I have postpartum depression.
In the blogosphere, PPD.
I've talked before about some of my issues. I don't even want to link up to them because I've posted so much about it already.
It started with my pregnancy. Me + pregnancy hormones = pure insanity. Once I got over the initial shock of actually being pregnant (after having convinced myself that there was no way I could possibly get pregnant without years of struggling for it) I was elated and terrified. Elated because it's the best news you'll ever have. Terrified because I am, without question or pause, the most selfish person I know. I didn't know how I could give up so much of myself for so long. I like to sleep. I like to drink. I like to go on long walks alone. Motherhood and pregnancy pretty much takes a hammer to all those things and beats the shit out of them until they vaguely resemble what you used to know.
At least until your child starts sleeping for longer than 4 hours at a stretch.
I was fairly anxious throughout my entire pregnancy. Even though my husband and my doctors assured me I was FINE, that the noxious green ecto-coolers I drank a few days before the BFP couldn't possibly have harmed my baby and that my anti-depressants had no effect on the embryo that would eventually become Hannah, I was anxious. I was anxious everyday. Some days were better than others. Some days sucked. Some days, I couldn't swallow because the knot of fear and anxiety that was living in my stomach had crept into my throat and even taking a deep breath made me burst into tears. Some days, I felt like my life was ending and not just changing. I had nightmares that piles of dirty diapers just got higher and higher and that my boobs sagged to the floor. I would start thinking about all the nights that the baby wouldn't sleep and I'd damn near hyperventilate.
I was afraid to be happy about my pregnancy. I was afraid to get attached and bond with my baby. I felt it so deep inside me--something was wrong with my baby. Something terrible was going to happen and if I got attached I'd be setting myself up for heartbreak.
Privately, I'd talk to Hannah. I'd write her letters. I'd go on walks and talk to her and scare the neighborhood kids at the playground. I'm 99.9999% sure they thought I had eaten some kid and was taunting him openly as he digested slowly in my stomach.
Talking to her helped, but I was afraid to get to know her and truly bond. I was afraid to fall in love with her. Graham took me to the library and we loaded up on books. We each took turns reading to her at night during the summer. Reading to her, sharing with my unborn baby my favorite hobby and guilty pleasure, took the edge off. I was still scared. When I relaxed enough to feel that my baby was in fact, going to be okay, I was scared about my ability to parent. I knew that Graham would be an awesome dad. I had zero doubts about his skills. It was ME I was worried about. What if I held her and she didn't stop crying? What if she hated me for those ecto-coolers from Kasia, the Polish bartender? What if the ultrasounds and blood tests missed something and she was born with a heart defect or some god-awful disorder? What if, what if, what if.
Here's the part where I interject about "What to Expect" and how wonderful and awful it was for me at the point in time. It validated my fears that I did some harm to my baby, then it scared me shitless because HOLY GOD, I DIDN'T EVEN KNOW THAT WAS POSSIBLE. My inner alarmist lived for the drama that came with "that book".
I love to sing. I used to sing all day, everyday. I'd sing in the car, in the shower, while doing dishes....anytime. I loved it. Last summer, I stopped singing. It was--for me--the first sign that something was really wrong. But, because I'm Angie and I'm an open book but I keep some walls up because I'm a big pain in the ass, I ignored this sign. I'd started to convince myself that all these changes and the loss of interest in some of my favorite activities were the result of Pregnancy Hormones From Hell. Once I had that baby, I'd be back to my old self again. I'd have my body back and I'd start to feel like me again.
By the end of my pregnancy, I was excited to finally be un-pregnant, but I was terrified to give birth. The pushing, tearing, ripping, swelling....birth isn't for the faint of heart and I have a relatively low threshold for pain. I was also so, so afraid that the unthinkable would happen during labor and I'd leave the hospital without my baby. I never, ever minding hearing her heartbeat while I was laboring and I never let the nurses turn the fetal monitor down because I could hear her heart beating and I knew she was still okay.
By the end of my pregnancy, I loved my baby. I wanted to meet her. I wanted to see her and hold her, but I was still cautiously optimistic. I was not entirely convinced that everything would be okay.
