She sat in the physician’s office, crying uncontrollably, unable to speak. She wanted to explain to him how small her world had become. To tell him that she was barely functioning. She’d open her mouth, but the reality of it would hit her in the face and she’d choke on the words. She had already visited her OB (twice), spoken with her pastor, another Church counselor, and three different therapists.
Desperate for help, she was begging someone – anyone – to fix her. Finally at the end of her rope, she sat trembling in that cold, sterile room for the second time.
She couldn’t leave the house. She couldn’t let anyone hold the baby. She would stand at the sink for an hour washing her hands. Showering was torturous. It would take so long that before she could finish, she’d run out of hot water, forced to finish in icy cold water.
If anything touched the floor, it was sanitized with bleach or thrown away. Books. Notebooks. Expensive make-up and lotions. Toys. Food. Clothes. Towels. The list goes on and on. Her hands and arms were raw from cleaning and washing. She would even obsess in her dreams, waking up relieved that she hadn’t really held her daughter without washing her hands.
Every day, she would beg her husband to leave her to find a better wife and mother for their daughter, one that they deserved.
By the time she realized what was wrong, she was already in the depths of it. She was living her own personal hell. What started out as attempt to keep her daughter safe had spiraled into an agonizing nightmare that is beyond words – postpartum OCD, one of the lesser known and misunderstood of all postpartum mood disorders.
Initially, even her doctor had written off her fears as normal first time mom feelings. Her OB did the same. Each therapist talked about anxiety and breathing exercises. It wasn’t anxiety – it was an intense FEAR. Fear of germs, fear of SIDS, fear of losing everything that meant anything to her … complete and debilitating fear.
One day, she met a woman online who was struggling with some of the same issues. Like a beacon of light in her darkest time, Cate understood her. She talked to her daily, always there to encourage her. At Cate and her husband’s urging, she was able to get the courage that led to that fateful day when she sat sobbing in her doctor’s office. He prescribed a very low dose of medicine – too low. She would call his office crying and begging for a higher dose. Every second was excruciating.
Looking in the mirror, she did not recognize herself. A woman shattered.
It’s still so hard to believe that woman was me.
I’m slowly getting back to my old self. It scares me to think where I would be if I hadn’t met Cate and didn’t have my husband there to hold my hand every step of the way (he really meant it when he vowed for better, for worse).
It has been a very rough journey. A journey that has certainly taken its toll on us, our marriage and our family. It makes me sad when I think about where I was 2 years ago. I would’ve rather had two broken legs. Gladly. It would have been less paralyzing and painful.
I still struggle. I’m still afraid at times. I now understand what people mean when they say “rock bottom.” But I am able to live. I’m able to visit friends and family. I’m able to take a shower, an entire shower, in warm water. I’m able to play on the floor (gasp!) with my daughter. I’m able to live without that horrible fear in the pit of my stomach that something very, very terrible is about to happen. I’m able to enjoy the family I had always dreamed of.
We’ve come a long way and remain committed to getting our life back. If there’s a silver lining in this journey, a journey that almost cost me my family, marriage and my life, it’s that through these struggles I’ve been able to help others dealing with some of the same issues and hopefully can continue to do so.
PICKING UP THE PIECES
Someone once told me that if you take something fragile and shatter it, even if you glue it back together, it will never be as beautiful.
I am not fragile.
I’ve traveled a long road to get to where I am today. Not the “life is a highway” kind of road, but a treacherous and winding road. I’ve fallen more times than I can count and have the emotional bumps and bruises to show for it. My marriage was shaken to it’s very core. Although most were understanding, some people couldn’t help but show their true colors with their lack of empathy – those relationships will never be the same.
There is hope. There is life after a postpartum illness. A beautiful life.
Maybe it won’t be entirely as it was before, but it will be even more glorious. You will wake up every day and be grateful that you were able to crawl out of the darkness and depths of a place so terrifying that most can’t even imagine it. You’ll laugh. You’ll breathe. You’ll begin to feel alive again. But you will never forget. And that inability to purge those memories is what will make your life so much more amazing. Stronger. More appreciative.
Some people have called me brave for stripping away the layers of pain to expose the rawness. I would call it desperate. It’s terrifying to expose your soul to the world, but too many women are suffering in silence just as I did. So if I can reassure one mother, save just one person by sharing my experience, then it’s all worth it.
If you’re crippled by anxiety or fear, so angry you want to scream, empty, sad, or just generally not feeling like yourself, tell someone. Anyone. Your husband. A friend. Your doctor. If they don’t listen, find someone who will. Postpartum illnesses are treatable and a lot more common than you know. Women have been shamed into feeling like bad mothers if things aren’t always rainbows and butterflies after the birth of a child, making them too afraid to talk about it.
I will not be silent.