February 16, 2017
It finally happened. I was at Walmart with my 2 year old and my 7 week old. It was cold, I had a car full of groceries and both kids were tired and hungry and screaming. I get everyone settled into the car and buckle myself in, thankful for 30 minutes of time in which no one will be touching me. I go to start the car and hear that God-awful clicking that tells you that—- you guessed it—- my battery was deader than a doornail. I calmly call my sweet father in law and ask him to come rescue me and he quickly obliges. In the meantime, I stand outside of the car next to the screaming, hungry baby, enjoying my coffee, shushing and intermittently yelling at the toddler to stop kicking the seat. I promise there is a purpose to me telling you this, but first, let me give you some back story.
Seven weeks before this, I had just given birth under fairly traumatic circumstances. It was Christmas Eve and my husband came down with a stomach bug. I didn’t think much about it—- actually I figured he had overindulged at one of our earlier dinners— so I sent him to bed and my toddler and I went on to my grandma’s house. Everything was great until we were in the middle of opening presents and I had to run to the bathroom or risk vomiting all over my new stand-up mixer. I decided that maybe hubby was sick after all and begged my mom to please take my toddler home with her so that she could hopefully avoid this plague. My husband then came and picked me up (I had ridden with my mom, who had just left with my daughter). As I was walking to the car, I got so sick that I peed all over myself (pretty par for the course for someone who is 9 months pregnant). As the night wore on, I became sicker and sicker and because I was so dehydrated, my Braxton hicks contractions became unbearable. At about 3 am Christmas morning, I woke up my husband and told him that I needed to go to the hospital for fluids because I wasn’t feeling the baby move and I was way too dehydrated. We finally made it to the hospital and they started the nausea medicine and fluids. Protocol said that they had to check me because of the contractions, and I agreed because they were getting increasingly painful. It was then that they discovered that my water had broken. Remember when I was vomiting and thought I had peed myself? Yeah, that rush of fluids was actually my membranes rupturing. So on Christmas Day 2016, at 36 weeks pregnant and while sick with the stomach flu, I gave birth to my son, Avery. As hard as all of that was, I had no clue how difficult my life was about to become.
We left the hospital when Avery was two days old. I was so ready to get home and see my daughter, but I had this gnawing fear inside of me. Honestly, “fear” isn’t even a strong enough word. I was terrified. I was terrified about how I would be able to care for my two babies who both needed me so much. Terrified about how I would feed the baby since he wasn’t nursing well. Terrified about how I would get laundry done. You name it, and I was scared of it. These feelings often brought on panic attacks and after two days of being at home and me alternating between hyperventilating and crying uncontrollably, my husband and I decided I needed to go see my OB/GYN. We made the appointment with her nurse practitioner and I was told that I was suffering from Postpartum Anxiety. I remember saying, “this is different from postpartum depression, right?” because women with postpartum depression want to suffocate their babies, and I was just having a tiny bit of anxiety (oh if I would have known then what I know now). The nurse stated that they could up the medication that I already take for anxiety and that was my best option due to me wanting to breastfeed. I sat there and cried, begging for something that would work faster, and she assured me that I would start to feel better in a week or two. Without any real hope, we left the appointment and went home. Sometime that afternoon, my husband ran to get our daughter from the babysitter and left me home alone with the baby. Immediately, I started having panic attacks. I left the room because I was crying so loudly I was afraid I would wake the baby up. I remember hitting my head against the wall and begging the thoughts to stop. I remember dropping to my knees and begging God to just end me because I couldn’t do it. I thought I was going to die because there was no way a person could live through something like this. At that point, the nurse called to give me some blood test results. Upon hearing my voice, she knew something was wrong and told me that I needed to go to the emergency room. I cried and explained that I couldn’t because they would take my babies and I was not crazy, I was just having a hard time adjusting (again, how wrong I was). At this point, my husband came home and saw what a mess I was. He too was scared and agreed that I needed to go to the hospital. So we loaded Avery up and left our daughter with her grandparents, and again, I was terrified. I didn’t know when I would see her again because I truly thought that they would commit me. We got to the hospital and I was so confused that I couldn’t even verbalize why I was there. I was given medication and sent home. And this began my journey through postpartum depression.
