A year ago on #BellLetsTalk 2017 I briefly shared my postpartum experience with my Facebook friends. Carol Anne reached out to me and asked if I would write something for her blog, for this blog, so other mothers who may be struggling would see that they are not alone. That was a year ago and two days ago was #BellLetsTalk 2018. Apparently I find words much easier spoken than written. I’ve told my story dozens of times, but to actually write it down in detail is much more intimidating. So here it goes, one year later…
My Children – Marley (age 7) and Barrett (age 5) – They are my everything. But it hasn’t been an easy road.
Hearing other mothers talk about the joy of parenting and the contentment of motherhood… What an amazing and wonderful experience. And it started out just as that. Marley took to nursing after a few days of struggles. We just clicked. I took comfort in the quiet nights, rocking her back to sleep. I sang untraditional bedtime songs like Wonderwall and Tiny Dancer. I’m not a rockabye kind of mama. She was a great sleeper, 2 naps a day and a full night. A happy baby all in all.
But then one day, anxiety hit.
Marley was 8 months old.
People assume postpartum disorders start right at birth but that’s not always the case. I use the term disorder because depression wasn’t my problem…anxiety is my adversary, and a determined one at that. And I suppose looking back I’d always struggled with it.
I had panic starting high-school. Panic starting a new job. But panic when you have to care for an 8 month old…that’s a whole new ball game.
I never wanted to hurt her. That’s the first question they ask you.
“Do you want to hurt your baby?” “NO, never! But I’m afraid someone else will.” I was afraid to leave the house. I couldn’t even walk to the park with her. I couldn’t sleep. What if I wake up and her window is broken and she’s gone. I couldn’t go shopping. What if someone takes her from my grocery cart? What if, what if, what if? I was nauseated when I tried to eat and eventually I just stopped.
How do you take care of a baby if you can’t even take care of yourself?
Fortunately I was able to recognize my fear and reach out for help before it snowballed out of control. My family doctor at the time got me into his office immediately after my initial phone call… I mean it was “Come over now”. He had me do a quick quiz about my health, and my thoughts. I ranked 0 for depression but the anxiety was “Off the charts” in his words. Right then and there he looked at my mom and asked if she had to be anywhere and was she able to stay with us, in order to help with Marley and to help my husband Jason, to allow him to still work. She made one call to work and I was lucky enough to have my Mama with me for two of the worst weeks I’ve ever had.
I was scared.
I know Jason was scared. Watching me go thru the insomnia. Your mind begins to play tricks on you. I didn’t want to medicate. I thought I would be a failure. Walking around in a haze. I tried warm milk and soothing teas and melatonin but nothing worked. The trip to the emergency room – I was unprepared for all of it, but the physical responses – the hyperventilating, shaking, muscle soreness and the exhaustion – A person simply cannot function without sleep – was overwhelming. When swimmers are done racing they move from the lane pool into a lap pool and continue to swim, but at a much slower pace, in order to prevent lactic acid build up and muscle stiffening. When a person hyperventilates the same thing happens. I could barely walk myself into the emergency room while my hands and feet began to fail me, and I began to curl into a pugilistic pose, like an old crippled boxer preparing for their final fight.
“We deal with our mind
from morning till evening
and it can be our best friend
or our worst enemy.”
Truer words have not been spoken for anyone who has suffered from any type of mood disorder. The days and nights flowed into each other and the fear grew. But it got better. I realized that I was being selfish by refusing medication, and that there is no shame in taking something that would help me get better for my daughter. I started on a low dose of cipralex. I started seeing a therapist. I learned exercises to center myself in the present and I learned to breathe. Yoga helped a lot.
I had someone to talk to. I had a lot of people to talk to. And since then I have always said you just don’t know who else is struggling and it’s important to share your story because maybe it can help others. And I know I helped at least one person by sharing my experience with them.
When I became pregnant with my second child the fear once again sunk in. Would it be different the second time around? I think it could have been but I was tainted with thoughts of the past. And when Barrett came along I just knew it would happen again – but I was prepared and I was surrounded by the people who love me. And I was okay.
I am currently off of medication, and am still not the best sleeper. I’m a worrier. I still have moments of panic where I wake up in the middle of the night and have to touch my side table, something physical and firm, in order to bring myself into the present and out of the dark. I rush into my kids rooms and make sure they are ok.
Oh, did I mention I am a funeral director? Which I suppose hasn’t helped my fatalist thoughts. If you call and tell me that you’re 30 minutes away and I haven’t seen you in 45, well you are automatically dead in a ditch in my mind. If my son rides his bike too close to the end of the driveway I scream for him to STOP in a horrible voice I’m not even sure is mine!! A pain in my abdomen? I’m probably ovulating, but maybe I’ll make a doctor’s appointment in case it’s cancer…this is just a tiny window into my brain.
I’m trying. Every day. It is all I can do.
Anxiety, in general, is a fear of the future; something completely out of my control.
I am aware of the problem. I am also aware that we, as humans, are flawed. We are a big old ball of chemicals that don’t always mix like they should. And the miracle of birth? That miracle gets all of the chemicals stirred up like oil and water. Pretty magical, right?
And 8 years later, every night when I kiss those perfect little faces, I still question whether I am doing everything in my power to be the best mama I can be for them.
And the only thing I know for certain? They love me for who I am, no matter what.
That is one thing my mind cannot convince me of otherwise.
Amy Bingham grew up in Caledon. She obtained her Funeral Directors license in 2001 and while working in Collingwood, met her husband Jason. They have two children, Marley and Barrett and are currently back living down the road from her childhood home…because it takes a village.
A heart felt thank you to Amy for sharing her story in support of #BellLetsTalk 2018 and helping to end the stigma around mental health.