Suicide, Postpartum Depression, Postpatum Anxiety
::::takes deep breath:::::
Even though many of you have heard me discuss this on our off topic group, or our chat group, perhaps even in person at trade shows or our warehouse….any time I open the door to discussing my descent into postpartum hell after my 7th baby was born, there is a bit of “standing in a room under a bright light with many eyes on me” feeling. That being said, I have 7 pairs of little eyes watching me, and knowing the chances of them facing this demon is tragically high, I am going to do what all parents do, and push that aside because I love them too much not to say it.
Hello, everyone! Today I am sitting down to go over a story that happened in my life recently. I come to you as someone who-horrifically-previously judged and decided that many women who were selected to be cast into the Hunger Games of postpartum mental health issues somehow had control over their selection, and why didn’t they just try harder to fight it? Oh, how the mightily judgmental have fallen, and I am left with the regret that it took me actually plodding through this vicious cat and mouse game of dodging symptoms, denial, blaming others and finally succumbing to realize how very, very real this issue is.
In the summer of 2015, I was very happily pregnant with my seventh baby. The pregnancy had been rough at the start, the usual exhaustion and morning sickness, but my older children were incredibly helpful, and I was thrilled to be carrying our little girl into a fall delivery. I absolutely love the fall, it is my favorite season, and having a little girl made me especially giddy, as I hadn’t seen little pink things since my 9 year old had outgrown them, and her three brothers had followed. How I wish I could go back to that summer, and slap myself across the face to open my eyes to the snowball that I had started to pile on myself, that would eventually start to roll downhill and become bigger than I could control. Ah, control. That “other” c-word that should be as scorned for any mother to be, either with their first child or their 20th.
In the basket of life’s things that I was desperately trying to *control*, I was embarking on another year of homeschooling. This wasn’t supposed to be the case, but I had drug my feet on registering them into their new schools so I figured it would be EASY to have one more baby and do what I had done the year prior. My business was also picking up speed, and I decided it was a good time to incorporate it (legal stuff, financial stuff, lawyer stuff), as well as move my business from my home into a 3800 square foot warehouse in town. Now, normally my work load hovers around 40 hours a week, with the extra surge in business and moving plans, 40 become 50, which become 55, at which point I lost count and realized I didn’t sleep long enough to dream, and those longed for pregnancy naps were a thing of the past.
Now, at this point maybe some are thinking, where is your partner in all of this? My husband, Phil, was doing exactly what I had asked him to do, what I had demanded of him since day one of running my business….let me handle it, I will let you know if I need help, just be that awesome dad you always are. (And truly, he is, he is not the babysitter/helper/manny, but 100% involved in every aspect of the care of teenagers through babies)…
I needed to control all of these things because that is what I do, and I will be darned if a 7th child and business move and homeschooling is going to derail me.
Summer passed, September passed, homeschooling started late. And then kind of stopped. Lawyer calls, moving things, life kind of happened, and I started to see this little personification of something start to pop up in my life. I might have labeled it guilt, with a little dash of stubbornness and arrogance on top. He wasn’t big at first, he only popped up when I was tired, or trying to be creative for some art project at work, or thinking about the weeks being lost that my children weren’t learning from our curriculum. He stayed mostly quiet, and we plodded on. As October started, I realized my moving date was about two weeks before my due date, and at that point my energy level was so tightly wound up into “GET THIS SHIT DONE” that I fueled what reserves I had into final packing, and then actually moving the store with my staff and a moving company, setting it all back up and only losing one day of business shipping to it. The problem was it physically really hurt, my back, my legs, my hips, one should not be hauling boxes and bins around at 38 weeks pregnant, and the fact that this is obvious to everyone except myself at the time should have meant something..
My baby is here! A beautiful baby, she was perfect, a bit of a tricky delivery but stunningly sweet. She captured my heart at once. See! No bonding issues, all that stress and that little guy in my head surely will be gone now. So what if I was making conference calls on the way to the hospital, and sending emails until I couldn’t breathe through my contractions, I could handle this. Control it.