When I was finally in labor, I was scared about everything that came with it, but I was thrilled to be looking at life after pregnancy. I was aching to see my feet again. However, I knew that, given all the emotions and issues I had that developed as we attempted to close on our house, and my history up until that point, PPD was a near-certainty. Graham was keeping an eye on me, but naturally he had his own fears and concerns about fatherhood. I can't blame him. We both had plenty of time to get used to the idea of parenthood, but I had nine months to get to know our daughter. He was about to get a crash course in "Hannah".
Right after she was born, in the hospital, we were smitten. I was stunned that one second I was pushing down hard, literally ripping myself a new one, and less than a second later a white, wiggly, very confused looking baby was naked and laying on my chest. She was squinting around and so warm and beautiful. I was in shock. I kept thinking that I should have been so overwhelmed and in love that I needed to burst into tears, but I couldn't process. Instead, I just looked at her and was in awe of her beauty. Adreneline surged through my body and all I could do was look at her. I didn't feel any pain or shock, just the amazing awe that comes with bringing a person into the world. My body hadn't failed me. Despite what my mind tried to tell me, I brought a healthy, gorgeous baby into the world.
A few minutes after birth, she was diagnosed with a slight heart murmur and I felt somewhat vindicated. I'd look at Graham and say, "See? SEE????? I did have a reason to be concerned, Graham!" And, because he's patient and wonderful he'd reply with, "She's fine." And she was. The entire time we were in the hospital, all I could do was look at her. She was gorgeous. She was perfect. How on earth did I have anything to do with creating the most perfect thing I'd ever seen?
The weeks immediately following her birth are kind of a blur. We were exhausted. I was tired and it hurt to sit down. I had stitches in places there should never be stitches. I ached. My entire body ached.
Holding Hannah helped. She was happiest in our arms, and holding her was something we could both do. But in my heart, something was not right.
I was a walking contradiction, like a Nazi who hates herself. I wanted sleep and I wanted Hannah to stop crying. I wanted to hire a night nurse and a maid and a nanny to take care of her so I could get some damn sleep. But anyone who changed her diaper or comforted her--anyone who wasn't me--made me feel like an instant failure. I knew they were doing it better than I had been doing it. My mind told me she wanted to be closer to her daddy and her grandparents, not me. They could do it better.
Hannah developed reflux and putting her down on her back for any amount of time made her screech and scream in pitches I haven't heard since high school choir. More than that, her screams didn't sound like baby noises. Instead all I heard was, "BAD MOMMY! BAD MOMMY!" Over and over and over and over again. I'd start shaking because I knew it was the truth. I was a baby mommy. I had no idea what I was doing, and Hannah knew it. She got the shaft in the parent lottery and she wanted out. Each time she cried, all I heard was "FAILURE! FAILURE! YOU ARE A FAILURE!!!" It made me sick to my stomach, and I wanted to crawl into a cave and leave my entire life behind. If I was a failure, she'd be better off without me. I couldn't stop thinking that we'd made a mistake, that our decision to have a baby was a bad decision when her mother was completely inept. There were moments when I wanted my old life back.
I tried to shake these thoughts. I kept telling myself, "This is what the life of a new mom is like. This is it. These feelings will go away once I can get more sleep. All I need is some sleep."
For about a month, Graham was exceptionally supportive. He knew that baby blues was something everyone dealt with, and when I had a rough day he was so patient and supportive. He'd remind me that until my body adjusted that I was going to have rough days here and there. When I had a rough day, he would take Hannah out of the room when she fussed so I could have some time to myself, he'd do all the housework, everything. It's funny--your body has nine months to grow and change as you work together to create this new person, and your hormones adapt along with everything else. Then, you push out this baby and it's a forcible eviction of all those hormones. Suddenly your body is clueless because OH MY GOD EVERYTHING JUST CHANGED WHERE'S THE BABY??? I would literally go from feeling a-okay to bawling on the floor of the bathroom because I knocked over my hairbrush climbing out of the shower and GODDAMMIT WHY CAN'T I DO ANYTHING RIGHT??!?!?!?!
Everyone told me to sleep when the baby slept. But I had no interest in napping during her naps. I couldn't make myself relax enough to catch a break. I was tired at night, but more than anything I was just....tired. Not "Man, I'm sleepy and gonna catch 40 winks," tired, but "Shoot. I'm just gonna sit here and stare at the wall" tired.
