I think storytelling is important. I think that hearing other people’s stories and being able to see ourselves in them helps us feel less alone. This past year (or year and a half, really) has been the hardest, and often loneliest, of my life. Some of my difficulties, I think, could only be solved with medication; however, I think finding a positive narrative to cling to — someone who had felt like I was feeling and made it out alive, and maybe even happy — would have made a tremendous difference. So, with all that in mind, I’m going to be more transparent here than I’m comfortable with, and probably more than you’re comfortable with, because I think my story is important. My story is a story I needed to hear 18 months ago, 12 months ago, 8 months ago, 4 months ago. And surely my story is a story someone else needs, too.
Two days after Luke was born, I posted a picture on Instagram and captioned it, “Luke Steven, being your Mama is the sweetest thing I’ve ever done.” In the coming months I would look back on that post and think about how naive I was. How stupid I was. How filled with regret I was. How miserable I was. Being a mom didn’t feel like the sweetest thing I’d ever done. Being a mom felt like misery. It felt like long nights, like rage, like the deepest sense of loneliness I’d ever felt, like absolute hopelessness, like the metaphorical death of the person I wanted to be. Being a mom felt like wishing for real, actual, physical death, and wondering each morning if that was the day I’d be worn down enough to kill myself. For probably six months I stayed alive almost solely because my whole heart believed in Luke’s innocence. Even though becoming a mother felt like the biggest regret I could ever carry, my care for Luke and my belief that he was deserving of all the good in the world, and a loving and present parent, never wavered. So I stayed alive, but my existence always felt too heavy for me to carry.
I think the fact that I still have strong relationships with the people who were close to me during those months is a testament to their unconditional love and care for me. I know I wasn’t easy to be close to. Having a relationship with me was like living in a game of minesweeper — say the wrong thing or bring up the wrong subject and I’d blow up. I’d cry my eyes out and talk for ten minutes about how desperately I wanted to die. And then I’d apologize. Because I knew I was being impossible. I knew I was a pain in the ass to be close to, but I felt so powerless to change any of it. I’ve met approximately two people in my life who know how to play minesweeper, and that’s two more than knew how to navigate my emotions during those months. Outside of vasectomies and people who were childless and happy about it, I had no clue what my triggers were going to be. There was a new one each day. And it was miserable for literally everyone.
On my good days, I could get through the day just thinking about how I never had to do this again. Several times I compared being a mom to serving a prison sentence. I had a baby and there was nothing I could do about it (other than abandon him), so I would serve my time and hopefully find a happy life on the other side. In season 1 of Orange is the New Black, Yoga Jones says to Piper Chapman, “try to look at your experience here as a mandala, Chapman. Work hard to make something as meaningful and beautiful as you can. And when you’re done, pack it in and know it was all temporary. You have to remember that. It’s all temporary,” and that sentiment was one I clung to. Desperately.
On my bad days, I felt like I might literally suffocate from my feelings. I had never experienced anxiety and depression so great, and I hope to never experience it again. I’ve been on medication for Bipolar Disorder for 2.5 years now, and it has done wonders for my ability to be a human, but my normal medication couldn’t touch what I was thinking and feeling during those months. I remember sitting on my bed one day while Luke napped, wondering if I should call 911. Wondering if I was about to kill myself. Afraid that if I told anyone how I was feeling they might actually call 911. But instead of calling 911 or messaging a friend, I decided to do what I knew could quiet the noise in my head for a minute. I started self-harming. I knew it wasn’t a long-term fix and I knew that the more you do it, the worse it gets, but it was the only thing I could find that would make the anxiety stop — even if just for a few minutes. Thankfully I stopped that very quickly.
When I told my doctor about the suicidal thoughts and self-harm, he put me on an additional medication that is, “particularly helpful at stopping suicidal thoughts.” And it was. But it did nothing to help with how miserable I felt, I just wasn’t planning on killing myself because of it. But still, every time I couldn’t do something because I had a baby, every time I had a moment alone and heard him start crying on the monitor, and every time I thought about how completely altered my life had become from what I once wanted, I spiraled down into a darkness that I never want to see again. I cried every single day out of desperate jealousy for the lives of people without children. I cried most days out of jealousy toward people who go through pregnancy and the first year of parenthood with a partner. Sometimes I cried because I just wanted to have a day all to my damn self.
I never thought I would be caring for an infant without a partner, without a co-parent. During the months when Luke was particularly tiny and helpless, I had people around me to help, but I desperately wanted help from someone who had the same obligation to this child that I had — I needed that help. But that help wasn’t there. Luke’s biological father, for reasons I understand but do not respect, chose to give up any rights or obligations to his child. I’ve fought the hardest fight of my life to be the mother Luke deserves. I expected nothing less from his biological father. That betrayal is something I’ve struggled immensely to understand and come to terms with.
Since puberty, I’ve been on approximately 84,485 SSRIs. They’ve all either not worked, or had crazy side effects, or both. Apparently the 84,486th time’s the charm. Prozac kind of literally saved my life. I don’t think I can credit a medication for everything — I also had a massive mindset shift — but I think the medication allowed me to have that mindset shift, and to re-paint the picture in my head of what my life would look like.
Since around December things have been better. So much better. Being Luke’s Mama *is* the sweetest thing I’ve ever done. It’s also the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I really thought I would always feel how I was feeling during those months. I wanted to tell my story, even if it meant getting emotionally naked, because when I really needed a story like mine, there were none. I desperately needed someone who had been here to wrap their arms around me (even if those arms came in the form of an internet article) and tell me that I would make it out alive. I hardly found any articles that related to my feelings at all, but the two that I did find offered little to no comfort. Those mothers never recovered from their feelings. Bless them. I cannot fathom raising a child into adulthood in the feelings I was living in. But anyway, here I am: a Postpartum Depression survivor, someone who believes there’s power in telling our stories, and someone who is tired of being silent about such a pervasive and crippling issue.
And finally, on a different note:
It is your first birthday, and I can say with complete honesty that being your Mama is the sweetest thing I’ve ever done. Nothing in the world makes me happier or more emotional than watching you grow. In just one year you’ve become a completely different creature than you were when I held you for the first time, and frankly, so have I. I can now go miraculous amounts of time without sleep, and I can no longer watch crime shows involving children without feeling my whole body fill with panic. But I’ve changed in other ways, too. You’ve taught me a new kind of love — one that swallows you whole and makes you feel like you might drown — and I’ll always be grateful to you for that. You are light. You are joy.
I still think of this as a mandala. Because everything *is* so, so temporary. You were teeny tiny and then you weren’t. You were exclusively breastfed and then one day you switched completely to formula. You wouldn’t let me set you down and then you wouldn’t sleep on me anymore. And then you wanted to sleep on me again. One day you started walking and you haven’t slowed down since.
Everything is a season, all of it is temporary. And I’m happy to grow with you, Luke, and to make this season as beautiful and meaningful as we can, and when it’s over we’ll pack it in and know that it was temporary. And then we’ll make something else.
I love you more than anyone or anything in the world, my Little Mouse. Happy first birthday!