I must tell you that I didn’t hurt the children. Before I begin, before you listen and pity and judge, that must first be known.
It was early May when the putrid water of postpartum depression first lapped at my feet. I was by myself, I think. Or maybe the children were sleeping – they were still so young, both taking two naps a day. I was watching television or online or maybe I had just flipped through the paper, but I fell upon a story of a husband of a woman who had killed her children. He stood at a podium – it must have been on television – telling a crowd that he should’ve known, that he couldn’t have known, that there were signs, that there were no signs. He stood, hopeless and bereft, unable to answer the questions asked of him. He stood aimless, unable to face his empty home and heart.
Pulled in by a current, I saw the rest of them as I tried to stay afloat: the one who drowned her babies in the bathtub; the one that drove the car into the lake, her children buckled in the backseat; the one that starved her child until he looked like an infant; the one that put her crying baby in the oven because she didn’t know what else to do. These women – they tried to have children only to find the abyss inside of them deepening, swallowing them as they took the lives they created. And though I didn’t hear voices, and God wasn’t telling me anything, in that moment on my couch I became convinced that I would wake one day, perhaps not too far off, having become one of these women. Would I grab a knife, or drop her out of the window, or wrap a blanket around her face? Or would I turn inwards, my anxiety scraping away at the underside of my skin until it broke through and I took all the pills at once?
I had been off my meds for six months. It was a planned stoppage, one I’d spoken to doctors about, one that I knew was necessary so as to not transfer the drugs to my new baby. I convinced myself it was sleep deprivation, that it was the infections in my breasts, that it was my mother. I convinced myself that it was outside of me, that if only these things got better I’d be okay. So I went about my life, ignoring the swirling tide pools that gathered at my feet when I stood still.
The crux happened during a Radiohead concert, like a terrible dénouement that had been building since the 90s. I stood shoulder to shoulder and watched Thom Yorke on stage and as the backdrop of prisms flashed and spun, I could see the waves building. I tried to hide from them in the invisible trench inside of me, the one I had dug out years ago, but it was no use. I sank down into the darkness, my breath escaping me too fast and though I tried to swim, the safety of the shore was out of reach. I was drowning in a vast and endless sea. The sizzling underneath my skin, the prickling in my veins, the churning of my stomach, the extra beats of my heart. "I’m dying," I called out to no one. "I’m dying I’m dying."
The next morning I went alone to the doctor. I was questioned at length: Are you home by yourself with the children at all? No. Have you had suicidal thoughts? No. Do you feel you might hurt your children? No. I knew how to answer. Three prescriptions later, I stood in the pharmacy, crying into the telephone, my husband on the other end helpless with fear. He was losing me.
When I went on medication after my diagnosis – postpartum obsessive thoughts and catastrophic anxiety – it got a little better, though in retrospect I’m sure that was just the sedatives I was on. Help surrounded me, and though it lessened my fear of myself, it was always there, off to my left, Nel’s little grey ball of unimaginable acts. At dawn I would lie in my bed, in between sleep and wakefulness, still cradled by my dreams of magnificent nothingness. For a moment, I was without my diagnosis, without the dread that I had broken something that couldn’t be fixed. Then it would disappear, like the green flash of a setting sun over the ocean, elusive and fleeting.
I don’t often talk about it – this new problem that has no name. When I do, people undoubtedly wish to be sympathetic and toss words around like "baby blues" and "sadness" and I want to tear at their throats. When my mother sees me with my hair brushed and lipstick on, I know that she is proud that I have overcome my issues and that I, like Esther, have made the decision to get better.
Now, every single morning that I wake my coping mechanisms kick in – avoid this, do this, don’t do that, stay away from that person and on and on until the ripples of management have found their way to the farthest parts of my being. Now I take four pills a day. Now I eat, sleep, exercise, repeat, and lean in to that tide, swim out farther than I feel I should, just to see if I can still touch the bottom.
This article was originally published on Cold Creek Review.