Three years ago I stopped writing about my battle with Postpartum Mood Disorders (PPMD). I never intentionally hid that part of my story, but I reached a place where I felt I had nothing new to add on the subject. My case was rare. I survived the trifecta of perinatal mood disorders – postpartum depression, postpartum OCD/Anxiety, and postpartum psychosis – and with shaky hands and a raw heart, I shared the details of my traumatic journey with thousands of women. Chapter over.
Each time incidences about postpartum brain illnesses peppered headline news, I thought about sharing my story again … but each time I held back. Earlier this month I even said no to my husband when he asked me to write an editorial about the dangers of postpartum mood disorders for The Christian Post. His request came after postpartum depression was carelessly mentioned as the reason a young mother named Mariam Carey drove her car – with her baby in the backseat – into a barricaded area near the national Capitol building.
A gray heaviness came over me as more details surfaced about the scary situation. Carey lost her life, leaving her sweet baby girl motherless. Yet even then I wasn’t going to write a word about PPMD. I told my husband to contact Katherine Stone from Postpartum Progress instead. “Katherine’s a better writer and she runs a nonprofit devoted to helping women with these issues,” I told him. “She’ll come up with a piece that is honest and thought-provoking.” Katherine did write an incredible op ed that was exactly what was needed for a news blog, and I felt proud of my matchmaking role.
Then something changed. Shortly after Katherine agreed to write the article, I overheard a conversation at the grocery store and my desire to speak out about PPMD was surprisingly reignited. I knew that I needed to share my experience again on this blog designed specifically for the hearts of women.
Actually, there was only one word mentioned that raised my passion: Monsters.
Two women were discussing the heartbreaking situation involving Mariam Carey when one said to the other, “People need to start taking postpartum depression more seriously. It is a real disease that turns good mothers into monsters!”
My lungs released every molecule of air then tightened and momentarily stopped working. I cannot tell you if I was in the frozen food aisle or browsing for produce because my mind and heart left that grocery store as soon as I heard the words mothers and monsters in the same sentence. They focused on a place I inhabited six years ago when my youngest child was an infant. A place in time when I pulled furiously at my hair, dug my fingernails into my face and neck, and screamed MONSTER at my reflection.
Six years ago, during the height of my mental illness (it was my second and worst bout with PPMD), I was a piping hot mess. I know that’s not a PC description, but it’s the truth. I no longer recognized myself. I couldn’t eat or engage in meaningful conversations. Intrusive thoughts beginning with “what if” dominated my brain. Brutal nightmares plundered my sleep. I lived in a fog-like state and even ran a red light more than once because I couldn’t remember if my children were in the car with me even though I kept looking back to check on them every few seconds. I spat out obscenities with little provocation and convulsed with rage over the slightest offenses. I envisioned events happening that never took place and I did something terrible that I would have never done under different circumstances.
Those symptoms made me question my ability to be a mother at all. In fact, I questioned my humanity. I didn’t even see myself as a mom … I saw myself as a lunatic … a dangerous monster undeserving of love.
I hated every inch of my being and I wanted to die.
I reasoned that my children and my husband would be safer in a world without the beast I thought I had become. So I plotted. And I promise you that if I would have been able to come up with a way to take my life and make it seem like I did so accidentally … I wouldn’t be here today.
It would make a sweet story if I could say that I experienced a beautiful spiritual awakening that kept me alive, but at that moment it was my selfishness that spurred me to keep breathing … I didn’t want to be remembered for willingly leaving my family. So I hobbled through the motions and emotions of life and continued unraveling until I latched onto the help I needed but was afraid to seek with honest intent.
Six years ago, I was beyond broken. I was shattered, desperate, confused, lost, ashamed, and terrified.
I was not a monster.
Mothers with PPMD are not monsters, and people who view them as such are perpetuating a lie that brings deeper devastation.
Postpartum mood disorders are very serious illnesses. Women with these disorders need special attention from loved ones and health care professionals. They need supportive individuals to walk with them … to remind them that they aren’t alone … that they are worthy of love … of being a mother.
My postpartum story has a happy ending. My children are physically and emotionally healthy and my relationships with them thrive. My marriage remains strong. Jesus never stopped being my truest comfort. My friends and family never abandoned me. And I am free from the burdens of an illness that nearly claimed my life. And while it isn’t my only story, it is one I should share more often because sharing often leads to healing.
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9, NIV