The life I’ve been living for over eight months now is an ugly one. A lonely one. A dangerous one.
Night after night, after my son is in bed - sometimes earlier, if his father is home - I pour my first drink. A strong one. I recoil from the sharp taste of vodka or whiskey, both of which I’ve grown to hate. Sometimes it makes me gag, almost comes back up. But I never allow that to happen. I suck the drink down through a straw. Make another. Then another. My body relaxes and my mind becomes fuzzy. I grow sociable and talkative. Rarely do I become an angry or depressed drunk. Rather, I become the person I feel is the best version of myself, the one I used to be while sober - cheerful, fun, laid-back, interesting. My social anxiety dissipates. Things become less irritating to me. My frustrations, fears, and that unnamable empty sadness I carry around are buried - or more accurately, soaked - in a poison that is killing me.
I sit in a blue rocking chair where I tried and failed to breastfeed my son less than a year ago. It emits a maddening repetitive squeak as I rock and drink, but I don’t care. I don’t care about anything. I just want to get to that far-away, mellow state where life seems good, hope still exists, and I can tell myself that tomorrow, I will give up the bottle and make a fresh start. Lately, more often that not, I pass out in that chair, sleeping so deeply I cannot be shaken awake.
In the morning, I’m shaky and nauseated and dehydrated. My partner - I’ll call him Steven - is the one who gets up with our baby, feeds him breakfast, plays with him while I sleep off hangovers. I groan in protest when Steven wants to make it to his very flexible job by earlier than ten o’clock. We might have had whiskey-soaked sex the previous night, but now I want nothing to do with him. Together on-and-off for more than ten years, we’ve ceased to become a romantic couple. Now he is merely my co-parent, my roommate, my financial support, and my enabler.
I muddle through the day trying to be the best mother I can even though my hands shake as I guide spoons towards my son’s mouth and I have to listen to him wail in protest when I must run to the bathroom again with digestive issues. When you don’t have a gallbladder, and your liver is constantly busy trying to process toxins, the bile needs somewhere to go. Forgive the unpleasant image, but it’s something I’ve dealt with every single day for nearly a year.
I never vomit, and I rarely have headaches. But my body temperature is irregular; I have hot flashes at thirty-three. I can’t eat regular-sized meals anymore, and I’m very particular about what foods I can tolerate during the day - often chicken soup or broth is all I can manage. I’m always tired; I don’t sleep so much as become unconscious for five or six hours a night. My body is worn down. I lose my breath easily. I have coughing fits from the permanent lodge of mucus in my chest. I’m overweight, not from eating but from liquid calories. My muscles ache, and I struggle to heave my 25-pound child into my arms.
I say a few things on Facebook, read aloud and talk cheerily to my son, and spend the day lonely, wanting a drink, aching for something better. I don’t know how to regain the joy I used to have.
When I was twenty-one, I rarely drank. I wasn’t a partier. I was beautiful, thin, and blonde. I worked, and went to classes, and danced, and sang, and laughed, and threw Frisbees and footballs, and rollerbladed, and painted my fingernails, and flirted, and kissed, and was always surrounded by friends. I didn’t need to drink. Life itself was enough.
At twenty-two, I met Steven. It wasn’t his fault. I didn’t become an alcoholic because of him. The shitty fact is, it was likely always in my brain chemistry to become an addict. They run rampant on both sides of my family. It was always there, waiting. All it took was a relationship with a “social drinker” to change my attitude about alcohol. I saw that it made me freer, bolder, less shy and anxious, relaxed, witty, more fun. And from that point on, it took over my life.
By twenty-five, I was doing shots before going in to work my job as a jewelry seller at K-mart. By twenty-seven, a counselor told me to go to AA. By twenty-eight, I was drinking at every family gathering, every social function, every holiday, and often alone. By twenty-nine, I was living back at home with my parents, drinking secretly up in my childhood bedroom every single night.
I’m not even sure how my body was even healthy enough, at age thirty-one, to conceive a child. And here I have to apologize to the infertile couples who are hating me - I know I didn’t deserve him. I didn’t deserve a beautiful, full-term, perfectly healthy son. I did not drink after discovering I was going to be a mother, but I drank during the first weeks before I knew he existed and worried throughout the pregnancy, turning to Google countless times trying to determine how much damage I might have done. The answers were frightening. I almost expected a miscarriage throughout the first trimester, but my son was a strong one from the start. I felt him astonishingly early for a first-timer. Later, he kicked me with such force I almost expected him to emerge alien-style from my belly. He kicked until he broke the amniotic sac, forcing his birth five days before my scheduled induction.
He was pink, and wailing, and alert, and utterly perfect. The only issue was that he had breathed in some of the amniotic fluid and needed to be suctioned. I was stunned at my new role, but I loved my boy and wanted to protect him with a fierceness I’d never known before.
