I once kept my overdose a secret, but now I know that I am not alone. My story can help others.
In 2004, I was pregnant with my first baby. I was about 7 months along when I overdosed on prescription medication in hopes of ending my own life, as well as the life of my unborn child.
I'll stop right here and say that no sane person would ever think trying to kill themselves while pregnant is a good idea. At the time I was unwell, untreated and unmedicated. My cries for help were overlooked because of my pregnancy. Rather than being taken seriously, I was treated like a whiny and wimpy pregnant woman—placated with naps and pats on the head.
Ten years ago hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) was not something regular people knew about. In fact, HG didn't even get media attention until Kate Middleton was diagnosed with the condition during her first (and now second) pregnancy. For me, HG meant that I vomited every day, multiple times a day, from the moment I got pregnant until the day I delivered.
Over the course of my pregnancy, I lost close to 60 pounds and suffered numerous other side effects from the regular vomiting. I wasn't just a little nauseous with a few vomiting episodes in the early weeks of pregnancy; I was consistently nauseous all day, every day. No matter what I did, took, ate or drank, I could count on vomiting a minimum of five times a day. Think back to the worst 3 hours of the stomach flu you have experienced and multiply those 3 hours by 9 months: that was the hell I lived in. Constant trips to the ER for IVs, talk of nasogastric tubes and PICC lines, threats of brain damage to the baby, and esophageal erosion for me.
To make matters worse, I was also dealt another misunderstood and little known condition while pregnant called antenatal depression, which means I didn't have to wait until my baby was born to experience the soul-crushing feelings of maternal postpartum depression. I got to experience it while pregnant and sick. Imagine the fun.
Between being diagnosed with antenatal depression and HG, I found my breaking point. I would scream at the baby in my stomach whenever she moved, yelling at her to stop and wishing she would just disappear. I can remember wanting to punch my own stomach, but not being able to because it would make me vomit.
One morning, I was just done. I didn't want to be pregnant. I didn't want a baby. I didn't want to be alive.
I swallowed as many pills as I could find, making sure I took enough sleeping pills so I wouldn't have the strength to vomit as I crawled into bed. My husband found me listless and unresponsive a few hours later and rushed me to the ER. Both the baby and I were monitored constantly throughout the day; there were heart rate monitors, blood draws, IVs, ultrasounds and a dozen other tests I essentially slept through.
I was involuntarily committed to the psychiatric ward of a different hospital. I don't remember much about that day aside from the heavy feeling of being done with my life and being disappointed I had failed.
Being inpatient at the hospital was a terrible experience, yet there was a heavy relief that came from feeling like everyone was finally taking me seriously. There was also a camaraderie with the other patients. We were all crazy and crazy was normal and this normal felt safe. In real life I knew if I told someone I had overdosed while pregnant, they'd be shocked and look at me with disdain. Inside the ward, the other patients wanted to know what pills I took and what medications or treatments I tried.
After 4 days, I was released under the supervision of a social worker, a psychiatrist and a perinatologist. I was given a prescription for a medication that kept me from feeling depressed, but it also kept me from feeling any range of emotion at all. I was basically a blob, devoid of feeling. The next couple of months were spent under the watchful eye of my family and medical team, but I still never felt excitement about the upcoming birth of my daughter. What I did feel was a sense of responsibility to do my best to care for her and myself in the final weeks of my pregnancy.
My delivery went well and the only noticeable complication for my baby was the medication withdrawal she experienced after being born, another terrible guilt-inducing event. While my baby was fine (thank God), I went from the frying pan to the fire as I battled overwhelming postpartum depression for more than a year.
The idea of getting pregnant again terrified me.
Getting sick again, dealing with antenatal depression and then postpartum depressoin all seemed too much to bear. But almost 7 years later I DID get pregnant, and as expected, I was hit with HG right away and smacked down with antenatal depression around the 6 month mark. The difference this time was that we were all expecting it and there was a battle plan in place for when things went wrong.
Of course, I still spent weeks in bed weighed down by sadness while barfing my brains out, but I had the support of an excellent medical team and kind friends who stepped in to help with my day-to-day responsibilities. Perhaps the greatest blessing of my second pregnancy was that I escaped postpartum depression. I was actually able to enjoy my life, enjoy both of my girls and appreciate feeling normal for the first time in months.
While I’m definitely done making babies, I'm grateful that my second pregnancy left me with postive feelings toward pregnancy in general and allowed me a little bit of closure on the 18 plus months of hell I endured to get both my daughters here.
There may always be a stigma around depression and suicide, and for a long time I vowed never to admit what happened during my first pregnancy in regards to my overdose. But I know now that I am not the only one who has been through this. I know sharing my story can, has and will help pregnant women all over the world seek help and feel less alone.
I am not ashamed of who I was in 2004 because that girl was not me.
That girl was trapped inside her own sick body and held hostage by a disease that made her believe her life was worthless. No one should be led to believe that they are worthless, especially by their own brains. I don't expect the world to immediately change its view on depression and suicide, but I do hope that talking openly about it will bring more understanding and compassion towards the bright and brave souls who suffer because of the lies depression makes them believe.