-A little side story that at the time seemed so insignificant, but haunts me now as a sign I should have taken as something being wrong-
Violet was my first baby who went to the nursery overnight. Phil had to be home with the other kids, and we are estranged from most of our other close relatives. And I was supermom, dammit, I didn’t need help. Except she had high jaundice, and needed bili lights. And she would pull the little goggles off her eyes. And I tried to stay up to keep adjusting them, but come 2 am after a day of labor and delivery, I started falling asleep hanging over her bassinet. I called Phil, bawling, and he pleaded with me to call the nurse. Everything was fine, they brought her back every two hours to feed, she stayed under her lights, and got rid of it by morning. But I told myself falling asleep every time that night that I had already lowered the bar for this baby, and wasn’t the mom to her the other ones had. I was already failing her.
SO, we got home, I am looking at my gorgeous newborn, and all I could think about was:
-Homeschooling is falling behind even more
-Lawyers need to be called
-Work deadlines are due
-Why can’t I control this like I did every time before?
So that little guy we talked about, he grew some. He especially loved to sit on my shoulder at night, when I should have been sleeping, tell me how I was not only failing at my work, but now I was dragging all of my children down with me. They weren’t learning, they watched too much television, the house wasn’t clean….
Why wasn’t Phil recognizing this? I know what will fix it, surely I am not yelling at him enough. Oh, the yelling. The waiting, watching that clock until he walked in the door so I could unleash the rage of everything from why the laundry wasn’t caught up (or maybe it was, but it wasn’t FOLDED the way I did!), why the toys weren’t organized like I did, why the bookshelf was in disarray, WHY DIDN’T HE TELL ME I WAS BEAUTIFUL TODAY…I never failed to find at least 37 things to rattle off on him in 90 seconds. And he never got mad, he just went through the list and did the items, thinking his extra help would get me through this.
That growing guy on my shoulder? Every single outburst I had, it fed him, like a fucking gremlin eating friend chicken after midnight. And the thing about rage, it doesn’t go away when you sleep. I would get even madder when I tried to sleep, about the time I was losing to work, and to what needed to be done in the house. Easy solution, stop sleeping! Eventually 90 minutes to 2 hours a night became my norm, and it felt good to me to control the amount of sleep I got.
Well, funny thing about my rage, it started to spill over. My oldest children were with me most of the day, and by God they were failing, too. Why weren’t they studying as much, we had to make up for lost time? Chores? Never done the way I thought they should be, or often enough. And that guilt cycle never failed to remind me all night long how their little faces looked at me after I had vomited angry words on them throughout the day.
That little guy? That growing demon? I would say he was a full fledged adult asshole of a beast who lived on my back, and he loved every second of this.
So, I went and saw my doctor. My outdated, antiquated female doctor who asked me if I wanted to hurt myself or my babies, heard me say no, and gave some the wrong medication and no follow up to help me through this thing I had in my head.
So, I took the pills. The wrong pills for me, the pills that carried a side effect of suicidal thoughts with them. Pills that do work for some women and men, but without follow up or therapy or help, can really throw gasoline onto a fire.
And nothing makes 2 hours of sleep a night better than waking up with night panic attacks.
Right around February of 2016, that month where it is dark by 4 pm, things started to change. The kids had caught up on schoolwork, work was stable, the house was in order…..
And my beast started to whisper something new in my ear.
“You kind of suck at everything.”
A tiny whisper at first, but then it was my tagline for every time I yelled at my family. “Kids, I am so sorry, I love you so much and I am sorry.”
“Ha, you see that? That is your 7th apology before noon. You kind of suck at being their mom”
“NO! I am doing a good job! They have good grades and they still kiss me goodnight!”
“Ok, tell yourself that. You know they tell their friends how mom yells all the time because they can’t do their breakfast dishes on time. They deserve better.”
“Oh, and that husband who you never want to have sex with? Think of all of those gorgeous women who are looking for a handsome, athletic, stable earner who LOVES children. You kind of suck at being a wife, too”
In my work, the art ideas I was producing took twice as long to compile, my new product ideas were sub par, my marketing ideas were flat, and I started to suck at that, too.
It was at this point where my stubborn streak that told me I would never fail, that I could CONTROL this, it started to fade away a little bit. It was replaced by a new train of thought. One that said those I loved the most would be better off without me in their life.
And I truly think I did fight it well for a long time. I pushed it away, I thought it sounded ridiculous, but like a toddler asking for an extra cookie, the promise of just giving in for some peace and quiet from the idea won. And I believed it.
