As a first time mother, I did everything I knew I should, everything I’d read in parenting books and magazines, everything my family and friends recommended, but it wasn’t enough.
On the inside, I was empty. I prayed for those times on television when a mom holds her baby and has a joyful moment complete with tears of happiness, but all my smiles were fake.
Could my baby feel my discontent? Could my husband?
On the inside, darkness consumed my mind. I cried in private and smiled in public, hoping no one would see past my carefully constructed mask. For eight months, I lived this way, exhausted, empty, alone. I’d heard of “baby blues”, but I knew this was something different. Still, I hoped I’d snap out of it. I worried a doctor wouldn’t believe me, or think I was being dramatic. I tried to talk to other mom’s, but I often felt judged or as though the women were being condescending towards me. After all, they presented themselves as perfect mothers, and I couldn’t even get my baby to breast feed. I couldn’t figure out how to open and close the baby stroller. I tried to use my baby wrap, but no matter how many times I looked at the instructions, I couldn’t figure out how to wrap that thing around me. I was a stay-at-home mom, so I felt judged by working moms. I bottle fed, so I felt judged by breast feeding moms. No, I couldn’t find support amongst other moms, so I closed myself off to other women, resolved to suffer in silence.
Except, it was too much. The overwhelming sense of failure, loneliness, fatigue, darkness. And a time came when I was 100% certain my husband and child were better off without me in their lives. I only made things worse. I dreamed of leaving and starting a new life someplace obscure where no one would ever think to look for me. I thought of out-of-state friends who would let me stay with them until I found a job and earned enough money to move someplace remote. For me, none of this was silly or fanciful. It was a plan. And once that plan was concrete, something changed in me. Something clicked, and I realized just how serious of a situation I was in.
I needed help.
I went to my husband and told him I planned to see a doctor. With his support, I called and set up an appointment. The doctor offered support, guidance, and a medical plan. After eight months in the dark, I finally found a path toward the light. I got a way out of postpartum depression (PPD).
But not all moms have the same experience.
In August, 2016, Allison Goldstein, a 32 year old new mom to a baby girl, took her own life after struggling with PPD. She kept her disease hidden. Only after her death, through an email Allison sent, did they discover the truth. Allison wrote:
"I'm so sorry that I didn't know how to describe this pain and seek help."
Between eleven and twenty percent of new moms experience PPD each year, and during the first year postpartum, suicide is the leading cause of death.
Here’s a testimony of another mother. Laura Cincotta, who suffered with PPD. She was able to seek treatment:
After two months of suffering from severe anxiety attacks, feeling very, very sad but not really being able to cry and not being able to talk to anyone, I thought I must be losing my mind. I wanted to end it all. I thought my husband, new baby and four kids would be better off without me. I didn't really want to die. I didn't want to live either if I was going to be like this," said Laura Cincotta, who suffered from postpartum depression. "I was crying out for help and no one could tell me what I had or how to treat it. I asked to be put in the hospital. I can absolutely understand how women can tragically lose their lives to this horrible but treatable illness. I feel fortunate that I found help."
For women with PPD, dark thoughts become reality. The PPD manipulates the brain like a ventriloquist manipulates his puppets. Here’s another testimony from Anne Therialut, a mom who also was about to seek help.
It would be pills, I decided: the percocets I had left over after my c-section, and some sleeping pills that'd been sitting around since before my pregnancy. I would have to do it while Matt was at work, but close enough to the end of the day that Theo wouldn't have to be alone with his dead mother for too long. I would get some formula, I decided, and sterilize some bottles -- that way Matt could feed him immediately, because Theo would likely be hungry by the time I was found. I would write a note, a good one.
So what can we do to help?
Take away the stigma of mental illnesses: In general, we need to take away the labels and stigmas associated with mental illness so those suffering feel safe enough to get treatment. So many suffer, but don’t want the world to know. They don’t want to be labeled “crazy” or “incompetent” or all the other names associated with mental illness. If we create a safe environment, we make it easier for mental illness patience to seek help.
Women need to stop judging women: Seriously. Enough already. Why do we need to fight amongst ourselves? Why do stay at home moms need to make working moms feel bad? Why do working moms need to belittle stay at home moms? Why do the moms who breastfeed need to throw it in the face of women who don’t or vice versa? Come on, ladies. Let’s get it together. One of the reasons it took so long for me to get help was because of how other women judged my parenting. The constant “oh, you shouldn’t do that…” or the judgmental stares and smirks and condescending tones. Seriously, enough. Instead, let’s work on supporting one another. Encouraging sisterhood. Reaching out to those who are suffering. Try to see someone else’s point-of-view. And stop pretending we have it all together, because I know for a fact I’m not the only mom out there struggles.
Talk about our experiences – the good and the bad: There are no perfect mothers. We try, goodness knows, but we all make mistakes on a daily basis. What if we embraced those mistakes? What if we saw the beauty of motherhood in the messy moments? What if we flooded our Facebook and Instagram with pictures of dirty houses and piles of laundry because we’ve been way to busy parenting to bother with the house chores? What if we were just real with one another? I think it would help those suffering. I didn’t know a single mother who was going through the same thing I went through because no one spoke up. Instead, every story of parenthood was a happy one, a blessed moment, a cute tale. But talking about postpartum depression, or even just the rougher moments of momhood, can go a long way in helping someone who feels like they’re failing. It makes a connection, and it says, “you’re not alone.” And in the mind of a post-partum woman, she is completely alone.