Today I’m bringing you a story from my (beautiful) friend Arnebya (pronounced Arnebya). She is a DC-based writer and editor (by day). A three-time BlogHer Voice of the Year, Arnebya’s work has appeared on multiple lifestyle and parenting blogs. She was also a member of the 2013 Listen to Your Mother DC cast. Most recently, she was published in the HerStories anthology “My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friends”. She blogs at arnebya.com. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook. She can be persuaded to do illegal things if you pay her in steamed Brussels sprouts. She is one of the wittiest women I know and I’m honored she’s bravely chosen to share her very serious experience with you. Also, I’m putting a trigger warning here for detailed descriptions of the intrusive thoughts she experienced. Please read with care.
The reel in my head flashes. Flashes of thoughts, ideas, memories flit through my mind in snatches of scenes. I see breakfast. Flash. My mind is a View Master but I don’t know who’s in control of the little orange switch. I wish whoever is making the picture change so quickly would depress the lever slowly, more softly. That damn boing slap noise is starting to irritate me.
Flash. Me. Dancing.
Flash. The baby, so sweet. Me. Hanging. It would be such a relief, hanging. It would hurt, though, that’s why it’s a no-go. Wait, no, it’s a no-go because I don’t necessarily want to die. I just kind of – ok, wait, yes, I do want to die BUT I’m fine; it’ll pass. It’s time to feed the baby.
It is 2001, January. At the baby’s two month checkup, the pediatrician asks questions about how the infant with the weird name is faring. How many wet diapers? Is her stool runny? Are you exclusively nursing still? Oh, this baby is thriving. She’s a joy, so easy, except when she’s crying and I don’t know what she wants and I wish she’d just stop it already because I am so tired and he’s playing chess online again like he doesn’t hear her and…FLASH. I see the baby in a casket. Poor baby. Who did that to you?
Flash. Come back. Pay attention.
And you? How are you, Mom? Fill out this form for us, OK, and let us know how you’re doing.
The form reads: I feel sad sometimes, all the time, never. I feel anxious sometimes, all the time, never. Uh huh. Lie. Lie about these questions because if they knew about the flashes they would take this baby and your man would hook up with that busty woman from the club. Take the middle child. Give them back sometimes because that seems normal. Is it normal? It wouldn’t be on the paper if it wasn’t normal to feel this way sometimes, right? I wish I could ask. I can’t.
It’s 2003. The second baby is two months old. The same pediatrician asks questions about the infant, nursing, wet diapers. Fill out this form. I lie. Again. At home, my mind races. The baby is in the microwave or the dryer or the tub filling slowly with warm water that I’ve neglected to add bubbles to. I never see myself doing these things, never see myself as the culprit, the one who hurts the babies. I just see the babies . . . there. In perilous positions. I don’t tell anyone. I’d hoped it wouldn’t happen this time.
In the middle of the night with my first infant, I cried. I couldn’t sleep. The baby would die if I slept. Either I would hurt the baby and the baby would die, or the baby would die peacefully while I selfishly slept and didn’t know. Elaborate scenes of investigations and tiny, white funeral gowns, flooded my mind. I knew what songs would be played at my daughter’s funeral because I made the program in my mind.
When my second daughter was a few months old, I refused to leave the house for a week. My hair wasn’t right. Nothing fit. I needed a shower. I couldn’t find my shoes. Leave the house? With a toddler and an infant? On purpose? I would agree, then bail, standing in the kitchen at the sink, crying, holding onto the counter, whirling around, away from my husband’s inquiring (I saw accusing) eyes. Another day, I’d say. And then I’d sit in the bathroom with sweaty palms and itchy underarms and shake my head to clear it of the scenes that wouldn’t stop on the reel: an accident, mangled bodies, an airborne baby. Best to stay at home. Something bad will befall us if we leave. Maybe I should kill us all, beat fate to the gate.
I’d hoped it wouldn’t happen again.
It’s 2009. The third baby is nestled in my arms, still breathing after a frightening birth. The same pediatrician smiles, says, “This’ll be quick; you’re old pros.” Flash. Throw the baby. Run. Convince them it’s for the best. I look up at her, glance at my husband, smile.
Not again, I think.
I never did tell the truth about the intrusive thoughts I was having. I suffered quietly, afraid that my children would be taken because I was off in the head; afraid that speaking my fears of hurting the children or myself would only make the desire stronger. Even as I knew the facts, even as I knew the statistics, even as I knew the doctors only wanted to help, that my husband was trying his best to understand and help, I never once got close to actually admitting how I truly felt, what the flashes felt like.
I both love and respect our pediatrician. Even that wasn’t enough to beat the stigma associated with asking for help with postpartum depression. And I knew what was going on, every time. And still I remained quiet. I’m five years postpartum from my youngest now. The flashes still happen, sometimes. I got medication once, but it was just last year which is funny because I was much less embarrassed when it wasn’t associated with post pregnancy depression. This is something we have to change, socially, personally, medically.
While there may be similarities in each woman’s postpartum depression experience, none are identical. My struggles with undiagnosed and untreated postpartum depression are my own, my story. If you are suffering, tell someone. If I were to get pregnant again, I would immediately tell my doctor about my difficulties after each child. It is unfortunate that it took three postpartum experiences to know that this is what’s best, it doesn’t have to. There is no shame in what happens to our brains chemically after birth, and there is no shame in seeking help.
You deserve it. Your baby deserves it.