” These last two weeks have been the most miserable of my entire life”
I was holding my two week old son, swaddled up like a burrito, turned on his side, jiggling him madly as per ‘ The Happiest Baby on the Block’. My husband was aghast at my words. He looked a little disgusted. I couldn’t look at him, I was ashamed to have said them, those horrible words, made all the more horrible by being so true.
My Postpartum Depression began instantly after the baby was born. Instantly. And it was never depression, not in the typical sense. I didn’t feel down, I didn’t feel detached from the baby, and thank god, I never had any urges to harm him. It began as irritation. Really, really intense irritation. I remember hearing the footsteps of a nurse crossing the delivery room floor just minutes after the birth and it was tantamount to fingernails on a blackboard to my ears. I desperately wanted everyone, including the baby, to go away and leave me alone. I chocked it up to exhaustion, and to some degree it certainly was, but something else had begun inside of me, something that has robbed so many mothers of the joy of birth and of new motherhood. I expected sleep deprivation, I expected to feel the loss of my free-wheeling childless days. I had been prepared for all the possible complications during pregnancy and all the possible complications of delivery. I knew what terrible disorders and diseases could befall my baby and me, but no one told me to prepare for PPD, didn’t even mention it in my childbirth class. I was told how difficult it might be to recover from a C- Section or an Episiotomy. I knew that I might pee my pants for awhile, have stretch marks, a squishy belly, painful intercourse etc, etc… no one told me that I might fall into the darkest, saddest period of my life. No one really talks about it. So I’m going to talk about it. Heck, Gwyenth Paltrow did, and I always say, ” Whatever Gwyneth Paltrow can do , I can do”. Minus the movie career, and the rock star husband, and the tallness, the yoga toned body, the Oscar, and the cookbooks.
It began in earnest the day I left the hospital. My sister, brother-in-law and niece had accompanied me home. I had been excited to come home, felt happy and hopeful, but as the time of their visit began to dwindle away and I knew that they would soon be gone, I started to feel….dread? That isn’t the best word, or the most accurate word to describe the feeling, there is no word. I had never felt it before, but for the next few weeks, it was all I felt. Suffice to say, it was terrible and I felt very, very alone. Soon after, the anxiety set in. Now, no one has ever mistaken me for an easygoing, laid-back kinda gal, but this was very different. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t think straight, I was consumed with anxiety about the baby, about myself, about my husband. I missed him, so badly, as if he was away at war and yet I saw him every day. I became obsessed with the baby’s sleep schedule. Why wasn’t he sleeping longer? When would he sleep more? Why did he need to be held to sleep? Would I have to hold him to sleep forever? I remember my sister saying to me, ” he’s only two weeks old, Heather”. I could hear it in her voice, she thought I was a freak. These might seem like standard new mother worries, but I promise you, they were far worse. I cried hysterically when he wouldn’t take a nap, sobbing to my husband that something was wrong with him. I called my husband at work crying every day, but I couldn’t put into words what was wrong. I was so overwhelmed, I eagerly took weekend trips away without the baby, I was relieved to leave him with caretakers that I felt were better for him than I was. He was the innocent recipient of my stress and it broke my heart to know I was burdening him with it.
And then, there were the visions. Every time I closed my eyes I saw my baby fall. I tripped on the stairs and dropped him. I slipped on the hardwood floor and dropped him. I stood with him on our balcony, lost my balance and watched him fall into the water below and drift away from me. It was torture. I don’t use that word lightly, it was truly unbearable. The images were vivid. I could see it happening so clearly. I heard every sound. Every time I closed my eyes, he fell, he fell, he fell.
Thanks to the interwebs, I’ve since learned that in fact, most women who suffer from PPD actually experience more anxiety or obsessive compulsive thoughts/actions, than they do depression. Its heartbreaking to think of all the women, throughout the world and throughout history that suffered this way. I don’t want to get all up on a soapbox, but there is no PPD support group in our community. There are support groups for mothers of multiples, for women breastfeeding, for parents who have lost children. All good and necessary, no doubt about it, but not one group for PPD? None that I can find anyway. Why? Please correct me if I’m wrong, I’d be happy to know it.
There is medication though, and you better believe I jumped on that wagon. I didn’t even think about going natural. Hell no. And it worked. That, and a part-time nanny. My husband’s 60+ hour a week job was not helping matters. By the time my son was two months old, I was feeling pretty much back to normal. Don’t. Wait. To. Get. Help. Whatever kind of help you seek, get it immediately. So much precious time is wasted otherwise.
Should I really be admitting all this, I’ve worried? Even now, I still feel the shame. I’ve cringed at every word I’ve written. But why shouldn’t I admit it? The fact is, it was no more in my control than morning sickness, craving ground beef or having sore boobs; all products of the hormones rising and falling and swirling around in my pregnant body. I want to shout it out for all the women who never could, when there was no solution, no support and no name for the affliction. Talk about it. Tell your friends about it. And tell a new mother.