I entered hell when my oldest son was born. Too exhausted and too scared to hold him, Mr Boots got the first cuddles with G. I sent G to the nursery that night so I could try and get sleep, but it it’s hard to sleep when nurses come and go all night and you know you may be woken at any moment to feed your baby.
G was tested for infection early the next morning because I had developed a fever during labor. The results were positive for sepsis and jaundice. He would be transferred to the NICU to be put under the bili lights and hooked up to an IV and monitors. It would be several hours before Mr Boots and I could even see him. I hadn’t gotten the chance to cuddle and bond with my baby and he was being taken away from me.
G had to stay under the lights except to be fed. Breastfeeding was hard because G was always handed to me when he was beyond hungry. He screamed. I sobbed.
Family was insistent on visiting. I didn’t want to see them. What was an exciting time for them was anything but for me. With all the doctor and nurses visits, I hadn’t had time to bond with G. When he was admitted to the NICU we couldn’t hold him. We spent the better part of that week wondering when we could take him home.
I wasn’t worried about G while he was in the NICU. Mostly just sad. Sad that he had to be there. Sad I couldn’t cuddle and bond with him like I had imagined so many times before.
In some ways I am thankful he got to stay in he NICU longer than I had to say at the hospital. I could go home and night and sleep between pumping sessions. I didn’t have to change a diaper for almost a week. Lactation consultants were at my beck and call every day, several times a day. We had help at the hospital. It was easier there.
I knew having a newborn would be hard, but I didn’t know how hard it was until we brought G home. When there were no nurses to change his diapers. No nurses to feed him and comfort him at night while I slept. When we brought G home Mr Boots told me I had to start doing those things.
And while I figured out how to change diapers without being peed on, while I figured out how to breastfeed without the help of consultants, while I figured out how to sleep when G slept, I continued my journey into my personal hell.
I thought that place was a place reserved for all parents who have a new baby. I thought what I was feeling and going through was normal.
I was wrong.
I was still sobbing daily after the two week postpartum mark. I said I was frustrated.
I didn’t want to go anywhere. I said I wanted to keep G away from germs.
I started feeling resentful and angry towards Mr Boots. I said I was jealous he was sleeping and I wasn’t.
I was eager to be away from G, taking the opportunity to drop him off at my parents for the morning or leaving him with Mr Boots for an afternoon. I missed him, but not terribly. And sometimes I found myself wanting to stay away longer. I thought I needed a break.
I started to ignore G’s cries and didn’t care. I…I have no good excuse for that.
I didn’t want visitors. I couldn’t get excited about the baby they were excited to see.
Visitors. I should have been excited to see my friends. After all, I wasn’t exactly able to just go meet them for lunch anymore. But I didn’t want to see them. Because everyone else was excited about G. And I wasn’t. I didn’t want my friends and family to see that. I was ashamed.
I was in a dark, dark place. But I didn’t see it. I didn’t really know. Even when we took G to his one month doctor appointment and I broke down and started crying when the RN looked at me and asked point blank how I was doing.
I kept saying my problem was that everything was new. Just as G was new and adjusting to the world around him, I was just trying to figure out this thing called Being a Parent.
The RN suggested I go see my doctor to make sure I didn’t have postpartum depression.
I decided to wait two more weeks until my six week postpartum appointment. What was two weeks anyway? I felt sure my problem was more the “newness” of everything than postpartum depression.
But…I don’t break down when someone asks how I’m doing unless I’m not doing okay.
Two weeks I waited things out. I put on my bigger girl panties and entertained short visits with friends and family. I tried not to lash out at my husband when I heard him snoring away while I was up for the fourth time that night. I talked myself into paying more attention to G, whether he was crying or not.
I’d had several discussions about postpartum depression (PPD) with my husband, starting with my first pregnancy. I knew I was at a higher risk because of my history of anxiety and depression. He insisted PPD wasn’t real.
But when my recovery nurse gave me a mini lecture on being higher risk for PPD when I answered in the affirmative for having a history, Mr Boots became worried.
He told me I needed to keep him updated on how I was feeling. He was worried wouldn’t know the signs.
Like me, I think he figured I was having a hard time adjusting to being a parent. Something I was very vocal about happening when we discussed family and friends visiting and/or helping out when we got home. (I didn’t think it was a good idea, he thought our moms would be itching to help out. Change is hard in me and I knew I would be on bitch mode as I tried figuring out my new life. No one needed to be there for that.)
So we thought that is all it was. He didn’t press seeing a doctor until the RN told me to. Just to make sure.
Everyone seemed to know something was wrong but didn’t say anything. They didn’t suggest getting help from my doctor. They suggested lunches with friends, massages, pedicures. They told me to do things that would put myself first.
But I needed more than that. And I think they knew it.
Maybe they didn’t know how to bring it up. Maybe they were scared of how I would react. Maybe they just didn’t know it was more than being a brand new parent.
But I do know they were worried. They are letting me know now. I had no idea they were as worried as they were.
