Content Advisory ⚠️ : This post contains strong language and references to intrusive thoughts, depression, and suicide.
I wouldn’t call it that. After all, it’s not that black and white. It’s shades of gray.
I’m a watercolor painting left in the rain, my colors streaming down my face, puddling at my feet, washing away my identity. Who I was is gone, and I am nowhere near who I think I am becoming. I was promised this magical experience and instead I’m left in the ruins of a woman now dead, no gone. Washed away in a landslide, an avalanche of blurry white fuzziness. I can’t see in this haze. Even if I could, would I recognize this face? Would I even want to? How could I let myself slip away so easily?
I’m losing my grip on my identity, my reality replaced with dark rooms and white noise machines. My brain, radio static searching for any coherent station. Can I hear anything? Any fucking thing at all that isn’t screaming at me? Why can’t I figure this out? Why isn’t this natural for me?
From the moment that second pink line greets me, I begin falling, slipping further away from myself. Every waking minute of every day from then on spent nauseous, counting down the weeks until I am promised relief. Twelve weeks come and go, twenty weeks, thirty weeks, fuck, I even throw up walking into the hospital for delivery! The “pregnancy glow” was sweat, nothing but sweat from throwing up every single thing I even thought about eating. Yet everywhere I go I receive a standing ovation for my pregnancy body.
“You look fantastic! Like you’ve barely gained any weight!”
That’s because I haven’t. I have been too sick, too tired, to do anything. I’m barely eating enough to survive, let alone to nourish this baby stealing the nutrients she needed from my very bones.
A newly discovered Coronavirus makes for a lonely end of pregnancy. No one is here to watch my belly grow, no husband by my side at my doctor appointments. A baby shower on Zoom adds the final touch of estrangement to this time– smiling familiar faces gawk through the screen at my large belly, play guessing games over her weight, and watch me open Amazon box after Amazon box of baby gifts.
The immense fear of contracting the virus and birthing on a ventilator haunts my mind every waking second of the day. Will I even be able to see my baby? Anxiety pierces through me like a needle, making my next move feel impossibly painful. My body breaks into a cold sweat as I play through worst case scenarios in my mind. Is the hospital even safe for delivery? How do we protect her when she’s so new?
A medical induction is my doctor’s advice- they are worried she is not growing at the proper rate. My husband and I enter the hospital terrified and alone. Medicine drips from IV bags into my veins, tricking my uterus into thinking it is time. Nurses who have never given birth themselves, judge me when I beg for an epidural at 3 centimeters. They deny my request, leaving me to fare alone in the darkened hospital room, as every contraction rips my pelvis in half, my low back breaking under the pressure.
The morning light eventually comes bringing with it a change of shift and an angel of a woman. A woman who holds the shower head on my low back letting the warm water attempt to offer me any sort of relief. A woman who makes sure I am able to eat a small breakfast and get some water after an intense night of laboring with no sleep. A woman who holds pressure on my back and talks me through each contraction. A woman who keeps me calm and stays with me when my baby’s heart rate monitor start to drop frantically. She holds my hand and whispers reassuring words when the forceps come out and rip my baby from my womb in a lifesaving measure. She stays by my side as the doctors repair my third degree tear. Finally, my baby is cleared medically from the doctors and she brings me my daughter.
I am too tired to reach out for her, so instead she places her on my chest and wraps us both in a warm blanket. I am sure this woman has forgotten my face, blurred with hundreds of other women in the same position I was. But for me, she will forever hold a special place within my memory.
People often ask about the early months, as if it is some magical time full of sleepy baby cuddles and coos. In reality, it is a never ending cluster fuck of bleeding nipples, recovering a vagina-to-anus tear, a constantly crying baby I can’t seem to figure out, and days on end without sleep. No one warns you how much you cry yourself, too. I curl up in the bathtub and let the shower wash over me, sobbing into my knees. A few minutes of surrender, release, interrupted with intrusive thoughts. These voices in my head whispering tragedies to me.
“What if my husband drops her?”
“What if some puts her down and she stops breathing?”
“What if he looks away and the dog bites her?”
“What if the stove catches fire and flames engulf the entire house?” I need to get back to her.
The world moves on quickly, the Facebook comments of congrats offer no life raft as I drown in diapers and spit up. No friends call to check in on us or to offer a cup of coffee. I begin to drown in the new born haze. I search, frantically, trying to cling to something, anything at all to make me feel the stability a mother’s arms are meant to provide, while I hold my daughter in mine.
I must protect her. No matter what the cost.
I can’t sleep. I can’t put her down. I cannot let her leave my arms. From the moment I was handed her little swaddled bundle at the hospital, I have not let her go. I had almost lost her on her way earthside, and I cannot shake the feeling of impending doom. I don’t sleep. I sit on the couch, cradling her sleeping swaddled body, watching her chest rise and fall like a hawk. I cannot peel my eyes away. The second hand ticks, keeping time in this timeless world. The light of the tv illuminates her little face as she rests safely on my chest. I stare out the window, holding my breath, willing the sun to rise. When I see the first rays of gold wash over the horizon, I exhale for what seems like the first time in my life. We survived another night. How many more will we weather like this? How many more hours will be spent waiting for the sun?
The answer is too many. The whispers of inadequacy roar to screams of how much better off they would without me. I begin planning my escape. The only way I can protect her, will be to leave this world behind. I am not a good enough mother and I am exhausted from fighting invisible battles.
Alone. I am so alone. The village I was promised is nowhere to be found. I am lost and wandering these hallow halls of new motherhood. I am gone. Chipped away at slowly but steadily, until I am hollow. My sunken eyes have run out of tears. My breasts have run out of milk. My life has run out of purpose. It is time for me to go. I give away almost everything I own, small trinkets I hope will serve as reminders of me to my loved ones.
There’s a bridge. There’s my escape. There are no take backs, just release. I stare through the darkness toward the water rushing under my feet. I pray it’ll take me far away from here, far enough away I will never be found. Never have to be identified. Just gone.
Slowly, rays of sun begin to paint my skin golden. I turn and cling to a streetlight as I crumble to my knees.
I scream so loud and for so long, but no one comes to save me.
I drag myself back home. Tattered and alone, I pick up my phone and dial my doctor.
“I need help.”
I choke on the words but they find the will to escape my throat.
I must protect her at all costs.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741 to reach a trained counselor at the Crisis Text Line. Additionally, if you or someone you know is struggling with postpartum depression, visit the Postpartum Support International’s help page here.