Life Of A Military Mom: What It'S Like To Deal With Postpartum Depression Alone
We’ve all seen the viral videos and photos of those heartfelt military family reunions. They’re Internet gold, and for good reason: They tug on your heartstrings in all the right places, and they highlight cute toddlers, and happy family reunions. Cue the waterworks! What to Expect isn’t immune — the brand has featured plenty of these videos in the past.
But military spouses know that while those videos paint an emotionally compelling picture, they don’t show the whole story. 22-year-old Alyssa Coppett understands that experience intimately. When at 19, she found herself staring at a positive pregnancy test just six months after giving birth to her daughter, she wasn’t sure what she would do. This timing is terrible, she remembers thinking: Her husband, M., was set to leave for boot camp in South Carolina in a week, and he’d be gone for 10 months total. She was on the Mirena IUD with no plans to get pregnant again so soon.
A few weeks later, things got worse: Alyssa noticed she was spotting. She knew this could be a normal, annoying pregnancy symptom — or it could be something bad. Hoping it was the former, she went to the ER. “I just couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong,” she says.
Alyssa’s intuition was right: The doctors told her she’d been pregnant with twins — and that she’d lost one of them.
“I think I was in shock,” she says. “But I didn’t really react. I was already on emotional overload.”
Complicating matters was the fact that Alyssa was discouraged from telling her husband about the miscarriage, for fear that it could distract him from his training. “His recruiter actually asked me not to tell him and to wait until boot camp was over,” she says.
Her trials weren’t over: Alyssa developed preeclampsia and had to be induced at 35 weeks pregnant. She held her baby, a tiny, perfect girl, for 42 seconds before nurses realized the baby wasn’t breathing and whisked her to the NICU, where she’d spend the first two weeks of her brand-new life.
Alyssa’s husband was able to make it to the hospital for the birth — just barely. He was actually just about to get on a plane to California for his next round of training when he received a call from his superiors saying they were rerouting him to Alabama to be with Alyssa. “They told me an hour before he was supposed to board the plane that they were going to let him be with me,” she says. But he only had 10 days of paternity leave. Because their new baby was in the NICU, he was able to wrangle an additional seven days, Alyssa says. But he couldn’t take more time than that, and so when he left for California, back to training, Alyssa left the hospital (against medical advice) and took their new baby home where began her new life as a mom of two — alone.
This is where things get hard, she says. Overwhelmed by the responsibilities of taking care of a 13-month-old and a newborn baby, Alyssa stopped sleeping. She started staying up all night, thinking about the ways her kids would be better off without her. It was almost funny, she thought. Because she normally hated taking pain medication, she had an entire bottle of prescription pain killers left over from giving birth a month ago. At the time, she couldn’t imagine needing them. Now she realized killing herself would be easy.
One night, after tucking her daughters into bed, she sat in her room for a long time, thinking about her plan. She returned to her daughters’ room once more, gave them each one more kiss on the forehead, and then went back to her room to kill herself.
And just then, her phone rang. It was M., calling from California. Alyssa still doesn’t know how he knew she needed help, but something that night — a feeling, intuition, maybe fate, maybe he just knew his wife inside and out and sensed she was afraid to ask for help — made him pick up the phone and ask her how she was feeling.
Hearing his voice on the other end of the line, Alyssa’s whole body sagged with relief. Everything came spilling out: her sadness and anxiety, the suicidal feelings. Her words tumbled over one another, flying around the room like little hummingbirds who had been trapped behind her rib cage, like they couldn’t escape fast enough.
Her husband saved her life that night. Knowing he couldn’t be there with Alyssa, he called her mom, who immediately came over to Alyssa’s house and spent the night with her.
“I just felt this overwhelming mix of sadness and guilt and also relief that someone stepped in and stopped me from leaving my children without a mother,” she says.
After that, Alyssa went on anti-depressants, and her mom started stopping by the house and calling to check in on her. But the incident made Alyssa realize that she needed something that helped her remember who she was before the heavy fog of postpartum depression sank in, something just for herself. So she started making bath bombs, finding that the tactile nature of mixing the ingredients helped her mental health.
To be clear: Alyssa loves being a military spouse. Her husband comes from a military family (both his parents were in the military, and so was his grandfather) and she’s proud of him for serving their country. She understands that for military spouses, the only constant is change. And there’s been a lot of change in the past two years: Alyssa and her husband had a third baby, who’s now seven months old; they left Alabama for California; now, her husband is gearing up for a deployment to Japan.
Some change has been positive: When Alyssa found herself sinking into depression during the first trimester of her third pregnancy, she told her doctor and quickly went on anti-depressants. “My experience with my second daughter encouraged me to ask for help, so I’m not afraid anymore,” she says.
She was also able to turn her bath bomb-making hobby into a business, Abstract Gift Co., which allowed her to start earning money and gave her “the adult interaction she needed.”
But some days are still challenging: It’s been hard for Alyssa to make friends on their base in California. Because some of the other military spouses’ husbands aren’t the same rank as Alyssa’s husband, they worry about interacting together. The military prohibits "fraternization" that’s not work-related between differently ranked service members, and though this rule doesn’t apply to spouses, some find it easier and less stressful to simply apply it to their personal lives.
And with her husband’s impending deployment looming, Alyssa and her husband have had some tough conversations: Who legally makes medical decisions for her husband, for example, if something happens to him while he’s overseas? How do they make sure that she and the kids have enough money if there’s an emergency at home? Does it make more sense for Alyssa and the kids to stay in California while he’s gone, or should they pack up and head back to Alabama, where they have friends, family, a support group?