TELL THE TRUTH, TELL THE TRUTH, TELL THE TRUTH.
It’s taken me years to share my story. Writing it, truthfully, without sweetening it, or fixing it up to make it less overwhelming, is one of the hardest things I will ever do.
I share it with you today because I’m sick of new mothers going through what I went through. I want to strip the shame and secrecy from this experience, so that those of us who are suffering can get help, sooner.
If I can help relieve another mother’s suffering, then it is worth how scary this feels.
I met my husband while hiking on the Navajo Indian Reservation. Three months later, he asked me to marry him. Six days after that, I found out I was pregnant.
I spent each trimester of my pregnancy living in a different city. The first trimester I extended my contract as a travel nurse and lived by myself in a motel. (If living in a motel doesn’t drop your self-esteem, trying living in a motel as a pregnant single mother.) The second trimester I married my love on the side of a snowy mountain in Flagstaff. The last trimester we moved to San Diego, so I could find a permanent position and my husband could stay at home with the baby.
Yes, if I was a friend giving my former self advice I would have told her, “You’re a badass, girl / you’re fucking crazy.” Unluckily for me I was completely isolated from all my close friends. While living on the Rez, I may have as well been in another country. There was no cell phone signal for hours. My friends must have thought that my life was imploding, since every couple months when I talked to them I had more news, “I moved to the Navajo Rez!” “I met a really cool guy!” “We’re getting married!” “I’m pregnant!”
Though our baby was a surprise I desperately wanted her. I never thought of not having her. My husband felt the same way. Our parents, on the other hand, disagreed. What they preferred for us to do instead could not be mentioned out loud. At best we felt ambivalent, distant support (my husband’s parents wrote us a large check on our wedding day) and at worse we felt judgment and abandonment (“I don’t know why you’re doing this to yourself.”)
I had a healthy pregnancy and an uncomplicated homebirth. Giving birth was the hardest thing that I had ever done up to that point, yet it was easy compared to what came after. During birth I completely went inside and that’s where I found my strength. But I longed from the deepest part of my heart for womanly support. For someone to touch me gently and tell me how proud of me they were. For simple comfort – sips of a cold drink, a cool washcloth, someone to hold my hand. I remember my midwives being distracted throughout the three hours they spent at my house while I was in labor. Another mother had broken her water and had no contractions (believe me, I know her entire labor story just from overhearing their phone conversations!)
After the birth I floated on a cloud for a week or so. I stared at my baby and drank her in. She was perfect, healthy and her soft body curved easily to mine. She breastfed easily. She had the sweetest smell – the only way I can describe it is just like honey. No one could smell it except for me.
Soon after that, I started to have feelings and thoughts that at the time I assumed were normal.
I was terrified of something bad happening to the baby … that I would fall asleep and wake up to her not breathing. I didn’t want to drive with her on the freeway because I feared a freak car accident. I couldn’t walk with her through a crowded place because I feared her catching some deadly virus.
My baby was six weeks old.
Around that age she would start crying around 6 at night and only God knew when she was going to stop. I read in books and magazines that I had to “do something for myself”. We didn’t have money for me to go do basic things like: get a massage. Or get my nails done. Or go to yoga class. So I decided to go for a run. I used to love running ~ it was an ultimate physical release for me, a catharsis.
I started running. The ligaments in my pelvis were loose and my joints felt like they didn’t fit together anymore. I found I couldn’t run more than a block or so without stopping. I couldn’t run. I felt weak, and broken.
I stopped at the halfway point, over a bridge. As the cars sped by I looked down in the water and pictured jumping in. I calculated whether or not the bridge was high enough to kill me. I desperately longed for that instant relief.
I wish that I could say that this was the lowest low, but it wasn’t. Practically every day meant screaming fights with my husband, who was just as depressed as me. Not a single soul I could call to talk to, and actually tell the truth. I once spoke to a friend who I hadn’t spoken to in months, and all I did was cry. I couldn’t even tell her what was wrong.
I pictured driving the car off the side of a bridge. I pictured walking into traffic. I pictured random acts of disaster that would kill my husband so I wouldn’t have to kill him myself. I packed up my bags several times, planning to leave my husband and baby, then ended up a sobbing puddle on the floor because I couldn’t imagine my daughter living without a mother.
I wish I could have gotten help. I wish I could have found a nurturing voice. I wish I could have found a medication regimen that worked for me. I wish I could have told the truth. But when you feel that broken, the first thing that disappears is your ability to ask for help. It’s a prison that you create for yourself, in your own mind.
At a year and a half of my daughter’s life, the fog finally lifted. We finally saved enough money to buy a house, and my husband went back to school. When we finally settled down, I found a sense of community – a group of women friends and other mothers that I love and cherish, who love and cherish me. More than that, I’ve found a sense of purpose – helping mothers find words to describe feelings that I struggled with in silence. Telling the truth so that other mothers can tell theirs. Helping other mothers prevent what I went through from happening to them.
In the end, I can’t change any of it. I don’t actually want to, anymore. I know now that I did the very best I could, in the darkest, hardest moments of my life. I was walking alone through the desert. I am a survivor. I’m fucking proud of that.