“It’s called the Baby Blues,” she chortled. “It happens to everyone. It won’t last long.”
My mother-in-law thought she was helping. If she had known that the night before, while I fed my baby alone in the dark, I had contemplated my own death and taking my daughter with me, maybe she wouldn’t have dismissed my tears.
But, how could I tell her how I was feeling? She birthed 6 babies. I only had one. Obviously, she was stronger than I, and I needed to suck it up. How could I tell her I cried whenever I was alone? And when I wasn’t, I escaped into the bathroom just so I could silent scream into the towels? I, apparently, was weak. Best to keep it to myself, and cross my fingers these “blues” would pass like she said.
Time did pass, but those “blues” certainly didn’t. Night after night, I rose in the darkness to pump and feed my daughter. She couldn’t breastfeed due to her cleft lip and palate and the palate prosthesis rigorously taped to her face, so our nightly sessions often lasted 45 minutes or more. Forty-five tearful, often suicidal minutes.
Why do I hate you? I love you so much! I’ve prayed and wished for you. I’ve suffered and waited for you. What is wrong with me? I can’t do this. I can’t take care of myself, so how can I care for you? You are better off without me.
My daughter’s first surgery came and went. She was ten weeks old. No more taping. We switched to formula. Life was simpler and our nightly feedings shortened. My body was finally healing from the 37-hour labor. Surely things will improve. I can enjoy my baby without watching her be so painfully uncomfortable. I can get more sleep.
I did enjoy my baby more. I did sleep (a little bit) more. I didn’t, however, stop hating myself. I didn’t stop wanting to disappear. I didn’t stop resenting my perfect, innocent babe. This was supposed to be one of the happiest times of my life, but I felt angry and alone. So very alone. My supportive husband worked long hours, and there were days I wouldn’t see anyone from sunup to sundown. In my calm moments, I questioned my sanity. In my dark moments, I questioned my life.
There were times when it was hard to breathe. Each breath stung like I was allergic to the very oxygen that sustained me. Darkness had settled in me and the world looked empty. Spring came, but the darkness didn’t leave. What was wrong with me? I thought about all the mothers I knew. Nobody said it would be like this. Why didn’t they tell me? I hated them all for it. I hated being a woman. I hated that the stewardship of nurturing new life fell on the shoulders of women, and that I couldn’t hack it. I was not cut out for it. I wasn’t strong enough. I was a failure.
What the hell is wrong with me?
I was one of the lucky ones. My doctor prescribed me medication and referred me to The Healing Group in Salt Lake City, a counseling center for women. They saved my life. Amy-Rose taught me that there is no shame in my depression, and that there is a way out. She discovered my PTSD, and helped me heal. She even allowed me to feel safe enough to get pregnant again. After my son’s birth, I had to face the depression head-on. It came with a vengeance, but I wasn’t alone. And, I am not ashamed anymore.
How many of us suffer in silence? Women may be biologically equipped to bear children, but there isn’t a soul on earth quipped to manage depression alone. Especially when we are responsible for sustaining new life. The African adage that it takes a village to raise a child applies to the aiding of mothers as much as it does the bringing up of children. It is about being responsible for each other. Why aren’t we taking better care of each other? Where are our villages? Where are our sisters?
The greatest irony of our time is that modern technology has made this world so small and so connected, and yet for the first time in the history of the world women are birthing and rearing children alone. We should never be alone. If you need help or don’t know who to turn to, you can always call me.
If you or a mother you love is experiencing symptoms of depression, there is help.