Before 2017, I was just a woman with a Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) diagnosis– among a slew of others (this one just happens to be my favorite). Chronic feelings of emptiness, fear of abandonment, emotional instability, and intense anger that could be felt from miles away were just some of the diagnostic boxes I could check off with confidence. I speak in the past tense, but it’s all the same now, only without the coping mechanisms (read: all-the-drugs) that magnified their potency.
In my early-20’s, I took it upon myself to seek treatment in weekly group and individual therapies, plus the monthly psychiatrist visit to play around with medications, all under the Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), which has been touted for its effectiveness for BPD-folks such as myself. I tossed the meds pretty quickly and eventually phased out the therapies, giving up on my therapeutic journey in a characteristically impulsive decision to quit while I neared the end. Around this time, I was finishing up my bachelor’s degree a few semesters late, courting my now-husband, and figuring out where to go from there. (If there happens to be time-travel in the future, hello past self! I still haven’t figured it out yet.)
Let’s fast forward a bit. 2014 comes, I get married. 2016 comes, and we decide to make the babies. In September 2017, we welcomed our first baby, our daughter, and the world became both amazing and terrifying all over again. I prayed for a boy my whole pregnancy after recounting my disordered eating, erratic emotions, unstable relationships, and God-awful experiences with an untreated (or under-treated, depending on who you believe) BPD mother… but here she was. And there I was, recovering from a traumatic c-section, holding this tiny human, I was now fully responsible for, and considering all of the ways I was going to ruin her life.
So began my Borderline Mommy journey.
The birth of my daughter introduced me to motherhood, much like every other milestone was met in my life. I anticipated a natural transition into adolescence, adulthood, and motherhood without the statistics that inundated my newsfeed—addiction, mental illness, and, in the case of motherhood, medical coercion, and c-sections. Being the stubborn person that I am, I skated through my pregnancy under the impression that women had become mothers naturally forever, and I would be no different. I ignored the “sanctimommies” that used scare tactics about cascading interventions, unnecessary inductions and augmentations, and manipulation into c-sections. It’s incredible how these things can happen when you’re writhing in pain mid-contraction with a nurse plainly stating that they’re about to break your waters or increase the Pitocin you don’t remember consenting to. The memories of labor are mostly blacked-out by this point, but I can vividly recall declining the epidural each time I was offered, the only thing that was posed as a question rather than a “This is what we will be doing” statement. I do remember the flood of statements toward the end of my labor being:
“Your baby’s heart rate isn’t recovering.”
“You’re fully dilated, but we can’t let you push.”
“We need to stop your contractions.”
“We don’t have time for the epidural now; we need to put you under.”
“You’re going to have a c-section.”
“We need to go now.”
I was rushed down the long corridor, through the back halls of the hospital into the operating room surrounded by a team of nurses, doctors, and interns while my husband (unbeknownst to me) fumbled with his scrubs, still under the impression that he would be allowed in the room while our first child came screaming into the world. The extent of my memories here are the doctors moving anxiously around me, talking to everyone but me, and prepping me on the table. I was too shocked to be scared or upset, and I credit the lack of memory to the only thing I do remember—the general anesthesia seeping into my IV, the room becoming a foggy brown, and then darkness. I awoke several hours later in the recovery room, my husband on the phone with my parents and no baby in sight. We’d had a girl, I was told, and she was perfect.
I don’t recall when I met her that night.
I have vague memories of my brother and his girlfriend visiting in the maternity room well after midnight, my parents coming the next day, my husband having to be the first to change our daughter, to assist with her bath and to put her in her first pair of clothes from home as I sat in pain in my bed (I had to refuse the “good medications,” you see, from my history). I remember a social worker coming in and asking me all of the questions I expected to gauge my mental health status. I remember lying so that there would be no red flags, maintaining physical contact with my daughter so her notes would reflect a doting mother rather than a woman clueless as to how she had become a statistic, too self-concerned and fearful to feel the connection that was expected between a mother and her newborn. And I was released with this little girl, with no support other than my clueless spouse, my parents nearby elated for their first granddaughter, and friends who were still in the dating and independent stages of their lives.
I spent the months after her birth suffering in silence and calling it the baby blues. I joined online support groups to read the experiences of others and to figure out how to avoid this the next time. I was numb, anxious, depressed, and angry all at once, and I muted my emotions with the façade that everything was perfect. I cried in the shower to mask my tear-streaked cheeks and cherry nose. I was feeling more like the shell I hid inside of during the worst of my depression, and I knew it was nearing time to change things or I would never be there to save my daughter from sitting right where I was. So, I did what any millennial does—I reached out to social media. I began posting my story in the support groups I had stalked. And I posted often. I asked for people who had been where I was, and there were so many. I let people know how I was feeling, how I wasn’t meeting the expectations I had set for myself. Wouldn’t you know, I wasn’t alone. I was surrounded by women who had been there, and they had gotten past it, and they were thriving.
As the days went on, the hormones settled, and the foggy veil began to lift. I found myself replying to others who sounded like I did, and I could feel the helplessness in their words. I became motivated each day to support the women around me, the moms, and the moms-to-be because I knew what it felt like to believe that there was nobody else who could feel the same way. I kick my mindfulness techniques into gear on my hard days (and, boy, do I have tons of those) and share what has worked for me in hopes that one day these resources will be so readily available, every mother will leave the hospital with the knowledge that they are surrounded by women who understand.
I’m here to share my experiences and advice for the one mom who needs to hear it. Mental health awareness for mothers is my passion. We are a tribe; we are strong, and, even in the darkness, we are never alone.