By Jenna Hatfield
In that moment, in the dark of that darkest night, I agreed. My children would be better off without my presence.
As night descended, my thoughts also turned toward the dark. There, alone in the bedroom I shared with my husband, I stumbled down a path on which I almost got lost.
I thought of the night my oldest son entered this world. How I rocked him in the chair with tears streaming down my face, overcome with guilt and fear; panicked about finally being given a child to parent.
I thought about the time I left him in his crib to cry. I walked outside and sat in the blooming lilies and cried tears of desperation.
Flashes of all the ways I failed him kept popping into mind, slow at first and then fast and furious. The time I smacked his mouth for biting. The time I yelled so loud he ran all the way to his bedroom as fast as his toddler legs could carry him; I found him buried under his blankets, crying and red-faced. Any and every harsh word, disconnected moment, aggravated feeling, and frustrated outburst—they swirled around me, taunting.
And then the timeline opened up to include his younger brother and all the ways I failed him as well.
Like the time I stepped on his hand in our living room while dancing through the diaper laundry and strewn toys; why didn’t I just clean up first? Another check in the box for reasons I couldn’t be a good wife, a good mother, a good anything.
Of course, they’re older now, not just babies, so the progression of wrongs kept growing, kept building upon the last. The words I’ve used when I thought they weren’t in ear shot or forgotten they were in the car or just plain old didn’t care. The times I’ve told them to shut up or asked them simply to go away. The times I’ve been too busy to play LEGO or read through a book or draw a picture or simply be their mother, present and willing to do any and everything with them.
I stacked the grievances higher and higher.
And then my daughter sat down in my brain, and said, “Oh no, don’t you forget about me.”
As if she needed to remind me of all the ways I’ve failed her. I carry those closest; I use them against myself on a daily basis, not just in moments of mental health crisis. I blame myself for each and every one of her struggles, her anger, her questions, her fear. I tell myself if I had been the mother I needed to be at the time she needed me to be, things would be different for her.
All my fault. All my fault. All my fault.
These failures, however real or imagined, trite or life-altering, remained the only thing on which I could focus that night. I couldn’t see the good. I couldn’t remember all the ways in which I have loved, supported, nurtured, cared for, and lifted up each of my three children. I simply saw the ways in which I have harmed, failed, neglected, abandoned, broken, or hurt the three most beautiful beings in my life.
“Who does those things? Who says the things that you’ve said? A bad mother,” the voice taunted. I believed it, to the core of my being. I knew, without a doubt, that no other mother on the face of this planet made the same mistakes, said the same things, or acted in the same ways.
“They’d be better off without you.”
And I agreed.
In that moment, in the dark of that darkest night, I agreed. My children would be better off without my presence. My sons would thrive easier without me. My daughter could then look at what I’d done in the end and realize, yes, she was better off with her adoptive mom. They’d all look back and think, “We really dodged a bullet there.”
I didn’t come to the decision to end my life based on the oft-claimed selfish desire to end my pain. No, I believed I deserved the pain. But I felt my children deserved more—more without me holding them down or back. I listened to the dark lie of depression and believed every nuance and syllable. I couldn’t see beyond my fear that I was hurting my children simply by existing.
I followed the instructions the lie laid out. I did what the lie told me would be the only way my kids would ever be okay.
When I woke in the hospital the next morning, the lie still whispered in my ear.
“Oh good, you can’t do anything right. Just another way you’ve failed your children.”
I spent the entire day still listening to the whispers, the hateful speech directed at me from within my own brain. It wasn’t until the next day when my husband brought cards from our sons, cards their little hands wrote with crayons on green paper, that my heart finally understood the lie in my brain. It was in that moment that my heart shouted back.
“This mother is more than your lie. She is needed, wanted, and loved. Go away.”
It’s been six months, and the lie of depression still whispers on occasion, but never with the same menacing fervor. I still struggle with guilt and feelings of worthlessness, but I know my children are better off with me, not without. I know they need me, here—even when I’m having a bad day or struggling with anxiety and depression or just plain old exhausted from the day-to-day business of living.
With a change of medication and some deeper, harder work in therapy, I’m able to hush the lying voice if only to make it to the next day. I don’t know when—if ever—I’ll wake in the morning to find the lie of depression gone for good, but I know that every day I wake to the sound of, “Mommy, can I have breakfast,” is another day I have to try, to be their mother, to love them like no one else can or ever will.
If you’re struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1 (800) 273-8255. You are not alone.
Jenna Hatfield lives in Ohio with her husband, two sons, and crazy dog. A writer, editor, marathon runner, and birth mother involved in a fully open adoption, she somehow also manages to blog at http://stopdropandblog.com.
Photo: Tim Mossholder