Monday, November 10, 2008

For two solid weeks ...

... after boy was first born, this is what ran through my mind constantly. Day and night, without ceasing.
  • Something bad will happen if I sleep. I need to be with the new baby every second.
  • What if someone breaks into the house while I'm in the shower and kidnaps the baby?
  • What if the baby stops breathing in the night and I never know it till it's way too late?
  • What if something happens to me and the baby never knows his own mother?
  • What if something happens to husband? How will I do this alone?
  • What if I'm driving and have a wreck and the baby's thrown from the vehicle?
  • What if the baby chokes while he's feeding?
  • Am I producing enough milk for this baby? Is he starving and I don't even know it? What kind of mother am I?
  • He spits up a lot. Does he have pyloric stenosis and he'll die because I'm too dumb to call the doctor?
  • What if he cries uncontrollably? What do I do? If I can't help him calm down, I must be the worst mother ever.
  • What if he cries uncontrollably while we're out in public, or with extended family? What will they think of me? 
  • He wakes up when we put him down. So we hold him while he sleeps. Are we ruining him for life?
  • Am I playing with him enough? Too much? Am I talking to him enough? Too much? Do I change him often enough, or too often? Is he wearing enough layers, or too many? 
Postpartum depression is real, and no amount of telling yourself to snap out of it will make it go away. Some of my concerns were the usual new mommy stuff, sure, but the inability to eat anything, the crushing self-doubt and the terrifying weight of relentless anxiety that were a part of those two weeks are classic symptoms of postpartum depression. I was taking scrupulous care of this precious new baby, attending to his every physical need, but I was too stricken with fear to enjoy him. I did a good job of hiding it when people visited, but my mother and my husband witnessed so many bouts of tearful misery that I knew I had to talk to my doctor.

With my mother's gentle urging, I broached the subject of my anxiety at my two-week post-operative check-up, and promptly started crying right in the examination room. My doctor was amazingly supportive, applauded me for owning up to how I was feeling, and assured me that there was something that could be done about it. She prescribed Prozac at the lowest possible dose, and I left the office that day feeling hopeful for the first time in what seemed like forever.

Within three days, I started to feel like I could smile again. I mean, really smile, like my old self. At first, the sensation of the expression on my face felt so foreign to me that my first urge was to suppress it. A week into my treatment, my tears were occasional, and they were ones of relief and gratitude for feeling human again, and being free from the excessive terror that my life had become. I was still anxious, sure -- but it was anxiety I could deal with, in quantities and in forms that felt normal and sane. And when I carried a swaddled boy around the house, I buried my face in his perfect self to giggle and tickle him, not to dry the flood of tears that had been a constant part of his first two weeks.

About a month ago, I realized that I was starting to feel down again. Little hiccups in our day -- a missed nap, a spell of fussiness -- not only made boy exasperated, but they completely undid me. Once again, I was finding myself crying on my husband's shoulder at night, too overwhelmed to even express what was wrong. I didn't know, in any case. I just knew I was scared, tired, and felt like a failure at the most important job I'd ever held. My mom and I did some research and we learned that Prozac can sometimes lose its effectiveness over time at a constant dose, almost like your body gets used to it. I called my doctor, and she agreed that my symptoms were classic symptoms of breakthrough anxiety due to drug tolerance. So we tweaked my dosage. I took the first new dose relieved to have done the right thing.

Only it didn't feel like the right thing, right away. In fact, for the first week after the dosage change, I felt worse than ever. I felt so down that getting through each day was a challenge, and I welcomed husband home from work at night not just because I was glad to see him, but because I was relieved to be free from the fear that came with being boy's only caregiver during the day. The old "what ifs" were back, and they'd brought friends. 

A follow-up call to my doctor yielded the knowledge that sometimes increases in my particular medication could have the side effect of (wait for it) increased anxiety, at least until the body regulated the way the medication was metabolized. Great, I thought. I'm taking this medicine to help me feel less scared and the side effect I'm noticing the most right now is that it's making me terrified. Perfect. That week felt like years. I wanted so badly to be there for boy the way he deserved, and I knew how good I could feel. I just wanted to be me again. 

