As I got ready for bed last night, I remembered that today was the 10th anniversary of the loss of a beloved friend. The last time I saw her was at my baby shower. She was fresh off having her second child and struggling with what I believe was postpartum depression. I didn’t know anything about PPD at the time and was really worried about her. She seemed different. Sad. Lost. In fact, I had never even heard of postpartum depression. I was six months pregnant at the time.
Now that I look back, I see so much of myself in her, I wish I would have known more about PPD then. I wish I would have tried harder to be a better friend to her. I remember the friends in our circle shunning her for her behavior. We hung out with a big group of couples and she was one of the first to have kids. The other wives talked about her behind her back and I clearly remember how I wanted to be the one to save her. I knew if everyone else was pushing her away, I was going to be the one to keep pushing my way in. I saw her a few months before her loss and she was in bad shape.
She was visiting a friend in Philly and my husband and I went to see her. I hadn’t even been married a year. When I saw her I was so scared for her. Scared that I moved across the country from Chicago and wasn’t going to be around to check on her when she got back. She was barely coherent. Her sadness enveloped her.
Little did I know a month after she passed, would be the beginning of my own personal hell. I thought of her everyday when I was in it. The same group of women that was in our circle started treating me the same way they treated her. One went as far as telling my husband he should divorce me for it. Yeah. What a great friend, right? It became clear to me that whatever she had, I had too. I remember laying in my bathtub. I had put my son to bed and my husband was out on a work dinner enjoying great conversation and a beautiful steak dinner. That night? I had Mac and cheese with my baby at the Target snack bar. While he filled himself with adult conversations, adult beverages and an adult meal, I was alone. Again. For another night in our newly married, new town, new home life. And I was resentful.
As I laid in the bathtub I’ll never forget bawling my eyes out. Crying so hard my body shook. My heart ached. The pain was so unbearable to me. I remember having a conversation out loud with her. I talked about some of the fun experiences we both had and asked her why she had to leave. No one in that circle wanted anything to do with me anymore. No one. I felt the shame and sadness that I know she had. The same dark side of light that she shared with me privately and candidly when I saw her in Philly.
No one in that circle wanted anything to do with me anymore. No one. I felt the shame and sadness that I know she had.
I was sick. I was deathly sick. Scared. Alone. Unsure if I deserved to be a mother. I assumed that my demise was going to be like hers. Everyone in my life turned their backs on me. Except my parents. My mother knew there was something terribly wrong with me. She loved me so hard. By the grace of God I was able to come out of that horror movie that still plays in my head. But not without major consequences.
Fast forward to my second child. I cut ties with the people who hurt me after the first. It was imperative that I turned off all the negative noise around me in order to learn to love myself again. I knew what happened to my brain after the first and was determined to not let it happen again. Despite everyone else’s worries, we wanted a second child. I knew what I needed to do to stay healthy before, during and after. I also knew that this time I was not alone. I knew that my little boy and new baby needed their mother in their life. Gratefully, I was able to connect to myself and feel the onset that postpartum depression brings. The dark that envelopes all the light inside of you. I was able to immediately catch myself and pull myself out of that vicious cycle.
If there was one thing I learned from my own personal hell it would be that I would do things differently. I would push every single woman I meet who just had a baby…I would check in and circle around her as if I was coming in to swoop her up or protect like a baby bird from vultures trying to suck the life out of her. I would show her how to love herself when no one else will. I would give her the tools and the hope that I was not given in my darkest days.
I’m so sad that my friend’s two daughters will never know what a wonderful woman their mother was. They won’t have their mother through all their important life milestones. The oldest is over ten now. She’s so beautiful and so talented that I know my friend would gush over her greatness with all her heart.
Postpartum depression is as real as the night is day. It takes lives and rips mothers from children. We have to stop the stigma. Not every mother has the strength to flip the bird at those that called them a disgrace. Judgment and shame does not move mental illness forward. All it does it take away the love that every human being in this world deserves to feel. We all deserve love.
Be the one who gives love to the world. I know today is a reminder to me to renew my loves in my life. Hug harder.
Joey Fortman is the brains behind #RealityMoms. In 2008, after 20+ years in traditional media hosting radio shows around the country, Joey traded in the microphone for a diaper bag, struggling through her own personal crisis: unemployed, overweight and lost in the land of mommy bloggers. Little did Joey know, her traditional media background would pave the way for success at Real Mom Media. As a sought after media magnet, Joey has been featured nationally on Good Morning America, Dr. Phil, Anderson Cooper, the Katie Couric Show, Dr. Oz, Redbook, The Today Show, The Talk, Fox and Friends & The Newlywed Game. When not at the sports complex with one of her kids, on an island or a grocery store run, or on Facebook Live with #RealityMoms contributors, Joey is obsessed with adult coloring.