nightlights to distract from the mounting terror inside of me that I just wasn’t cut out for this.
Ten days following the birth of my son, I sent a text to many of my family and friends saying that I couldn’t do this. I didn’t want to live. A few hours later, I admitted myself to a hospital psych ward.
When word spread that I was in the hospital, the village of support starting pouring in. My mother-in-law stayed at our house and took on several weeks of night shifts with the baby. Close friends took time off work to help my husband care for our new son. Meals were dropped off daily from strangers and our local church. Others brought diapers, wipes and clothes.
On my day passes when I was allowed to return home for 12 hours, the few friends that I allowed to see me in my current state would stay with me to make sure I didn’t harm myself or my son. As humiliating as the whole experience was, it was also silently comforting to know I was never alone.
Some afternoons, I would rock silently in my rocking chair with my child while a friend sat blissfully silent beside me. Other times, they would hold him for hours, allowing me to go upstairs and have a few hours to myself to rest my spinning mind. They never judged me or told me how I should be acting as a mother. They never told me I wasn’t normal because of my postpartum depression.
It was a long road, but eventually my mind released its death grip on my soul and with the help of a handy sleeping pill and anti-anxiety meds, I was able to gain some much needed perspective again. It took many months, but I came out the other side a stronger mother and passionate advocate for moms.
The true test of friendship, like any relationship, is not how good things are when life is happily chugging along, conforming to your daily expectations. It’s when things get real and your world is unraveling around you that you see the heart of someone’s true character.
The support my friends and even complete strangers extended to me during that unbearable time was the genuine kind of encouragement that wells up from the purest form of love. My gratitude for these people cannot be put into words. Suffice it to say, I may not have lived to tell this tale if they hadn’t put their own lives on hold to save mine. It doesn’t just take a village to raise a child; it takes a village to raise a mom. Finding a tribe of others to support you in parenthood is perhaps the richest gift you will ever receive.
Thank you to all of the members of my mommy tribe.