Washington - "Is there a way to kill yourself without hurting the baby?" I Googled one night.
"Do children of parents who kill themselves have increased risk of depression?" I followed up, thinking about my three-year-old.
The answer to the first is probably not. The answer to the second is a resounding yes.
This plan, now ruined, was my escape hatch, devised during my second pregnancy. I couldn't find practitioners who didn't dismiss my symptoms as "just pregnancy," and I knew my desolation was affecting my family, so I wrote a letter one night, apologizing for my inadequacy. I did this just in case.
At my first prenatal visit, brimming with morning sickness, I met a peppy midwife. She congratulated me on being pregnant. I wanted to punch her in the head.
I told her I'd never been more miserable in my entire life.
"Aww, you're just pregnant," she smiled.
I could tell she thought I was just another mother overwhelmed by first-trimester afflictions, and she wasn't entirely wrong. For God's sake, I carried around half a lemon in my bag as armor against nausea triggers, which bizarrely, included things like cardboard.
I told her it was beyond pregnancy. It was depression unlike I'd ever known.
She shrugged and said that I was pregnant and there wasn't much they could do.
She told me she would request a mental health provider contact me, but it would be at least six weeks. Nobody ever called.
I'm not part of the demographic cited in studies on Detroit's poor maternal care. I am white and educated with a PhD, steady income and a car. All of these resources, and still I felt powerless. I could not even imagine what women without my means experienced. The guilt, it seemed, never abated.
When I whispered that maybe I didn't want to be a mom again, I was told how grateful I should be. I was pregnant, after a miscarriage no less. I could tell with every interaction - the quizzical looks, the uncomfortable silences - that I was committing a societal sin. "You used to be so strong," my mother lamented on the phone one night just before we hung up.
Unchecked, the depression begot crippling panic attacks. I bordered on the agoraphobic. I was prescribed a low dose of Zoloft (a medication with which I was familiar and which had previously done nothing for me). I asked about clonazepam, the only medication that has ever quelled my panic attacks.
I mentioned a recent JAMA article about its relative safety, but anti-anxiety medication is still as stigmatized as the mothers who seek it. I swallowed the sanctioned blue pill later that evening, knowing that it was like throwing a Tic Tac into the abyss.
I would scroll through social media comparing myself with other expectant women, beaming and cradling their bellies. I wondered if they ever felt like me, ever seethed with resentment that their body was no longer their own and then felt guilty about it. I wondered if they ever looked through a window and then thought about jumping.
One day, a Facebook mom group yielded a therapist in a nearby suburb. I contacted the practice, and found some relief. I could finally relinquish my thoughts in a safe space. I could rage and sob and still feel validated. Here, I was not just a byproduct of some hormonal stew.
A few days before my due date, my daughter asked how the baby would know how to find her way out of the darkness. She insisted that she be there to hold a flashlight between my legs. She wanted to be like Polaris, a guidepost for this little being burrowing into the world. Her empathy evoked tears from me (admittedly, not that hard to do in those final, hormonal days of pregnancy).
I too, had sought Sherpas across cities and cyberspace to usher me out of my own mental bedlam, but had been brushed off by medical professionals clad in white coats. They only worsened the pain, and the darkness. It had taken nearly the entirety of my pregnancy to finally find the flares.The Washington Post