This is what terror looks like. I’m not sure how it happened. I just had a scary thought one day. And then another. And another. And another. Until there was no longer space for the lighter things.
It started 20 years ago, i guess. A teenager alone in a birth center in the middle of the night holding a newborn baby and sobbing uncontrollably. I told the nurse the next morning that i was afraid to go home. I was afraid i might accidentally drop him. Afraid i might accidentally drown him. Afraid i might accidentally starve him or smother him or lose him or poison him. The nurse told me all new moms feel scared sometimes.
He never had a chance to cry. I anticipated every movement and sound and didn’t allow one second of discomfort. I didn’t let him out of my sight. I didn’t let anyone near him. The thought of someone else holding him sent me into a cold panic. My ears would ring. My limbs would tingle. My heart would race.
3 months postpartum, i have to go back to waiting tables. My 6 hour shifts are filled with me envisioning what could have happened to him. Every time a phone rings i hear someone telling me in great detail the horror of his death or disappearance. Every patrol car is coming to talk to me. The drive to pick him up from my nanny is prickled with cold sweat and intense fear until he’s back in my arms.
Everyone said having a baby just changes you. So i accepted the change. It just became my baseline.
Fast forward 9 years and i give birth again as a solo parent by choice. My daughter comes out and has many anomalies. She’s rushed to the Childrens hospital and I’m left in a room in shock hiding my head under a blanket hoping i will die because i am certain my baby is not going to live. I’m left with a student midwife who had attended two births prior to mine.
8 hours after i gave birth i stand up and ask the student midwife to help me shower.
I get to the hospital and the NICU staff tell me i cannot use the bathroom in the NICU and they cannot provide me any pads or ibuprofen because I’m not a hospital patient. They give me a hard wooden chair to sit in next to my daughter. The room reminds me of a school cafeteria on science fair day. All these little human exhibits. There’s a small curtain i can pull halfway around us. The nurse tells me once a day for 30 minutes i can sit in the recliner.
My daughter is diagnosed with a rare genetic syndrome. She struggles. I learn. I love her. She is eventually discharged and i take her home. I bounce her on a yoga ball for 5 solid months as she screams and arches in pain.
Just like after my first birth – No one has asked me if I’m okay. No one has offered me the number of a therapist. No one has screened me or asked about my mental health.
I’m not okay. But i don’t know that. All i know is what I’m being told. I’m so strong. I’m so brave. I’m like a superhero. She is so lucky to have me.
She doesn’t sleep more than forty five minutes at a time until she’s 3. Every time she wakes up it is either screaming or gasping for air. There is no calm. No easy. It is all startles and jerks and fear. My nervous system collapses. My 10 year old collapses. The weight of the constant medical fear and lack of respite pound us flat.
PTSD and anxiety emerge 2 years in and i suddenly can’t drive. Can’t sit. Can’t stand. I can’t stand existing in the world. I am afraid all the time. There is an open mouthed bear in front of me 24 hours a day and i can hear my pounding heart louder than any other sound and the thought of even driving to the grocery store makes my knees buckle and my mouth water.
Motherhood just changed me, i guess.
2020 – one week into a global pandemic. I give birth at home as a solo parent for the third time. In labor i spike a fever and shake and KNOW that i cannot go to a hospital if i need one. There is a deadly virus that will take us all. Not being okay is not a choice.
My midwives call an ambulance. My baby’s heart rate is too fast. I have a fever. I understand the concern but my body knows better. My body pushed her out just inside the front door on hands and knees as the paramedics walk up to the door in hazmat space pandemic suits.
I can’t seem to land back in my body. I’m struggling to stay conscious and overhear my midwife talking to the hospital and they say DO NOT BRING HER HERE.
I land in my body.
26 hours later my dad dies.
It’s a pandemic. There is no postpartum care. No postpartum baby/mama circles or potlucks or brunches or even phone calls. The world just stopped.
For 2 years, aside from my children, i don’t touch another person. We sanitize and mask and i duct tape shower curtains between us and the rest of the world. I forget what people smell like. I forget that people are people and not just giant germs. It damages me.
The world spins and shakes and breaks apart chaotically and one day i wake up and i am broken, too. I can’t drive. I can’t do the dishes. I can’t bathe. I can’t sleep. I can’t get the mail. I can’t go outside. I don’t want to open my eyes. For the first time in my life a thought crosses my mind and terrifies me.
“I don’t want to live… like this.”
For 37 years i had never understood how a person could not absolutely adore being alive. Everything about life had always thrilled me. I woke up singing. Every day was exciting. Every challenge was exciting.
It took over a year to claw out of the horrors of being so afraid and frozen that i couldn’t participate in living. I cared for my children and did my very best to find one minute of joy each day in between the racing intrusive negative thoughts.
I am getting better every day. I am living in pure joy for more minutes than i am in torture.
It’s World Maternal Mental Health Day.
Check on the postpartum people (and not just immediately postpartum. 0-2 YEARS) ❤️
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