I’m pleading with you to be quiet for all the moms who can’t tell you how awful you’re being.

Years back, before I had children of my own, I remember hearing “I can’t believe anyone would do that to their children.  Who does that?  What evil possesses a woman to kill her baby?”.  I’m positive that person had no idea of the damage they did in that moment or the continuing impact years later.  Though I didn’t have psychosis following pregnancy, I did have anxiety and depression.  (I shouldn’t use past tense, because my brain never really returned to its former self.)  I kept myself awake at times to avoid the dreams I had of my babies dying because of my mistakes, my failures as a parent.  It felt as if night after night after night, they’d die and somehow, it was always my fault.  Even now, during bouts of particularly strong stress, I’ll hear them cry in my sleep, only to find them deep in slumber in the next room.  As I tiptoe out of their room, I question my sanity and I curl back up under my blanket, knowing that I’ll be doing dishes in less than an hour.  If a stranger were to ask me what my greatest fear is, I’d answer without hesitation, “losing my children, but definitely losing them and it being something I could have prevented”.  Even my ultimate fear is a lesson in irrational thought, because what prevention might be in any given situation is often visible only through hindsight.  I was a babysitter by age 13, working in an infant room at a daycare by age 19, and helping to run a fitness center’s childcare center by age 25.  Taking care of babies was natural to me, normal and comfortable.  At least, it had been.  When I cried trying to change my infant son’s nightgown, afraid I would break his neck, this should have been a warning sign to anyone who saw me struggling at the changing table.  When I specifically bought clothes that didn’t go over the head so that I wouldn’t have to move his arms or maneuver his head through a stretchy hole, this should have been a bright red flag, like the ones when the tide is too high at the beach.  When I said aloud, “I’m afraid I will break him”, like he was a porcelain doll or some other delicate and valuable, yet inanimate thing I’m unconnected to but bound to handle with care, every single person in the room should have known that I needed to see a specialist immediately, that the tide was pulling me under.  But, again, prevention is unbelievably obvious through the lens of experience.  Here’s why we must change how we talk about mothers, about emotional health, about what a “good” mother looks like: I knew I wasn’t ok.  I knew it in the hospital.  I knew it when my husband changed a diaper differently than me and I felt a hatred for him I’ve never felt in my life.  I knew it when I’d wake my baby up because I couldn’t see his chest rise when he was sleeping and I needed to know he wasn’t dead.  I knew it when I’d get coffee and sit in the parking lot and imagine walking away, disappearing, never coming back, believing that my son would be better off without me, that others were more capable than me.  When I thought I might be pregnant the second time, I sobbed on the floor of our living room after seeing that line on the test, confirming what my nausea already told me.  When my husband asked me why I was sad, I couldn’t tell him the truth, that I wasn’t ready, not ready in any way and terrified.  When someone says that a woman is evil for hurting her children, when someone says that they’ll never understand someone who terminates a pregnancy, when church leaders say that a woman’s greatest gift in life is the children she mothers, when husbands say, “why would this make you sad?”, women don’t ask for help because the shame is already too great.  When the words don’t make sense, where there is no logical explanation, when the only thing that keeps coming out is “I don’t want to do this anymore.  I don’t want to be here anymore.” and everyone misses that you’re not ok and says it’s just baby blues, what is there left to do but wait and hope you survive?  It’s not enough to tell a person to tell you when they’re not ok, because by the time a person realizes that about themselves, sometimes the ability and strength to ask for help is gone.  Don’t say it’s just a phase.  Don’t ask questions that have criticism inherent in them, suggesting that these feelings of despair are by choice.  Don’t say trite things that offer no help and instead shame, like, “you’ll miss this” or “children are the greatest blessing, you’ll see”.  When a mother is hurting and struggling, think about what you’re saying and whether it’s actually helpful. Do affirm that being a mother is devastatingly difficult.  Do affirm that only she can be that baby’s mother, that she matters.  Encourage her in all the good things she does, both as a mother and as the person she is outside of motherhood.  If being a mother was happy for you but it clearly isn’t for this particular mom you’re talking to, close your mouth.  She’s already aware that she’s miserable and you’re not providing any support by reminding her there is yet another mom who somehow had a great time.  Please, please, please-think about what you’re saying.  I didn’t ask for help because I didn’t want to be evil.  I didn’t want anyone to think I didn’t love my babies.  I didn’t want anyone to take them from me because I dreamed of all the varieties of harm they might experience.  I didn’t want anyone to send me away until I was “better”, because how could I be better without my babies?  Recently, a mother did kill her children, and you may be tempted to speak negatively about her.  I’m begging you, shut up.  Someone is listening and your callous, insensitive words could be the reason she doesn’t advocate for her needs and slowly loses her sense of reality.  


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