The transition to motherhood, defined by Alexandra Sacks as “Matrescence” is a grueling and profound experience. The growth, attachment and even separation are experienced on such deep levels that the female brain and body are never the same. In reality, it is a type of trauma—especially for those with traumatic birth experiences.
The hardest part is that this process is required to be accepted—NO, mastered, overnight. Well, OK maybe by the second night when you are at home with no nurse and a husband that goes back to work in three days.
The condition in which I became a mother is relevant to my maternal mental health. I was 19-years old and I didn’t care about my health because I was young and I took that for granted. I didn’t care about myself because I was not really used to being cared about. Both of my biological parents were absent from my life, by choice. My mother signed custody of my little brother and I to my grandparents. For eight years prior to that, we went through hell.
Over the course of eight years, this man worked us like dogs and treated us worse than that. Memories were tainted by big fights and the truck and trailer pulling into the driveway to move us out of his house. The reasons? My mom bought a new pair of shoes, or worse, she bought my brother or me a new pair of shoes.
At every opportunity, I was trying to escape. At 19, I met a boy who made it all feel better. We spent a year trying to forget it all. We would drown our cares at parties every night.
We were wasting away when that pregnancy test came back positive. Here is my first experience with maternal mental health. I screamed and hyperventilated. I sobbed to dehydration. I was restrained by my then-boyfriend for fear of me hurting myself. I got out of the car at red lights and just started walking away from the vehicle. I was pregnant and I was suicidal.
Medicaid came through and I was able to get to a doctor’s office and be examined quickly. One week later I was called back for having irregular cell lesions on my cervix that were pre-cancerous. More panic.
She could tell I was barely hanging on and wrote me a script for antidepressants. In 2007, the possibility of side effects was unknown. I remember her contacting me later and telling me that the script she wrote for me was NOT safe.
During week 12 of pregnancy, I woke up in a puddle of blood. My boyfriend had gone out of town for work and I was in this strange college town without anyone knowing I was even pregnant yet. We were too scared to tell his parents.
I called my boss at the restaurant that I was working at during this time and she brought me to the ER. After an ultrasound, I was told I had a Subchorionic hemorrhage and needed to be on bedrest. No other resources were offered.
My depression continued throughout my pregnancy, undiagnosed and untreated. I went through a very traumatic birth experience resulting in two failed suction attempts before an emergency c-section was going to be needed.
The second suction worked but my epidural had long worn off as they turned off the epidural when I started pushing three hours prior to the baby being ripped out of me.
I remember feeling ashamed at my six week follow-up appointment when the doctor told me that I was not cleaning the tear well enough and I was healing poorly. I remember thinking, “How…what…how much more?”
My son had acid reflux and laryngo Tracheomalacia. Because of the reflux, he needed to be upright, but because of the floppy trachea that regularly got stuck and caused his breathing to squeak and stop, he actually needed to lay flat. Again, “HOW AM I GOING TO DO THIS?”
The rock bottom that started with the positive pregnancy test had hit a level I could no longer take. Finally, someone said to me, “Do you think you might have postpartum depression?” I knew that I had “issues” from my childhood. I knew that I had battled depression since I was 14 when my mom signed custody over to my grandparents and then was pregnant by IVF with her new husband six months later. But, I thought I was past that and only dealing with what was in front of me—the trauma of this unplanned and high risk pregnancy.
At my first visit with a psychologist, he started asking me questions about my parents and my life before becoming a mom. He diagnosed me with PTSD, postpartum depression, perinatal depression and anxiety, Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Depression. The first diagnosis floored me. “PTSD?” I asked. “Yes, from childhood trauma. You may think you’ve only been dealing with PPD but this is just a little tip of the iceberg. I’m glad you came in today.”
I have three boys now and I have suffered postpartum depression with all of them. I have had traumatic deliveries with all of them, one resulting in my hospitalization on the heart floor for five days post-delivery. I suffered three miscarriages in between my first and second child. All of these experiences made me so damn adamant about maternal mental health.
We need better ER treatment for women going through miscarriages. Better than a male doctor walking in the room and sticking his fingers up the vagina and saying “the eye is open” and “there’s no way she’s staying pregnant, just get her comfortable.” Am I the only one?
I am proud to be here today and to be the Mom that I am—which is far from perfect. I am happy that I know that I also have PTSD because I know that the mountain I was lost on was not just because of this new little life I created. Had I continued to try to climb that mountain, just thinking it was the “baby blues,” as so many of my elderly family members suggested, I may not be here today.
My fight was running out. My fight since I was a child was coming to an end and I was going to lose. I was going to lose my life to suicide and my son was going to lose his mother. My husband was going to lose his wife.
Postpartum depression got me in the door and I learned about all the other types of trauma I had been living with. PPD saved my life. I know there aren’t many people who will read this title and think “uh, no, PPD is a monster.” This is true, but I encourage you to face your other monsters.
You were a child, maybe one that had absent parents or was severely bullied. You were a young, single woman that encountered crappy men. You were many things before you became a mother. PPD is a monster in itself, but combined with untreated trauma and undiagnosed mental illness, it is fatal.
Don’t wait, Mama. You are needed, and so, so loved.