Planning for Darkness: My Journey Through Postpartum Mental Illness

If you’ve ever had a baby or are in any way involved in the parenting community, it’s more than likely you’ve heard about postpartum mood disorders. Whether it be your own personal battle or one that you’ve seen in others, it has come to light recently as a growing issue in our communities. It is costing children their parents, mothers their children, relationships their spark. It robs us of the bonds nature gifts and for some, it is an occurrence too frequent.

My name is Natalie Sacks. I am a mother of four beautiful, bold, and adventurous children. I am a step mother. I am a wife; and because of my experiences, I am a mental health advocate. I am The Mental Mommy.

My story is one of trauma and triumph, loss and discovery, failure and growth. Once a single teenage mother, I was thrown into the world of responsibility and learned quickly how to push everything down and barrel through each day. I fought hard to give my daughter the life nobody thought she could have. Before her second birthday, I had gotten married and had my second child. I had also become a step mom to a bright, intelligent, but troubled little boy. Each day was a struggle and I was not okay. I did not know it then. I didn’t give myself the option to break. I had too many people to prove wrong. I look back on pictures of my children and home, and see the chaos. Before long, I was pregnant again. Pregnancy number three presented a new set of challenges. I was too sick to function. I couldn’t even care for myself, let alone my small children. I hated my baby. When we found out we would be having another boy, I was crushed. I didn’t want to be pregnant ever again but I wanted to give my husband a daughter of his own so badly. It wasn’t until the last few weeks of that pregnancy that I finally accepted my son and allowed myself to love him. When he was born, I fell instantly in love with him. I had several days of bliss, but one morning I woke up and could not stop crying. I sobbed and sobbed until my face was sore. I asked my midwife if this level of sadness was normal, to which she replied it was and it would pass soon. Six weeks postpartum, the sadness had not left. I continued to cry at the drop of a pin. I was tired, so much more tired than I should have been; even with a newborn and two toddlers. I finally sought out treatment for the incredible fatigue and was also prescribed a mild antidepressant. After a week, I could not handle the side effects. I was not able to fall asleep at all and it was becoming a serious crisis. I was losing my grip on reality. It was a scary time. The doctor told me to just go see a therapist instead. I felt so defeated. But I persisted and called to schedule an appointment.

This is where my life began to change.

I began to learn about my mind. Why this thought pattern was toxic and where it came from. I was paralyzed from the fears that surfaced; the traumatic memories of my past. Week after week I opened my brain a little bit more and let the poisonous suppressed thoughts out. One day at a therapy appointment, as I sat struggling with the crushing isolation and desperate feelings of wanting to belong, I thought about the term “it takes a village to raise a child.” It dawned on me, just how deep that phrase goes. It doesn’t take a village to raise a child, it takes a village to SUPPORT A MOTHER. Our culture is so broken in that we expect parents to resume their normal lives and routines just moments after welcoming a human being (or multiples!) into the world. This is the most unrealistic, unfair, and downright unhealthy dynamic! So I began to respect myself and my needs. I started to work on myself more than ever and I was finally feeling like I was functioning! But that was shot down when I found out I was pregnant with number four.

The first two trimesters were spent in and out of the emergency room, on home health care for fluids, and sleeping on the bathroom floor. Hyperemesis Gravidarum is what nightmares are made of. Finding out we would be having a little girl kept me going, but we wouldn’t be taking anymore chances and opted to take permanent measures to avoid another surprise baby! Towards the end of the pregnancy, armed with the knowledge of how my mind works and the risks we were facing, I decided to create a plan for my family; just in case the darkness creeped in again. I designated one person outside of my home to be the one that could make that call if I needed medical help. I talked to my husband and he agreed to take a bulk of the daily tasks for as long as his career would allow. The time came and the birth of our daughter was more than I could have ever hoped for. It was beautiful, healing; but forty-eight hours later, the switch flipped. The crying began. My baby that I had waited so long for, was impossible. She cried endlessly. I wanted to love her but I just didn’t feel that bond. Things took a turn for the worse when I began having horrific thoughts of harming my children. I withdrew them from all activities, avoided driving the car at all costs; I was so afraid of myself.

Thankfully, the one that had agreed to help just in case, followed through. I was too overwhelmed to help myself, so she called and made me an appointment with a doctor to get help. As the darkness began to lift from my mind, I was able to see just how much of a crisis I was in. Had I not been prepared, I am almost certain the outcome would have been different. I found out just how important it was that I decided to choose someone other than my spouse to be on the lookout, as he too fell into a deep dark depression shortly after I did. He hid it, trying to protect me. He wasn’t in a place to help me, and I was too far down to see it.

I understand now more than ever just how much is lacking in the maternity care system when it comes to the mental well being of both parents. We are closely monitored by medical professionals for months during pregnancy, but that is suddenly cut off six weeks after delivery. Why? We can do better. We need to do better! Until the medical world catches up, there are options. Talk to someone about your worries. Even if you’ve never experienced depression or anxiety in your life, get acquainted with the signs. Arm yourself with knowledge and put a plan in place. Whether you are having your first or tenth baby, it is always possible. Take extra time to feel human after your baby is born. Whether that be taking a shower, doing your makeup, painting your nails, or getting takeout from your favorite restaurant. Make sure you have a primary care doctor, especially if you are planning an out of hospital birth with a provider not able to prescribe medications. And finally, don’t be afraid of the help you may need. Medication is a scary step for some, but it is okay to need it for as long as it’s necessary. There are options that are safe while nursing, too. Therapy is another fantastic route, and it holds much more value than people realize.

If you know someone struggling, please reach out. Bake them cookies, bring them dinner, or just sit and let them talk to another adult for a while. Remember that their anxiety will not always allow you to clean their house, babysit while they nap, or even step a foot in the front door. And that’s okay. Just knowing that someone is there is a relief of it’s own. Together we can bring back villages, because we owe it to mothers, fathers, and their beautiful babies to do just that.

Mommy. Step mommy. Fur mommy. Wife. I am the face of an invisible illness. My life is beautiful, my mind is disfigured. I am a survivor of traumas, an awareness spreader, an open book of truths. I am blunt, real, sarcastic, and the only thing that keeps me going is laughter. My spirited kids are my world! This is just a piece of my life as a mom with a mental illness. I am learning and re-learning each day. Welcome to my journey.