I wrote this several months ago, long before my blog, but I decided to share it with you all now:
“Stop playing with your food!” I yell for what feels like the fiftieth time just during dinner alone. My chest is tight, my stress hormones pumping out at maximum capacity.
“More mix, Mommy,” my son says, dumping his crackers from his bowl to his plate yet again. “More mix.”
I sigh in frustration.
He follows this with, “More eat,” just so I know he is “actually” eating. He then turns his cup and spoon into a sailboat, his straw acting as the sail, I assume. “Cup sailboat!” he exclaims in joy.
I begrudgingly play along. “Is your boat in the water?”
“Boat in the water!” Choo-choo repeats this several times, moving his cup around on the table. He hasn’t taken a bite of food in at least twenty minutes now, but any suggestion by me of him being done leads to more screams and whines than I can handle right now.
“Sailboat broke down,” he tells me as I finish my second serving of food. “Fix sailboat.” He turns his spoon around on his cup like a screwdriver or wrench. “Need another tool.” He removes his straw from its hole in the cup. He holds it up proudly with his spoon. “Two tools! Two tools!”
After playing with his “boat” for a bit longer, he seems like he might be in a good place for me to end the meal. I have already cleared my plate and silverware. I returned his precious cheese to the fridge. All that remains at the table is my son and his dinnerware-turned-toys.
“Okay, sweetie. Time to wash up.” I say this as sweetly as I can, though he still screams like the end of mealtime equals the end of the world.
He squirms all the way to the bathroom as I hold on to him tightly for fear of dropping him. “No wash!” he shouts, though I am already soaping up his hands and getting ready to stick them under the faucet for a rinse.
Once his dirty toddler hands and sticky toddler face are finally clean, it’s time to play before bed. Since it is before bed, though, all this really means is his other toys are put away and we run around the living room kicking a giant green rubber ball until bedtime. It is at least another half hour after playtime is over before he is finally(!) in bed. He’s quiet, and I can only hope he is sleeping. The time has come for me to let out what I have been holding in all day.
I strip down in the bathroom, letting the shower water warm up before stepping in. My tears are already streaming down. I choke back sobs, hoping the noise of the shower will drown out my cries. I’m not sure what burns more: the scalding hot water or the tears in my eyes.
While it feels like I cry for an hour, I’m sure it is no more than ten minutes. The scent of stress-relieving shower bombs made by my cousin wafts around in the air as it dissolves. I can’t for the life of me remember what essential oils are in it, but they smell good and do have the calming affect I have been searching for all day. As I lean one arm against the shower wall, I see the outline of the state of Kentucky in the rusty hard water stains. I wonder how long that’s been there. I can’t remember the last time the shower was scrubbed. I cannot remember the last time I showered, either. I wonder when I will feel normal again. I wonder if I will feel normal again.
I have spent many an hour, a day, a week, a month bawling in this same bathroom, on the edge of the tub, curled into a ball on the floor. Rarely did I ever make it to the shower, sobbing over the simple fact that I couldn’t stop my newborn son from crying. I couldn’t find a way to make him happy, it seemed, no matter what I tried. There was no holding it all in. Sleep deprivation added to my depressive state. I was drowning in sadness and anger.
Many a prayer was uttered in this bathroom, too. “Please, God, make it all go away!” I didn’t always know what I wanted gone, mostly just the feelings I had of hating myself, everyone else, and my life. My husband helped when he could, but between a full-time job, a truck restoration hobby, and having no clue what was wrong with me, I mostly suffered alone and lonely. Being the full-time stay-at-home mom that I was, I took care of my son, my husband, the house, and myself, in that order.
I never got help when I needed it most. Well-meaning loved ones told me I was doing great as I was crumbling, wanting to not exist anymore. I fought almost two long, arduous years battling what I was too afraid to name, until I knew I wouldn’t survive without calling it out. I finally said it out loud: “I have depression.”
I can’t say for sure if treatment back then would have helped me be a better mom now. I don’t like to think about it.
Recently, I decided to call my Postpartum Depression by the name of Perpetua Dawn. It’s too hard fighting the unknown in the shadows. I figured if I gave it a name, an identity, I could learn her weaknesses and my strengths. She is a vicious skank, not discerning at all. Race, age, ethnicity, religion: none matter to her. Millions of others may know her, not necessarily by name but by the evil she inflicts on families. She will grab onto anyone with a new baby in their life, sucking the joy out of them until she’s had her fill then she goes back for more. She is never satisfied.
And she lies. Oh, the lies! “You’re pathetic!” Perpetua Dawn cackles at me. “You’re worthless! No one cares what you are going through! You are a bad mom!” That last one gets me the most. I am ashamed to admit how many times I have believed her. She has affected me to my core, but she also does her best to terrorize my husband and son.
“Look out for the signs of depression.” That’s what all the doctors say, what all the pregnancy and parenting books say, what all the experts say. You can be as prepared as possible for Perpetua Dawn’s arrival, and still, she can knock you on your ass unawares.
I lie in bed hours later, blissfully and finally drifting off to sleep. Suddenly, I am jolted awake by the sound of my son’s screams.
I run to his bedroom, his night lights guiding my way. I am disoriented and bleary-eyed, but I make it to him quickly. I am out of breath by this time as I ask, “What’s wrong, honey? You wet?”
“No,” his small voice replies. His cries have already ceased, the last remaining tear slowly dripping down his chubby cheek.
“Do you need a diaper change?”
I receive another no in reply.
“What’s wrong?” I ask again.
“More rock please, Mommy.”
I scoop him up and cuddle him to my chest as we rock in the glider leftover from the days when I still nursed him. He clings to me, his head resting on my shoulder. He reaches a little hand up and with it gently leans my head until it touches his. Our breathing slows, as we both relax and enjoy the slow rocking movements in our chair.
These are the moments I try to remember most. This is one of the many reasons why, though I may lose some battles against PPD—aka Perpetua Dawn—I will win the war. I refuse to give in. My son, my husband, and my family mean the world to me. I almost lost the war once, back when I didn’t understand what had such a terrifying hold on me. I’m learning now. I fight now whenever and however I can. It isn’t easy.
Fighting back is the hardest thing I have ever done. Each time I claw my way through the darkness, I get knocked down again. Sometimes only a little and I can crawl back fairly quickly. Sometimes I get pushed down so hard, the “light at the end of the tunnel” is the size of a pinpoint. I will say this: through all the good, the bad, and the ugly of my thoughts and emotions after having a child, I really wish postpartum depression would just shrivel up and die. That would make me as happy as my son saying “I love you” to me for the first time. I’d be as thrilled as when he said “Mama” for the first time, on Mother’s Day no less.
With all the therapy, all the medications, and all the changes I have made in myself and my life, one component of my depression remains the same. I want it to die. I want to suck the life out of it the same as it sucked life out of me.
Someday. This is what I tell myself. Someday I will destroy Perpetua Dawn.
“I am not worthless!” I silently scream at her. “People care. I am doing my best. I AM A GOOD MOM!”
After my son is finally back in bed, I rest my head on my pillow once more. I know tomorrow may be exactly like today, but that’s okay. We will prevail. We will survive the darkest parts because I choose to fight PPD with all I’ve got.