“It’s the happiest time of your life…but what if it’s not?”
December 2007: I was making a rum cake for my husband to take to work the next day for a potluck. I realized we had no rum in the house (I swear it wasn’t me who drank it all) so I ran out to the liquor store to buy some. I was walking through the aisles, and tears started pouring down my face. Suddenly, without warning, big huge sobs, the kind that shake your body. “What’s wrong with me?” I thought. This wasn’t the first time this had happened. While always being emotional and easily able to cry at any tearjerker of a movie or commercial, breaking down sobbing multiple times a day, for seemingly no apparent reason as I had been doing was cause for concern. I came home and told my husband “something’s wrong, this isn’t right.”
Flash back to June of that year. I gave birth on June 5th, 2007 with a scheduled c-section to Jacob William. I also had a wonderful 3 year old son Jeffrey, had just moved into a brand new home in January and had been promoted at work right as I found out I was pregnant with Jacob (and they were awesome about it.) I’d always wanted children, here I was having my 2nd child and it should have been the happiest time in my life.
The days in the hospital were a blur as Jacob was in the NICU and I spent my time every couple hours going there to nurse him and then pumping in between. I didn’t get much sleep but what else was there to do there other than take care of my child.
It didn’t really hit me until we came home. Jacob was my 2nd child. Everything is so new with your first, you really aren’t sure what is going to happen, what comes next, you’re worried and nervous. By your second, you know what to expect. All I remember is Jacob crying as babies do. Generally with the exception of colic or other health issues, you feed them, burp them, change them, rock them, they settle down and/or fall asleep. The difference for me was that Jacob would start crying and my chest would tighten. I’d think “Oh my God, he’s never going to stop”. “I won’t be able to give him what he needs”. Irrational fears, every one of them. But at the time, they were real and ever present. (and Jacob wasn’t that fussy of a baby, he would always stop crying when I met whatever basic need it was that he needed)
Getting out of bed was almost impossible in the morning. That should have been my first sign, but at that point I was just trying to make it through the day. Trying to survive. I’d wake up in the morning with my 3 year old, change his diaper, get him a sippy cup of milk and a bowl or Ziploc bag of Cheerios and put him in front of the TV in my bedroom. Being still in diapers, I simply put a child safety lock on the bathroom door and the bedroom door, essentially “locking” all of us in the bedroom. He couldn’t get into the bathroom or out of the bedroom. I’d then lie in bed all morning with Jacob, he was an infant and basically nursed and slept so I could lay there very easily with him while Jeffrey was watching TV. Finally around lunch time, I’d get up the strength to get out of bed, go downstairs with the kids and make us lunch and try and get through the day until it was bedtime. This was every day.
Another time I was over a girlfriend’s house and she was holding Jacob and cooing and making faces at him and he was giggling away. Any mother would be ecstatic at seeing her baby happy and laughing. I felt nothing other than “she’s a better mother than me”. I honestly thought my baby, my older son, my husband, my family would be better off without me. Little did I know I was suffering from post-partum depression.
Sadly this continued for far too long, partially because I didn’t know what was happening to me and partially because I never liked to ask for help. I’m the type of person who would crawl through broken glass before I asked for help. But how can you ask for help when you don’t even know what you need?
You hear all around you how happy you’re supposed to be, how lucky you’re supposed to feel, how blessed you are. We tried for over a year to have Jacob, he was very much wanted, I was ecstatic when I found out I was pregnant. Why wasn’t I happy?
Luckily I never had any thoughts of hurting my baby or myself as some women do but I mostly just felt numb. As if everyone else would be better off without me. If I just went off into the sunset, disappeared somewhere, anywhere.
Right before the incident at Canals Liquor Store, I remember being upstairs trying to get my 3 year old to sleep. I was reading to him but he wanted another story, more time of me laying with him. Downstairs Jacob was crying. His father was tending to him but infants often only want their mommy. Here I am trying to get Jeffrey to sleep, I hear Jacob crying and the panic sets in. I couldn’t breathe, I felt as if I was suffocating. Thoughts running through my head…”Jeffrey is never going to go to sleep”, “Jacob is never going to stop crying”, “I can’t do this”. I kissed Jeffrey, walked downstairs, kissed my husband and infant and told them “I can’t do this, I need to leave”. I walked out the door, got in my car and drove off with sobbing, racking tears. I finally stopped in a parking lot somewhere and called Jeff. I don’t even remember what he said or what I said. I sobbed for quite some time then drove home and went back to my life.
I was numb, I didn’t feel happy but I’m not sure if sadness was what I felt. It’s hard to explain, other than the crying I didn’t feel much of anything. I wanted to be anywhere else. I thought I was failing at everything. Fortunately I nursed both of my kids. Nursing I think is the only thing that saved me. Sitting there nursing this small little baby, while I didn’t feel the connection I had with Jeffrey, I did feel that at least right at this moment I was doing something good for him, that I was able to do something right for him. I felt a failure in every other way in every other moment of the day but those hours of sitting and nursing him (and you mothers who have nursed know how time consuming it can be) somehow helped in my opinion to make it through this very dark time. I knew no one else could provide him what I was providing him during those hours.
For whatever reason, a lightbulb went off in my head that December night at the liquor store. I finally knew this wasn’t right and that I needed help. I called my ob/gyn and explained how I was feeling and she called in a prescription for me for an anti-depressant. Luckily within not too long I was feeling back to my old self. I think it’s important to share my story with others. Depression and mental illness as a whole is a taboo topic in our society. It makes people uncomfortable therefore they shy away from talking about it. Only by talking about it and shedding light on the subject can others realize they’re not alone and that they can seek out help. Medication and therapy are wonderful tools we have at our disposal and we shouldn’t be shamed into forgoing them.
I have a lot of guilt over that time. Guilt for not bonding with Jacob as much as I feel I should have. Guilt for the neglect I feel I put Jeffrey through. Guilt for missing out on so much joy and happiness I could have been experiencing (this is where therapy comes into play!) I think guilt is an inherent part of being a mother so I’ve worked hard to forgive myself but it’s a never ending process as we all know. As I wake up every day I try to remind myself of the following I read once. “There will be so many times that you feel like you failed, but in the eyes, heart and mind of your child, you are SuperMom.”