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Jessica on having thoughts of wanting to hurt herself postpartum

mom and son taking a selfie together - essay on a mom having thoughts of wanting to hurt herself

Content warning: Discussion of postpartum depression, birth trauma, domestic abuse or other tough topics ahead. If you or someone you know is struggling with a postpartum mental health challenge, including postpartum depression or anxiety, call 1-833-9-HELP4MOMS (tel:18009435746)—The National Maternal Mental Health Hotline This free, confidential service provides access to trained counselors and resources 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in English, Spanish, and more than 60 other languages. They can offer support and information related to before, during, and after pregnancy.

I am a planner. I wanted a child, but I waited. I waited for the right man. I waited for the right time because I married a man with three teenage daughters. We selected the exact moment to start trying. We thought about spring break, work schedules, the girls’ school schedules, the girls’ emotional health, etc. before we started. I went off the pill and started ovulation tests. We got pregnant the first try. Everything seemed to be going according to plan. We were thrilled!

My OBGYN induced me at 39 weeks. After 15 hours of strenuous labor and only five cm dilation, I was told I needed a C-Section because my son and I had a fever. I remember lying on my back looking up the ceiling and thinking, “This is it. Finally, after 34 years and all my planning, I get to meet my child.” I heard him cry and I gasped while tears fell down my cheeks. The next few moments were a blur. That blur continued for about a year. 

I did not have a smooth C-section recovery or a graceful entrance into motherhood. After four days in the hospital, we finally went home. I felt scared and woozy. Surely, this was just first time mom nerves and recovery from a C-section. “I will be fine,” I kept telling myself. I was not fine.

Related: 13 things that surprised me about having a C-section

I was basically bed-ridden for a week. Then the fever started. When my mother left to go home and my husband went back to work after a week, I cried. No, I sobbed. I was terrified. I didn’t know what to do. I thought I needed to power through and stick to the schedule and plan I created. However, I was sick. I kept calling the doctor. They kept bringing me in to check my incision. No infection but I had a fever hovering on and off around 100-102 for eight weeks. Finally, the doctor declared it a fever of “unknown origins.” Around this time, eight weeks postpartum, I got Bell’s palsy on the right side of my face. My incision was finally declared infected when a red golf ball-sized lump appeared. It had to be punctured and drained for the next four weeks. 

My husband had a difficult time coping through this period as well. He was balancing a sick wife, newborn, work and three teenage girls adjusting to the changes in our house. He was overwhelmed and didn’t understand, like so many people, not just men or husbands. When I asked for help he didn’t know how to support me and didn’t understand the severity of it. I felt alone.

My guilt consumed me. I would stare at my baby, my child, my son, the person I waited so long for and wanted so badly, and think, “What have I done? What was I thinking? I have ruined everyone’s life in this house, including my own. Why did I think I could handle this? I am not suited for motherhood. Why do other women seem OK? I am a bad mother.”

Related: My darling, remember when we wanted what we currently have?

I would have thoughts about drowning myself in the tub. I would fantasize about driving my car into a telephone pole. I was in so much anguish physically and mentally that I thought about cutting myself to lessen the pain. I was paranoid and self loathing. I would obsessively think my stepdaughters were judging me and my parenting skills because they had their own mother as a comparison. I would sit there and compare myself to my ex-wife in law wondering “How did she have three children in 3 1/2 years and I can barely handle one child and three girls coming and going.”

I was relieved when he went down for a nap because then I wasn’t responsible at that moment and I could rest. I was completely sleep-deprived. I was sleeping in three hour increments never entering a deep REM cycle. This went on for five months. I understand now why sleep deprivation is a torture tactic. But at the same time, through all this emotional chaos and turmoil, I adored and loved my child unlike anything I have ever experienced. It was this bipolar experience of intense love and intense sorrow. 

Then it came time to go back to work after maternity leave. Work was something I always excelled at. Something that was totally mine and I could control. Something to take me away from this and give me a break. I was relieved but also sad at the same time. Guilt ran through every part of my body. Guilt for leaving him and guilt for feeling relief. Constant guilt.

Related: How it feels to go back to work after maternity leave

Three weeks into my return, the company went through a restructure and my territory was eliminated. That’s when I completely lost the last thread that was holding me together.

Shortly after that, one night the baby was crying and I could not take it another moment. I threw the monitor across the room at my husband and just started screaming, “F*CK!” I repeated that word over and over again. I locked myself in our bedroom closet and laid on the floor in the fetal position shaking and crying. Thoughts were rampant through my mind of hurting myself. I cried out to God for help.

I kept trying to quiet the thoughts by telling myself it wasn’t permanent, but it seemed almost impossible to believe. It was like an out of body experience. Somehow, I came back into my body and found some strength to pick myself up off the floor. I knew I couldn’t go on like this another minute. I knew I needed help.

Related: Therapy made me a better mom—and wife

I made myself appointments to see a therapist and my OBGYN the next day. I have been on a recovery path ever since. It has not been easy or pleasant. It has been rocky and I had a second episode a few months later. But I am healing and getting stronger. I have been on three different medications and finally found one that works. I see a therapist and we see a blended family coach.

My husband and I are the strongest we’ve ever been. We are a team working in tandem again. My son is 17 months old and recently I began to feel like myself again. I am confident in my mothering skills and no longer feel the need to compare myself to anyone. I take ownership of my journey and my growth. But I do feel robbed at times. I look at other mothers who did not have the same mental health struggles and I feel envy. We agreed we wouldn’t have any more children. Four is plenty, so I will never know the pure joy of a new mother’s experience. I am still making peace with that part of it.

I know this is an epidemic with women and there needs to be more focus on postpartum care. I am 100% transparent with others in hopes of helping someone. I never want another woman to ever feel as alone and helpless as I felt. I also want women to know there is a light at the end of the tunnel but somewhere in the darkness you must light a match and work to get through it because the other side is incredible.