It’s 11:00am. We have been up for four hours. The crockpot meal that should have started cooking two hours ago has half of the ingredients in it and the rest scattered across the counter. There are toys everywhere. Laundry in the dryer from yesterday that needs to be folded. I haven’t eaten yet for the second day in a row. We are all still in pajamas and the baby needs a bath but she won’t let me put her down long enough to get it ready. My toddler is crying to be held which I try to do one handed while the baby nurses in the other. I am crying. My toddler asks “Mommy Happy?” She will ask me later if I feel better. Because she has become so used to seeing me cry these last 7 weeks. I feel guilty for my toddler. I feel scared and overwhelmed. Scared by how I’m feeling. Because I know I don’t feel good. I thought if I just got the house cleaned I would feel better. But now I can’t get a handle on anything. Sometimes I look at the baby and feel angry. Sometimes crazy thoughts pop into my head. I’m afraid to walk through a doorway while holding her because I think I’ll hit her head on the door frame. Then I’ll think do I want to hit her head? What?!?! Will I end up one of those mothers on the news? I picked up a knife today and felt scared. I couldn’t even tell you why. Then I get that pukey feeling in my stomach and the panic sets in. This is post partum depression. And it is a bitch.
I posted this on a post partum support group I joined on Facebook after calling my husband to come home because I just could not calm down. It was one of the worst days. I saw a therapist later that day that gave me some tools to work with and upped my medication that night. Week 7 of this nightmare.
I should have known how I was feeling during my pregnancy that I would be more at risk for Post Partum Depression and Anxiety (PPD for short). But like so many others, I thought for some reason it wouldn’t happen to me. Sure I’ve had anxiety from time to time but I would never describe myself as depressed or “mentally ill”, I could control it on my own- I was “normal”- PPD wouldn’t touch me. Oh my the naivety. If I’ve learned anything it is that no one is immune and the illness does not discriminate.
I thought by having a natural homebirth I would spare myself from any baby blues, fall instantly in love with my baby and coast off into the sunshine empowered and euphoric. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Very, very wrong. My experiment failed. The birth was fast, intense, and traumatic. My birth story will have to be a different post, because I feel this story needs to be shared first.
The PPD started the third day after she was born. I had not been able to sleep (despite the baby sleeping) for the last 3 days. Not even an hour. I was soaked in sweat, shaking, with my heart beating out of my chest and hives covering my body including my throat. I thought something was physically wrong with me. I thought I was having some type of post natal pre-eclampsia. I kept telling my husband I needed to go to the Emergency room. I called my midwife and told her what was going on. She told me to get my toddler out of the house with a babysitter and head to my doctor because I was having a post partum anxiety reaction. That first week was hell. I couldn’t shower by myself because I was so afraid to be alone. I could barely walk because my legs would shake so much. I couldn’t eat. I had to take Xanax for the first time in my life to stop the panic attacks. By day 5 post partum I was having suicidal thoughts and scary thoughts towards the baby. I remember looking at the dry Christmas tree and thinking it was a fire hazard… then looking at the baby and thinking Well, if the fire takes us all that might be a good thing. I started Zoloft that day. The first time in my life I have ever been “medicated”. I did not go willingly but knew this was bigger than me. My Mother and Husband saved me that first week. Love is a powerful thing.
See when you have these crazy thoughts, you are self aware enough to know they are not how you really feel. Your brain has literally been “hijacked” as my therapist put it. The hormonal cascade has altered your brain chemistry so much that you literally are no longer in control of your thoughts. So they terrify you, and cause debilitating anxiety… and the cycle repeats. We have all heard the horror stories on the news of mothers harming their children or themselves which I look at completely differently now- how bad those mothers must have felt and what a tragedy it was that they couldn’t find help or didn’t know they needed it. A lot of times those stories are of mothers who thought feeling this way was normal or were too afraid to tell anyone or worse… had no one to tell. It is a terrifying thought to think there was a time where medication, therapy, and support groups did not exist especially as this illness affects up to 1 in 7 women. It is the most common “complication” of childbirth.
I desperately wanted that first week to be the baby blues. I kept telling myself “Once I get through the first two weeks and my hormones settle- I’ll be okay”. As two weeks passed, I tried to “fake it til I made it” because I desperately desperately wanted this to not be real. I remember having to take 20 pictures until my smile looked “real” enough to post on social media. Goes to show you that you never really know what someone is going through. When I went into my two week follow up with the post partum counselor through my OB, and pasted a fake smile on my face- she saw right through me and I melted into a puddle of tears. Then I thought “Well if I just get through the Holidays and December and find a routine- I’ll definitely be better by then.” As I changed the calendar on my refrigerator to February with a pit in my stomach I knew I was wrong about that too. I thought because I was “functioning” and no longer debilitated by crippling anxiety but was just “regularly anxious” that I was “okay’. I would measure myself by saying okay I got dressed today and ate something and smiled at my toddler so I’m fine. But the reality is I’m not out of this yet. But damnit I am fighting tooth and nail.
I’ve never been depressed before and if anything this experience has made me realize how “normal” I actually was. High strung maybe, but within normal limits. It has been a humbling, eye opening experience. How judgmental I was thinking depression was a “choice”. It is not a choice. Waking up with dread in your stomach and feeling apathetic towards everything you once loved including your precious 2 year old is not a choice. Being so afraid to pick up your brand new gift from God because in your mind they represent everything that makes you feel bad is not a choice. Feeling so sad for yourself because you desperately desperately want to feel normal and you know you are missing a sacred time in your child’s life is not a choice.
I can’t help but wonder what type of “God’ or Creator would have this happen to mothers. Why? What purpose in nature does it serve? I have this horrifying memory of my pet hamster eating her young in middle school. Why would having offspring drive us to madness when it is one of the most joyful things on earth? It makes no sense to me.
This has been one of the hardest things I have ever had to go through in my life thus far. So much so that I highly doubt I will have anymore children. At least thinking this brings me some sordid kind of comfort at the moment. Why have I had to go through Hell and back to have children? I’ll never know. My best friend seems to think it is so I can help other mothers. Maybe she is right. I am unapologetically open after all. And maybe this post will connect with someone who is going through this hell with me and offer them comfort that this phenomenon did not just pick them. The only solace I leave this post with is that I know this is an illness. I know it has a beginning and then one day an end. And my end will come. Until then, I will enjoy the good days…. like today♦.
*There is a lot of stigma attached to PPD that many who suffer do not talk about it. The truth is it is incredibly common. I am lucky to have the support of my family, therapist, support group, and OB/GYN that I am progressing everyday and the darkest of days are behind me.