The Darkness Behind My Smile
I am laying against the wall with my fingers in my ears.
My eyes are closed shut.
I feel the pressure of my husband’s hand on my back.
Holding my breath for a few moments too long, my teeth are clenched.
I never knew I had so many tears.
I never knew I could be in a world of people but feel like I am stuck in a box, alone, in the dark.
He quickly leaves the room for a moment and suddenly I hear my four-month-old, Nafshi, crying in his pack-and-play.
Circular thoughts are screaming in my mind again and again.
I am sorry.
I am really sorry.
I don’t know why I am like this.
Why can’t I be a good mom?
Why can’t I be a good wife?
I am sorry.
Time goes by and my husband, Netanel, is able to systematically calm my breathing.
I am so mad at myself, feeling disgusted with my inability to cope.
It’s getting dark and we are supposed to be at a Purim Seudah.
But I can’t move.
I had been this way for a while.
I had waited for months to see a psychiatrist due to secretary after secretary saying there were no available appointments. I initially called when Nafshi was two months old. And finally saw the doctor four months later.
For the first few weeks postpartum, it was exhaustion. I had a low supply of breast milk and I was trying around the clock to nurse, pump, nurse, and pump. The pressure was on.
YOU NEED TO GIVE YOUR BABY YOUR LIQUID GOLD.
The nurses had yelled at me day one postpartum and they grabbed my breast and shoved it into Nafshi’s mouth, I was sobbing. It really hurt and I felt like a failure already. But I felt like I needed to do this for my baby. The nurses yelled at me and told me I had baby blues.
Friends and family tried to support me but they didn’t know what I needed. I, myself, did not know what I needed.
Days went by and when I wasn’t caring for my baby, I was laying in bed. I couldn’t sleep. Netanel and I took turns with Nafshi but I couldn’t even utilize the time I got alone because my brain wouldn’t turn off. I would think about all the things I did wrong that day, how I wasn’t surviving being a mom, and question my inability to just be happy.
Weeks went by and one night I left the apartment, stood on the other side of the street where I faced the river.
Tears uncontrollably spilled out of my eyes. I turned to G-d.
G-d. I want to be a good mom.
Why is this so hard for me?
I nursed and nursed. I did every natural way to increase my supply. I spoke to many experts. I tried a lot of things. And some may say I didn’t try hard enough.
It can’t be Postpartum Depression (PPD) because I feel a connection with my baby.
So why can’t I keep it together? Why am I like this?
Once I went back to work I pumped twice a day in a closet. I would bring home two ounces of milk- proud of myself but unsure if I was being my best. I stopped pumping at six months.
My Grandma passed away in early March. I spoke at her funeral and expressed how much she meant to me. I was poised and put together. I moved the whole room.
My grandmother was one of my role models in life. While Azlehimer’s had taken her cognition away years ago, I had visited her throughout the years and valued her life in sickness and in health.
But I held my tears in and focused on being a good mom.
A good daughter. A good sister. A good wife.
Striving to be the best- I held myself to a standard where I was never enough.
I worked in special education by day and by night I’d give my all to Nafshi. If I wasn’t attending to him and engaging with him, I wasn’t being the best. On the weekends, I didn’t rest. I spoke to Nafshi about everything we were doing. We read books, but I felt three a day was not enough. We went on sensory walks where we would touch the leaves, the bark, the fences, anything and everything we passed. I was experiencing extreme anxiety about not providing enough experiences for Nafshi.
Finally, I got to a psychiatrist and he said the dose of the SSRI I had been on for a couple of years was extremely low. Over time he upped the dose. I explained to him that about 2-3 times a week I was in bed having what I called a ‘full-body depressive scenario’; hardly breathing, crying for hours, and trying my hardest not to bang my head against the wall over and over again.
My psychiatrist was the one who gave me hope. I had a feeling I had Postpartum Depression and after six months of waiting for the proper treatment, I was given the diagnosis. My previous psychologist had tried to help me but I think what I was experiencing was beyond her expertise so I ended things.
I spoke with my new psychiatrist every other week and we worked together to get me on a dose that allowed me to live a functional life.
Things changed, Covid-19 lead to quarantine, and the lack of social interaction had me in bed a lot. I was still trying to be the best wife, employee, mom, and friend.
Days were going by and I wasn’t sure if PPD would ever go away. I wanted to get back to myself.No one knew what went on in my mind. I did my best to smile a lot.
Someone told me I look happy because I smile all the time. You would never know that after a day of smiling, I went into bed and couldn’t breathe from crying and asking G-d to help me.
I moved to Philadelphia at the beginning of August. I wish I could say that by nine months postpartum I feel good. Unfortunately, I can’t. I can say that I am trying. I can say that after four months of searching, I finally found a psychologist who can actually help me. I can also say that my husband has been through hell. But he is there for me. He listens and helps me breathe. He pushes me to see the good about myself.
If you think that those around you couldn’t have PPD, you’re wrong.
If you think that those around you don’t have any internal struggles, you are wrong.
And if you have or had PPD, I see you and I hope you see the strength within yourself, too.
Right now: I am here. I have a beautiful
nine-month-old and a husband who loves me.
And I am trying to love me too.
Arielle is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst who works with individuals with severe disabilities. She lives with her husband and baby in South Philadelphia.