I had hoped motherhood would be enough motivation to keep me sober.
It wasn’t. By the time he was three months old, I was back to nightly drinking.
When I’m sober, my brain is my worst enemy. It prevents me from sleeping peacefully. It tells me what a failure I am, what a mess I’ve made of my life. It regrets everything I missed out on when I was younger. It berates me for being fat, ugly, socially awkward, useless. It panics about the future. It worries about money, my health, my wasted potential.
To quiet it, I drink.
Nobody but Steven knows. It’s my secret. We live hundreds of miles from our families. We have no friends in our current location. It’s just us, estranged partners struggling to raise an energetic, happy, rambunctious almost-toddler. He works long hours, and after the baby goes to bed, I’m alone. In my rocking chair, with a drink at my side.
This post might be triggering for those who have experienced mental health issues, specifically postpartum mood disorders. Please consider yourself and your needs prior to reading.
At this point many of us have seen the news about Miriam Carey, the woman who crashed her car into the Capitol Building's gates and barricades and led police on a chase away from the area, only to sadly wind up shot and killed at the scene.
We've heard from her mother, her boyfriend, her former boss.
There are rumors about bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and postpartum depression. There are statements being made about her mental health that are beyond our knowledge or understanding at this time.
While news reports are still conflicting, word has been spread that Ms. Carey was a new mother, one who was likely experiencing some levels of a postpartum mood disorder (PPMD).
Assumptions have been made. Assumptions that can be very triggering for those of us who have experienced PPD/PPA or other PPMDs. Assumptions that can lump postpartum women into a category that stereotypes them as crazy, psychotic and ready to hurt their children.
Ms. Carey had her 18 month old daughter in the car with her during these incidents. Is it true that she did not consider the safety of her child? Sure. To those of us outside of the situation it would seem as such. But do we know what she was thinking or experiencing prior to taking these actions?
No. We don't.
We can guess but we can't know.
Postpartum depression and anxiety are NOT postpartum psychosis.
Every woman who experiences a postpartum mood disorder does not want to harm their child(ren). Every woman who experiences sadness during the postpartum period is not necessarily experiencing PPD.
It is critical that we remember that there are so many variables that come into play when it comes to the postpartum mother. Please do not lump these women together in such a way that they are scared to get help, feel stereotyped or labeled, or looked at differently. Things like that are the things that will stop these women in need from reaching out for help. And help is critical. Help is what they need more than anything.
Help, love and support the new moms in your life. They need you.
If you're unsure whether you or someone you know is experiencing a postpartum mood disorder, please reach out for help. Talk to your doctor. Your pediatrician. Your loved ones. Find yourself a support system as you navigate your way through this. We're here for you. We believe you will be okay. Let us help.
Postpartum Depression resources
Postpartum OCD resources
Postpartum Psychosis resources
10-20% of new mothers suffer from postpartum mood disorders. Only a fraction of those mothers get treatment.
This is one mother's experience.
RN: "Hello, Your OB's Office, this is Chris, how can I help you?"
Becky: "Hi, I'm Becky Harks and I'm a patient of The Doctor. I'm calling because I'm five weeks postpartum and I think I need to adjust the dosage of my medications."
RN (not unkindly): "What's going on?"
Becky (beginning to cry): "I'm on the lowest dosage of my anti-depressant, the generic one, and I think I need some more. My baby just had to have brain surgery and I'm not handling it well."
RN: "I see. Are you thinking of hurting yourself or anyone else?"
Becky (with conviction): "NO."
(They go back and forth for awhile, as pleasantly as possible when one of the members of the conversation is weeping.)
RN: "I'll talk to the doctor about increasing your dosage. Can I call you back?"
Becky (relieved): "Sure."
(Both parties hang up.)
RN: "Hi Becky, I spoke with your doctor."
RN: "He's not comfortable with increasing your dosage because he's not a psychiatrist. But here are the names of some people you can call."
Becky (stunned): "Uh..."
RN: "They might not be able to get you in right away."
RN: "If you feel like killing someone or yourself, go to the ER."
Becky (in a small voice): "okay."
(Both parties hang up.)
Have no fear, Internet. I called my general practitioner who was able to bump up my dosage for me until such time as I could get in to see him.
But I'm left wondering, why the hell does getting proper help have to be so hard?
When I was a little girl, I loved playing the game of Life.
My heart would skip a beat and I would get so excited when I would land on spaces that said, “Congratulations it's a boy,” or “Congratulations it's a girl,” or, my favorite, “Congratulations you are having twins!” I fantasized about what names I would give my children and I would daydream of being a mommy.
I've always been the mothering type. Whether it be mothering my friends and being nicknamed “Mom” by everyone or whether it was helping to raise my two little sisters due to having alcoholism in my family.
