[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post might be triggering for some moms as she openly discusses intrusive thoughts bordering on psychosis in detail. Please only read if you are in a safe space. -Katherine]
Dear New Moms,
Congratulations! Life as you knew it officially exploded in your face! Of course, it exploded in the most soul-changing, miraculous bomb of roughly eight pounds. For some, this explosion is a myriad of fireworks—beautiful colors, instant gratification, a swell of emotions. For some (like me), the explosion destroyed my life as I knew it. The explosion ripped down every wall in my life, shattered my home, existence and self-worth.
My explosion’s name is Harrison. All eight pounds of him and his INSANE blond hair ripped my life right down the middle until I was stripped raw, begging for mercy, and at the edge of my sanity. Within four months of his birth, I was diagnosed with severe postpartum depression and anxiety, bordering on postpartum psychosis. What, you didn’t know that? Yes, because I’m just coming clean with it. Hi, my name is Blair and at my last visit my doctor explained that I was borderline psychosis in the beginning. I have decided to have no shame in admitting this as I am thankful not to be in a cell, padded or jail.
I began an intense regime of therapy, medication and narrowly skipped being committed to a mental hospital by the squeak of my nose, thanks to having family in the area and a husband that deserves Time‘s MAN OF THE YEAR.
People want to know about postpartum depression. Of course they do. They want to know what my “signs” were. How I knew I had it. The sliding backwards, the low point and the crash. The gory details of how my life started unraveling. They were terrifying to experience. They are terrifying to put into words because they make me face this illness. But I feel a fire in my soul to raise awareness, educate, and create a safe place of zero shame for mothers who feel the same.
I was depressed from my sophomore year to my senior year in college. A chemical imbalance caused by a mixture of heart medications and outside influences (like my high school sweetheart cheating on me with his class partner, and oh, and the discovery of alcohol). A few years on an antidepressant did the trick, sans therapy, but I knew going into pregnancy that I had a massive red X on my back for postpartum depression. Those with a history of depression are more susceptible to it.
so prior to Harrison’s arrival, Nate and I talked in-depth about PPD. What signs to look for. I spoke to my family about it and to my friends. Asked them to just … keep an eye on me.
Then Harrison arrived. My God, he was beautiful. And perfect. I was so in love that I thought I would literally explode into a trillion little pieces. Or that I would lie him on a mirror, chop him up into tiny pieces and snort him like cocaine, just to be thatclose to how he smelled after a bath. So many commented on how competent I seemed with him—calm, collected, confident. Like I was BORN for motherhood. It felt like the most instinctual calling in my life. I never even turned on the baby monitor because I was so sure that I took care of him correctly; there was no room for doubt or need of back-up.
Then the reflux screaming started. Every moment he cried, it shredded down my confidence until every scream was a resounding “BAD MOTHER! BAD MOTHER!” in my ears. I used to lay him in the crib, still screaming and crawl into the shower for 30 minutes. Turn it up until the water burned me and sob my eyes out. I yearned to return to work, simply to escape him.
Yet when I returned to work, I felt even more despair. I felt such a state of shock at both work and home that I could not function. I was distracted and forgetful at work. Exhausted beyond comprehension at home. Miserable. Constantly choking back tears and fighting against the guilt that pounded down for leaving my child.
I always knew I had to be a working mom at a job I adored and embraced it before Harrison. What the hell was my problem now?? Had I changed that much in 13 weeks? Even if I did, other mothers want to stay home yet go to work—why am I fighting this so hard? WHY IS IT SO DIFFICULT FOR ME when everyone else pulls their shit together?! I felt like my head pounded constantly with bad mother, wife, employee, daughter, etc. guilt and self-hate. I would stare longingly at Harrison’s pictures, counting down the moments until 5 o’clock.
I was unable to go see him at lunch. I couldn’t handle the guilt I felt for working when I saw him. Couldn’t handle that in the middle of the day I felt like he didn’t recognize me. He would cry with me, but then grin the moment my parents walked in the room. Knife, meet heart. Stab and twist accordingly. So I stopped going completely.