While I was not sleeping, I'd look around and start beating myself about everything that was wrong with my life at that moment. Our house was a mess. Dishes were piling up. I hadn't changed clothes in a few days and I'm pretty sure I last showered in October. Then Hannah would start crying again and I'd sigh one of those sighs that reaches down so deep inside you feel it in your bone marrow. I'd have to convince myself to stand up and go to her. I was so angry. Angry that she had reflux. Angry that everything felt like it was dumped on me. Angry that no one seemed to know what I was going through. Angry that I was angry during what was supposed to be one of the happiest times of my life. Angry for not enjoying and appreciating this time more.
I started to detach from her. When she needed a diaper change, I'd just change it and not talk to her at all. When it was time to get moving and go get Graham from school or if we needed groceries, I'd bundle up Hannah but I'd say, "Okay baby, let's go." No interaction, no first names. Just going through the motions. I kept thinking--again--that if I got more sleep, I'd be fine. I'd try and bargain with her. "Just go to sleep for an hour, baby. An hour! If we both sleep for an hour, Mommy will be so much better. Please just sleep."
Christmas was awful. I didn't want to go anywhere, but I didn't want to spend Christmas at home. I didn't want to go anywhere and I didn't want to be alone. I didn't want to see anyone but I was still proud and wanted to share Christmas with my daughter (even though she slept through most of it). I felt like, well, like I'd just had a baby. None of my clothes fit and even taking time to shower was a struggle. I didn't want my picture taken but as is always the case with my dad and his brothers, no one listened and snapped away. "One more picture....no just one more picture....no really, just one last picture." In half the photos, Hannah is screaming. She's tired and she'd had enough, but I'm still forcing another smile for another goddamn photo. I normally have had enough of my photo being taken after, oh, 2 or 3 snapshots. But naturally, for Hannah's first Christmas, everyone wanted, oh 200-300 snapshots. Whenever I argued--whenever--it was, "Oh just one more!" and "It's her first Christmas!" It took all my inner strength, what was left of it, not to walk out the door and leave. Not kidding. I looked at the door and it spelled freedom. Freedom from photos. Freedom from noise and dirty diapers and a crying baby and my entire family. I didn't care. I wanted out. I wanted to be as far away from Hannah and the cameras as was humanly possible.
In those photos, you can see I'm full of shit. I look tired and my smiles are completely superficial. I didn't want to smile. People are hugging me and I'm tense. I was barely at "functioning" and smiling was about 12 steps after that.
Most nights when she cried out, I just laid there and let Graham go get her. I couldn't take it anymore. I couldn't do it. I was so tired and I needed sleep. Why wouldn't she let me sleep? One night, I put her down and I swear to God she was out cold. In the 23 seconds it took for me to lay her down and walk back to my side of the bed, she woke up screaming. I couldn't go back to her. I just crawled into bed and pulled the blankets over my head, hoping that eventually she'd stop shrieking and we could all get some sleep.
Somehow, I became afraid of my baby. I couldn't make her reflux go away. I couldn't make her stop crying. She was like the math section of the ACT. I'd look at her tiny body and her mouth open so wide it took up her entire face, and I was scared. I didn't know what to do anymore.
Some days were better than others, but for the most part I felt like a shell of my old self. I didn't recognize the woman I saw in the mirror. I didn't like her. In fact, I hated her. Superficially, she was ugly. She was fat and scarred and her boobs were gross and saggy and not cute and firm like they used to be. She was grotesque. I hated, hated, HATED when people commented on my appearance. I wanted to be invisible. Comments that were meant to be uplifting were reminders that I wasn't invisible. I didn't want anyone telling me I looked good when I knew they were full of it. No one looks "good" when they just had a baby; they look like they got hit by a truck. Someone--I don't remember who--was amazed at my stomach afterwards. He or she reached out and GRABBED my stomach and said, "Wow! Look how much your stomach went down already!" I don't remember the face or the voice, but I remember the words and I remember the hand on my stomach, and I remember that all they ended up grabbing was a handful of body fat and swollen uterus and stretch marks. I felt like The Human Blob in that moment. I don't remember if I said anything out loud or if I punched them right in the junk, but I do remember my brain telling me over and over again, "Fat! Fat! FAT!!!" in that creepy Leo Blume voice from "The Producers". My head was spinning and my heart plunged right into my fat, swollen gut. It was awful. It didn't matter that my stomach "went down". Whoever grabbed my stomach knew the truth. They felt all the fat and skin hanging down. They knew what was hiding under my sweater. I had a hard enough time grappling with how my body looked--very much like the side of an elephant--and now on top of that someone else knew too? I was so mad at the universe. What the fuck did I do to deserve this? Why couldn't it just have left well enough alone? Why did I have to be the one to have the first grandchild? Why did I have to share my baby? Why did everyone need a piece of her and me?
