As my over active toddler yanked the sparkly ornament hanging on our Christmas tree, I frantically shouted “NO!” at him from upstairs.
Our glimmering six foot live evergreen had already come crashing down onto the hardwood floor.
Precious ornaments in all shapes and sizes lay shattered all around the overturned tree. Water pooled on the floor, threatening to ruin that too. Hot, angry tears streamed down my face as I stared down at the mess below. Somehow I gathered myself together and hoisted the tree upright. Again it fell, breaking more ornaments and causing extra unwelcome stress and chaos.
Through my veil of tears, I captured a picture of the fallen tree.
I’d given birth to our fourth child only two weeks before. Christmas was in full swing. My husband had already left on an international business trip and I was alone with our four children, all under the age of five. My life felt like it had spiraled out of control. For the first time ever, I knew that postpartum depression had sunken its ugly claws into my life.
Our first child shocked us all when she arrived six weeks early. It was unbearably difficult to leave my first born baby in the arms of strangers for two weeks in the NICU. Despite the frustration and sadness of leaving my baby, I never exprienced any postpartum depression. We welcomed two more babies over the next couple of years. Another premature delivery landed our baby in the NICU. Still, no depression. Life with three young kids was crazy and chaotic, but happy. I’d wanted to be a mom my entire life. I was living my dream.
But with the arrival of #4, things changed. I’d lost my rhythm. My toddler was the most challenging of all my kids and he was relentless. He fought me on everything from changing his diaper to afternoon naps. He’d take off running out the front door, buck naked, as I’d sit nursing the baby on the couch. As I’d change his brother’s diaper, he’d climb into the fridge, pull down all the glass jars and watch as they’d roll into the ground and explode. Things that had been somewhat easy with the first two kids, were exhausting and impossible with my tireless toddler.
I cried every single day. Sometimes my husband would come home from work, look at me, and I’d begin weeping again. I felt trapped. Friends and strangers would cheerfully tell me they had “no idea how I did it all”. Or, say “you’re amazing”.
I felt like a total fraud.
I was definitely not amazing at this mom gig anymore. The sad truth was I did not feel like I was doing any of it right. At all. I was barely scraping by. I wanted desperately to snap out of it. But, I couldn’t. Day after day, I endured.
There was no spare time to see a doctor of any kind for help. I didn’t feel that I could burden even my closest confidants with these innermost sorrows. After all, we’d planned all four of our children. We’d purposely had them close together too. I didn’t want anyone to think I was searching for sympathy by unloading my deep, dark struggles. My oldest was in preschool, but only for a few hours a week. I was shackled with young kids all day every day. My days were confining.
I thought about the mom suffering from postpartum depression I’d heard of on the news who’d drowned all three of her children in the tub during their evening bath. I could relate.
And that terrified me.
That first year of life with four very young children is mostly a blur. I finally saw a doctor who, after I broke down sobbing in her office, prescribed antidepressants for me. Although I knew I wouldn’t be able to follow through, she made me agree to see a therapist.
Time passed. I religiously swallowed the magical little pill daily. I could feel myself regaining control and confidence. Although I was steadily returning to my normal self, I worried about what would happen when I stopped taking the antidepressant.
Would my life once again begin imploding?
After nearly a year, I slowly weaned myself from the medicine. It was scary. Uncertain. With four children and a husband, who relied on me, there was no time for a relapse. I didn’t know if I was up for the challenge.
But, I did it.
I completely stopped taking the antidepressant. Life slowly resumed a new normal. I haven’t had any intense, long-term depression since. I’ve experienced normal days of gloomy sadness. But, I always come out the other side fairly quickly.
Any type of depression carries a social stigma. It’s not entirely acceptable to admit to having depression; being faulty. Imperfect. As a new mom of four, I’d felt immense pressure to publicly perform. I was constantly watched and judged by others wherever I went. At the grocery store, I’d have three little ones crammed into a shopping cart, and the baby strapped to my abdomen. I was a traveling circus and a sight to behold.
My advice to the mamas who are experiencing postpartum depression is: keep going. Put one foot in front of the other. Reach out to other moms. When I had a smaller batch of kids I was involved in various mommy groups. It’s helpful to have a play date at the park with a group of moms sharing many of your struggles. Despite the impossible schedule that a quad of young kids imposes, I wish I’d forced myself to attend playgroups and Mom’s nights outs.
Seek counseling. It’s difficult to find a regular daytime babysitter who will babysit very limited hours. But, they’re out there. Swap babysitting with another mom. Fully unleashing my anxiety, grief and nonstop sadness onto someone whom I didn’t need to impress with my Mom skills would’ve been blissful. Get out of the house. Visit the park and soak in the fresh air and sunshine. Walk the mall if it’s rainy or cold.
I’m not sure my road out of the depths of postpartum depression was the ideal exit strategy. But, it worked for me. Those dark days are now only a memory from five years ago. My baby turned five years old today. Remembering how it was then brings up emotions I buried years ago.
I no longer have excessive anxiety surrounding messing up as a mom. I’m learning alongside my kids. I’m exploring uncharted territory with my ten year old that I only knew to be true in movies. Made for Hollywood sassiness, off the charts hormones and the ability to keep loving her, even after she screams “I hate you” at me.
In other words, I still generally have no clue what I’m doing. But, I’m figuring it out as I go. And I’m not afraid to laugh about my mistakes, and keep going.