My struggle with mental health started when I was in middle school. I could never accept overwhelming feelings in a healthy way and had a serious war with self doubt and blame.
Fast forward to pregnancy in my mid-twenties. I was engaged on a Sunday and that following Wednesday I found out I was pregnant. All I wanted in life was my big fairy tale wedding because, who doesn’t? A few months later in the midst of April, we purchased our fixer upper home and two weeks later our smaller, yet no less perfect wedding came. So. Many. Changes. So much to deal with.
James Joseph O’Halpin IV, came ten days early at the end of September. I was preeclamptic and was lucid for most of the delivery and afterwards.
Then came breastfeeding. I thought delivery was hard, but every time he latched it felt like little knives coming from my nipples. He was a small baby and I was determined to breastfeed because breastfed is best, right? I cried every time he latched. I worried, was he getting enough? I was frustrated, why does he keep falling asleep eating? I was exhausted because I had to wake him up every two hours to eat, because the doctor knows best right? I was angry, because why the F don’t my husband’s nipples work?
I’ve never been one to enjoy being alone and I most definitely identify as co-dependent. But being alone with a newborn during the day was a whole new alone I had never seen coming. I started resenting my husband for getting to leave during the day. HE GOT TO LEAVE AND BE NORMAL. And when he came home, I blamed everything that went wrong on him, knowing it wasn’t his fault. But I just couldn’t stop. I was so resentful.
The hardest part was accepting that I, in fact, was not killing it at this mom game. But why??? I worked with infants and toddlers and have an early childhood degree for christ’s sake. WHY COULD I NOT DO ANYTHING RIGHT? Why did I not enjoy it? I loved him but why didn’t I look like those moms on TV? He was definitely not sleeping through the night, no matter how many “special” contraptions I bought or how many books I read. He was puking every time he ate reducing me to just eating bread because I couldn’t figure out why he continued to puke. So eventually, I just stopped eating. I didn’t want to eat because I was convinced that’s what was making him sick. I didn’t want to eat anything unhealthy because then he would be obese, right?
Then I literally started seeing things. I was so worried about other people holding him but I was afraid to hold him myself. There was this one instance where someone was holding him and his tiny little hat fell to the ground and if you were there at that moment I would have screamed at you to call 9-1-1 because I believed it was his head. HIS HAT FELL OFF AND I THOUGHT IT WAS HIS DAMN HEAD. I had a full on panic attack, because his hat fell? It sounds crazy because it is crazy. What was wrong with me? I wasn’t eating, I wasn’t sleeping, I felt alone, my god-damn nipples hurt all the time (I won’t even go into how my female bits were getting on) and now I had started seeing things.
Eventually, the people who saw what was going on encouraged me to talk to my doctor. I was so ashamed. I was so sure I could do this. But I was literally falling apart.
I remember feeling so helpless and afraid and lost that when I was driving, I was hoping another car would crash into me. I can’t tell you if it’s because I wanted to escape my life or if I honestly just wanted a good nights sleep.
I literally said the words to my husband, my poor husband, “You guys would be better off with out me. I’m just going to fuck him up.” So we got help. I started medication. And it helped. But it didn’t cure me.
It’s Thanksgiving and I can feel my throat closing and my cheeks quivering as I write this. JJ and I fell down seven steps hitting the tile floor at the bottom. I can’t breathe. My vision is blurry and all I see is my 8-week old laying on the tile feet away, my husband screaming “my baby!!!” All I can think of is that he will be in a wheel chair for the rest of his life or worse, I killed my baby. I did this. His head swelled up and he screamed and we all got into the car and drove to the hospital and the only two words I can utter were, “I’m Sorry. I’m Sorry.” I couldn’t look at him. I couldn’t help. I couldn’t sit in the hospital room and look at what I did. He needed his mommy and I couldn’t do it.
All of my fears and anxiety came true that day. And set me back about 50 steps in my recovery.
After a few days at the trauma unit at Robert Wood Johnson, we return home. The stairs are the first thing you see when you step into the house and I couldn’t break the threshold and step into the house. My body literally would not move. Luckily I had a good support system and my husband and mom and in-laws were able to stay with me for a few days until I worked through it. I will never forget all of my family and James’ family for spending their holiday in the hospital with us and supporting us but I will also never forget what I did and it will never stop scaring the ever-living shit out of me.
About a month later I returned to work and I began to feel normal again. I could go on and on about the struggles of motherhood and PPD and Anxiety, but I’ll let you know one thing, IT IS REAL. There is an ideology that “motherhood is just hard”, or “its normal to feel like shit, you just had a baby” but it’s not. None of what I was feeling was normal, as much as I didn’t want to believe I was sick.
I found a clinic that was tethered to the exact care I needed and I started doing more things for myself. I wish I had found it sooner. I needed a little more support than other people, so I stayed on my medication. I learned to ask for help when I began to feel overwhelmed so I wouldn’t get to “that point”. While I am scared, no, pertrified, about having another child for fear of going back to that darkness, I now know there is help out there and I would reach out much earlier.The clinic, my family and a few friends saved my life. But no one saved me more than my son.
I survived PPD and PPA and because of that I am a stronger, better person. And I have JJ to thank for that. I have made it my mission to never allow another mom, especially my friends, feel the way I felt.
We will break the stigma and make Maternal Mental Health a priority.