Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Really Dark Days

I have a confession to make: after Max was born, I never cried or felt anything resembling dispair. I never wondered if I was making a terrible mistake by attempting to raise a child or if I would ruin his life by virtue of being his mother. Between the sciatic nerve injury to my left leg that I sustained while in labor (ohh, that horrible sciatic nerve) and the ordinary difficulties of learning to nurse and how to sleep again now that I was fully responsible for a person who was both helpless and deeply loved, I had plenty of physical struggles, but no mental or emotional ones.

Pretty amazing, considering that less than ten years before, I had survived some incredibly dark days.

I thought about dying, every day. When I say that I thought about it, I don't mean that I thought about how terrible it would be to die with so much of my life left unlived. I thought about how my mother would be sad but would be able to worry less. I thought about how I seemed to be interrupting everyone's life, including my friends and even the Olive Garden customers who I waited on for a living. I thought about what a relief it would be to not feel the incredible weight of all the pain that seemed to be leaching from me.

On a good day, I would get out of bed, take a shower, and walk to class--and then, at the door to my classroom, I would turn around and walk home, lock the door behind me, and get back into bed. On a bad day, I would never get out of bed at all, except maybe to throw up. And the whole time, I thought about dying.

A lot of strange and terrible things happened to me to contribute to all of this, including my brain becoming (apparently) temporarily but horribly mis-wired. Eventually something even more strange and terrible jolted me out of the black hole that I was in, and I got therapy and medication and realized that I could do more than just hold on, that with help I could fight the darkness and eventually, even if everything would never be perfect for me, even if I would never be perfect, I would eventually feel something besides damaged and gutted and as though I would always be lying in the gutter with the world's foot on my neck.

And I did. And I do. And my life isn't perfect, but I have Max, and Dan, and every day, I get out of bed and I do the best, the absolute best that I can for them. It is my deepest hope that every day, I do it like I'm dying. Because I'm not.

In that year that I was in the dark, I thought about hurting myself a lot, but I never thought of hurting anybody else.

This afternoon, I saw this story--please beware, this is a terrible story and I can't fathom what it must have been like to have to write it, let alone live through it. It's the story of a multiple-murder-suicide in Texas, the only survivor of which is an 8-month-old, and if that's all you need to hear to understand, by all means, don't read this story.

I can't fathom what it would be like to go through everything I went through ten years ago with a child, especially an infant. But women do it all the time--they do it every day. Mostly they find the help they need, and they make it out of the dark. But God, what they go through is unimaginable.

Being a parent, a mother, is a hard job. It's the hardest job I've ever felt compelled to be great at. But it's also the most important thing that I will ever do. I am compelled to do it right, not perfectly, but right. Most mothers, I think, feel this way.

New Jersey Governor John Corzine recently signed into law a bill that requires screening for postpartum depression. There are other bills to this end in the works in a number of states.

I think it goes without saying for those of us--and I know that there are many of us, who've lived through dark days like these. Those of us who've suffered, and our loved ones, should not have to struggle unnecessarily.

It is so sad, just so goddamned fucking sad, that the medical profession, as a whole, has to be legislated to care for the mental health of their patients, not just the physical health. As patients, we have to order our government to order our physicians to care for all of us. I can't believe that this is the way it should be.

I think, I really believe, that every woman who gives birth in America should be screened for postpartum depression. I don't think that this is the heart of our health care crisis, but I think that it is part of it.

Mothers will have dark days, I know. It's the nature of the beast. But eventually, the light should come on. We should be able to leave those dark days behind.


merseydotes said...

I have two friends that have had babies in the past six months. They both had some level of post partum depression. One friend realized it and went to the doctor for help. The other friend went to the doctor and got a prescription for Prozac but decided she didn't like the idea of taking that stuff while breastfeeding and so she didn't take the Prozac. She later admitted to another friend that she was having suicidal thoughts. And yet, she somehow thought it was more important to breastfeed the baby instead of taking an anti-depressant. Something is wrong with our country if the La Leche League mindset outweighs the idea of PPD moms getting the help they need.

As as a side note, I'm sorry for the dark times you went through. I'm glad you're doing better now.

Trina said...

I really, really hate how common those sorts of headlines are becoming. I started crying the second I opened the article. It scares me how lightly people treat PPD, it's yet another one of those disorders people don't want to believe it so they write it off as whatever makes the most sense to them. Even if you don't believe in it, multiple mother/child murder-suicides should at least be proof that maybe something should be done. I agree with you about the screening mothers thing.