Most of all...what the hell was wrong with me? I knew something wasn't right, but I still convinced myself that if I slept more, I'd be okay. Just a few decent nights of sleep and I'd be at 100%.
When I looked in the mirror, I saw Jabba, NO, Pizza the Hut. (Name that movie.) True story, I didn't do much looking in the mirror. Or in the shower. My first shower at home left me crying as the water ran down. I looked down and saw my stomach and wanted to vomit. I saw beyond my stomach and gasped when I saw how swollen and deformed I was. Naturally, it makes sense. I had just PUSHED A HUMAN OUT OF MY VAGINA. That's messy business. If you tell me you had a vaginal birth and walked away without stitches or swelling, I'm going to call you a liar. And naturally I had stretch marks because at the end of, oh month seven, Hannah had run out of room. My body did what it was supposed to do. I had prepared myself for the pre-baby changes. I was definitely not prepared for the post-baby changes.
Graham heard me sobbing and came to check on me, and he made the all-too-unfortunate decision of peeking in on me while I was in the shower, at my most vulnerable. There I was, naked and sobbing over the fate of my formerly sorta-cute body, and I tried to wrap myself up in the plastic shower curtain, begging him not to look at me because I was disgusting. He wasn't disgusted. He'd seen me give birth, so the image I saw in the shower wasn't news to him. He still told me I looked hot. He told me I was beautiful. I called him a liar. I forced him out of the bathroom so I could cry in peace. I was so angry. SO angry. WHY ME? Why me? Why did I have to drink so much that night? Why wasn't I more responsible? Why did I have to have a baby in the first place? Why did we think this was a good idea? Why did I have to be so sick for 20 weeks? Why did I get stretch marks? Why did my body have to be so misshapen? Why did I have to give up my body for 40 weeks, and now my boobs? Why was it 6 weeks postpartum and why was I still bleeding? Why did my baby have reflux? Why wouldn't she sleep unless she was being held? Why did I have to have a baby in December? NATURALLY it was so I couldn't go outside and exercise.
I felt like the universe had conspired against me. I heard all this noise in my head and over all of it was the sound of my baby crying. I'd had enough. One particularly bad day in February I'd had enough. She screamed all morning and as we were leaving to go to a mom and baby group, I screamed at her. I shouted at her. "Stop crying! Stop fucking crying already!" I felt awful, but how much more was I supposed to take? I was only one person and I just wanted something about my recovery period to be easy. Why'd I end up with a clingy baby with heartburn?
As we were leaving the moms group that day, we passed a "Safe Haven" sign. I'd seen them before but this one caught me like a deer in headlights. I stared at it for a good 10 minutes on the sidewalk outside the hospital. Hannah was over two months old, and all I remember thinking was, "It's too late. Goddammit, It's too late."
Say it with me now. Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot.
Writing this down is absolutely mortifying. Humiliating. I'd never hurt my baby. I love her so, so friggin' much. I debated whether or not to even share this because it's...well, you read it. It's awful.
I cried the whole way home. Bawling openly driving down Kedzie, praying to God I didn't see anyone I knew because I didn't want to have to explain myself. When I got home, I pulled Hannah from the carseat and just hugged her so close to me, apologizing over and over. I can't even find the words to describe how low I felt in that moment. Had I seriously considered leaving my baby in the hospital? Who does that? How could I do that? I had an amazing, precious life in my arms and I thought about leaving her there on the sidewalk. The horror I felt made me vomit. I was the worst excuse for a mother. Hannah deserved better. She didn't ask to be born, and when she was she ended up with me. This poor little baby deserved so much better and she got me. I prayed to God that I would have a stroke or a heart attack or a sudden brain aneurysm, anything to take me away so that my little girl wouldn't grow up with a mother like me. I prayed for it nightly.
One thing was clear: either I needed help or I needed to leave my family behind. They didn't deserve this. Graham and Hannah deserved better than what I was giving them. I cried for over an hour, looking at my sleeping daughter and just telling myself that she didn't deserve a mother who was broken. She didn't deserve a mother like this. Then, I thought about my birth mom and the issues I've been dealing with me whole life, and I didn't want to put Hannah through all that. I didn't want her to look in the mirror and wonder if she looked like me. I didn't want her to look at blond strangers in the store and wonder if that's the woman who abandoned her. I needed help.
