A woman with a postpartum mood disorder is not always easy to spot. She can look lively and energetic, juggling three kids, swim lessons—and the demon she thinks is lurking in her bedroom trying to steal her baby.
She can make it to work every day, smile and joke and never let on that she hasn’t slept more than two hours together for a week. Even though the baby is sleeping through the night.
She can host a dinner for her in-laws and no one will ever know that she is terrified to use a knife because all she can see in her head is that knife cutting off the fingers of her babies.
She will post on Facebook how proud she is of her baby, and pictures that make her look happy and calm. And one day her mom will find her sobbing on the floor in her closet.
She might tell people that she isn’t feeling quite right, that she feels fearful or jittery, and someone will say “Oh, I felt that way after I had my baby. It happens to all of us.” She’ll smile and say “That’s right. You’re right. We just have to get past this place.” But inside, she’ll know that she just tried to ask for help and no one heard her.
She’ll remember that the next time and she won’t speak up.
If she does get help, she’ll feel so guilty. The question “Do you ever think about hurting the baby” will rip her heart into shreds. I must be a bad mother, she’ll think. Otherwise they would be able to see that the baby is the only thing keeping me here.
In the midst of all this, she will struggle to look like she has it together. Because she knows that society judges a mom by such a harsh standard. So finally, after months of waving a quiet white flag, she decides she’s had enough of being the postpartum mom. Enough of folks watching her with sharp eyes as she cares for her child. Enough of support groups and counselors. Maybe she just wants to feel healthy and sane again. So she yearns for better, hopes for better, tells everyone she feels better. They believe her, even the doctors, and they start to back off her meds.
And when it starts to tilt left again, she barely notices because she hasn’t been upright since her baby was born.
One day she gets in her car with the baby in the back and she drives 275 miles away from the people who are so relieved that she’s doing better. Then she dies a horrible, terrifying, preventable death.
And she leaves behind the one person she couldn’t live without.
I could have been Miriam, so I will speak for Miriam: Enough. It shouldn’t be this hard to be a mom. It shouldn’t be this shameful to be sick.
The time to do a better job is now.
If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, anxiety, anger or delusions after the birth of a baby–even months after the birth of a baby–call an OB/GYN or contact Postpartum Support International at www.postpartum.net.
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