Disclaimer: This story includes descriptions of postpartum depression and suicidal ideations that may be triggering for some.
“I hold a journal dedicated to my attempt at working through this journey of motherhood. I look at the words on the page and think, ‘That doesn’t even look like my handwriting.’ And in a way, I suppose it isn’t. It’s the writing that belongs to my depressed, demented self; a new mother, lost in a sea of intrusive, conflicting, and disturbing thoughts, limping her way through taking care of a newborn while neglecting herself. I didn’t always feel broken. I used to be joyful and adventurous. I was a logical, critical thinker who liked to find solutions when problems arose. I loved spending time with people, staying active in my church, and excelling in my job. I knew how to take care of myself.
A New Baby
My husband and I were overjoyed when we finally saw that little line on the pregnancy test in 2019. While he had struggled with his physical health the past year, this was a bright spot for our future. I had a smooth, healthy pregnancy and our son was born in February of 2020. Due to complications during the birth, I ended up having an emergency C-section. It was a terrible experience, but we were discharged from the hospital two days later with a healthy baby boy. I thought things would be so wonderful as we drove home, ready to start the next chapter with our baby. I thought I knew what to do to breastfeed, but taking classes and reading articles can’t actually make mother’s milk come in.
We drove our four-day-old baby to the emergency room when I processed the fact that his diapers had been dry for nine hours. We hadn’t been home for 48 hours, and already I was failing my son. My son was starving, and I felt helpless, stupid for not knowing how to fix it. A rational mind might’ve thought, ‘Just supplement with formula’ before things declined this much. Unfortunately, with both of us fresh out of major surgeries and sleep-deprived with a newborn, neither my husband nor I were fully coherent. I still think about how just one bottle could have prevented his hospitalization and the anxiety that was set off by it. My baby remained in the NICU for only two days, but I would go on to have such immense fear around feeding my son for the next 15 months.
First Signs of Depression
I remember trying to comfort myself, ‘If this is the worst thing that happens though, we’ll make it through this newborn stage.’ I wish that had been the worst of it. My son grew into a healthy, chunky little baby while pieces of myself withered away over the next six months. Have you ever been standing in a crowd with so much commotion that you couldn’t understand a single sentence you heard? Have you ever had to take an extra moment to process what was just said because you couldn’t quite grasp the words the first time? This was how I felt for months inside my head. My baby blues came and went but left in their wake a lingering sense of wrong. My thoughts were often racing, contradictory. I immediately showed signs of depression but attributed my state to the ongoing sleep deprivation.
One minute I would think I was an unfit mother who had no clue how to properly feed my child, and the next I would be consumed with knowing that no one else could ever care for my son properly. Even when I let my husband help, I’d follow them around to make sure he did it how I wanted. It’s baffling how I would think myself inadequate, yet firmly believe that I was the only one who could do things right. What many (myself included) would write off as a new mother’s insecurities, began to take over my mind. I withdrew from my husband, my family, my job, and my responsibilities to myself and my home. I dedicated every ounce of my focus, to the point of obsession, to my son. Something I didn’t understand at the time is that it is not normal to have gruesome visions of your baby being injured.
Scenes of him falling to the ground and bleeding out or choking to death while he drank his milk haunted me. ‘Stop being dramatic,’ I’d tell myself. ‘That will only happen if someone else has him. He is safe with you.’ Those thoughts increased and overlapped. I was consumed with the need to watch my son every moment of the day. The times he was asleep in the bedroom alone, I would compulsively stare at the monitor. I would audibly hear his cries, despite him being fast asleep. My eyes saw one thing while my ears heard another. There became a time when I wouldn’t leave him alone in a room because I thought a demon was watching over him. Anxiety became my companion; delusion became my guide.
The best visual I can liken it to would be eating spaghetti with a spoon. That was the difficulty I felt in trying to isolate my thoughts and identify which were truly mine, and which were taking over my mind. I slowly detached from reality day by day. My journal entries reflected my deepening depression. ‘I’m afraid I’m not actually fine…I have to be perfect, or they’ll try to take him from me…Why does leaving the house feel suffocating?…I feel like I’m falling to pieces…I left him in bed for an hour and a half even though he cried…I pray he never remembers a time when his mother couldn’t even smile at him…What if he isn’t even real?’