At my postpartum check up, when my doctor asked about "that anxiety", I broke down. I had started feeling detached from my baby. I wanted to love her, but I was so tired. I was too busy not sleeping and I didn't have time to catch up on sleep. I kept telling myself that if I could only get a decent nap I'd fall back in love with this little person who I had known so intimately.
I told my OB everything, and I felt better and worse. I hated saying those words out loud and admitting that I was an unfit parent.
She told me I wasn't an unfit parent, that I had postpartum depression. My heart sank and I didn't really know how to feel. I was glad to have a name for what I was feeling and so glad that this wasn't "the new me". But I was disappointed in myself for not seeking help earlier, for not noticing that something wasn't right and it wasn't just a matter of sleep or no sleep. I was angry that I let myself get to this point.
My OB gave me a phone number and a name, and I started seeing a psychiatrist. I hated it. I hated her. She put me on Zoloft and I said a silent, "Fuck you" to those little blue happy pills each time I took them. I hated that I needed a pill to get me to "normal" (my normal). But, even though I felt I wasn't deserving of happiness or self-improvement, my daughter sure as hell was deserving of a mom who was as close to her A-game as possible. And you know what? As much as I hated it, I really did need it. Taking the Zoloft drowned out the noise in my head and suddenly when Hannah cried, I didn't want to roll over and pull the covers over my head. I wanted to go to her and comfort her. I wanted to spend time with her. Instead of wanting to run every time she wanted her mommy, I started to smile. I wanted to comfort her and each time she smiled at me, I felt like a million bucks and not like I didn't deserve that smile.
At my last appointment with the psychiatrist, I mentioned that with the warmer weather and the sunshine, I was starting to feel manic on the Zoloft. (S.A.D., meet Zoloft. Wooooooooooooooooooooooooocrazy!!!) She told me she felt it was time to pull me off and see how I did. I was open to it because I was feeling better. Hannah was sleeping through the night, and I couldn't wait to get home from work to see her. I loved watching her grow and change. I adored each minute we got to spend with her. I was in love with my daughter. That was a huge victory for me. Her cries didn't remind me that I was a failure or a bad mommy. I felt so, so much better.
I felt ready. That was two months ago.
A few weeks ago, I started to feel a little rocky. Hannah had started waking up again in the middle of the night because her teeth are coming in, so I wasn't sleeping as well. I was preparing to leave my job and the stress of that was weighing on me and Graham. Our basement was filling up with water--again--and the cost associated with that was adding to our stress. Once again, I told myself that when we all started sleeping again, once the stress went away, once our basement didn't require a snorkel and floaties, that I'd feel better. It's summertime and the livin' is easy. I was going to feel better.
Yesterday, I lost my shit on a box. A random, run of the mill cardboard box that was sitting in the hallway. I was about to take Hannah for a walk and I tripped over it, cutting my leg. A normal, rational Angie would have said a curse word or two, but yesterday's rant sounded something like this: Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fucking Fuck Fuck Fucking Bugger Bugger Bugger Buggity Buggity Buggity Buggity Fuck Fuck Ass Balls Balls Fuckity Dick Shit Fucking Willy Willy Shit Fuck and Tits. (Name that movie.)
Today, Hannah bit me. Twice. On the nipple. I screamed out, dumped her in Graham's arms, ran to bed and bawled for over an hour, feeling like a failure again because I can't breastfeed my daughter without her biting down. Hannah wouldn't go down for a nap and she cried because she just wanted to be held. I couldn't make my baby nap and I couldn't feed her and I couldn't do anything right.
In the last few months, I've had zero interest in anything that used to make me happy. Cooking, eating, baking, singing, reading....all of it seems like too much work.
I need help and I'm going to get it. I don't want to go back on Zoloft, but I know I have to. I hate it, but I'm not a good mom without it. I'm starting to think I'll never beat this, that I'll always have this cloud hanging over me, but maybe with the Zoloft and some counseling, it won't be so bad. I can learn to live with it.
All I want is for my daughter to be happy. She deserves the best we can give her, and over the last few months, she hasn't gotten close to my best.