When I began to piece together arrangements for bringing my baby home in 2015, I worked to fill every gap I could possibly imagine. I planned to have my mother here to help with daily chores. I arranged meals to come in from the church. I organized dog walkers to help with Baylor. I wrote a list on my fridge of daily and weekly to-do’s. I washed, folded and organized all the baby clothes in advance and tucked them neatly into drawers. I put together “welcome” stockings for houseguests filled with lotions and other treats to sustain them while at our home. I carefully planned for every possible need that would arise.
I did not, however, plan my suicide.
I did not think suicide would be a want or a need. I did not know that desire would even cross my mind.
I anticipated several weeks of haywire hormones, inexplicable tears, and fatigue. “Baby blues,” they call it. I knew I’d need community and the support of my family. I even asked my closest friends, family and former mentors to write words of encouragement in a book that I left by my rocking chair and read periodically. Words that did, indeed, act as life rafts to me in those early days.
Yet, I found myself rocking my screaming baby saying my goodbyes. I crawled into my closet with echoes of Summer’s cries in the background and clenched my pill-filled fist. I had a plan. I had tools to accomplish my plan. I was about to end my life.
I cried. I cried, hard. I never knew life had corners this dark. To admit that I hated motherhood felt sinful. I felt inhumane. I felt ashamed.
But, I did. I hated motherhood. I truly felt her life would be better without me. I sincerely believed I was doing everyone a favor by dying. If I could not console my baby, who cried 4-5 hours straight a day despite interventions, then clearly I was not a good mom. People from a distance insisted my baby wasn’t difficult and, “was just a normal baby,” reinforcing the idea that I just couldn’t be a good mom.
Thankfully, this plan came to a screeching halt when I heard my downstairs door slam just before I ingested the pills. I climbed out of my closet and walked downstairs to find one of my best friends in my living room. God preserved my life that day.
When I mentioned my sentiments to some people, they blamed sleep deprivation. Others attributed my feelings to having a difficult baby. Regardless, I felt I was drowning. I had a zillion supports surrounding me in the form of family, friends, Scripture, etc. Yet I did not want to cling to any of them. Not only was I tired, I was deeply depressed.
For 6 months, Ryan left for work without knowing if he would return to a family that was dead or alive. Present or gone. The trepidation and traumatizing anxiety that plagued his daily life is unspeakable.
The day of the closet incident, Ryan came home and cried. He cried a cry I hope I never witness again and he hugged me tighter than I have been hugged before. He pleaded with me to get help. I called the doctor and found myself sitting before a nurse practitioner within 5 hours of my phone call. Thankfully, I attend a gynecology practice that is abreast on postpartum mental health and takes such calls seriously.
Postpartum Depression (PPD) is the number one complication of childbirth, yet it is the least discussed. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) at least 1 in 8 women suffer from PPD. Too many cases go undiagnosed. Countless lives, including the lives of infants, are taken annually from PPD and Postpartum Psychosis (a variation of PPD causing hallucinations and a break from reality). Neurological research shows noted physical changes in the brains of women who suffer from perinatal mental health diagnoses, yet it is a muted topic.
Far less discussed is the crossroads of PPD and colic. But that’s for a different day.
Women are so frequently told that motherhood is the highest honor. That to be a mother is the most rewarding job. That a baby is one’s greatest achievement.
We are told that we are stronger than we think. That children are God’s greatest gift. Christian women are told to “not fear” to “not be overwhelmed” and “to trust God.” The result in the church often leads to women being perceived as spiritually immature rather than sick. They receive correction instead of grace.
I am grateful this was not my experience. I had a church and a community who extended grace upon grace. I have friends who, though admittedly knew very little about PPD, were open to learning and accepting my diagnoses rather than denying its existence. I was surrounded by a medical community who treated my condition as seriously as they would a heart attack.
And, I’m glad. Because had they not acted with urgency, I would not be here to hold my baby. I would not be here to date my husband. I would not be here to laugh with my friends. I would not be here to celebrate new seasons of life with my family.
PPD is not immaturity. It is not weakness. It is not sleep deprivation. It is not “just hormones.” It is not the result of life adjustments.
It is an illness.
Like gestational diabetes, it is a physical disease (as shown by science) that impacts the biochemistry of the brain. I will spare you the neuro-nerdy talk, but to put it simply – the brains of women with PPD are shaped differently. This is not an emotional breakdown, it is a sickness that too often leads to death.
If you know a mother who admits to feelings of sadness, hopelessness, anxiety, or a general disdain of motherhood or her baby – do not blame fatigue. Do not sit back and blame satan. Is that what you would do if she admitted to chest pains or a lump on her breast?
Treat her comments with urgency. Pray fervently and ask her to seek professional help. Seeking professional help is part of the spiritual battle. Do some research and learn what PPD is and how to support her best during this time. Support the spouse, as limited resources exist for partners.
To say Ryan and I have required a season of healing on the heels of my PPD and Summer’s colic is an understatement.
I chose to remain quiet on this specific issue of PPD as the Lord healed my soul. I had to step away from Facebook for several months when Summer was younger because I needed space to heal and to hear from God. Ryan and I have needed to seek healing and restoration in our marriage, because we were wounded by the harsh hits of both colic and PPD. With the support of our local community and our families, we feel we are turning the page.
We just returned from our “healing vacation.” It was a vacation the Lord had us plan over a year ago. God gave us two scriptures from Isaiah months before we departed – One was that He was giving us “beauty for ashes” and the other was that “our days of mourning shall be ended.”
Oh, how grateful we are to be ending this chapter. How grateful we are for how He changed us and strengthened us through this hardship. We delight in how our marriage has been fortified and how our intimacy has been deepened through the last year. And we greatly anticipate the upcoming newness and beauty He has for us.
May is Postpartum Depression Awareness Month. I share my story with difficulty, because it grieves my heart to know how close I came to missing out on my joyful Summer Marie. It hurts beyond words to know my family almost had to plan my funeral far too early. But, I equally rejoice in the goodness of God who supernaturally intervened and saved my life.
I share my story because I feel as though most people do not know what PPD is. Most people assume it’s simply “feeling sad.” Many people blame an emotional breakdown due to hormones and/or a spiritual attack, instead of understanding the legitimate physical and cognitive implications of the disease.
I purposefully am writing this as we turn the chapter. It’s important close friends and family who read this know that I am not currently suffering with PPD. I love motherhood, and cannot imagine life without my little Summershine. Because of God’s grace and mercy, I am in a completely different place today than I was a year ago. Because of His goodness and sovereignty, my marriage is better today than it has ever been.
Please do not worry about us, for our season of this particular hardship has come to an official close. (Thank you, Jesus!) We appreciate your prayers of support as we continue in the healing work God has done in us. We also invite you to take action by educating yourself and speaking up when a mama seems down.
So, you may not choose to read scholastic articles on PPD, but for the sake of all things that are good – do something. Read something. Watch something. Choose to be aware of this terminal illness so that you can help save lives.
Consider watching and sharing this documentary on PPD and Postpartum Psychosis
Read and share this article published in Christianity Today about PPD
Check out this website with tools for moms and partners
Share my story with your friends and family to help raise awareness