Marianna is mom to James, a happy and active 20-month toddler. She wrote the essay below when James was five months old. Marianna continues to be under the care of Sunnybrook’s Women’s Mood and Anxiety Clinic, and she encourages women to not delay in getting help and talking about any mental health issues during pregnancy or after having their baby. In her words: “I wanted to give hope to women who are suffering now and can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Imagine you are blanketed by a translucent black veil. There is chainmail weighing down your body. Then you are thrown into the middle of a tsunami. This is what postpartum depression felt like for me. Every. Single. Day. For three months.
I am recovering from postpartum depression. I say recovering because I am hesitant to say the dark days are completely behind me. I don’t know if I will have a regression. But for now I can look back at this time in my life and reflect and share.
Instead of joy and wonder at the sight of my beautiful baby boy, that I had wanted more than anything, I felt sheer terror. Terrified of being around him. Terrified of being away from him. Terrified to live. I would awaken during the night with panic attacks.
My husband would bring me the baby at 5 am (he was doing the feedings at night so I could sleep in the other room) so he could go to work. I would run past him to the toilet with hot flashes and dry heaves as he tried to hand over the baby. Daytime was even more horrible than the night. The time from my husband leaving in the morning until my mother came over to help was daunting. I would lie on the carpet, too exhausted to sit up but close enough that I could touch my baby if he needed something. I would start to sing or talk and I thought he could hear the sadness in my voice. I would start to cry and cry and cry. Then we would both cry together. I would anxiously wait for my husband to come home from work in the hour from when my mother left and he arrived. I would text him over and over in a panic asking if he was almost done work and when he would be home.
I stopped eating and barely drank anything. I literally felt like I was going to die. I was so exhausted that I went to the Emergency Department because I thought I was dying. On the way to a doctors’ appointments I would sob to the point where driving could be dangerous. “What kind of mother am I to leave my baby and go to the doctor?” The guilt and anxiety were horrendous.
Then there was the debilitating fear. Fear that if I didn’t hear my baby crying that he was dead. Fear that they would come and take me away from him because I couldn’t care for him (or so I thought). Fear that my husband would leave me and take the baby. Fear that the family wouldn’t be able to support me anymore and that I would be alone in my darkness left to care for a newborn.
I spent nearly every waking second in fear, anxiety, or terror. The only moments of calm I felt were when I fed my baby. So I started being the one to feed him more during the day. The physical feeling of heaviness and pain in my stomach were almost more than I could bear. When I was feeling anxious I would say “Give him to me. I want to feed him.” And I felt short moments of comfort and love. Slowly these moments got longer. I started a different medication and slowly increased the dosage twice. I also continued with talk therapy and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. The medication helped calm the storm, so that I could take a look at my thoughts – and question their validity.
As I was crying out desperately to be saved, I couldn’t see that I WAS being saved. Saved by my family who got together to help me. Saved by my wonderful husband who woke up six times a night to feed our newborn son. Saved by a mother who came over every day during the day to make sure I was fed, bathed and not alone. Saved by in-laws who stayed up on work nights until past midnight a few days a week to help with feedings so their son could get a few hours of sleep before going to work.
Saved by doctors who told me to go on medication, to stay on medication, to ask my family for help and to most importantly get my sleep. Doctors that assured me that I was not dying and that I simply had “a mental illness” and needed help just like anyone with a medical condition would.
It took time. A lot more time than I thought it would. Three months can feel like three lifetimes when you are experiencing emotional and physical pain.
But then one day, things started to get better. My baby started to smile and do something interesting every day. The support from family members did not stop as I feared it might. I started to feel less guilty about leaving him so I could take care of myself and get better. He started to wake up less at night and one night I slept through a feed instead of hearing him wake up and cry.
Then one day, after another increase, I noticed that the heaviness had lifted. I didn’t feel it anymore. My head had become clearer, less confused. The black veil had been lifted and I was no longer in the middle of that Tsunami.
Today I know that I will survive this and I thrive on the love and joy I feel for my beautiful amazing son. The greatest gift ever.
As I write this my now five-month-old naps soundly in the other room. The little angel has allowed me to gather my thoughts and record them before these memories become a blur. Thank you my little angel. Mommy would do it again for you anytime.