Thank God it only lasted a week. As if by magic, my real self has surfaced again, and boy and I spend our days laughing and playing. And I know now what the warning signs are for tolerance, so hopefully if it happens again, I'll know what to do, and can act sooner to get help.

Do I like taking a medication every day to help me feel like myself? I absolutely do not. I was never a big proponent of medication in any way, shape or form -- I was always notorious in my family for never taking vitamins on time or finishing doses of antibiotics. But I know, too, that I couldn't wish away what was happening to me, couldn't try really hard and make it just get better. Because I gave that a shot, and it didn't work. And it doesn't mean I don't love my son, and it doesn't mean I'm not cut out to be a good mother. It means that for the time being, my brain needs a hand regulating its chemistry. If I were diabetic, I'd take medication for that. If I had a thyroid condition, I'd stay on the requisite meds without a second thought. Why should this condition be any different?

There's, sadly, a stigma associated with postpartum depression, and I've been debating posting this particular post for a long time. Because I am better about caring what everyone thinks of me, but that doesn't mean I've completely kicked my old habits. What finally gave me the push I needed was the thought that maybe there are women out there who feel a little bit like I did, and who think they're the only ones. You're not. Maybe there are men out there who wonder what happened to their wives when the baby was born. She's still there, and she still loves you

Maybe this will help someone. I hope so. If your baby's anything like mine, you deserve to be enjoying him. 


Sarah said...

*applauding wildly*

I can't say I know anything about PPD, but I so know the feeling of "trying your hardest" and NOT being able to shake, in my case, feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and disinterest in my own life. You said it just like my DR did at the time - if you had diabetes, you'd take the medication your body needed. Good job to you for doing what your body needed so that you can fully enjoy that sweet baby of yours. THAT'S, in my opinion, what makes a great parent.

screamy mimi said...

Really, really good for you. I have my own list of fears, including dropping the baby and having someone break in to steal her. For the first two weeks, almost nightly I woke in a panic thinking my down pillow was the baby and that I was smothering her. Seriously, the pillow was breathing. I worry about over or under stimulating her and then I worry that I'm worrying too much and that I'll be an overprotective mother and Evie will end up like Chokydar, perfect within the confines of our home, but unable to function socially. Thank you for writing this. So often I look around and see everyone as having it totally together. It is nice to know that I am not alone in this journey.

Shorty said...

It's been over 10 years since I went through what you've described, but I remember those thoughts very vividly. Kudos to you for getting the help you needed. I didn't. I acted like everything was fine when I went to my checkups and my son's checkups. Like you, I was able to care for my son but self-care was put on the back burner and tension between me and my son's father was beyond description at times. I urge any woman feeling anxiety or sadness to speak openly about it to your doctor. Just keep reminding yourself that it's only the hormones that have you all unsettled. It takes time to get back to normal, but there is no reason you shouldn't help it along with medication. You deserve to feel better and enjoy your new baby. Don't suffer needlessly, and don't beat yourself up for needing help. After all, your body just created an entire human being! That's traumatic on the body and the psyche. It's ok to need help with recovering.

Christy said...

That was the most beautiful thing...have goosebumps all are so strong and courageous to be real about your feelings and do something so wise for your body so you CAN enjoy this sweet season...the body is oh so complex and to think we could ever "be strong enough" to "get over" a real chemical imbalance in our bodys is just illogical...thank goodness we are becoming braver and stronger to be REAL and stand together to help each other. What a precious mommy and wife and friend you are!

NeoMystic said...

Mmmm, been there. Been that. Gave birth just over a year ago, have been crawling my way up and out of the darkness ever since. Yay Zoloft! Yay Prozac! And yay therapy, and the unconditional loving support of other new moms. I also believe we need a caring community and a partner willing to let us know how we're doing.

married yoshimi said...

I know we never see you guys... but getting to know you better through your writing is very special to me. I think so highly of you, and am glad you shared this. You're a great mom, and I hope to have a reason to call you for pointers sometime in our future...