Yesterday, I was having a particularly rough time and whining to Mr. TFT about my anxiety, stress and exhaustion. His response? "Well, check out what I just sent you. Maybe that will help." When I opened what he'd sent me? I started crying, because, you guys? It was HIS side of MY story. HIS story, really. And it hurt to read. To remember the pain, the struggle, and all the things I missed. It hurt to know that I had put my family through that. But at the same time, it was a beautiful reminder of what I tell other moms all the time: You are not alone. Whether it's a husband, a friend, a parent, a sibling, or an internet support group you've never met in person (HOLLA to the other Postpartum Progress Warrior Moms). It was also a good reminder to myself not to feed the stigma that we are working so hard to break. Maternal mental illness is NOT something we put our families through--that implies, in my mind, an active choice. It's an illness, like any other.
And now, without further ado, Mr. TFT's story.
Using this as armor has often protected me, but it isn't impenetrable. It does degrade and in two instances it failed me entirely. The two moments of my life that I was afraid. Not horror movie jump scare afraid. Not weird sound when you're home alone afraid, but truly dreading the next beat of your heart, uncertain what that moment will unveil.
The first happened when my wife was 22 weeks pregnant with our first child. The abdominal pain came in waves, slowly at first but becoming more frequent and rapidly. A call to her nurse yielded instructions no future parent wants to hear. "Go to the ER, you might be in labor." That's when the mind goes into rapid fire, when most people start to panic. Fortunately the armor still held, so I helped my wife into the car and we hurriedly drove to the hospital. As she lay there hooked up, still in pain, I listened to the beating heart of my little boy uncertain if it would be my last opportunity. My father frequently told me when I was growing up that sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. That day we were lucky. It was not labor, but another medical issue far easier treated. Our little boy would yet have the opportunity to terrorize his parents, which he does to great effect.
The second time happened just days after we welcomed our precious daughter into this crazy world. After coming home from having an epidural blood patch my wife laid down for some rest. She slept hard which I was thankful for, she definitely needed the rest. When she awoke, well when she awoke our entire lives changed. She trembled from head to toe. Every thought, every word was a worry, where's my baby, is she hurt, is she breathing, what's wrong with me. Over and over. The panic wouldn't relent. After several hours trying to help herrelax and at the urging of the women's hospital nurse, who was consulted to see if this could be a result of the EBP, we went to the ER. As we sat in the tiny room in the ER my armor was battered and cracked. My wife wasn't in control. My smart, witty wife had only one thing on her mind and that was that everything was falling apart. The doctor recommended an injection that would physically calm her, but the worry would persist and the breastfeeding would end. I'm not certain what our other options really were, but I was willing to sacrifice the boat if it would save my wife. She took the shot.
Unfortunately this day we were not lucky. The past two years have been a battle, a struggle for every inch of ground. The casualties have been measured in time. Time my wife lost in those first months that she can barely recollect. The moments missed as our daughter went through her series of firsts. The times where family walks were force of habit rather than moments of peace and joy. The constant anxiety, the worries about details not worth mentioning otherwise. Every day I see my wife, through her eyes the fight for control. The struggle to be herself. Some days I see her achieve incredible victories, others a routing defeat. When her breathing picks up and you can see the worry set in, she'll tell me; I'm having an attack. My response is always the same, what can I do to help? Her answer is always the same; nothing. So I give her space if that's what she wants, or I sit by her side and I wait. I don't really know how much it helps but I wait. My wife is fighting a war in which I cannot directly engage. My armor protects me, but does not extend beyond.
I'm proud of my wife. For days upon days she's fought and I see the progress. She dismisses it, but it's clear to me. This is a war she's winning. Slower than we hoped, but winning none the less. I think for the rest of our days my wife will fight battles, skirmish on the fringes. Some times it will knock her down, others elevate her to amazing heights. She's strong and smart and stubb-... persistent. And whatever happens, wherever the path leads I will support her. Postpartum anxiety does not define her, it is not her core. She is my wife, she is our children's mother, she is Amber.
To join a team for the 3rd Annual Postpartum Progress Climb Out of the Darkness this Saturday, June 20th (no, it's not too late!) or to make a donation, go here.
For those of you just joining us, please check out the Warrior Mom stories we've shared so far this week:
My Story (from the archives)