My husband and I were prepared for the idea that I might be afflicted with postpartum depression, given my history of repeated depressive episodes. My therapist and I talked about an action plan, including talking to Mark about what to watch for and telling him that if he saw things that alarmed him, to tell me that I needed help.
It sounded simple then, so clinical, set against the expectant backdrop of a twin pregnancy. First, notice things. Then tell your wife that she’s ill and needs help. We had no idea. I had no idea what it was I was asking him to do, or how it would feel if he had to do it.
Like most married couples, our wedding included a vow to love each other in sickness and in health. These didn’t feel like difficult concepts in our late 20s, much less a concept that would affect us any time soon. We know what health looks like, and sickness – well, we had benchmarks for that, too. Hospital rooms, doctors, IVs, chemo. That’s sickness. Got it. Yes, we vow we will love each other through that.
Real life sickness came to our marriage outside of a hospital. It found us in our home, in our everyday lives, in my very mind. After our twins were born, it found me in the nursery late at night, attached to a breast pump, tears flowing like milk. This sickness was an incision in my mind to echo the new scar across my belly. It was an inability to look at my newborns and feel the joy I knew I should feel, and that absence of feeling was a red-hot poker in my very core.
I’m sure Mark hoped it would pass, and when it didn’t, he watched and hoped I would pick up the phone and ask for help. I didn’t. I couldn’t. I was waiting to wake up from what had to be a nightmare, waiting to feel the normal feelings new mothers feel when they look at their newborns. If I picked up the phone, if I talked to my therapist or to my doctor, then I wouldn’t just suspect something was wrong; something would officially be wrong.
The most loving things are often the hardest, and so it was when he knelt in front of me and clasped my hands as I sat in the rocker in the nursery, tears streaming down my face.
“Do you remember when you told me to watch for things after the babies were born? I’m seeing a lot of those things. I love you, and I’m worried. I think we need to get some help.”
His words set off a firestorm of conflicting emotion.
Oh my God I knew it. Something is wrong. I am not normal. I am not doing motherhood right. I knew it. Oh, God. He’s going to leave me.
Wait, wait … he said “we.” He’s going to help me get help. And he said “I love you.” If he can love me the way I am now, broken into tiny pieces, then wow. He must really love me. But how could he love someone who is so clearly such a horrible mother to his children?
I looked down at our clasped hands, my tears falling on our intertwined fingers. A tiny thought floated to the top.
Didn’t you ask him to tell you if this happened? You did.
I cried harder. This wasn’t what I envisioned when we stood, handclasped, on the cusp of our lives together. I felt like such a failure as a wife and as a mother.
“We will get through this. Together,” he said.
Looking at our hands again, I thought about what else we’d said that day — radiant, young, and naive. Perhaps this was our sickness and health. I wasn’t failing as a wife. Mark was living up to his vows as a husband.
As a result of that difficult conversation, I contacted my therapist and my doctor. I am eternally grateful to my husband for having the courage and the love to do what I asked.
Being loved this deeply, this thoroughly, through this kind of illness is nothing less than transformative. Since Mark talked to me about needing help, he opened a new chapter in our marriage, one where my problem with depression became our problem. The inside of my head is no longer my own lonely battlefield, but a place where I have a permanent and most loyal ally.