It’s been almost a month since I realized I was in trouble, and I’m feeling so much better these days. I’ve received many emails, comments, and tweets of support during this time. I’ve also heard many moms, in the blogosphere and IRL, wonder if they too experienced postpartum depression. I’m no expert, and I’m sure there are many ways that this disease can manifest itself. But I thought a fresh perspective from a healthy mind might make others get the help they need.Before I begin, please contact your doctor, a family member, or dial 911 immediately if you’re thinking of hurting yourself or your baby – don’t be embarrassed or let guilt stop you. It’s not necessary (or normal) to feel this way!
So how did I know I had postpartum depression? To be honest, it wasn’t me who figured it out. Hubby, who I’m pretty sure was talking with my mom about his concerns, was prodding me to call the doctor for weeks, and finally got worried enough to call and make an appointment for me. Looking back now, however, there were signs. One of the biggest ones – I was feeling quite off my game before I gave birth. I recently recalled this passage from a post I wrote early on in my pregnancy:
In the meantime, I’m trying to grow accustomed to this new person I see in the mirror. I don’t really recognize her – physically, mentally, or emotionally. And I haven’t really decided if I like her or not. She seems nice enough, but she also comes across as a bit weak. How will she deal with the invited talk she’s giving at next month’s conference? Or job interviews that will hopefully come up this coming year? For now I’m reserving judgment, and hoping she’ll adjust to her life over the next few months. Or maybe I’ll get the old girl back after the baby comes. I guess we’ll see…
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I started experiencing the first pangs of depression very early in my pregnancy. Break-downs became the norm in my life – sometimes more than once a day, most days of the week. My anxiety level was sky-high, and I obsessed over fears of pregnancy loss. I would read and re-read passages from four different books that sat at my bedside, and I had multiple pregnancy websites bookmarked and checked out my “symptoms” daily, sometimes multiple times a day. At the same time, I wished over and over again that I could get rid of the pregnancy, a few times crying on the bathroom floor that I just wanted God to take “it” away. As someone who had been trying to get pregnant, and had even lost a pregnancy, this combination of emotions was awful. Hubby and I didn’t really think too much of it at the time, mainly because neither of us had been around pregnant women that much, and we kept being told that feeling “off” was normal. It just never occurred to us that being that off was NOT normal.
After the Monkey arrived, I kept waiting for this magical bonding to make it all worthwhile. I knew it might not be instantaneous, so I waited. While waiting, I obsessed over everything. I wrote down the precise time of every BM, every wet diaper, and the length of feedings and naps – to the minute. If Hubby changed a diaper in the middle of the night and forgot to write it down I’d fall into tears and ask him why he didn’t care about our baby. If I fell asleep nursing and didn’t notice when the Monkey fell asleep I’d experience another meltdown. This lasted for almost 4 weeks, at which point I decided I was being crazy and needed to let go.
And then the depression really set in.
I was exhausted, but couldn’t sleep when I laid down. Hubby started taking night feedings so that I could get some rest, but I’d keep hearing Monkey crying – even when he was sound asleep. During Hubby’s 9pm to 2am shift, I’d sleep as little as 30 minutes. During my early morning shifts with they Monkey, I’d cry the entire time, sometimes yelling at Monkey to stop his crying. I couldn’t handle or do anything without asking Hubby first – my decision-making ability was gone. It was a vicious cycle – the anxiety, the depression, the insomnia, the exhaustion – they all fed each other and WOULD NOT let up. In spite of it all, I was still holding on so tightly.
I knew something was wrong. I though it might be depression. I went running to try and clear my head, but just felt more exhausted afterwards. I worked – from home and at the lab – to escape, but Monkey’s waking brought me right back into the fray. I tried to sleep while Monkey was sleeping (that’s what everyone said I needed to do), but any sleep I could get just made me more tired. Nothing was working, and I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was just being weak. I was always able to handle being down before – why not now? I logically knew it wasn’t the same, but, in that state, I couldn’t see that this was different.
To make matters worse, when I even considered the idea of calling my doctor, I worried they would label me as “unfit” and take Monkey away. At the same time, I wished that there was a way I could make it all go away. I couldn’t escape the feeling that Monkey would be better with anybody else, and I wondered how Hubby would feel that I didn’t want to keep him (no really, I honestly wanted to give him back). I wasn’t suicidal, but I could see how a new mother could be. I kept believing that it would eventually get better, I just couldn’t begin to see how.
Now I know how. For me, it was medication. Within days of starting Zoloft, I felt a fog lifting. I didn’t feel irrationally happy, drunk or high. I just felt like myself again. My energy level returned. My anxiety decreased. I started being able to sleep when I had the chance. Soon after, I had my first therapist appointment. I’ve seen her twice now, and we’ve already moved my sessions to twice a month. It turns out I already possessed many of the necessary coping skills; I just wasn’t able to access them before. I now enjoy leaving work to go see Monkey, and I see my job as more than just an escape. I can make decisions about whether or not to change Monkey’s diaper, when to put him down in his crib, when to let him cry, if I should feed him. I cherish the moments when Monkey falls asleep on my chest, without worrying that it will ruin his ability to self-soothe. I laugh when the Monkey blows out a diaper and I’m covered in crap at 3 in the morning.
Best of all, I can smile and find joy in my life again. It really did get better.
And it just keeps getting better.