THE LIGHT SERIES
When life delivers darkness, we have the ability to bring light, for ourselves and for one another.
Alicia Julius is a wife, mother of three, and longtime advocate at New Life Pregnancy Center.
In February of 2007, she and Phil welcomed their firstborn, Wyatt, to the world. Visions of filling their roomy farmhouse with children were becoming a reality.
Only, something didn’t click into its idyllic place: Alicia didn’t instantly bond with her newborn. Feelings of overwhelm and inadequacy settled over her instead.
Her obstetrician (OB) recognized mild postpartum depression symptoms and prescribed medication, but Alicia didn’t take it. She was breastfeeding and would have to stop once medicated. Instead, she coped by talking with Phil.
“I told him everything of what I felt about Wyatt and about being a mom. Some of it was very difficult for him to hear. I felt very guilty as a mom, but I was able to get over it as long as I talked with him.”
When Wyatt was eight months old, the feelings went away. Alicia didn’t have to talk with Phil about her struggles anymore. Then, her still lactating breasts changed. “They were big and felt the way they did when I was pregnant, so I took a pregnancy test.”
Alicia’s second pregnancy, with another boy, was equally as healthy and smooth as the first.
Delivery in July 2008 was once again easy, but this time, Alicia bonded with her newest baby boy, Wade. Aware of her mild postpartum depression history, Alicia’s OB prescribed medication just in case. Alicia and Wade were discharged and went home as a family of four.
Things started out okay; Phil stayed home using his four-week paternity leave, and Wade was a good baby. Even so, Alicia was overwhelmed with a newborn and seventeen-month-old toddling around. As Phil’s paternity leave neared its end, Alicia became very anxious at the thought of caring for two boys during the day by herself.
The night before Phil returned to work, an anxiety riddled Alicia couldn’t sleep. I don’t think I can do this. I don’t know how I can do this. I’m physically still healing. I’m not a very good mom. Her thoughts looped in her mind until everyone else woke up for the day.
One sleepless night.
She saw Phil off to work and took care of the boys. Exhausted and eager for bed that night, Alicia once again didn’t sleep. She couldn’t calm her racing thoughts.
Two sleepless nights.
That evening, Alicia met a group of church friends to play Bunco hoping a girl’s night would be encouraging.
“I got there and lost it. I told everyone I couldn’t sleep and didn’t think I could do it. They immediately prayed for me and gave me words of encouragement. I thought I’d go home and sleep. I didn’t. I didn’t sleep.”
Alicia’s inability to sleep added to her inner dialogue. You’re so stupid. You can’t even sleep. Why can’t you put yourself to sleep?
Three sleepless nights.
The next day, Alicia started the antidepressant and called her OB. “She prescribed Ambien and said, ‘This medicine is going to make you sleep tonight.’ I took it and was out for maybe three hours.”
Four sleepless nights.
Alicia’s nighttime anxiety escalated to panic attacks. Covered in sweat, she’d rock back and forth or pace the floors, beholden to her mind.
Five sleepless nights.
Alicia’s OB didn’t want her to be alone with the boys. Vicki, Alicia’s mother-in-law, took a leave of absence from her nursing job to be at the house with Alicia, Wyatt, and Wade. Vicki arrived to the house by 6:45 a.m. and stayed until Phil returned home for the evening.
Six sleepless nights.
Monday through Friday, Vicki did all of the cooking, cleaning, laundry, and of course, cared for her grandsons and Alicia.
If Vicki couldn’t be at the house, a shift of people took her place.
Alicia’s parents covered the weekends if Phil couldn’t be home, and her mother cooked, cleaned, and helped with the boys in the evenings.
“I couldn’t even shower, let alone fix a meal,” recalls Alicia. “Our church brought us meals, my sister-in-law brought us meals. I could see all this, but I didn’t care. I was like, ‘For what? I’m a horrible mother. I can’t raise my boys.’”
At night, while her family slept, Alicia read scripture trying to find answers to what felt like a punishment. She watched movies, watched the sunrise, and then began another day.
One sleepless week.
Alicia had regular headaches and stomachaches and couldn’t eat. “I remember sitting at the table rocking back and forth. Phil didn’t know how to handle me. My father-in-law and dad cried at the sight of me. The men in my life didn’t know how to help me. They wanted to fix me, but they couldn’t. It was painful for them to watch.
“I tried a warm bath at night or a glass of wine before bed. I’d go for a jog or a walk. I’d go away for the evening. None of it worked. When it didn’t work, I thought, What a failure I am.
While awake in the night, Alicia asked God, “What good can come of this?” She yelled at God and questioned his plans for her life.
“In scripture it says, ‘He gives strength to the weary.’ ‘He gives sweet sleep to those he loves.’ (Isaiah 40:29 and Psalm 127:2) I thought, Does he not love me?
Each day, Alicia’s thoughts darkened a little more.
Look at Vicki. She can do this. She can take care of my boys. Phil can find another woman to take care of my boys. Anybody could be a better mom than what I’m doing right now.
On Friday, Alicia called her OB again, speaking first with the nurse. She was referred to a therapist, but couldn’t get in until the following Wednesday. “I ended the call thinking, My funeral will be before then.”
By Sunday night, while the rest of the house slept, Alicia planned her suicide. She determined how she’d do it and how to work around Vicki.
“It was kind of euphoric. I was kind of excited, because I wanted to be anywhere else than what I was doing here on this earth.”
With suicide plans in place, all Alicia had to do was wait for morning.
Two sleepless weeks.
Monday morning the phone rang. The nurse from the OB office whom Alicia spoke with the previous Friday called to check in. Worried over the weekend, the nurse even asked her Sunday school class to pray for Alicia’s well being.
“She said to me, ‘You’re going to make it through this, and I want you to know that. If you don’t think you can hang on any longer, I want you to go to the emergency room (E.R.).’”
“I said, ‘Isn’t the E.R. for people with broken bones and heart attacks?’”
“No. I think you need a break from life. Go to the E.R. at St. Mary’s, and they’ll get you in to see somebody. They’ll get you medicine. You might be in there for a while.’”
“I was a little upset because she was ruining my morning. But I told her I’d take it into consideration. I thanked her for calling me, and we hung up.”
The call wasn’t convincing enough.
Midmorning, Vicki took six-week old Wade outside to rock him to sleep under two Oak trees. Alicia sat inside rocking eighteen-month old Wyatt. Once asleep, Alicia laid him down, kissed him, and told him goodbye.
On her way out the back door to end her life, Vicki walked up with Wade.
“She had Wade in her arms and asked me to take him. She said, ‘I have to pee so bad.’ I said, ‘Vicki, I don’t want to live anymore. Everything in my body wants to die right now. I can’t take him.’”
Vicki also had a plan. “She told me to call Phil and tell him to come home. She called the E.R. to let them know I’d be coming. She didn’t let me out of her sight.
“Phil came home immediately and took me as I was. I was wearing pajamas. I hadn’t showered. No bra. I was so far gone I don’t even remember the goodbye.
“Ultimately, they pumped me full of meds and I didn’t wake until seven the next morning. When I woke up I remember thinking, Where am I? and WOW. That was some good sleeping right there.
“It’s amazing what sleep does to you and what it does to you when you don’t get it. By no means was I cured at that point, but it was a start to my healing process.”
Update: This is the first installment of a two-part series. Click to read Surviving Postpartum Depression: Alicia’s Story, Part Two.