Sometimes I cry in the shower.
Sometimes, when I am nursing my sweet, 4 month old baby by the glow of a nightlight, tiny rivers of tears trickle down my cheeks and onto his jammies.
Sometimes I snap at my 4 year old. “Mommy, I didn’t like it when you were fighting at me today” he says, as I tuck him into bed at night. I run my fingers over his face and kiss his nose in the dark. My heart breaks wide open.
Sometimes I withdraw. Sometimes the glow of my computer screen keeps me company when I can’t bear to focus on any of the things that I need to do once the kids are asleep. I choose Etsy over bills. I choose writing for you over connecting with friends who I know in real life. I worry incessantly about Ben suffocating himself in his sleep, about Max being stolen by a stranger, about my husband cheating on me.
On a good day, I tell myself that I am exhausted. That motherhood is hard. That I am the only one who has a husband that works these crazy hours, and so I must be some kind of saint for keeping it all together.
But sometimes, sometimes there aren’t enough good days.
And I fall apart. In the shower, when I am finally as alone as I feel. In the car, when I’m facing away from Max and he can’t see my swollen eyes. When the world isn’t looking, and expecting that I will be the way I act on the outside. Poised. Happy. Able to do it all.
The myth of motherhood tells us that only the weak can be broken. We believe that our sadness can be healed by a well-deserved date night, or a sassy A-Line bob, or a manicure. We spoon our children during story-time, the familiar curve of their tiny bodies tethering us to reality as we end each impossible day. We fall into the arms of our partners when the darkness creeps in, daring them to ask us for anything for themselves, as the burden of one more human being would be impossible to bear.
Mothering is hard, and unfair, and beautiful, and exhilarating, and exhausting.
Mothering while caught in the grip of postpartum depression is lonely, and isolating, and infuriating.
When Miriam Carey drove through the barricades in Washington DC last week, mothers everywhere felt a gnawing twinge of recognition creep in. When Dr. Walker Karraa asked women writers to share their stories of Postpartum mental health this week, for Miriam, I didn’t think I had anything to add. Miriam put herself in danger. She put her daughter in danger. She quite possibly had other, more severe, mental health issues. That couldn’t possibly have anything to do with me.
But it does.
Miriam Carey was alone. In all of the chaos, in all of the confusion, in all of the brightness and noise, she was alone. A mother’s deepest fears are never shared. A mother’s private struggles are tucked away, replaced with a beautiful smile and a tiny laugh, small talk at preschool pick-up and easy questions about life and dinner and family vacations.
Miriam Carey was terrified. Feeling sad and alone is terrifying. Feeling like you are the best mother in the world for plowing through every day, is isolating. Feeling like you are the worst mother in the world, for harboring so much sadness and guilt, is excruciating.
I don’t know what caused Miriam to make the decisions that led to her death last week. I don’t know what it’s like to have so much pain that you choose to put yourself and your children at risk.
But I do know what it feels like to be hanging on when the world is spinning too quickly. I know what its like to feel like I am outrunning postpartum depression. I am winded, and panicked, and constantly looking behind me as I turn every corner. It’s there, like a smirking ex-lover, reaching out and threatening to envelop me in an uninvited embrace.
When Max was tiny, I lost a part of myself. It was many months later that I realized the ghosts of depression that had been my constant companion in high school and college, were now in the passenger seat on this journey of motherhood. When they say that someone “suffers” from Postpartum Depression, they have no idea just how much suffering we do alone. I was madly in love with my baby, but I felt like I was drowning. I could cuddle him, and feed him, and keep him safe, but I couldn’t shake the sadness that seeped in to all of the empty moments in between. I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. I was desperately treading water, terrified that I would lose the one little thing that I was living for.
I vowed to do one thing.
One thing, every day. One accomplishment, that would catapult me back into the land of the living. Take a shower. One thing. Put Max in the stroller and walk to the mailbox at the end of our block. One thing. Go to a Mom’s group. One thing.
One thing became two things. Instead of driving in silence, listening intently to every breath that he took, I turned on the radio. Instead of laying him down on a blanket in playgroup and silently smiling at everyone, I started to talk to people about what motherhood felt like.
It felt new, and fascinating, and lonely. I started writing about the truths of motherhood. I started seeing a therapist. I started telling my girlfriends that it wasn’t easy, that I felt like the only mom in the world who couldn’t get motherhood right. I invited friends over for dinner play-dates when Sean was traveling, so that I didn’t have to face the “witching hours” alone. And I named the darkness and fear that I couldn’t shake. I called it Postpartum Depression, and anxiety.
When my second son was born, I knew that I would need to put my armor on. That as I fell madly in love with Ben, my brain and my hormones would start to betray me. I had to learn to run faster than my sadness. I had to force myself to reach out, to ask for help, to build a foundation of strength when I was healthy, so that I didn’t have as far to fall when the fog rolled in. I had to re-learn how to do each and every one thing.
I am answering Dr. Walker Karraa’s call today. I am writing for Miriam. But I am also writing for me, and for all of the other mothers like me. I am writing to tell you that you are not alone. I am writing to show you that postpartum mood disorders look like all of the moms on Facebook, with their smiling faces and happy status updates. Depression can be a beautiful, young mother in Washington DC, driving her car too fast as she tries to outrun her sadness. Depression is me, and it’s you, and it’s all of the moms out there who have convinced themselves that no one else could possibly understand their pain.
I understand. I didn’t know Miriam, but I know her. I am joining hundreds of mothers today, to say that we all share the same truths. Today, that is my one thing.
Find your one thing. Do one thing mama. For your babies. For yourself. For Miriam.
Please join Dr. Walker Karraa and many other amazing mamas as they write #ForMiriam today. Read their stories. Find your one thing. And know that you are not alone.
Postpartum Mental Health Resources: