I don't sleep much but when I do, I wake up and my face hurts from clenching my teeth. There's no separation between my mental turmoil and the physical pain that radiates down my jaw. Awake or asleep, my head is in a constant state of angry bees. I am volatile and capricious and perpetually buzzing.
* * *
Poppy has (what we suspect is) an allergic reaction to peanuts. I question our decision to follow her doctor's advice to introduce peanuts at a young age. I berate myself for giving her peanuts so soon after an extended illness when her immune system is already taxed. I watch her breathe as she sleeps, instead of sleeping myself, for two nights. I cry on the phone when the allergist calls to set up her allergy test. "You didn't do this to your baby," he tells me. I don't believe him.
* * *
I commit myself to good sleep habits. I cut down on caffeine and sugar and alcohol. I limit my screen time in the evening. I meditate and take a bath with lavender bubbles and drink a mug of chamomile tea. I crawl between the sheets before 10pm. I dream about forgetting to pick Grady up from school; accidentally leaving Poppy in the bath by herself with the water running; going to work and forgetting to arrange childcare; Shawn being in a car wreck; falling down the stairs; falling from the balcony; falling off the sidewalk into oncoming traffic; always falling.
* * *
Grady needs an echocardiogram. His cardiologist is reassuring and kind. She is checking on how his heart has grown but she is not concerned. There is no reason to be afraid or anxious but I torture myself for weeks, wondering at what point his aorta arched the wrong way. What did I do to cause it? How will it affect him? The results are the best possible results but I still feel like I broke my baby.
* * *
Before Grady was born, I thought postpartum depression was moms hurting their babies or moms hurting themselves. I didn't know there was a spectrum of different mood disorders that can manifest during pregnancy or in the postpartum period. I think it's important for us to talk about this stuff so women feel less alone in a period of their life that can't help but be vulnerable. Hormones spike and crash. There is no sleep. Pregnancy, giving birth, and life with a baby require stamina and tenacity that can be difficult to find. Talking to other women who have been there before, or who are there with me right now, has been my saving grace. I don't feel like a monster because I have a running montage of all the terrible things that could potentially happen to my kids looping through my mind; I feel like someone whose hormones are out of whack, who needs a good night's sleep, and who is struggling but is not broken. For me, for right now, postpartum depression looks like chaos and worst-case scenarios. For others, it may look like sadness or apathy or rage. And that's okay. Feeling sad or mad or frustrated or devastated doesn't mean you don't love your baby or you're ungrateful or flawed. It means you're a human feeling messy, human emotions.
If you're struggling during pregnancy or postpartum, there are different places you can reach out to find support. Taking the first step can feel overwhelming but it's important to know you're not alone, you're not the first person to feel this way, and you absolutely deserve to be helped and to feel better.
If you need help, start here:
Postpartum Support International
Perinatal Mood Disorder Awareness
Suicide Prevention Lifeline