By Cheyenne Green
I don't remember the first time I thought of killing myself, but it seemed like the natural evolution of things at the time. All I had ever been taught was how wonderful motherhood would be. Why was it so hard for me? Despite all that I had been through, I believed that if I felt this way, I wasn't doing something right. I told myself I was damaged, unfit. I would be doing the world a favor if I just killed myself.
Maija was born in November. The dark winter days of Northern Utah can be unbearable.
Maija's cleft extended from her lip through her soft palate. She wore an apparatus that had to be taped to her face and cleaned daily. She bottle-fed two or three times a night, and I pumped during each feeding. Each session lasted 45 minutes or more. During the day, she cycled through 20-minute catnaps. I was exhausted, my milk was running out, and my husband worked 15-hour days. I was alone. A lot.
Once, at two or three in the morning, I was sitting on my spot on the couch burping my daughter after a feeding. Tears streamed down my hot face, and the thought played out slowly in my mind like the contrails of a sky-writer, "God, just do it already. You aren't helping her or yourself by sticking around."
The religion of my youth didn't provide room for mental illness. Is this how all mothers felt? Or just the apostate ones?
One day, my mother held Maija as I folded my washrags—in a perfect, measured stack. The lines stacked perfectly, and I folded them in the same routine. My mother stared at me briefly, noticing the pristine piles, turned to my baby and said, "Your mommy's crazy." She thought she was teasing me. That same week, my mother-in-law asked if the baby blues had gone away. I said they hadn't. "That's weird," she said. "They'll go away eventually." I kept to myself that on the way over to her house, I had considered tossing my baby out the car window.
You'd think, that with 10 children between them, these women would have some understanding of what it's like to demand perfection from your laundry or want to toss your baby out? Surely, at least once, stepping into traffic sounded like a pretty damn good idea, right?
What kind of a monster was I?
Maija's first surgery came and went. She could breathe and sleep and smile and eat unencumbered. Things settled. I stopped pumping and we all started sleeping more. But the darkness did not leave. And I couldn't remember a time when I felt happy. I imagined myself driving off overpasses and getting buried in avalanches. Despite my background in the field of mental health, that childhood shame reared its ugly head and suffocated me like a life jacket that was too small. I knew that this had to be punishment for walking away from my faith and religion. I figured I'd be going to hell, or wherever unfit mothers go. A special spot in eternal damnation.
And I welcomed it. It couldn't be worse than where I was.
Depression lies to you. It tells you that you are worthless. The darkness of life is impenetrable. Anger and resentment rise spontaneously from hidden chasms within you. Your child—this precious tiny life—is a sad, demanding intruder who you know would be better off without you.
I am one of the lucky ones. My doctor connected me to a therapy practice devoted to women's mental health. I wasn't crazy, she insisted. I had postpartum mood disorders and they were treatable.
Light began to seep back into my life. I allowed myself to rely on the company and strength of my husband and my friends.
Sixteen months after the birth of my daughter, my son Malcolm was born. Things were less complicated with his pregnancy and birth, but I braced myself for the impending darkness and made plans to return to therapy.
This month, I am three years postpartum. I no longer bear the burden of shame. Depression doesn't have to win. I am able to ask for help. I rely on my family, and find comfort in their patience and support. It is impossible to raise children alone, and it is impossible to heal in a vacuum. Find those who will buoy you up. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to raise healthy mothers.
Cheyenne is a restless mother of two, married to the love of her life. She is the mental health director of the maternal mental health advocacy group This Mama Wines, based in New Orleans, Louisiana. She enjoys writing, critiquing movies, sampling new cuisines, restoring old vehicles, and studying the patterns and motives of criminal deviancy. One day she hopes to restore a '63 Corvette Stingray with her hubs and drive it across the country in search of the best bbq.