I’m glad they cared enough to know something was wrong. But now I am angry they didn’t let me know. Back when I wasn’t gushing love and affection towards my son. Back when I was sobbing during feeding sessions. Back when I was in my deep, black, personal hell. A hell I have never experienced before.
I’ve been depressed but this was a different depression than I had been through before.
Before I would lay in bed and not eat. I’d have stomach problems and my chest hurt. I wanted nothing to do with anyone or anything. And I could muddle through. Because I really only had to worry about myself.
It’s different when you have someone that depends on you to live and thrive.
I couldn’t hide away even though I wanted to at times. Breast feeding and pumping left me starving. I didn’t feel sick, I felt run down. I was tired but I couldn’t sleep, my brain felt like it was full of static.
This was how the midwife told me I had PPD. After I told her I wasn’t enjoying breastfeeding and I didn’t have any interest in, well, anything. Those words opened up my eyes. Yes. There it was. The one sign I should have picked up weeks before. The one sign that should have told me something was wrong. The one thing, the only thing, that seemed the same a my previous depressive episodes and the place I was in then.
But I was in so deep I couldn’t really see it.
I was put on Zoloft and once it took full affect, the medication made me see just how bad things were during the weeks before.
It took me eight weeks to finally see what others were seeing.
My family, my friends, my husband. They all saw someone who wasn’t happy. Who was struggling. They saw someone they were concerned about.
My mom wondered if I was depressed. But she didn’t say anything until I told her I was diagnosed with postpartum depression. My best friend asked friends with babies close to G’s age if the change she saw in me was normal. But she didn’t tell me she was concerned until I told her I had been diagnosed. Mr Boots just asked what he could do to make me feel better.
No one said, “This doesn’t seem normal. You need to see a doctor.” Except for the RN who couldn’t help me.
My meds helped me see things differently. It was like I was on the outside looking in. I could look back as far as my miscarriage and I realized I wasn’t okay then either. I hadn’t been okay for over a year. Because I had actually been dealing with PPD since then.
Deep down I knew it. My family doctor said it was possible given I was still crying after the two week period after my miscarriage. I knew I was walking the fine line between sadness and depression then. In fact, I was very aware of it. I had declined meds because I knew I wanted to get pregnant as soon as my body healed from the D&C. I thought seeing a counselor, blogging, and ultimately having a baby would make everything better.
Instead I continued to cry several times a week. I tried to forget my pain by taking yoga and dance classes. I decided I was grieving since I no longer wanted to hide in bed. But it was all part of PPD and it just got worse after I had G. And I didn’t see it until I could take a step back and see it for myself.
Now when I tell my friends and family I have been dealing with PPD they seem amazed that I was able to see the signs and get help.
But didn’t really see the signs. I only brought it up to my doctor because I knew Mr Boots would have gotten upset if I didn’t. Since he wouldn’t be at my six week postpartum appointment to bring things up as he did during my visits when I was pregnant, I didn’t want to disappoint him.
I wish someone had told me that I didn’t seem okay and that my crying jags weren’t normal after the two week mark. I wish someone had put a bug in my head a lot sooner to talk to my doctor. I wish someone had just spoken up.
I know that must sound like I am blaming others for the hell I was in or the first two months of G’s life. And it isn’t. Except, when you are in this kind of hell you don’t always know when you should get help. I thought I was adjusting. I wasn’t really. I feel like someone could have just said, “Hey, I am worried about you. Have you considered seeing your doctor?”
Now. Now I can’t help but feel guilty about how I felt and acted during that time. I apologized to G daily as I sobbed while I held him. Heck, I still do when I get a case of the weepies when holding him. I was sorry I couldn’t be the overjoyed mother I thought I would be once I knew he would be born alive and I held him in my arms to confirm it. I was sorry I couldn’t respond to his cries the way a mother should. I was sorry I wasn’t enjoying my precious time away from work with him. Time I can’t ever get back. Time that ran out right when I started feeling better.
I don’t want to go back there. An aunt-in-law mentioned she had it, and it got worse with each child she had. This terrifies me. It terrifies me so much that I have considered only having one child.
But deep down I want at least two. And I love being pregnant. But I think this experience has made me want to wait a little longer before the next one. I told myself I wanted my first child before 30. Done. I didn’t say when I wanted the next ones by.
This experience has made me want more time to focus on G because I feel like some of that time got taken away from me. Both at the hospital after he was born and during my dark time. I can’t get back that time I lost, but I can do what I can to be more attentive now. I’d like to give myself a chance before we bring other babies into the mix.
And as for the postpartum depression coming back…There will always be that risk. Next time I want my friends and family to tell me if they are concerned, and I’ll be telling them to do so. Even if they have to tell me multiple times. Even if they have to drag me to the doctor and tell the doctor why I am there. I don’t want to make the same journey I am trying to come back from. Ever.
Update 12/6/16: Postpartum depression and other forms of maternal mental illnesses are treatable and you can get better with the right kind of help. Postpartum Progress is an excellent resource for learning more about these illnesses. If you need more local resources, Postpartum Support International is a great place to start. Please know that help is out there and you are not alone.