I collapsed into the nearest chair when all three at-home pregnancy tests showed positive.
I had to force myself to breathe, while my husband jumped for joy. I wasn’t scared, just shocked. Life, as I knew it, was about to be radically altered. Serving in the church nursery, after school programs, summer camps, and as a personal nanny for two different families with newborns had given me the practical skills to care for a baby.
Ben was born September 22. When he was placed in my arms the first time, I experienced love and joy at a deeply sacred level. But during our hospital stay, a suffocating sadness started creeping in. On the car ride home, I sat in the backseat and wept uncontrollably. This was not the “baby blues” people speak of. Instead, paranoia piled on top of sadness and the two dealt me crushing blows.
I really thought this stage would pass quickly, but it didn’t.
Motherhood was nothing like I expected. It wasn’t easy and I was not “a natural” like so many people (myself included) assumed I would be. The constant feeding, the crying, the irritability. All of the preparation for our first baby suddenly felt like a waste of time. We had taken birthing classes, read countless books, and sought advice from friends with older children, yet things weren’t lining up like they were supposed to. I was hell-bent on breastfeeding my baby, but he wouldn’t latch. This was supposed to be the most natural thing in the world; I had never felt more ill-equipped for such a simple task.
Until this point in my life, I didn’t understand mental illness. I really thought “those people” should just shake it off and get over it. Enough already. In my own ignorance, I assumed they made the choice to continue wallowing in bouts of depression, much like a toddler, pitching a fit.
When the time came for the “baby blues” to go away, anxiety, depression and severe sleep deprivation decided to stay. As desperately as I tried, I could not get rid of these unwelcome guests. Mental illness often feels like walking into a dark and unfamiliar basement, finding yourself suddenly caught in a sticky web you cannot seem to shake. The harder you twitch and twist, the more entangled and confused you become.
Early on, the sleep deprivation began to get the best of me. I would sleep for about 30 minutes and then wake to the spinning, chaotic thoughts again. It constantly played tricks on me, torturing me and those who cared so much for me. More than once, I saw things that weren’t there. I was filled with dread; a prisoner of war in my own mind; trapped, with no escape route in sight.
I bet my husband wondered if I was actually losing my mind. I remember so clearly those first few times when he would step outside to talk with my doctor or my mom. I was convinced they were plotting against me, scheming to take my baby boy away from me because I was an unfit mother.
When my son was only a week old, family and close friends stepped in, insisting I get professional help. The first step was a visit to my OB/GYN, who felt I needed more intense therapy and attention than she could provide. But being the kind and gracious person she is, my doctor didn’t want to send me straight to the psych ward. Instead, she pulled some strings and had me re-admitted to the same hospital, where my son was born. She thought the familiarity of the space and the nurses might be a comfort to me, as I rested and prepared to go back home.
The labor and delivery nurses didn’t specialize in the treatment I needed, but they tried desperately to help me regulate my new prescription meds and help me find my new normal. There were quite a few nurses who went above and beyond the call of duty, trying their hardest to help. They longed to see me emerge from the darkness of that strange basement, where my mind was holding me hostage.
My husband refused to leave my side during those first few days in the hospital, staying with me and our tiny baby, who slept in the clear plastic crib next to my bed. Countless friends and family stopped by to pray and encourage me, but I continued to spiral out of control. After a few days on the labor and delivery floor, a bed became available in the psych ward at another local hospital.
When it was time to be transported, I remember my mom and husband, standing in the hallway, as the paramedics rolled me away on the red stretcher. I cried my eyes out on the ambulance ride to the psych ward, as messages of shame, repeated in my head. “If you were a real Christian, this wouldn’t be happening. If you really knew the power of prayer, you wouldn’t need medication. Your family is mad at you, frustrated by your weakness, and overwhelmed because they are having to do your job.” And the biggest lie, “God is not pleased with you. You will never get past the shame of this event.”
On the psych ward, I was highly medicated, multiple times per day, in addition to strong sleep medications and antipsychotics at night. I hated the way the drugs made me feel but it was necessary at the time.
After a weeklong stay, I was released with much of the same, strong medicine, with orders for weekly therapy appointments. I hated the meds, but I couldn’t function without them. I was a zombie on them, and out-of-control without them. Medication was necessary for me, for a season. So was professional help.
PPD came in like a thief in the night and overturned every part of my mind and heart. It took concentrated effort and a strong support system to stay on the path of healing. The sleep deprivation eventually subsided, and I began to find rest for my mind, as well as my weary soul.
It’s been more than four years since the darkest days of my life, and though life is not perfect, I am healthier and more whole now, and so is my family. My little boy will never know just how scary those days were.
I choose to accept God’s healing and let go of the shame I felt during and after PPD.
I don’t have to be a prisoner to shame and neither do you. If you find yourself in this spot or some other prison, reach out. “Shame can’t survive being spoken.” Brene Brown said that and she’s right. The greatest honor you can give someone else is to ask for their help.
You don’t have to fight this battle alone.
Speak up, reach out and hold on.PPD came in like a thief in the night and overturned every part of my mind and heart.Click To Tweet