I'll never forget the first time I received a Mother’s Day Card from one of my little sisters. She thanked me for everything I had done for her – taking her to doctor appointments, registering her for school, driving her to school dances. Being recognized in that way touched me so very much and really made me feel like I was a mother for the first time. It was an amazing feeling I will never forget.
I met and fell in love with my husband in 2004. We were married three years later and soon we adopted a furry-child – a golden retriever we named Murphy. He quickly became exactly that – a furry-child. He was the center of our lives and I got to practice my mothering skills on him. He was a willing participant and he enjoyed the long walks, the birthday parties, the photo cards I made with his picture on them, and the professional family pictures we had taken with him every Christmas.
They say that the first step toward starting your family is adopting a pet so it was only natural that we started trying for our first child soon after Murphy came into our lives. We adopted Murphy in April of 2008 and we became pregnant in October of the same year.
To say we were overjoyed is the understatement of the year; we were over the moon happy. Jason and I didn't hide our excitement from our family. We told them when we were seven weeks along. Shortly thereafter, I started spotting. I lost our first baby at eight weeks along, in our home. I was devastated. I took a week off of work to grieve the loss of my pregnancy, of my baby. I started blogging; it became excellent therapy for me by allowing me to journal my feelings. It provided the outlet I needed so very much.
The little outfits I had bought prematurely went into a chest of drawers – tucked away out of sight. The picture of our ultrasound when we saw the flutter of a little heartbeat went into a frame and was displayed on my dresser. We knew we would try again, but we waited three months like the doctor advised. I thought we would get pregnant right away again, but it was nine months before I saw the faint line on the pregnancy test that told me I had a positive reading. We were pregnant again! Oh, how I hoped and prayed that God would bless us and would allow us to raise this child.
My pregnancy was very difficult, both physically and mentally. I was very sick for the first 16 weeks. I worried all of the time – about everything – due to my earlier miscarriage. I was hospitalized twice for dehydration; I became anemic and was diagnosed with asthma, as well.
I went into preterm labor at 35 weeks and was put on bed rest. I was so swollen during the last part of my pregnancy that I had to place ice packs on my legs and feet. I did everything the doctor told me to do. My sole purpose at that time was to be everything I needed to be for my baby in order to get him here safely.
Through it all, I was still a happy pregnant woman. I was definitely ready to be a mommy. I read all of the books and took several classes to prepare for the arrival of our baby boy. I bought little outfits and had three showers to welcome our baby. I sanitized every bottle, every toy, and washed every piece of clothing while I was nesting.
After the early labor was stopped, my son became so comfortable, we had to schedule an induction. We went to the hospital early in the morning of August 10, 2010. My husband and I couldn't have been more excited to become parents.
My labor was long and it was trying. I was in labor for fourteen and a half hours and pushed for an hour and a half and still hadn't delivered. The doctor discovered that our son was too big for me to deliver, so they wheeled me in for an emergency Cesarean section. The doctor prepped me and it wasn't long before I could hear the cries of my newborn son, Landon Jason. I was so happy that he was finally here and he was healthy and perfect. The nurse brought Landon over to me and I was able to look at him for the first time.
He was beautiful.
We took our first family photo and he was swept back into the nursery. I was happy, but worried because I hadn't shed a single tear - I'm usually very emotional. What I didn't know is that I was emotionally detached. I was beginning my battle, my own personal war with postpartum psychosis and postpartum depression.
Postpartum psychosis is a monster.
It comes on sudden, takes its powerful hold, and strips you of everything you have ever known yourself to be. I started displaying symptoms almost right away. My husband and I had never heard of postpartum psychosis, so we were ill prepared. I couldn't sleep. When I did, I had terrifying dreams that led me to fear sleep. I was obsessed with keeping schedules of diaper changes, visitors, breastfeeding - you name it and I developed a schedule for it.
I thought I was dying.
I was so afraid that something was going to happen to me, that I would leave my husband without a wife and my son without a mother. At one point, I was left home alone with my son (he was five days old) and I was pacing back and forth. I didn't know what to do. The voices in my head were telling me to do crazy things and I knew – somehow – that my son was not safe with me.
I made the choice and called my mother and told her to get to the house right away. I had my psychotic break at home, scaring my husband and family enough that they had to call 911. At that time, I was a danger to myself. By the grace of God, I did not harm myself and I never did want to harm my son. I thank God every day that I never wanted to harm my son.
My husband admitted me to the hospital against my will. I was hospitalized for seven nights and eight days; it wasn't long enough. During my hospital stay, I had to start the process of piecing myself back together again – just like a puzzle. I was separated from my son during my hospitalization, which was difficult. I was so happy when I found out that they had little bottles of baby shampoo. I carried that around with me and smelled it whenever I really missed my boy. I wanted more than anything to be “the old Tina” – to be a good mom – to be a good wife. I could not believe that I had finally been blessed with a child, but was so very sick that I could not enjoy the first part of my son’s life.
