- 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?
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.