I wish I could tell you that going to the hospital fixed everything, but I would be lying. I wish I could tell you that I never experienced another panic attack, but again that wouldn’t be the truth. The whole purpose of this post is to show the real deep dark side of postpartum depression and with that I will say that the next 5 weeks of my life were absolute hell. More often than not during those weeks, I did not want to hold my son or my daughter because I was terrified I would hurt them. When I would agree to hold my son (generally only out of necessity), it was like someone had given me a stranger’s baby. He was adorable, he was precious, but I loved him like he could have been anyone’s child. To be completely honest, part of me was so angry with him—-a newborn—- because I would never have gone through this if it wasn’t for him (this shows the irrational thinking that occurs when one is experiencing PPD/PPA). Common mundane tasks continued to give me debilitating anxiety. My family tried to be as reassuring as possible by telling me that I was a great mom and that if anyone could handle this situation, I could, but this was not helpful. I constantly tried to explain how I was feeling to my husband and my family who now looked at me with pitiful expressions and treated me with “kid gloves” because they were scared to set me off. I tried to explain how PPD/PPA feels like your body and hormones are in control and you are just along for the ride. I tried to explain how I would never WANT to hurt my babies, but that this lack of control made me fearful that I would. I tried to explain that it didn’t matter how great of a parent they thought I was because this anxiety over having to do the dishes or fold the laundry or sweep the floor was eating me alive. Explaining was pointless because it is impossible to understand postpartum depression unless you have went through it. Here you are, having just experienced the miracle that is birth, and you just have this inexplicable sadness and fear. The world tells you that you are supposed to be rejoicing in this time and soaking up every minute, and having any differing feelings leaves you feeling like a failed parent—- like you don’t deserve this child. Thankfully, angels in the form of friends and family came to me in this time and reassured me that they too had experienced PPD/PPA and that it doesn’t last forever, even though it feels like it will never end. These angels would check in on me almost daily, and some days, I honestly think talking with them kept me alive.
If you have stuck with me this long, I promise I am almost done. Let’s come back to the current day, where my baby is now 7 weeks old. Here I am stranded at Walmart with my two screaming kids and I am calmly sipping my coffee and idly shushing my baby. HOW DID I GET HERE? After reading all of this, you now know that if this would have happened 6 weeks prior, I would have ended up in the fetal position on the concrete, probably crying louder than my children. But thanks to the things I am about to mention, I can now see the light at the end of the postpartum depression tunnel. If you are reading this and are experiencing postpartum depression, here is what you need to pay attention to. Here is what helped me, and may help you too.
First and foremost, you have NOTHING to be ashamed about so do not hide this. Hiding this is probably the worst possible thing you can do because it will lead you to feel isolated and you will not get the help that you need. Are you hearing me? DO NOT BE ASHAMED OR EMBARRASSED BY THIS. Find someone that you trust to talk to. More people experience this than we realize, so I would be willing to bet that you could find a friend or family member that would be able to sympathize. The next most important thing is to talk to your doctor. These feelings you are experiencing are some of the worst you will ever have and you should not have to go through them on your own. Speak to your doctor about what you can do to get through this tough time, whether that is medication or talk therapy (personally, I utilized both). Next, let your friends and family help you. Drop that mom guilt— I know, this is much easier said than done— and know that there is no shame in asking someone to help you fold your laundry or clean up your living room when you have a newborn. More people may be willing to help than you realize. Finally, find something that you can do to get through those moments of sadness or anxiety. My escape was journaling and hand lettering. I would sit and write short sentences declaring all of the good things in my life and the things that I know to be true. I would copy inspirational quotes into my journal and let their words soak in as I was writing them. Do whatever works for you.
My final thought for this post is to tell you that although I am feeling much better, and I am seeing my mood and my overall outlook drastically improving, healing from postpartum depression is a process. This is not something that happens overnight or with one dose of medication. This takes time— sometimes weeks or months worth of time. And that is okay because as I have learned in these past seven weeks, healing is not linear. There will be ups and there will be downs but the important thing is that you keep moving forward with your life. Eventually these feelings will end and you will be able to enjoy your life and family again. In the meantime, take care of yourself and know that there are millions of other women in that valley with you. You are not alone. – M.