I remember that day in the shower. I was sitting on the floor feeling the water rush over me until it went cold. Travis was out doing errands. Baby Kate was taking a nap. It was so quiet in the house, except for the running of the shower. And my mind… my mind was never quiet.
Showers were my escape. Well, many things were escapes for me. The sound of the shower seemed loud enough to cloud out my racing thoughts, worries, concerns. Showers had become my only form of self-care, or rather, self-survival.
Let’s be honest. I was barely surviving. I felt as though I was drowning and just barely treading water most days. You know how hard it is to tread water? That’s how I felt. Every. Single. Day. For the past 9 months.
I didn’t notice it at first. I had a relatively uneventful, though somewhat unplanned, pregnancy. I knew I always wanted to be a mother and after several family members and friends were having difficulty getting pregnant, I convinced my husband we should try to get pregnant sooner rather than later. Lo and behold, we got pregnant immediately. After the initial shock and awe, we were thrilled! Then, rather instantaneously, the guilt set in. I had a kind of ‘survivor’s guilt’ in that I was the only one around me able to get pregnant. I knew that the guilt was unnecessary and ungodly, but it was so hard to escape the stronghold.
As my pregnancy progressed though, I felt better and better. I also was told I would have to have a C-section because Kate was breech. This was devastating to me. I heard stories of my mother’s 3 natural, unmedicated pregnancies my entire childhood. Without realizing it, I had accepted the belief that to be a real mother, you must also have a ‘real’ birth. To have a C section was ‘weak’ and ‘unnatural.’ So, I did yoga, hypnotics, meditation, prayer, cold ice pack, physical manipulation, everything to get my baby to magically flip. She never did.
After I accepted the fact I’d have a C-section, the rest of my pregnancy was great. I had tons of energy, I was still jogging and exercising until the day before I delivered, and overall, felt loved and taken care of. Toward the end of my pregnancy, I had a multitude of ‘stressors’ that I now see as a perfect set up for my to-be postpartum depression. I moved across country with no support systems and difficulty getting immediate prenatal care, graduated medical school and started residency, my dad suffered from a stroke, and my husband took a new demanding job. All while finances were not stable.
I went into labor before my scheduled C section. It was unnerving, but continues to be a great story years later. Nonetheless, my actual labor, delivery, and surgery was fairly unremarkable. I had never had surgery before though, so physical recovery from a C section was so foreign to me. I was in good health, which helped, but I still winced in pain with every cough, sneeze and subtle shift in movement.
When I left the hospital, everything just seemed like a daze. And that’s how it remained. I merely assumed I was sleep deprived, that all moms feel this way. Tired, “not myself,” irritable, anxious, racing thoughts. I went through the motions and did things because I thought I ‘should,’ without regard to what I truly wanted or believed in. I had the beautiful newborn photos, the monthly photos, the sip n’ see party. I searched for the best kind of childcare and toured multiple daycares and met with potential nannies. I breastfed like a pro and pumped extra. Motherhood became all about a running to-do list. I never stopped to acknowledge what I was actually experiencing. And never once considered my true emotions. I felt ‘wrong’ for having bad emotions.
Through it all, I felt completely alone. And I was for the most part. I didn’t know any other women with young children and the few mom acquaintances I did know were either stay at home mothers or had older children. I felt as though no one understood me and my situation.
The thing is with emotions, they don’t just go away. They often turn into projections and defenses and rear themselves in several unhealthy relationship patterns. Except in depression. In depression, you just become numb. After suppressing your emotions, wants, and needs for so long, you become numb to what is truth. When you become numb for so long, you eventually fantasize about ways to feel again or at least ways to escape.
I would dream of getting in a car accident or of never waking up in the morning. I had convinced myself that because I couldn’t feel much (except anger or sadness), that my loved ones didn’t feel much either and wouldn’t miss me if I were gone. I thought my daughter and husband would be better off without me.
Then, I stopped breastfeeding.
About a week after weaning, the thoughts and feelings just seemed to stop. Everything in life seemed to slow down. At work, I was still functional, but I began to make small mistakes and became forgetful of details that I would never forget in the past. I would forget to pay bills on time or bring essentials to daycare for my daughter. I quite literally felt as though I was walking in quicksand every day.
My rock bottom hit me in the shower. The cold water trickling over me. Tears streaming down my face. Dreaming of an escape. Praying for a cure. Ashamed that I couldn’t get better. All at once, I seemed to find clarity writing on the bathroom wall.
Crying more than normal, forgetful, poor concentration, sadness and apathy, emptiness, loneliness, irritable and angry with loved ones, dysfunction at work, poor sleep, foggy thinking, slowed movement, difficulty with attachment to baby… it was all there. Stressors: anxiety in pregnancy, move, new job, poor health of loved one, C section, poor social support, lack of sleep, weaning from breastfeeding…
I will never know how I got myself up off that shower floor. To this day, I feel as though my guardian angel actually lifted me up. But what came next was a true Godsend.
I first told my husband about some of my dark thoughts and told him I thought I needed help. I assumed he would judge me or convince me I just needed to pray more. Instead, he said, “I agree, Stefani. I think you need help. We’ll get you help.”
Ah, just like that, my road to recovery began. I breathed a sigh of relief and in that moment, it was as though a million pounds of bricks were lifted from my shoulders. I felt a peace and lightness that I didn’t know I could feel. Just giving myself permission to get help was transcendent above all my current struggles.
Stefani Reinold is psychiatrist and perinatal mental health specialist in Virginia. She is an army wife, mother of 2, and postpartum depression survivor herself. She is a Texas native, a Christian, minimalist-in-training, and Pinterest-failure. She believes it takes a village to not only raise a baby, but to care for a new mother.
You can find Stefani on Instagram.