by Jennifer McNichols, Z Recommends
My first and only child was born about 7 years ago. I don’t remember much about the first six months of her life because I suffered from postpartum depression after her birth. Those first six months are pretty hazy in my memories. I remember asking multiple times if something was on fire because everything around me was smoky. I remember being slumped over my bed sobbing and asking a friend if Z was going to die. I remember being constantly afraid that I was going to drop her or that if I held her while I was in the kitchen that she would get injured by a knife. I worried constantly. I cried a lot. Every time she took a nap, I would feel her chest to make sure she was still breathing. At some point, I don’t remember how or when, I went to a doctor who diagnosed me with postpartum depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (because of her difficult birth).
I didn’t fully understand how I was experiencing postpartum depression until recently. I didn’t understand that thinking somehow my baby would be mysteriously harmed was a sign of PPD. Or that being afraid every day that I would somehow harm my baby accidentally was not something every mother experiences. No one ever asked me if I was having any symptoms of PPD. None of my doctors ever mentioned it or brought it up at any of my post-partum appointments. I eventually sought help on my own because I have enough experience with depression that I could sense things were wrong even from within the fog.
I made it through postpartum depression with the help of a therapist and a dear friend. Those first six months of my baby’s life though – they are a blur. I have snapshot memories – not being able to get up from the couch, waving my hands around in the air to wave away the smoke that wasn’t there, worrying constantly, and those scary thoughts that told me something was going to happen to her and it would be my fault that I didn’t protect her from it.
I recovered from both the PTSD and the PPD eventually and didn’t think much about it until about a year ago. Last year, on October 1, 2010, I lost Kristi, one of my best friends, to PPD. Kristi was actually one of my biggest supporters and confidants during my own struggle with PPD. I wrote about her on the anniversary of her death this year:
A year ago today, Kristi died after nearly five months of torturous depression. She was seeking treatment and had a strong support system, but depression is not always cured by popping a Prozac. It’s often a long experiment to see which drugs have an effect on your body while trying to be convinced that the thoughts coming from your mind are not your own. She left a six-month-old daughter, a loving husband, and countless others to mourn her.
I cannot imagine the rest of my life without Kristi. My heart breaks for her daughter who will never know the light that shone so bright from her mother, but also to think of the sadness and pain from which she so desperately needed relief. I still mourn her every day. I wonder what I could have done, what any of us could have done to help her. I think about all of the other people in the world who have lost loved ones to suicide — all of the other children who must grow up without a mother or a father, all of the parents who lost their children too early.
Last year was probably one of the most challenging years I have ever experienced. There were times when I didn’t think I’d be able to live in a world that allows mamas to die from PPD. I spent a lot of time feeling guilty that I didn’t see her suffering, that I didn’t support her more, that I didn’t remind her that I was there if she needed anything. I know her death is not any person’s fault but I do hold our society at least partially responsible. We are so hesitant to offer help, to insist on help, that sometimes we leave new parents at a loss to navigate the transition to parenthood. We don’t want to pry so we ask how the baby is but not how mama is doing. Maybe we’re afraid of a new mama telling us that she’s struggling – after all, the birth of a child is the greatest event in a person’s life. Or maybe with the depictions of postpartum depression that we are bombarded with every day make it difficult for a mama to speak up – will we take away her children and deem her an unfit parent or will we tell her to keep a stiff upper lip, it’s just the baby blues?
In the end, what we as a society are left with is mamas that are broken – mamas that need help that can’t find it or that are too afraid to even start to ask for it. I am determined to change that. For me, Kristi’s death was a call to action – to help new parents and their friends and families understand the signs and symptoms of PPD, to work to change the societal understanding of PPD, and most of all, to get mamas the help they need.
If you or someone you know is in emotional crisis or is showing the warning signs for suicide, please seek help immediately or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).