Postpartum Depression

When you are in the hospital having your baby, you will be inundated with pamphlets throughout your stay. Information on why your baby cries, how to handle your baby crying, taking care of yourself, etc. Undoubtedly one of those pamphlets will be on Postpartum Depression. If you are like me, you will take a look at it and tuck it away somewhere because surely PPD won’t affect me. I wanted this baby so badly, I tried for so long and so hard, I could barely contain myself waiting a whole nine months to meet her. There is no way I would now be depressed about her being here.

I had the same conversation with myself in the days following when I received similar information from the state – I flipped through it, read it, found it fascinating that PPD can occur when you stop breastfeeding and then again shelved it away. I don’t care that I cry all the time, everyone experiences baby blues I told myself. It will pass, and I will be fine. Everything will be just fine. I am not suffering any worse than anyone else.

But I cried. A lot. I was so anxious that something would happen to the baby and she would die if I fell asleep, that I hardly slept. Everyone kept telling me to sleep when the baby sleeps – but don’t they realize that’s impossible? What if something happens to her and we are all asleep? I was so exhausted, but sleeping simply wan’t an option. Which made me cry even more, because I was so tired and everything seemed so horribly overwhelming. Why does this baby want to nurse again? I just fed her. My nipples are cracked and sore, she can’t possibly want to eat again. Why is she crying again? I just fed her, and changed her, and why can’t I get this right? What am I doing wrong? Why am I cyring again?  

At some point in that first month I had horrible thoughts run through my mind and was terrified of sharing them with anyone – especially my husband. I became a mess everytime I thought she wasn’t getting enough to eat and wasn’t gaining enough weight – a direct result of the events of my last post on our breastfeeding struggles. I took a test and scored as a strong candidate for PPD. But I rejected that, because there was no way that is what was wrong with me. It’s just the damn baby blues. I’m fine. Everything is going to be just fine

And somehow I muddled through convincing myself of that.

My husband pushed and encouraged me to go to the new mom’s group sponsored by the hospital – but I didn’t need that. I had all the support I needed at home, right? Besides, I didn’t want these people I didn’t know to see me crying. They might think that I can’t handle this whole mom gig. I know that I can do this – I don’t need help. I wanted this for so long. I’m fine.

After four weeks my husband went back to work. I had one day between when he returned to work and my mom arrived to stay for a month. One day. But the Sunday before he went back to work I lost it and was an anxious mess and cried all day. What if I couldn’t do this? What if I can’t get Kerrigan to her four week appointment on my own? What if the car seat and stroller are too heavy? How am I going to manage?

But somehow I did manage. And I continued to ignore all those pamphlets about Postpartum Depression.

The next month my mom was here. I don’t know if her pressence made me feel better, or if I was trying really hard to hold it together in front of her, but during that month I seemed to cry less and feel a little more like myself. She and I got out of the house more, I was walking daily as my C-Section recovery progressed, and I almost felt, dare I say it, well

At least until the heat came.

Seattle had the hottest summer on record this past summer. And like most homes, we didn’t have air conditioning. How could this be happening? Doesn’t mother nature know that the ideal temprature for babies to sleep is a cool 68 degrees? My baby was surely going to die because I couldn’t keep her cool enough! And just like that, I stopped sleeping again. It was too hot to take the baby out for a daily walk. So I stopped exercising again. Kerrigan cried non-stop in the car; leaving the house was so incredibly stressful. And so I started crying a little more again.

After enough hot days passed, and we were able to keep the house cool enough, and the baby didn’t die, I was able to relax some. Little things still sent me into a whirlwind of emotions and tears, but that was normal. Wasn’t it? I asked about baby blues at my six week follow up – but maybe I underplayed how I was feeling. Or maybe I wasn’t feeling as low at that point since it was halfway through my mom’s visit. I’m not sure. The midwife just told me to keep an eye on it and call if I needed more help – there were options available.

Well, I didn’t need more help. I was fine. And I wasn’t interested in taking additional medication because I was a little sad now and then. It’s just hormones evening out. Everyone experiences this and eventually it resolves itself and life moves on like one perfect postcard.

