Alicia’s Story: Nothing About Motherhood Came Naturally to Me
After five years, I’ve lost most of the guilt that I’ve carried around for far too long; the shame that accompanies missing out on the first nine months of your baby’s life. Physically I was there and in the eyes of most observers, I was a wonderful, loving mother. Love him – I did – so much so that I sacrificed my own well being for him.
Having a Baby Felt Like a Mistake
But it wasn’t the magical all consuming love you often hear about. When I held this crying baby for the first time all I could think was that I’d make the biggest mistake of my life. Absolutely nothing about motherhood came naturally to me, and adding to the fear and loneliness were the swarming thoughts that all the moms around me were enamored with this new life. They made it look easy and here I was failing…yet again.
I put on a smile to hide the sickening anxiety that wouldn’t allow me to eat or sleep. Anxiety turned to a deep, dark depression that sparked a wildfire of intrusive, obsessive thoughts of suicide. This seemed like the only way I knew how to stop the pain of utter, shattering hopelessness.
You know when you see something horrific on the news and think, how can there be such evil in this world? In that moment, you feel uncontrollably sad, small and overwhelmed; my depression was like that except 100 times more powerful and it was relentless. It wouldn’t let me sleep and all I could feel was despair. It felt like it would be this way forever and I desperately needed to escape before my heart exploded from panic, fear and desperation.
Battling Debilitating Depression
I was on and off medication after medication, unable to commit to one because Google has way too much information for a terrified new mother who convinced herself that if she could only sleep, everything would go back to normal. I denied that it was mental illness because I felt wonderful during pregnancy. Even with a significant family history of depression, the church had taught me that I could simply pray these feelings away. Pray I did, more than ever before, but I was only sinking deeper into an endless darkness.
A failed suicide attempt after seven consecutive days without sleep left me even more raw and vulnerable. I was sent home that very same day with no answers to the crippling insomnia and inability to stop the thoughts of hurting myself. I felt that no one was listening, and if these medical professionals didn’t know how to help me then I was a lost cause.
A text message weeks later jolted my heart awake, if only for a fleeting moment. It was a message from my husband to my mom and close friends explaining how he didn’t want to leave me at home, but he had to work to provide for our family. He didn’t know if he would have a wife when he came home each day and he felt helpless.
In reading that something in me suddenly realized that I was hurting him and my family. I decided reluctantly to try a new medication, a different class of anti-depressant that my doctor asked me to commit to for four weeks barring any unacceptable side effects. My doctor instructed me not to read the side effects because the anxiety of taking a new med often triggered me to have psychosomatic symptoms of what I read.
Finding the Right Medication
I was at the point where I didn’t care anymore, so why not try a new medication. Within a week, I started sleeping through the night and it was glorious. As my mind and body began to recuperate from severe sleep deprivation, I noticed something else happening – I recovered a desire to be alive. Within a month my mother in law commented on the sparkle coming back into my eyes. I began smiling being able to rest without the intrusive thoughts controlling my every movement.
By the time my son turned one year old, I had decided to stay on my medication because I had never felt better in my entire life. I didn’t realize to what degree the anxiety and depression had controlled me until I felt the freedom of what it was like to be without them. My life completely changed as I went from a fearful, timid, moody ball of stress to an energetic, bubbly, stable, joyful, extroverted warrior.
I began to write and speak about my battle with postpartum mental illness and in the process formed incredible relationships with other women who shared my trauma. Though all of our stories are unique we share a strong common bond that ties us together. And now, everyday so grateful to be alive, I go back into that very darkness that tried to take my life and I reach for the hands of mamas who are suffering. My mission is that no mother will feel alone in the struggle. I will shout my story of hope from the rooftops because I AM STILL HERE, and we need moms to be okay, to be taken care of, and to find that spark of light.
We’re honored to share Alicia’s story as part of the Maternal Mental Health Research Collaborative’s Marathon of Moms campaign. Stories of lived experience are one of the most powerful tools we have to combat stigma and the shame surrounding mental illness. They’re also vitally important as we look to develop tools, resources and treatments that work for moms and meet their needs. Thank you, Alicia!