Due to post-surgical complications, there were many follow-up appointments with my doctor. Each left me quiet and guarded. My mind whispered that if I shared that something felt off, they would take my baby from me. I don’t even know who I thought ‘they’ were. I just knew they would take my son, and it would kill me. I didn’t dare speak a word to my husband for the same reason. What would he do if he knew I was an unfit mother? I couldn’t bear to have my son taken from my arms. I was the only one who could take care of my son. I continued to mask the turmoil that threatened to take me down. Panic attacks began to accompany these intrusive thoughts to the point where I was immobilized.
The Darkest Place
June 5th was the first time my husband was alerted that something was very wrong. I was driving home after a rough afternoon with a baby who wouldn’t nap. The screaming had put me on edge, and I was fighting back the judgmental thoughts examining my mothering skills. ‘You obviously don’t know how to comfort him. You’re worthless. Are you sure he’s eaten enough today? Literally anyone else could be a better parent than you. Why don’t you just pull the steering wheel at this bridge?’ That last thought hit me like a bucket of ice water to the face. Not just because it was so dark, but because I realized that a small part of me meant it. I don’t remember the rest of the drive home as I retreated into my racing mind. By God’s grace, we made it safely.
I vaguely remember my husband taking the baby out of the car. I remember throwing the empty car seat and falling to the ground. I remember my husband carrying me to the couch, trying to get me to breathe. I remember my thoughts overlapping to the point where I couldn’t speak, couldn’t grasp the thought I wanted to share. It felt like I was a prisoner in my own mind. The full impact of what was happening to me was suffocating. I did not want to die…except, for the briefest of moments, I had considered it. In prior months, I had passive thoughts, wishing I could be in a car accident just to escape my reality for a few days.
Following this event, I’d be drawn to plan out the intricate details of how to effectively kill myself. I’d think about my son being left behind. The whispers in my mind would remind me that only I could care for my son though. I would think more and more about how if I couldn’t take care of him right, no one else could either. And no one would dare take my baby from me. While playing peek-a-boo, I would leave the blanket over his face just a little longer than necessary. I daydreamed about walking away while he was in the bathtub. These thoughts didn’t alarm me–it made sense that I needed him to be with me because he was my world. I couldn’t leave him, but I couldn’t stay here either.
My husband tried to support me but was hindered by the wall I put up. I hid as much as possible from him. The fear of someone taking my baby from me dictated every word I let out of my mouth. As ridiculous as it sounds, I felt that even my husband couldn’t be trusted. To this day, I don’t understand how he stayed and took care of me in literally the darkest point of my life. He took me to my OBGYN and somehow convinced me to begin antidepressants while he tried to get me an appointment with a psychiatrist. Unfortunately, this was amid pandemic shut-downs in the summer of 2020. The help I needed was delayed too much and my mental state deteriorated quickly.
On July 25th, my husband dragged me to a psychiatric hospital in Houston after a near-suicide attempt. I thankfully only spent six days there, but it was enough to get me medicated and reset. The day I was released from the hospital, I turned on my phone to see a text from my best friend. ‘Did you die??’ She was jokingly asking because I had been ignoring her texts and calls for weeks. She was completely unaware of the situation when she sent that message the very night I was taken to the hospital. She had no idea how close that was to being true. I called her and recounted the disaster that my life had become. And being the incredible friend that she is, she told me she loved me and would help me in whatever way I needed. No judgments came, just love.
My husband stayed home with me and asked me the hard questions every day to evaluate how I was doing. He loved me unconditionally, cared for me, and kept me honest with monitoring myself. There were strict daily check-ins with the mental health center charged with monitoring me. Now, I think back to the signs that were ignored or missed and wish we had been more educated on mental health during the post-partum period. I am fortunate to have a strong support system now, but early intervention could have prevented it from spiraling out of control.
My life shattered into a thousand pieces as the depth of my sickness came to light, but with the support of my family and doctors, I began to piece it back together. The old writing in my journal may seem foreign to me, but the words I write now are not the result of a shadow in my head. They are all mine, and they are hopeful for many more days with my family.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Melissa Flores of Victoria, Texas. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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