A bizarre thing about giving in to the idea that the world is better off without you, it can be eerily peaceful and calm. I felt like a weight had been lifted. It made SENSE to my analytical, controlling personality that simply removing myself from the equation allowed:
-My husband to sell my business for a good sum of money, travel with the children to beautiful and exotic places to forget their rage-filled mom
-My kids to finally have a day without someone yelling at them
-My husband to find a NEW wife, one who loved him and wanted to have sex with him, and kept a tidy house and a kind personality
-My customers to have a GOOD business owner, one who would bring them things deserving of their hard earned money
It. Just. Made. Sense.
So, what does any hardworking businesswoman do once she has a great idea? You make a plan! And I had a great plan, a well timed, lets the children recover before school starts, does it in a way that will actually make sure my teenagers don’t make mistakes while driving distracted plan to exit this world and let all of those amazing benefits come into the lives of those I loved the most.
Morning time every morning was like a bullhorn in my tired face, I was exhausted from day to day living, and I was just biding my time until that day arrived. And I went off my medicine, why waste the co-pay when I am on the way out, right? See, good business sense there, always thinking.
Mother’s Day 2016 was creeping up on us. About 2 weeks until I would make my exit. And Mother’s Day kind of sucks a little in this house. Phil’s mother had died in 2012, a stark reminder of a day where he doesn’t have someone to love in that role. And I haven’t spoken to my mother since 2014. A “meh” day at best. I wanted to spend the entire weekend in bed, in the dark, just crying for this to all be over soon.
Then, on my timehop app on my Iphone, I was reminded of what we had done the year prior. The kids had a blast going to the inner harbor in DC, and I thought maybe it would be good for them to have a last trip there with mom, another box I could check in a very strategic way to pave the way for their new and better life without me.
That was the day, the Saturday before Mother’s Day 2016, the day that didn’t suck as bad, but just a tiny bit. Full disclosure, I had taken myself off of medication I shouldn’t be on for a few weeks, and literally 3 days later my cycle returned for the first time after Vi’s birth. I am convinced that the hormonal shift and finally being free of that medication is what turned the tide.
I woke up, we went to the harbor, and we had a beautiful day.
Me and Vi, Inner Habor that day
It was the day that I thought maybe my plan needed some tweaking. Not getting rid of it, but maybe a delay? After all my date was in the summer, and the kids love summer, maybe I should wait until the fall. And some of my kids have summer birthdays, that wouldn’t be fair. Hmmmm……
In the months that followed, every day seemed to get a little better. And as I started to feel less like a blight on this earth, I started to read. I found good articles, and resources, and I started talking to Phil in a very blunt, no holds barred, ugly truth sort of way.
Those resources were always there. Phil was always there. By that beast on my back told me not to waste my time on them, I wasn’t worth it. And my guilt cycle robbed me of any sleep to let me have the energy to fight that beast. And my panic attacks made me scared to sleep the little that I did. It was never ME who was that person, looking back I see how this ugly monster started to wrap himself around me like a giant snake, slowly and quietly at first until I was so entrapped I was hopeless to fight it.
I will always battle anxiety, even mild depression, it has been with me as long as I have childhood memories going back, and it will be with me until I die. But that anxiety also fuels my desire to be the best mom, the best business owner, the best wife that I can be. Not the best there is, but the best I CAN BE. And that is the difference, it is controllable, and it will not be the last chapter on my book.
Since this period of time, a great deal of healing and dialogue has gone on in our household. Every single one of my children knows on their level of understanding what happened to mom, and bridges have been rebuilt and continue to be strengthened. I love my husband tremendously, and he knows what to do differently to make sure I am ok and not just fudging through to keep the peace in the house. We have all learned, we talk openly and honestly about this and many struggles that come up in life. We are going to be ok, and we are in this together.
Parents, parents to be, caregivers, moms, dads….this can happen to you. The statistics show that men and women have a damn good chance of struggling with postpartum mental health issues. Your journey will not be exactly like mine, you may have symptoms I never did, and that doesn’t make your journey any less than mine. Suicide does not enter into everyone’s journey, but it does not mean you are any less worth it if it does.
Please, reach out for help. It is ok to take medication on this journey, just please make sure your doctor is listening to you and if you have side effects, bring it to their attention. Medication does not equal weakness. You are worth it. You are strong enough. This beast on your back IS NOT YOU AND DOES NOT DEFINE YOU. You are still YOU, you are wonderful and YOU are what your child and family needs.