My mom left after a month. I was finally going to be all on my own with the baby. I was excited for the bonding time and the down time of not having anyone else in the house so that I could have a few minutes just to myself when the baby was sleeping. It was going to be glorious. A whole month to spend with Kerrigan before I had to go back to work. I couldn’t wait!

Except on the eve of that first day alone with the baby, the awful thoughts came back. They kept me awake and I couldn’t sleep. It seems that my mom leaving triggered all of the anxiety that I was able to hold at bay while she was here. She gave me both courage and strength, but she wasn’t going to be here anymore. I was going to be all alone, no one would help me. That first day by myself wasn’t the enjoyable bonding I thought it would be at all. It was hard and the baby cried. A lot. I screamed at her, and then felt like the worst mother and most awful human being on the planet, so I just held her and cried with her. I met my husband at the door sobbing, asking him why he took so long getting home from work.

I can’t remember if it was that night, or one of the nights following that night, but I finally admitted that something wasn’t right. I finally admitted that I needed help. That I thought I might be suffering postpartum depression and had been trying to convince myself that surely it wasn’t happening to me. How could it? 

I asked my husband to call the OB’s office. I knew I needed help, but also knew I wouldn’t be able to ask for it myself. I told him I didn’t want medication – I was on enough medication already. Ask for a referral to a therapist, schedule me an appointment. I’ll go. I can’t feel like this any more.

That day we had our 8 week checkup. The pediatrician asked how things were and I fell apart. We assured him we already had a call into the OB. I was having a rough go, but I was going to get help. He was compassionate. He handled me with the same care he did my daughter, and for that I am still grateful. My favorite nurse from the OB’s office called in the middle of that appointment and my husband took the call. He got the names of several therapists and  the nurse told him to stress to me that this wasn’t my fault or anything that I’d done wrong. It’s all hormones and it’s completly out of your control. It happens.

You are not a bad mother, he was told to assure me.

That night I researched the list of therapists and selected one for my husband to call and schedule me an appointment. I also registered myself to attend that new mom’s group. Both of which ended up being vital to my recovery. By the time my maternity leave was over and I was ready to go back to work I was feeling better. Not fully like myself, because I still cried more easily that normal, but more like the person I was before having a baby.

At my final new mom’s meeting I was a little sad that the 3-6 month mom’s group meets during the day, because it meant I couldn’t go and the support was surprisingly healthy for me. To the point I wished I’d had gone earlier when both my mom and husband encouraged it. Since then I’ve looked for a similar evening or weekend support group, but haven’t succeeding in finding one. I remain hopeful that I’ll be able to find some local mom friends – even though I’m a bit introverted when it comes to that sort of thing.

I am still seeing my therapist – almost six months after Kerrigan’s birth. I know treatment would have been easier if I had just taken the prescription that was offered to me by my OB, but I wanted to try to make it through without medication. I think I have and that I’m better for it. I’ve learned a lot about myself through my therapy sessions. I’ve learned a lot about controlling my fears and my frustration. I’ve learned a lot about why these things affect me. I’ve learned a lot about who I am and who I want to be. The only regret I have about therapy is that I tried to convince myself for so long that I couldn’t possibly need help; that I wasn’t suffering.

I just recently discussed starting to wind down my sessions because I am starting to feel like I might be able to cope on my own again. Of course, I had a complete melt down during Pregnancy and Infant Loss month/day and spent an entire hour crying in her office, but I managed to pull myself back up. My husband has also recently commented that I still fall down sometimes, but I’m much quicker to recover. Instead of taking days, it takes minutes or hours. I spend more time enjoying my baby than I do crying. I’m finally healing from what ended up being the hardest part of birth – coping with my emotions.

Postpartum Depression is real. It’s terrifying, it hurts and it affects even the strongest women. The next time you see a new mom, make a point of looking her in the eye and asking her how she is really doing. If she breaks down, hold her up. Because that’s what she needs, to be caught in your loving arms, even if it’s just for that moment. This shit is hard – and there aren’t enough villages available to take in most new moms.

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