I saw you today.
You were walking through the park, pushing a stroller with one hand, and clinging to your iced coffee with the other. Your newborn babe was sleeping soundly, and I could tell by the bags under your eyes that you wanted to be sleeping too, but instead you walked. You let your feet wander and your skin soak up the sun as your eyes darted around from object to object, and from person to person. Whenever you caught someone’s gaze, you responded to their wide grin with a weary one. Whenever you saw another mother, you both exchanged that knowing nod. (The nod that says “I get it. I understand.” The nod you exchanged with me.) And when you saw a young woman, glowing and round and “ready to pop,” you instinctively placed your hand atop your own stomach, but instead of feeling your unborn baby, you felt your postpartum pooch.
You felt your stretched and puffy skin, and what you felt was empty.
What you felt was deflated.
But the truth is, this feeling was more than physical. This sense of depletion and desolation — this hollowness, waste, and wanting lay beyond your stomach. It permeates every aspect of your body, your mind, your heart, your being, and your soul, because I can see through you facade.
I saw through your facade, and I saw the strength it took you to turn your lip upward and fake a smile. I saw the pained expression on your face and the tears in your eyes. And I watched you blink rapidly to keep them at bay.
I watched as the tears slipped out, one by one; but you pretended not to notice.
You let them roll down your cheeks without blinking. Without moving. Without pulling out a tissue.
But I saw you, I want you to know I saw, and that I’m sorry. I’m sorry you are struggling so. I’m sorry you are suffering so. But I get it. I understand, because I was you.
I’ve been there too.
I remember walking through the aisles of Walgreens when my daughter was just 2 weeks old. She was strapped to my chest, and I let my gaze shift from the floor to the ceiling. From boxed cereal and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese to cheap, two-ply toilet paper. (I know it was cheap because I bought it. Because I used it on my postpartum — um — parts.) And while I saw objects and people, and I shopped and held conversations, everything’s a blur.
Three years later, that postpartum period is still a blur.
What I do recall is dismal.
What I do remember is the crying. I was crying all day, every day. I cried when my coffee became cold or if I spilled a glass of water. I cried if the sink was full of dishes or if I caught my own reflection. If I saw the truth in my dark and tired eyes. And I cried when my daughter cried.
Her innocent wails pierced not only my ears but also my heart, and I would shake with rage. I would then turn that rage against myself, because what sort of mother would react like this? Who could feel like this?
The rage turned to anger, the anger eventually fueled more tears, and before long I was suicidal. I wanted to walk into traffic. I planned to take a the subway to Jay Street and jump off the Brooklyn Bridge.
I lost weeks and months to my depression.
I almost lost my life.
But I don’t want you to lose your battle, sweet mama.
I don’t want you to think you’re bad or crazy, hopeless or alone.
What I do want you to know is that you aren’t a bad mom because you are crying or having trouble bonding. You are not a bad mom because you cannot “keep it together.” Because there are moments and minutes — hell, there may even be days — when you might wish you did not have your child. When you feel as though this whole parenting gig was a mistake and you consider, even if just for a moment, running away from it all.
You consider giving up.
But you are not crazy, even if you are having “crazy” thoughts.
Even if you feel as though you are losing your mind.
It is OK to be angry.
It is OK to be scared.
It is OK to cry and scream and lament the life you lost. The pre-mommy days when you felt good and strong and sane.
But do not be embarrassed.
Do not be ashamed.
I know that is easier said than done, but hear me out. Stay with me, please.
You see, postpartum depression is an illness — a mental illness — and having it doesn’t make you a bad mom. It doesn’t mean you are weak. It doesn’t mean you are out of control, or your life is out of control (even though it feels that way). And it doesn’t mean you aren’t meant to be a mom.
It doesn’t mean people would be better off without you.
So while you may be hurting right now — while you may feel completely worthless and overwhelmed, ashamed and alone; and while you may feel like you are drowning — like you are kicking, flailing and screaming but no one can reach you, no one can save you — please know that you can come through it all. Even if you cannot see the proverbial light just yet, it is there.
Eventually, the clouds will clear and the sun will rise.
So be gentle with yourself, sweet mama. Try to be patient and understanding. Remember that just because you think something, doesn’t mean it is true. Just because you think you are a bad mom doesn’t mean you are one. Because mental illness lies. Depression lies, and it warps your reality. It makes fact and fiction seem one in the same.
Keep your head up, and your heart open.
Keep fighting, and do not be afraid to ask for help because of the “stigma.” Because the stigma is bullshit. The stigma is in your head, as it was in mine.
Please take care of yourself. For your sake. For your child’s sake. And for your future. I know the prospect of tomorrow is painful right now; the idea of waking up and doing this all over again is overwhelming and the future seems dismal and bleak.
Right now, the idea of any future may seem far away.
But no matter what your disease tells you, no matter what your demons whisper to you in the darkness, just know that you can preserve because your illness can be treated. These feelings will not last forever as long as you hang on and get help.
As long as you do not let the shame consume you. As long as you do not let secrecy silence you.
But most importantly, remember this: You are not crazy. Your thoughts and feelings do not make you a bad person, or a bad mom. And you are worth it.
You’re life is worth it.