@karma_D, Lisa, found me via the #PPDChat at Twitter. At this week’s Just Talkin’ Tuesday, she expressed a desire to share her story but said she wasn’t ready to do so on her own blog yet. Lisa wanted somewhere to share her story anonymously in order to help other moms. I offered her a place here at My Postpartum Voice. This is truly what I want this site to be about – the power of sharing our stories to help one another find our own Voice as we journey through recovery.
Lisa’s story is powerful. Her NICU start reminds me of my own postpartum after the birth of my second daughter. It’s a rough start for sure and I hope Lisa finds the same strength as I have as she journeys towards recovery. Please don’t hesitate to send @karma_D some love. And if you’re a mom in need, you can follow me by clicking here. You can also visit Postpartum Support International to find a Coordinator near you. You are not alone, you are not to blame, and you will be well.
I have post partum depression. That might be a shock to friends and family, but no one was more unprepared for it than I was. My pregnancy was incredible. I felt amazing, better than I have in years, both physically and emotionally. I felt strong, hopeful, like a dream a lifetime in the making was finally coming true. Those months were full of planning, anticipation, expectation, all culminating in the beautiful instant my son was born. It was the best moment of my life, euphoric almost in the sudden absence of pain and joy of meeting him.
Within hours of his birth, he was taken to the NICU for breathing difficulty, and so began the downward spiral, full of broken expectations. Instead of bonding with a newborn in the hospital room surrounded by adoring guests, we shuffled back and forth to the NICU to stand around a helpless baby attached tubes and wires.
The night we came home from the hospital without our son was horrible. Pulling into our neighborhood late that night I vividly remember looking out the car window and feeling like I was witnessing life from another person’s body. Reality seemed unrecognizable. We arrived home to flowers and hospital bags dropped off earlier by our parents, mountains of gifts and food cluttering the house. In that moment I couldn’t see this wonderful outpouring for the blessing it was, but instead as anxiety inducing clutter. Exhausted, my husband went to bed but I stayed up and cried. I felt alone, scared, not myself. It was not at all the homecoming I had anticipated.
When we finally did bring our son home a week after his birth, things didn’t get better. Breastfeeding difficulties often left one or both of us in tears. It was not at all the bonding experience I had hoped for. I pushed through because I wanted so desperately to do the right thing, to act like a good mother even if I didn’t feel like one. I was tearful and scared because I didn’t feel like myself, and when I did manage to communicate this to my husband all I could muster was, “It’s so hard.” He did his best to reassure me and I tried to reassure myself it was just “baby blues” and sleep deprivation. I minimized my symptoms to the OB and Pediatrician, who screened me for PPD but didn’t pick it up early on. I tried to will it away and hoped things would get better, and kept acting like everything was fine.
Months went by and it never did get better, and the mood swings actually got worse. One moment I was okay, the next agitated or enraged, then crying and despondent. I yelled a lot, mostly at the dogs or my husband. One afternoon when my son was crying I yelled at him to “SHUT UP! JUST SHUT UP!” The guilt of yelling at him was awful. I believed it was going to be burned in his psyche forever and he’d always think I was crazy. Still not wanting to think the mood swings could be PPD, I blamed it on my IUD. Eventually I did tell my OB about my symptoms (though admittedly I glossed over them again), and she said she “wasn’t getting a good read on (me).” She agreed it could be the IUD but convinced me to give it some more time, and encouraged exercise and DHA supplements. Finally I demanded the IUD removed as I wasn’t getting better, but even then no one diagnosed me with PPD.
I spent 6 months of maternity leave waiting for things to look up. I kept hoping to turn the corner but never did. Instead, the mood swings continued, and intrusive thoughts began. I pictured horrible things happening to me and my baby and felt helpless to prevent them. I often lacked motivation – even the simplest tasks seemed too much to manage. Once I went an entire week without leaving the house because it was just so overwhelming. My mood wasn’t always down. There were lots of times I felt fine, happy even, and capable, but they never lasted long. These moments of calm made me think I was okay. I never wanted to harm myself nor my baby, I got up and dressed every day, and I didn’t really feel like what I believed depression to be, so I never admitted what was happening in my head and never asked for help.
Returning to work was a blessing and a curse. It gave me a much needed break but the guilt was crushing. The mood swings got progressively worse until one night (Valentine’s Day), I got so worked up over my son’s difficulty going to sleep that I exploded. After slamming the door to his nursery I went and hid under the covers, my body buzzing and feeling like I might explode out of my skin. My thoughts raced and I just wanted to go away. I didn’t want to die but I didn’t want to exist either, at least not then. Later that night I had another fit when the baby woke up. My husband asked, “What is wrong with you?” in a tone I’ve never heard from him, one that suggested disgust. That was my rock bottom. I couldn’t hide it anymore. The next day I finally told my husband I thought I had PPD and made an appointment. I saw a different doctor and started treatment.
The improvement has been rapid. I feel hopeful again, motivated, more clear headed. I can reason rather than shutting down. The anger is better, the crying is better. The anxiety still creeps in and I do have setbacks. On those days I just try to survive until tomorrow. I’m learning to recognize triggers and figuring out coping mechanisms – Blair’s STOP has been helpful, as has reading and chatting with other moms who’ve experienced PPD. (At the same time, I feel the need to control what I’m exposed to so I’m careful about following blogs and such and limiting potentially upsetting material.) I’m trying to let go of expectations and enjoy the moment more. My bond with my son is growing and I am starting to appreciate those wonderful Mommy emotions I had hoped to experience immediately. I wear a locket every day and inscribed on the back is “Before I understood your words, I understood your love.” I have an amazing son and I know he understands the bond, too.
I think a lot about what it will be like next time – the “do over” as I call it. In the darkest moments of PPD I swore we would be “one and done” – I couldn’t fathom ever going through this again. Now, I am hopeful. Things will be different. Per my doctor, I’ll likely start meds immediately. I’ll make a strategy for how I’m going to get support, something like a birth plan but for postpartum, and share it with my “team.” I am almost certain I won’t breastfeed. The stress of nursing was a huge trigger, even after all the initial issues as I worried about pumping and supply. I’ll also know I’m not alone. I wish I had believed that months ago.