Then I stopped giving him his bedtime bottle. I claimed it was because that was him time with Nate. But the truth was that I couldn’t handle the emotions. Every time I fed him at night, tears spilled over his little blond head. I was so sorry that I didn’t go see him at lunch. I was so sorry that I worked. I was so sorry that I wasted maternity leave wishing I was at work. I was so sorry that he didn’t smile for me, that he didn’t seem to know me. I was so sorry that I couldn’t bear to be around him anymore. I was so sorry that he didn’t get a better mother.
One day during the final week of maternity leave, I finally got Harrison to nap after hours of rocking and soothing… only to have my dog Tucker wake him up 10 minutes later, barking at the mail truck. I screamed, swore profanity that would probably char the devil’s ears. I thought about all the ways I could kill my dog, not in the “ZOMG, I could totally kill my dog! j/k!” way. In the sense that I am eternally thankful that we do not own a gun. Because I would have shot her. I replayed the vision in my head for hours, relishing the high of it, then crawling under the crushing guilt of wanting to harm something so innocent.
When I told Nate that night, he laughed, thinking I was just being my typical overly-dramatic self. I tried to chuckle and tell myself that he was right; I was being dramatic and silly. But I still knew, deep down, that I would have hurt her. That frightened me. It is so out of character and not normal.
When I first returned to work, I had a nightmare about driving down a dark road and fixing my hair while I drove. On the radio, they were discussing a man that was notorious for driving while on a cocaine high. Harrison was in the back in his seat and I looked up to see blazing bright lights hurtling toward us. And a crash. The car flipped three times and I floated up above it. I woke up panting with fear. It just seemed so real.
Every morning commute after that, I pictured that car crash. At first, I felt afraid. Then slowly, the dream and the emotion changed. I started picturing a truck side-swiping the Subaru right into the baby seat. Right into Harrison. I didn’t feel fear. I felt calm. Relief. Like… THANK GOD.
That didn’t even make me run to the nearest mental hospital. Nor did the visions of my mother-in-law dropping him off the top of the stairs. I would picture every single stair he hit. Or Nate backing over him in the driveway. A daycare worker shaking him. Or the dog biting him. Because, I rationalized, it wasn’t me hurting him. It was always someone else! I was safe!
Then the guilt would come crushing down. WHAT KIND OF MOTHER HAS THOSE THOUGHTS?! What kind of mother thinks of her baby being hurt and instead of crippling with fear, she replays car crashes in her head? The kind that doesn’t deserve to be a mother. So two weeks ago, I googled adoption agencies. You wanted to know my low point? The crash that sent off red sirens screaming that something felt off? That was it. I googled options for giving Harrison up for adoption.
People tell you, “Don’t be afraid. There’s nothing to fear.” I beg to differ. BE AFRAID. Being afraid is what saved my life and my son’s. I was afraid of the person I was becoming, knowing it wasn’t “me.” That is why I contacted my obstetrician and eventually a psychiatrist. I am afraid that I will be like this forever, and it’s what gives me the fuel to fight this even harder.
IT IS OKAY TO FEAR UNTREATED PPD, but do not fear the stigma. Do not fear treatment. Do not fear getting better. Use your fear of the disease to crush the fear of the unknown. Stand up for women. Rise to the occasion for awareness.
For now, I am still in treatment. I dream of the day when I can post the Postpartum Progress badge that proudly states “I am a PPD Survivor” on my blog. Until that day, I will keep taking baby steps, keep talking, and remind myself that I won’t hear imaginary screaming in the shower the rest of my life. Because I am getting better.
And so will you.
The author of the blog The Heir to Blair is a sweet Southern girl, married 3+ years to a devilishly handsome man that helped her spawn Harrison. Miscarriage survivor and reflux warrior. Battling postpartum depression and anxiety as a working mom who drinks entirely too much caffeine in the morning. Over-sharing extraordinaire that hates celery and liars, but loves chocolate chip cookies and to-do lists. You can follow her on Twitter at @heirtoblair."Blair" is a pen name.