Postpartum psychosis robbed me of that.
When I was released from the hospital, I found I was still terrified to be alone with my son. I didn't have any self-esteem and I didn't believe in myself as a mother. I thought that everyone else could do a better job than I could do and Landon didn't need me. I felt so hopeless and the suicidal thoughts began. I formed a plan; my husband and Landon are the two things that stopped me from carrying out that plan. I couldn't allow my husband to be the one to discover my body. Thank God I didn't remain silent and shared what I was thinking.
I was hospitalized again, but this time for only four days. It wasn't long before I went back to work. I was still unstable, but coping. I was on another mix of medications and seeing my psychiatrist regularly. I quickly discovered that I had gone back to work too soon. It was overwhelming and I felt like I was failing as a wife, as a mother, and as an employee. I felt so worthless; the feelings of hopelessness and despair returned along with the suicidal thoughts. I had to take a leave of absence from work and returned to the hospital. We went with a different hospital this time along with a different psychiatrist. I stayed for eight days -it was the longest stay and most beneficial.
I haven't returned to the hospital since.
I've really started enjoying my son. I still feel guilt and shame over missing out on the first two months of his life. I was there for some of it physically, but mentally I was checked out completely. Since I've begun the journey of healing and finding myself again, I've really enjoyed motherhood. My son is happy and healthy. He is surrounded by love and I could not ask for anything more than that.
Please, know that if you are suffering from postpartum illness that you are not alone. There are many women who have experienced it. We've survived it. We have made it to the other side.
Life can be and will be good again and you will look forward to your tomorrows again.
Just for today, live life moment to moment. Celebrate taking a shower, doing the dishes, getting grocery shopping done. All of the little moments help in the healing process and help to pull you out of that depression. You are going to be okay.
And you ARE a good mother.
Up to 15% of women experience postpartum mood disorders after the birth of a child.
This is her story of postpartum depression:
Growing up, I often changed my mind about my chosen profession - I wanted to be everything from a ballerina to a doctor.
While that changed regularly, the one thing that never changed was my desire to be a wife and mother. That wish came true in August, 2008 when my then-boyfriend and I found out we were expecting a baby. We got married that October and settled down to start our family.
Pregnancy wasn't what I had envisioned.
My first trimester was absolutely awful. I had morning sickness that routinely lasted through the afternoon. I was so sick that I had to quit my job sooner than I'd planned. I can't remember when the sciatic nerve pain began, but it was so severe that many days, I could hardly get out of bed; that is, unless I wanted to end up on the floor. I'd anticipated some mood swings but what I experienced was over-the-top severe. The amount of weight I gained was much higher than it "should have been," even though I was watching my diet and exercising.
Childbirth was absolutely awful.
I was pushed to have an induction. After 32 hours of back labor and abdominal contractions, followed by three hours of pushing, my baby was born.
I was exhausted.
But I thought, "It's over now - this is when the fun starts!"
That wasn't quite the case.
My mood swings became steadily worse - I'd find myself in tears for no reason or over stupid things. I'd be sad one minute, filled with rage the next, and numb immediately after that.
I spent a lot of time simply rocking my baby and staring out into space. I can't remember what I thought about during those days, but they weren't happy thoughts. I was constantly exhausted but couldn't sleep at night. It was awful. I had no idea what was wrong with me.
I felt like a horrible wife and mother.
One night, I couldn't sleep. I found myself standing at the top of the stairs looking down. I thought about how miserable I was and how easy it would be to throw myself down.
I shook myself and walked away, deciding maybe I'd better go to bed before I did anything dumb. As I headed to bed, the thought popped into my mind: my husband still had pain medications left from his ankle surgery. It'd be so easy to take a bunch of those before going to sleep.
The intensity of these thoughts rattled me and I realized that what I was experiencing wasn't the normal "baby blues" and that I needed help.
My husband is in the Army and, mostly still asleep, recommended I call the Battalion chaplain first. The Chaplain told me that I needed to go straight to the Emergency Room at the hospital on base. He would meet me there.
I was diagnosed with Postpartum Depression and ended up hospitalized twice. I was on medication as well as seeing a therapist for six months before some lab-work finally showed that I'd developed hypothyroidism (did you know pregnancy can cause hypothyroidism? I didn't!). Treating the hypothyroidism also treated the PPD and I was able to come off of the antidepressants.
Postpartum Depression is a monster and a beast; a nightmare I thought I would never wake from, but I did.
I just wish I hadn't waited so long to ask for help.
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