Disclaimer: This story contains details of postpartum depression and may be triggering to some.
“I don’t remember if the sun was shining the day my son was born. I don’t remember the first words I ever spoke to him, or how his face felt against my cheek before he was taken from me. What I do remember is the feeling of being ripped open on a frigid OR table, and pleading for God to let me live long enough to see my son. ’Please let me see his face before you take me. Please just let me see his face. Let me tell him I love him. Just once.’
I can still hear the final scream hanging in the sterile air as my son was pulled from my womb. I can still feel the panic washing over me as my husband left my side to be with our boy. A voice from somewhere in the room tried to comfort me. ‘You’ll be out of pain soon, Sarah. It’s over now, okay?’ Tears were toppling from my unmoving gaze, the sound of them dripping onto the pillow beneath me was deafening. The chaos in the room began to fall away. I woke up in red. I had survived, but somewhere boiling beneath the surface of myself was the knowledge surviving would only be the beginning of a different kind of death.
Two days after, we took our son home. The red hue in my vision had faded away as indigo bruises blossomed across my body. Every movement, every breath was agony. Nevertheless, my heart was full and beating. The first night home rolled by slowly. My husband helped me into bed and gently laid Jameson’s warm body against my chest. We fell in line with our new roles seamlessly, and simultaneously fell in love with this new parental version of one another. I fell asleep early that evening, but the flashbacks arrived as I slumbered. They bore a million tiny holes through my bones, laced themselves through, and pulled me right back onto the frozen gurney where I’d almost lost my life only days before.
On the fourth night of my son’s life I sobbed as he lay nestled against my aching breast, nursing himself to sleep. On the fifth night of my son’s life I wept beside his bassinet, pausing only to listen for the sound of his breathing. ‘I can’t go to sleep. What if he never wakes up again?’ I snapped in reply to my husband’s sideways glances. On the sixth night of my son’s life the sound of my screams found their way back to me. Their roar reverberated through every inch of me, shattered my composure, and deafened me. This was the night I stopped hearing his cries. This was the night I realized surviving meant I would die a million times over within the confines of my mind.
Postpartum depression has an uncanny ability to swallow whole portions of life before its victims even notice the presence. Especially if it’s PTSD masquerading as postpartum depression. In those first weeks of motherhood I spent a lot of time trying to be the picture of new mother perfection. I smiled, I joked, I laughed. But each night I cried myself to sleep and slept through my son’s cries. Contention branched across my marriage. I felt I couldn’t meet my husband’s standards of what a mother should be. I felt like he expected me to deliver our son and simultaneously birth a version of myself who instantly knew how to be a mother, but I hadn’t birthed anything at all.
At four weeks postpartum, my husband drove me to my post-operative appointment. I can’t recall the conversation, but whatever was said led to a prescribed concoction which would help me ‘bounce back.’ At the end of the appointment I was informed studies suggested mothers with postpartum depression raised children with developmental deficits. Guilt filled all the spaces where I’d stored my last bits of hope. The ounce of hope was replaced by a pound of guilt. The yellowed bruises still littering my body throbbed the entire drive home.
The days which have passed between that moment and the one in which I am writing this add up to years. A large portion of the time was spent feverishly locking myself away from people, places, and conversations which brought me back to the moment I accepted the reality the world carried on and I did not. In four years, I’ve only succeeded in locking out the world to hide from the torment which lives inside me. As my son has grown he’s faced many delays, but only at the hands of a doctor who decided sleep was more important than delivering my distressed son. If ever again I decide to pray, I will pray that he is as haunted by his oversight as I am, that he wakes each morning to the sound of my screams. No moment in my life has possessed as much depravity, brought such anguish, or tormented me so completely.
To beg divine powers for the luxury of a single moment and then slip away a moment too soon—there is no moment more sorrowful than my last. I lived. I held my son. I kissed my husband. You would look at me and say my life continued on, but I would tell you you’re wrong. My heart did continue beating. I did continue breathing. But make no mistake, no living soul will ever again know the woman who existed the morning of my son’s birth, because she never got to leave that OR. The people who face near-death do not survive. They are only reborn as half of themselves. I journeyed to one of the darkest places in the living world, only to find survival meant I had to bring some of the darkness back with me.
I wish trauma could have a happy ending. It’s just not that easy. A million times a day I try to find something which can erase the trauma and allow me to live a free and joyful second chance. I’m beginning to accept some stories don’t have happy endings. I’m also beginning to realize when healthcare professionals recite their catchphrase of ‘healthy mom, healthy baby,’ they almost never consider mental health as health. Continuing to call traumatized mothers ‘healthy’ will only add to their anguish and allow doctors to practice without accountability. Not a single traumatized mother is healthy.
Please understand my plea. There are simple ways to make new motherhood feel less broken. There are less life-altering ways to treat women. A thousand times a day I relive the fear. A thousand times a day a live-wire runs across my body and forces me to remember the pain. A thousand times a day I relive my near-death, and in some small way I wish I had died. Because if I had I would have only had to do it once.”
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