You sweet, poor things. If I could sit next to you right now and hold your baby while handing you a chocolate martini, I would (after a brief lecture about how one martini will not make the baby drunk but it may make the baby NAP, so go for it!). Without being a fucking annoying ‘you just wait’ veteran mom, I’d also drool over your baby, because you’re too exhausted to realize how quickly time flies and you’ll wish for these precious, short days when your kid could neither talk, walk, drive, date, or refuse to clean their shithole of a bedroom.
You are in a zone where you go from hour to hour (forget day to day) just trying to deal with what the baby needs and you don’t know what day of the week it is or when the last time you took a shower was. Trust me on this: in motherhood, the days are long, but the years are short.
I come to you from your future to tell you there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
There’s a proud, long history of mental illness in my family. I actually went 35+ years of my life believing I had escaped it, then surprisingly found myself riddled with a massive case of postpartum depression after the birth of my 4th child six years ago. Postpartum depression is no joking matter (I say this as a humor writer, so please forgive my tendency to observe the humor in the situation; though they’re often close, I find laughing preferable to crying).
I gave birth to three girls (now 18, 14 and 9) without experiencing the crashing, crushing lows or moments of sheer, gripping anxiety of postpartum depression, so I didn’t recognize the symptoms when they initially happened to me. The birth of my son was such a joyous occasion (last try for the boy!) I assumed I would be happier than a bug in a rug, not crazy as a bedbug. But I remember the exact moment that sent me running to the nearest medical professional for help.
One day, six years ago, in a perfect storm of ordinary motherhood, I lost it. My oldest, Sarah was 12. We’d just had a hormone (both sides) filled argument. I was giving my girls Molly, 8 and Faith, 2 1/2 a bath. My husband was out of town, as he is four nights a week for work each week. Next to the clawfoot tub was a screaming newborn boy in an infant seat. There wasn’t anything wrong with him, he just loved to be held and nursed all. the. time. I hadn’t had two consecutive hours of sleep in weeks. The girls in the tub starting arguing (over something like who gets the blue or the pink mermaid), and Faith starting shrieking as only a 2 1/2 year old girl can do. Sarah starting yelling from downstairs, and there was actually a perfect-storm moment where all four kids were screaming simultaneously.
I had to stop the screaming, and I snapped. I’m so mortified to admit this, but I was washing my poor toddler’s hair… and I just… ‘dunked’ her. In a moment of true motherhood horror, I just dipped her under the water, for one brief second, just to stop the screaming.
The attempted murder (I am waiting for guys in white suits to take me away to my padded room now – yes, oatmeal three times a day sounds great, thanks) had the desired effect. Faith, shocked, stopped screaming, Molly stopped bickering, the newborn stopped crying (thinking “I don’t want that fucking nutjob to drown ME next!”) and Sarah came upstairs and asked how she could help. I apologized, hugged, dried off, apologized, hugged and tucked them all safely into bed. And then I laid in my bed, nursing my newborn son, and shook and shook and shook.
At that moment, shaking in bed, I felt I was not fit to be a mother. What kind of fucking monster would do something like that? It was my “Wire Hanger Moment.”
I called the doctor the next day. I immediately went in, and she (a mom) recommended ‘just a little something to help me get by.’ Why yes, I said, perhaps in the interest of my children’s health and safety I SHOULD take just a little something. “Just a Little Something” came in the form of a purple and pink pill with an unfamiliar name I guess I wasn’t supposed to recognize that meant “PROZAC.”
I was on the pink and purple pills for a few years- I was terrified to stop taking them. They took away the lows, but also the highs. I didn’t cry. Ever. Even for really good moments, like an old movie, when a cry actually makes you feel better.
I was what I like to refer to as a MOMBIE. It’s like being a zombie, only you have a baby and a heartbeat and you don’t give a shit who’s screaming, really.
I’ve never had another moment as bad as the Hitchcock-Worthy Psycho Bathroom Scene, though I did go back on the mommy’s little helpers when two of my teen girls were going through huge amounts of drama last year. I guess what I learned is that sometimes you need a little help to get you through, and that’s okay.
(Side note: today, all four of my kids are reasonably well-adjusted, lovely people who are all alive.)
I guess my words for you are these: be patient, be strong, ask for help, lose the guilt, enjoy the tiny peaceful moments when they come, and for fuck’s sake take the goddamn pills if you need them.
You won’t be a Mombie forever.
The 4th annual Mother’s Day Rally for Moms’ Mental Health is presented by Postpartum Progress, a national nonprofit 501c3 that raises awareness & advocates for more and better services for women who have postpartum depression and all other mental illnesses related to pregnancy and childbirth. Please consider making a donation today, on Mother’s Day, to help us continue to spread the word and support the mental health of new mothers.