Dear new mom (or second time mom, or 5th time mom),
I don’t really know where to begin to help you be more prepared for what you’re about to go through. I could start by telling you that if you, like me, are prone to depression, you need to ask those you love around you to keep an extra close eye on you after the baby comes. I don’t want you to live in fear, but I also don’t want you waking up one day wondering why you have thoughts about driving off the cliff you drive by every day. A little dose of fear isn’t a bad thing, just use it to propel yourself to action instead of reaction (or inaction).
When I had my first child I didn’t know that I was more prone to postpartum depression because of my history with depression. When the baby and I came home I didn’t know it wasn’t normal for me to feel like he was someone else’s baby and feel angry every time he woke up. I didn’t know it wasn’t normal for me to not really feel like I loved him. When the bonding finally clicked in several weeks later, I could see how different I felt, but I still didn’t know to be concerned about myself. I struggled through his first year hardly leaving the house, making no friends in my new city and praying for 6pm so I could hand my son off to my husband for the night. I would then wake up dreading my day alone with my baby. It didn’t help that he was a colicky baby that never lost the colic, and when his brother was born at his second birthday and he was diagnosed with Autism, I didn’t know that things would probably get worse.
Having two screaming children, being completely isolated, an alcoholic husband and doing nothing but driving my oldest to therapy was a cocktail for disaster, when combined with my long untreated disease. I would stay up all night not sleeping, just watching TV or reading blogs (the early ones, back in 2004) just so I could avoid going to bed where my baby would wake me again. Just to be alone. Just to watch the sun come up and avoid the inevitability of another day. Somehow not sleeping made me feel in control when I was very much out of control.
The not sleeping and the depression and the lack of self care were easily dismissed as a mom dealing with Autism, so my inner struggle continued to go unchecked. No one really knew about the darkness in my head. When the day finally came that I noticed my weeks-long practice of planning on how I’d kill myself was NOT normal, I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t believe that suicide had become an option, that it didn’t matter to me that I’d be leaving my husband and children, that it seemed logical and simply possible — just a plan. I wasn’t alarmed by it, but I finally noticed that I needed help.
After getting that help, and deciding a complete change of location and scenery was needed (as in a cross-country move), I started to feel the suffocating fog lift. I likened it to how a meth addict needs to move to another city, to be physically away from the other addicts and the source of the addiction. I thought leaving was the ultimate “cure”, that I could start over with life, be the real me, or at least discover who she was in the first place.
That move didn’t cure me, but it did make things different enough that I started to see the world through new eyes. Through glasses that were tinted a color of change. Things became different. I could breathe again, and could meet new people again and somehow the help I had received in my old city was enough to help me to really start fresh as a new me. The new me was battered and still not exactly healthy, but the new me was able to step out of constantly feeling like a victim to my life so I could make some real changes, continue getting help and reach out to new people and build that all-important (vital, even) support system.
I can’t tell you that it will be perfect one day, and you’ll be cured and you’ll never suffer again — there’s not guarantee that life won’t come by and kick your ass again, sending you spiraling backwards looking behind you as you pass by all that progress you made. I didn’t know I’d give birth to a stillborn baby at almost 19 weeks alone in 2010, bringing PTSD and anxiety disorder into my life, and I never imagined experiencing antenatal depression for the first time right now at 20 weeks pregnant. It seems like the same dance, new song. But I’m changing with it, I’m learning, I’m using the tools that I already had and I’m fighting. Please whatever you do, keep fighting.
My own journey hasn’t been this rock bottom fall then saving glory to mental health where I stood tall and I pledged to change the world. It’s been more of a very slow climb out of that bottoming out, with many many stumbles, and some really big falls, along the way. I can say that my strong personal faith has played a huge part in my recovery, it seems to have been the missing link that I thought I had but didn’t really weave into my heart until I lost my daughter. Finding something I was soul-level passionate about (and I don’t mean a hobby, something that I feel completely transformed my heart, and fostered in the resources, healing and did I mention healing?) has been all the difference. I do credit God for saving me from the deepest pit of depression, that day when I shouldn’t have noticed that something was wrong, that day when I had my eyes opened even a little, in a miraculous way.
I know that for each of us it’s a journey. I hope that you too can find your soul-level heart transformation that brings your journey to a new path. That brings you new weapons for your battle. That brings you victory along the way. And as we all know, life is not about the destination anyway.
Arianne Segerman is a freelance writer living in the beauty of the deep South in Charleston, South Carolina. She homeschools her three special needs boys, misses her baby in heaven, grows baby #5 with fear and courage and is still searching for her inner steel magnolia. You can find her writings on life, faith and the in-between at To Think Is To Create or on Twitter at @tothink.