Priscilla, Arlington VA (USA)

It took us five years to get pregnant with our son, and we found out a week away from starting fertility treatments. We had a complicated pregnancy, but it didn’t matter because we were pregnant - right? I labored for 28 hours, and I ended up having an emergency C-section. Again, I didn't think it mattered because we had wanted this child for so many years. But it wasn’t long after he was born, maybe three weeks, when I started wondering if he would bounce if I threw him out of our 16th-floor window, or what would happen if I left him on the train track near our house. I knew I couldn’t share those thoughts because it would mean I was a bad mother. We loved him so much and had prayed for him for so long, and yet, it was so much harder than I thought it would be. I felt very guilty. You hear about those mothers - you know, the ones who drown their kids - and I didn’t want to be one of them. I wasn’t actively trying to hurt him and knew I wouldn’t act, but I was angry all the time. For me, the depression wasn’t sadness, but deep anger. Also at the time, I didn’t know what it was that because I had never heard of postpartum depression. I didn’t know that what I was feeling was common. So I waited until our son was nine months old. It was getting worse and worse: I would pick a fight with my husband all the time, and I came to believe that this life of ours was going to be like that forever. Then one day, while talking to my mom, she mentioned that a friend of hers had a daughter who had gone through postpartum depression and that maybe I should look it up. At first, I was mad at her for talking about me to other people, but when I started looking into it, there was this clarifying moment... I realized that whatever I was going through not only had a name, but also treatment. I scheduled an appointment with my doctor that week.

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My primary care doctor wouldn’t give me medication because I was nursing. She said, ‘I think we should pray on it instead.’ I’m not an expert, but I knew there were options out there. I went to my OB instead and she took the thoughts about my son very seriously and gave me antidepressants. I felt like I was back to myself. My husband and I weren’t fighting all the time anymore. What also helped was to go to the Postpartum Support Virginia group. There were these three other women, and we were all going through the same thing and cried together: it was a lifesaver. After six months, I slowly started to wean off the medication, and my husband started to talk about having another baby. I told him I was scared to go through postpartum depression again, but he said, "You’re a survivor. You went through it once." But I wasn’t so sure. It had taken us five years trying to get pregnant with our son, and it took us two weeks to get pregnant with our daughter. I just… I wasn’t ready. It’s not that she wasn’t wanted or prayed for, but I wasn’t ready emotionally, mentally and physically. We also had a complicated pregnancy. I was fainting all the time and couldn’t get my gestational diabetes under control like I’d done the first time. I was also terrified the depression would come back, so I went to the support group again. But I had panic attacks, which had never happened before. I had one right before they gave me the spinal for my C-section, and then another one during the surgery. When she came out and I heard her cry, I didn’t register she was mine. Nursing came more naturally this time, but she had weight gain problems. We tried all sort of things, but her weight didn’t get better until she was 8 weeks old. I was so anxious. Again, I think I just wasn't ready and it colored everything about her. For the longest time, I felt she could have been anybody’s daughter. Then maybe three months ago, I finally felt it: the bond. She was 10 months old.

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Our daughter was about two and a half months old when the intrusive thoughts began. They got louder and louder, and around the five-month mark, it happened: I was home with the kids and I texted my husband: "I can’t." That’s what I wrote to him. I simply couldn’t fight it anymore. It was loud and angry and threatening, and it was harming me. If fighting depression was hard, fighting suicidality was infinitely harder. With my son, I knew I would never hurt him, but with this, I wasn’t so sure that I wouldn’t hurt myself. I felt I didn’t deserve my children and because I didn’t deserve them, I needed to die. One night, I even wanted to cut myself in the bathroom. It felt like if I just made a little cut, some of the pressure that was boiling inside me would be released. I told my husband to hide all the knives and sharp things. I also talked to my therapist and we did safety checks every week. When you do them, they ask you different questions like "Do you want to hurt yourself." Every week, I would say no. I also saw a psychiatrist, and it was okay, but I didn’t like her. She constantly wanted to send me to the hospital. Then one day - I remember it was August 31 - I woke up with a plan: I was going to drive into the Potomac. It’s funny the things you do when you know you’re going to die. I hugged the kids and my husband harder, and I wrote them letters. Then I went to work. We had an event planned, and I got all the paperwork ready and handed it to my boss. After that, I had an appointment to see my psychiatrist, but she was stuck in Dallas because of hurricane Harvey, so I saw an intern. She asks me if I was going to hurt myself, and this time, I answered yes. "Yes. I am absolutely going to hurt myself," I said. "I am going to drive into the Potomac as soon as I am done here." She looked at me and said: "Now that you’ve said this, you can’t go home. We have to take you to the hospital."

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I just had this sense of relief. I thought, "Well thank God somebody’s listening because I don’t know what I’m doing and I can’t fix this." My husband came to the hospital with our daughter because she wouldn’t take the bottle. He knew I was having these thoughts, but he didn’t know how bad it was. I nursed her in the ER while they were trying to figure out where to put me. They tried to find a bed in the maternity ward so I could keep her (as it should), but it didn’t work. So at 2:30am, they left. Again, I had this sense of relief, like, I will be able to sleep! They got me a room, and this is what I did: I slept. They would wake me up to talk to the doctors, which was stressful and disorienting, but other than that, I just slept. There was nothing else to do, and I couldn’t hurt myself. I was in there for seven days. It was very hard and I wouldn’t say it was a good experience, but it was what I needed. My psychiatrist put me on Lithium, and I had to stop nursing when my daughter was six-months-old. I’m still emotional about it. But it was either taking the medication or nursing. I’m no longer suicidal, so it’s huge, but it seems like it was the only thing that I felt I was doing right. I also have to say that during all that time, my mom, who had come to help from Texas two or three weeks before I was hospitalized, cared for the kids and the house. She really owned it. In all, she stayed for four and a half months with us. But I still struggle. I thought about not going back to work, but my boss is amazing and we figured something out. But there are times I feel that I screwed up the first months of my daughter’s life. Does she know I love her? I tell her constantly now, loudly and silently. I hope she believes it. There was even a point not long ago when I thought about having a third baby, but we decided otherwise. It’s a process. I’m learning how I leave the past and keep the good parts. Because through it all, there was love.