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Sarah on clawing her way out of the postpartum depression darkness

mom holding twins for a family photo - essay on getting out postpartum depression darkness

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.

When I had my twins I was lost. My husband didn’t understand that I just needed him to be around; not for him to do anything, but to have someone, anyone, help me feel like I was still important and being cared for.

I knew things would get bad due to my predisposition to depression, but this was different. The day of a routine ultrasound, I had a feeling the night before that I would end up delivering that day. It was not the day we had planned, but due to the onset of pre-eclampsia, schedules changed.

During my hospital stay, I cried every day, if not every hour. My babies arrived safe, but I couldn’t help feel like they had been ripped from me. Everyone knew what my twins looked like, but I couldn’t remember because of the drugs and the nurses trying to get me situated in the recovery room.

Related: This viral post is what every twin parent needs to hear

Arthur was brought to the NICU within hours of his arrival, but at least I had Elise with me. Then she was taken too. I knew how insane it was to be so upset when my babies were in the best place for them, but I couldn’t stop the tears.

One day, a nurse asked if I would like for her to call the Chaplin. I had no idea what that meant at the time, but I realize now that she was trying to comfort me. My OB came to see me on a Saturday. She took one look at me and just knew. Postpartum depression. She was also the only one who was able to trick me into sleeping by telling me that sleep increases prolactin, which helps your milk come in.

When it was time to leave the hospital with my twins, I cried because I no longer had a team of medical professionals to help me. Fast forward to the first few weeks home where I refused to answer the pediatrician’s screening questions for new moms since I had read somewhere that they don’t diagnose postpartum depression or anxiety until 2 weeks after delivery.

Eventually I answered the survey and the pediatrician pulled me into a room to talk to me alone. I heard it all before. Get sleep. Get help. Get support. 

Related: Do I have postpartum depression? This screening quiz can help you find out, mama

How do you sleep when you have two infants next to you that you have to make sure are still breathing? How do you sleep when one is colicky and they’re both on different sleep schedules? How do you sleep when you have to pump every few hours to get your milk to come in? You don’t. Because if you fall asleep, then you might not wake up when a baby needs you. 

Flash forward a few months. I’m back at work at six weeks because I didn’t have paid maternity leave. I was staying with my parents at the time because I needed help and my husband needed to work. I still couldn’t sleep. My parents wanted to watch the babies overnight so I could sleep and go to work, but it felt wrong not having my babies close.

I needed to be with them. I went on one last date with my then husband and kept breaking out into tears. He thought it was because I was worried about us and him going on a camping trip soon. Wrong. It was separation anxiety from the twins.

Related: What every parent should know about attachment theory

When things started unraveling in my marriage, when I was struggling to keep my job during all the chaos, when my life was suddenly no longer about myself, the dark thoughts came in. The world was so ugly. So full of bad things. The guilt I felt for bringing these two innocent lives into this world was immeasurable. My mind told me that I needed to save them, and that we all needed to exit this world together. I would be sparing my children from a life of pain. From a life with no dad. From a life of hurt. 

I had one friend to talk to. She told me to stop breastfeeding because it was making me depressed. How dare she tell me to stop doing something that had been engrained into my head as what was best for my children.

She told me I needed to go talk to someone because my words were sounding reminiscent of Andrea Yates (I’m still not sure what I said that triggered an alarm in her head). Eventually I did get in with a psychiatrist, only to be kicked out of his office and told that I have an axis II personality disorder and that I didn’t have depression-I had a “you need to grow up” problem (he is currently being reviewed by the Texas Medical Board after I was urged to file a complaint.)

Related: How to find the best therapist for you (and what to expect)

I was trying so hard to keep everything together, taking the steps to get the help that I needed, and was told in response that I was making it up. 

Women fear seeking help thinking that their children will be taken from them. Women who do seek help are often dismissed because “they would never kill themselves.” Suicide accounts for 20% of postpartum deaths, and is the most common cause of mortality in postpartum women. 

I’m not free from anxiety and depression yet. My depression lifted slightly when I stopped breastfeeding, but instead turned into feelings of being stuck and paralyzed. Here I was trapped at my parents; house, a single mother who no man or woman would ever want to be involved with because of my baggage. My body was so disgusting there was no way I could let anyone see me that way. Plus I didn’t trust anyone around my children. I could barely trust their own dad.

I started counseling with Better Help to help me process the dark, deep sadness around the failure of my marriage. My counselor was the first person to tell me that I needed to find my own place to raise my children that wasn’t under my parents’ roof, and that I deserved to raise my children how I saw fit. As long as I was at my parents’ house, I would never feel that level of autonomy. 

Related: To the mama who feels like she’s failing at everything, you are enough

I moved out much to my parents dismay. They helped me significantly in obtaining a house though they disagreed with my decision. When I finally moved in, things got worse. I was working full time from home, trying to take care of two toddlers by myself, and I still wasn’t sleeping.

I hit my breaking point. I reached out to the twins’ father to explain what was going on. There were multiple doctors that told me I needed to go to an inpatient program to get balanced out but I refused. Instead, my ex-husband assumed the role of not just helping me watch the children, but also to watch over me. 

Things slowly changed. They got worse before they got better. My journey with depression and adjusting to motherhood isn’t over yet, but I’m not sure that has an end destination. Finally, 18 months after giving birth, I’m clawing my way back into the light.