I met Jenny Graham this summer and was immediately in awe of her big-heart love. She gives, supports, and holds space for her community with such grace and strength- I am honored that she chose to share her story, for the first time, with this community. Find solace in her words, strength in her courage, and know that we’re all warriors.
There was the first miscarriage, followed in close succession by miscarriage two and three. In early 1999, I found out that I was pregnant again. Despite the crushing losses that proceeded this pregnancy, I hadn’t yet lost that glimmer of hope when I saw the second pink line.
It was fading fast, but it was still there.
I cried the first time I saw her heartbeat. My husband and I held hands and stared at the ultrasound screen, speechless, afraid to believe, afraid to hope, afraid to become attached. I had an uneventful pregnancy with no complications, but it was 9 months of anxiety like I had never experienced before. Worried that something would happen to her, that my body would betray me like it had three times before. We welcomed our baby girl into our lives. She was perfect and we fell in love instantly.
Our lives quickly became all about her. She was the living, breathing embodiment of a miracle to us and all we wanted to do was hold her, look at her, watch her sleep. She was a delightful baby, rewarding us with smiles, coos, and giggles.
Seven months after her birth, I discovered I was pregnant again.
Despite all measures to help me and my body sustain the pregnancy, we soon got the news that the pregnancy wasn’t viable. So began my downward spiral.
I rapidly fell into a deep depression and anxiety over her reached an all new high. I looked at my daughter- would she be taken from us too? Over that summer, I fell deeper and deeper into depression. If it hadn’t have been for her, I would have had no reason to get out of bed in the morning. I drew inward and withdrew from my husband. All of my energy was directed towards her. I carefully and tenderly took care of my happy baby girl.
Anything that I had left went to making my preparations.
Unused painkillers from a dental procedure went into a bag and were secreted away. I scoured the house for any prescription medicine that I could find and slowly built up my stashes. I dreamed of peacefully dying in my sleep. I thought about death whenever I wasn’t with her. Anything to make the pain go away.
At a follow up appointment with my OB, his concern for me was palpable in the room. He prescribed an antidepressant, and because of him, two people came into my life. The first was a gentle social worker. She eventually became so concerned that she made me make a verbal contract with her at the end of every session that I would not do anything to harm myself. The second was a spitfire psychiatrist.
My beautiful baby turned one.
Three weeks later, I had a late afternoon appointment with my psychiatrist. The question was finally asked – “Are you suicidal”? I calmly laid out my plan for making the pain go away. I told her I couldn’t live like this anymore. She gave me a choice – either I voluntarily admit myself on a 72 hour psychiatric hold or she would have me committed. It was up to me. I begged her to go home so I could see my baby girl before I went. I don’t know what I would have done if she had allowed me to leave. I don’t know if I would have run to those stashes. I’d like to think I wouldn’t have, but honestly, I’m not sure. When you are so deep in anxiety and depression, you can’t think clearly. You can’t see what’s right in front of you – in my case, a beautiful baby girl who wanted nothing more than to flash her dazzling smile at me and nuzzle in my neck when she was sleepy and a loving husband.
She didn’t let me leave her office. As the afternoon had grown into early evening, she made me call my husband, in front of her, and tell him exactly where I had all those pills hidden. She instructed him to flush all that medication down the toilet and to come and get me from her office to take me to the psychiatric hospital. I can only imagine what must have been going through my husband’s mind. He knew I was struggling but he didn’t know how desperate I had become. He tenderly retrieved me from her office with instructions from her that if I wasn’t checked in within the hour, she would send a sheriff’s deputy to pick me up.
As I write this, my hospitalization was 12 years ago almost to the day.
I spent my 72 hour hold heavily medicated as they were trying to very quickly adjust my brain chemistry. The time there was a blur but I knew from then on, I would forever be “that” girl – the girl who had to be hospitalized because my depression had gotten the best of me. It had beat me down and had almost made me take my own life. After many years, we arrived at a combination of medications that helped me to achieve what my psychiatrist terms clinical remission from my depression and anxiety.
Medicine and talk therapy have been extremely valuable in dealing with my anxiety and depression. Medicine can have value. It is part of what brought me back from the brink of utter despair. It’s what helped me face each day as I slowly recovered. It’s what made that veil slowly part and let me see things for what they really were and are rather than through that thick veil of depression and despair.
A lot has changed in the 12 years since that hospitalization. My daughter has grown into a beautiful, caring, loving young lady. She is the light of my life and I love her with all of my heart. My husband and I are no longer married, but I will be forever grateful to him for caring for me when I was most fragile. That he knew deep down that I was no danger to her, that he held my hand and smoothed back my hair when I had those panic attacks shortly after being hospitalized. That he believed I could and would get better.
It’s important to walk that path towards wholeness and emotional well being.
It’s important that we realize we are not broken and we are not failures. That the stigma must somehow be removed. That we have to speak our stories bravely so others who may be suffering in silence and secrecy will realize that they don’t have to suffer anymore. That those suffering silently and secretly will realize they are not alone.
That wholeness and healing can be found.
Jenny Graham lives with her daughter in Louisiana, where she is a medical technologist by night and The Business Doula by day. Her gorgeous heart can be found at @thebizdoula.