Kate Abbott finally decided to get help for her postpartum depression at the Happiest Place on Earth.
Eight months postpartum, I knew something was wrong with me, but I was still determined to fix myself on my own, without doctors or drugs or therapists. I thought all I really needed was a vacation. We would finally escape the house, our usual schedules, our usual selves. We needed to have so many genuinely fun moments together as a family that they would overshadow all the ones I was ruining as I was going through the motions of being a mother. The only place we could go, where I would be well, and we would feel like a real family, was Disneyland.
My husband Brad, taking on the packing duties, had to make an Excel sheet of what I determined we needed for our four-day vacation in a resort with a baby: portable crib (I was grossed out by hotel cribs), our third baby monitor (it detected the baby’s breathing), the planks of plywood that would fit under the portable crib mat so the surface would be stable enough to use the motion monitor; a supply of bottle accessories and sterilization equipment, like an electric kettle and a stainless steel pot; and first-aid stuff I’d never used at home, which included my whistle and a compass in case we somehow got lost and need it. I managed to cram practically all of Henry’s clothes into my suitcase, forgetting half of what I should bring for myself, like socks and more than one pair of underwear. Brad, the former Bag Olympic Champion for his grocery store, carefully fit our supplies in our Prius. He had it together. As usual, I was just along for the ride.
As we headed onto I-5, with Henry howling in protest, I thought how different this was than the previous trips to Disneyland we’d made. After Brad and I were the first ones to leave our wedding reception, we were both still dressed up in our “going-away” clothes and I wore my veil in the car. My Beetle had been decorated and accessorized so everyone on I-5 knew we were Just Married. We talked the entire six-hour drive down and didn’t even remember to turn on the radio until we were halfway there. At the Grand Californian, the piano player saw us in our bridal attire and started playing “So This Is Love” as we walked across the lobby.
This time, during the drive down, Henry got carsick and started throwing up as we traversed the Grapevine. By the time we arrived at the hotel, I felt like I had vomit on every bit of clothing I had and there weren’t enough lemony Wet-Ones in the world to get that smell out of my nose. We checked in, after a long wait, with Henry fussing and getting snot in my hair. We got a room as far from the lobby as possible. I didn’t even understand the directions on how to get there. Nobody was playing “So This Is Love” today.
We walked toward our room, Henry a heavy, wriggling lump in my arms and Brad lugging all of our baggage by himself. He wheeled our stuff across a carpeted walkway toward the end of a hall. I wanted to run to our room, take a shower, fall onto the bed, and just be there already. But I couldn’t move. I was suddenly struck with fear I’d never had before at that walkway.
I stood, fixed in place, staring at the wide, carpeted, perfectly sturdy, railing-enclosed walkway in front of us. It was open to the floor below us, a one-story drop I couldn’t help but imagine. I could not make myself move. I kept looking at the railing, thinking how easy it would be to fall over it. I broke out in a sweat, and Henry started squirming against me. I clutched him tighter to my chest.
Brad noticed we weren’t following him, and turned back from the other side of the walkway. “What’s wrong?” he said.
“I don’t know,” I said, and tried to make myself not tear up. “I don’t like this walkway. It’s not safe.” Henry was flinging his arms around, which terrified me even more. What if I didn’t have a grip on him? What if I couldn’t hold him? I definitely didn’t have a grip. I definitely could not hold him.
Brad dropped the luggage he’d been hanging onto and let it fall with loud thumps. I did not want it to be like this on vacation. Being on vacation was not supposed to make me even worse and weirder.
“What are you talking about? It’s fine.” He gestured at the floor, like maybe I hadn’t really seen it.
“I know, but…it’s too high.”
Brad walked to the edge, making me shriek, and looked up at me like he didn’t know me, like I was a random guest at the hotel.
“Just get back from the edge.” I did not say please. Brad didn’t. He sighed and put his hands on his hips. He was out of patience.
“Look, I’ll just hold Henry,” Brad said, and came to me.
“No!” I held onto Henry tighter. “You’ll drop him!” I said.
He stepped back. “Are you serious?”
I was, for a second, but that was obviously stupid, even to me. He hadn’t dropped the bulging luggage, and he hadn’t ever dropped Henry. I had. I handed Henry over. “We’re going to the room,” he said, and turned around, successfully crossing the walkway as my heart pounded in my ears, and then somehow managed to carry the luggage and Henry down the hall.
My vacation to fix myself was starting without me. I was missing it all, I was being a pain, Brad was taking care of Henry, just like at home. Walk over there. I took a deep breath and felt like I was about to jump out of a plane. One foot in front of the other. I felt nauseated. I made it halfway out, and then turned my head to look past the railing onto the landing below. I felt dizzy. I was hit with visions: Me, dropping a squirming Henry, too big for me to hold on to, over the railing. Me, actually throwing Henry over the railing. Henry over the railing. Henry over the railing. Henry over the railing was the only thing in my head—I could see it. My stomach dropped, I wanted to cry. It was even more vivid and worse than the visions I used to get hit with at home, when I had to hide all the knives so I wouldn’t have to see them flying at Henry whenever I went into the kitchen.
I squatted down on the carpeted walkway and tried to make myself breathe. I wanted to crawl the rest of the way. I thought I heard a rumbling housekeeping cart somewhere behind me. I dragged my focus to the hallway in front of me, where Brad and Henry had disappeared around a corner. I had to get up and do this so I could start the vacation that would make me better. Housekeeping rolled a cart past me and I pretended I was adjusting my shoe.
I got up on one knee, then the other. I ran across the rest of the walkway, all six feet of it, and down the hallway, around a corner and into the door that was propped open. I heard Henry giggling on the bed. I was here.
But “here” wasn’t enough to help me, of course. I couldn’t really be present anywhere. I felt out of my body all the time, even at Disneyland. I don’t remember anything about our visit in the park, other than that I dressed Henry in a fuzzy jacket with bear ears on the hood at night, and put him in his Mickey Ear cap in the daytime. Three women chased me down in Disneyland after I had walked by with Henry in the baby carrier to tell me how cute he was in the mouse ears. I am a good mother. Finally. Or at least I looked like one.
I told myself I would get up with Henry at night. It should be a vacation for Brad, too. But either I didn’t hear Henry or I ignored him when he woke up, because Brad got up whenever Henry woke.
Still, I was exhausted all the time, like I was at home. After Brad and Henry headed out to the park, leaving me to take another nap at the hotel, I was relieved I could lie down alone, and also guilty and ashamed. I sunk face-down onto the nasty, germy hotel comforter in the middle of the afternoon and knew, then, that I had no more excuses.
I let my tears slide onto the bed and knew I had to get help. I would take whatever medicine they gave me, I would see whatever therapist they told me to, I would do anything to be able to give myself and Brad and Henry a normal life. It didn’t even have to be The Happiest life. It just had to be a life.
Kate Abbott is the author of Disneylanders, a young adult novel (forthcoming from Theme Park Press, Feb. 2013) and a memoir in progress about her experience with postpartum depression. She recently received an MFA in creative writing from UC Riverside, Palm Desert.