(Editors note: this essay contains language of self-harm)
During my 36-week appointment with my OB, he asked “Do you have a birth plan?”
“Yes, the plan is to be okay when the plan falls apart,” I responded half-jokingly and half-serious. He had already told me several times before that nothing would prepare me for what would or could happen in the delivery room.
I wish that instead, he had asked me “What is your after-birth plan?”
Everyone talks about their birth plans, which—let’s be real—rarely go as expected. For me, my after-birth plan was a cheesy lifetime movie. A Pinterest image of mommy and daughter on cloud nine smiling into one another’s faces.
It was anything but.
After 20 hours of labor, my baby became tachycardic, meaning her heart rate was higher than normal, and I was rushed into an emergency C-section. Out was the plan where we welcomed our daughter into a room full of “chill vibes” with our carefully selected playlist of songs playing lightly in the background.
In was plan B. My husband put on a brave face and sat by my side holding the hand to my pinned down arm in the operating room.
Moments later I heard my daughter’s first cry. I finally saw this tiny human being I had loved so deeply over the past nine months take her first breath outside of me. I felt the caress of her wrinkled skin against mine. I smelled her lips as she cried against my face.
And I felt nothing.
Guilt wrecked me for days over not bonding with my daughter immediately. Stress ensued because she had jaundice and trouble latching to feed. Then panic set in as I fought through several postpartum health issues.
It was a total of 11 days before I left the hospital for good.
Is this what it feels like to be hit by a truck? I couldn’t recognize myself in the mirror.
I found myself lying awake at night crying at the certainty of my death. I’d stare at my newborn and sob at the thought of me unintentionally harming her. Intrusive thoughts would haunt me at all hours of the day and I lacked clarity and stability.
I never thought of actually hurting my daughter, nor myself, but I was so afraid of the violent thoughts I had. Marathons would run through my mind of ways she could die if I wasn’t careful enough or ways that I would die in my sleep. Death was the only topic I could think of and it weighed on me every second of every minute of every day.
I longed for the moments when my husband was asleep or when I would escape to the shower so I could let myself lose control and cry.
I falsified the answers on my Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale on two separate occasions.
I’m just having a hard time coping. I’m okay. Things will go back to normal. I would tell myself this repeatedly, trying to convince myself that in time it would simply go away.
I would sit in my living room in a daze. My brain was in a fog and I oftentimes found myself feeling like I was sitting in a dream. Anxiety plagued me at moments I would be doing mundane things.
I’m the girl who hiked up volcanoes, went sky diving and jumped off cliffs into deep bodies of water for fun. Yet here I was afraid to do anything.
When will this end? Hopeless. Trapped. I could barely breathe. I was falling down a gaping hole of nothingness and I couldn’t see a landing.
Acknowledging my fear and depression was step one. Asking my husband for help was step two. After having an episode in front of him we talked about a plan to get me the help I needed. I started to see a therapist and confessed to my OB what was really happening.
Then COVID-19 hit home.
I live in the state of New Jersey, a hot spot for the novel coronavirus and things got scary, fast.
Suddenly my therapist was asking me to set up Telehealth appointments because she would no longer see patients in person. My OB followed suit.
When my daughter needed her two-month vaccines, I was vetted by the office staff while scheduling the appointment over the phone. I was already terrified to take her out of the house because of my anxiety, but this set in a whole new level of fear.
As I laid my daughter down to be examined, I panicked. What if someone sick was in here before her?
The nurse injected each of her chubby thighs with two separate vaccines and she screamed, but I couldn’t kiss her nor could she see me smiling at her in reassurance. My face was covered with a mask.
I’ve heard it takes a village to raise a baby. My village was quarantined and I desperately need human contact to get me through the days. Going through PPD has been tremendously challenging. As has been raising a newborn. Doing it without my village makes those challenges feel overwhelmingly impossible.
But I am forever an optimist. And although I am not “okay” I know I have the support of my village from a distance because I have started to open up about my struggle. Instead of long hugs and reassuring touches, I have Facetime and good old-fashioned phone calls. I have the love of my superhero husband who has had to compensate for the lack of family help we have and the bond that is continuously growing with my daughter each day.
Some days are brighter than others. And for now, I will live in those moments. Snuggling into my baby’s milky neck, kissing the top of her head and her tiny toes and breathing her in when we embrace. Not taking her human touch for granted. I look at my 2-month-old baby and see pure love. A kind my soul rejoices in.
Right now, that is my motivation to fight on the days the dark envelops the light.