I’ll get to Motherhood in a bit. Let’s start with Depression.
I was a pretty melancholy kid. I was shy and awkward, always felt like an outsider, and had no idea how to make friends. I pondered death on a daily basis. I read all the time, mostly to avoid thinking, because thinking quickly turned into brooding. I threw myself into schoolwork, extracurricular activities, and caring for my baby sister Farah because I was afraid of where my mind would go if I ever stopped. This sort of whirlwind propelled me through a successful academic career through college. I had wonderful friends and professors when I was an undergrad and finally managed to develop acceptable social skills. It certainly helped that my college was a residential one; there was always something to do on campus.
How Do Your Motherhood and Depression
I finally hit bottom during my first year in grad school after my ex-boyfriend committed suicide. I just couldn’t cope and had worked out in detail how I would kill myself, and gathered all my supplies. On the cusp of carrying out the act, it occurred to me that my suicide would hurt my sister even more than my ex’s affected me. Farah was only 12 years old. I pulled together the dregs of my survival instinct and called the counseling center at the University of Texas, where I was working on a Ph-D.
I went through individual therapy with a psychologist, was ultimately prescribed antidepressants by a campus psychiatrist, and joined a women’s support group. I leaned on my friends Amanda and Lori, and finally discovered what it felt like not to be depressed. I learned that when I was mentally healthy, I didn’t obsess about death, or even look forward to it. Slowing down still felt dangerous, but I was able to get real enjoyment out of small things, and even started looking forward to the future.
I was still on antidepressants when Lucas and I met, and I was up front with him about my baggage. I made sure he understood that I wasn’t cut out to be a mother, and we wouldn’t be having children. He told me that he did want kids, but we were willing to sacrifice that for a life with me.
After we were married, I’d been on meds for well over a year, and I felt pretty confident about my mental health, I talked to my psychiatrist about weaning off the antidepressants. Under her guidance, and under Lucas’ watchful eye, I reduced my dosage over the course of several months until I was finally drug-free.
It’s been over five years since I stopped taking anti-depressants, and I’ve managed to keep depression at bay. I firmly believe that being on medication taught me what healthy looked like, and I’ve been able to maintain that through self-monitoring and ongoing talk therapy. I get sad, like anyone else, but I also feel truly happy. I actually think I’m a pretty optimistic person.
Depression in Motherhood
There were a lot of reasons that I didn’t think I’d make a very good mother, and a huge one was my history of depression. I wanted my kids to worry about boys and algebra and what sport to play, not what they needed to do to keep Mama from killing herself today. If the latter was even a possibility, I thought our entire family was better off without kids, and I made sure Lucas understood this. He, on the other hand, thought that I had learned to keep my depression under control, and asked me to rethink it.
Finally, in frustration, I went to my therapist and asked her to help bolster my argument that I shouldn’t have kids. After spending an entire year on the subject, I worked through my fears and decided that I was comfortable with the idea of becoming a mother. Lucas was ecstatic at my change of heart, and Melody and Jessica were born less than a year later.
I was acutely aware of my predisposition for postpartum depression. I had my therapist on speed dial, and I warned my husband, mother-in-law, and backup birth coach about the signs to look for. During the haze of the girls’ first day, when I couldn’t see the girlies because they were in the NICU and I was running a post C-section fever, my mother-in-law told me kindly, but firmly, that I wasn’t acting like myself and needed to call my therapist. I talked through my tumult of emotion, mostly guilt and fear, about the girls’ premature birth, and that was it.
I’ve felt sad at times over the three and a half years since that day, sometimes even overwhelmed, but not depressed. As is often the case, Lucas was right. I have learned to keep my depression under control, and I think the self-awareness that the whole experience forced me to develop makes me a better mother. I will always feel like I’m in depression remission, but I think I can stay there if I keep up the effort.
I’m really glad I made that call to the campus counseling center.