While I did not struggle as long as many women do to become pregnant, it did not happen without medical help. When I finally saw those two pink lines, however faint that second line was, I was overjoyed. I yearned to be a mother. I am not the gentle and nurturing type, but I am a fierce advocate and protector for those I love and those who cannot fight for themselves. It gives me purpose and joy to care for another human in this way. There was only one thing that chipped away at this joy during my pregnancy – the fear of postpartum depression.
I thought I was well prepared for the potential darkness. I read medical articles and personal anecdotes on PPD. I knew the statistics and understood my increased chances given my personal history of mental illness. Discussions took place with my doctor and husband about warning signs and when it would be time to talk about medication. Even my close family and friends were briefed. I was trying prevent myself from being able to suffer in silence. My own embarrassment was trivial compared to the love growing inside me. This beautiful life deserved to have people ready to shower her with love if I all I had to offer was apathy.
My daughter DID NOT SLEEP. Though my husband stayed home with her while I was at work, she hated him after the sun set. I’d rock her back to sleep multiple times every night, my boob in her mouth, while singing ‘You are my sunshine’ over and over again. In the moment, I didn’t mind. I missed her so much after I went back to work. Midnight was our time together. While I cherished it, it drained me. Lack of sleep does not pair well with an already dark mind.
I would drive to work and think of driving into the LSU lakes. This thought was not followed by tears or a meltdown. It usually came as a line item in my mental to-do list for the day. My normal thought pattern while driving to work looked like this: ‘Balance tax revenues, review purchase orders, don’t drive off this bridge, and don’t forget to pump when you get to work.’ I realize now why my husband and sisters were always on edge around me. I scared them. I loved my baby girl. She was my sunshine, but when I wasn’t around her, I was oblivious to my own darkness.
That (un)blissful ignorance began to erode with my increasing anxiety. I didn’t feel or notice my depression until my level of anxiety became overwhelming. The smallest things caused me to fall into a full panic. My chest felt twisted. I couldn’t land on a single thought. I imagined others could see my panic and my coping mechanism was full-on apathy. I shut everything off because it was all too much. I was a bad friend, a bad sister, a bad wife, a bad daughter, but I don’t think I was ever a bad mom. She was my breath. I felt strong around her. Caring for her was the one thing I was always sure I was doing right. She motivated me to email my doctor.
Enter the wonderful Dr. P. Despite having been to therapy and on anti-depressants before, I had never seen a psychiatrist. When I took Zoloft previously, it was prescribed by my family doctor after I had asked for it at the direction of my counselor. My first few visits with Dr. P. were heavy. It was the first time in all my years of struggling that I had received an official diagnosis – Major Depressive Disorder coupled with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. She increased my dosage and referred me to an amazing therapist for weekly appointments. I was finally on the mend.
Fast forward to today. My daughter is a year and a half old and I feel good. My marriage is strong and I will be forever thankful that my husband showed me grace and love when I had none to give. My daughter is a force that I admire so much. I still see my therapist once a month and take Zoloft daily. My goal as soon as I started medication was to stop taking medication. Now my goal is purely to be my best self. The best advice I can offer new moms is that depression does not mean you are ungrateful. You can be overwhelmed with love for your child while simultaneously drowning in self-hatred. You do not have to live in darkness. You are worthy of a life in the sunshine.