Friday, November 15, 2013

In Which I Talk Honestly About Postpartum Depression

Hello, all.

It's been a while since I last blogged. Most of you know I had a baby in August, and he kept my hands completely tied for a while. What many people don't know is that after he was born, I struggled with severe postpartum depression.

I wanted to write this post because I felt, much like infertility, PPD is something that not enough women speak openly about. Many people feel it's a weakness, something to be ashamed of. That it makes you less of a person, or worse, a bad mother. It's none of those things.

Let me start by saying I knew deep down that it would happen. I've always been prone to feeling down around a certain time of the month, and my mood is one of the first things to take a hit when my thyroid medication needs adjustment. And when you're pregnant, your medication needs almost monthly adjustment to compensate for the baby. I knew that once I had him, my hormones would be on a roller coaster with my thyroid in the front car screaming, "STOP THE RIDE!"

Still, nothing prepared me for the way the depression hit like a Mack truck.

I had a ton of stress surrounding my pregnancy. First, the four years of infertility and two miscarriages I endured before finally getting pregnant, which sounds so oversimplified when I say it in one sentence. Then, my husband and I decided to accept his company's offer to transfer to Georgia - where we knew approximately no one. My own job told me I could work from home if I was to move, and this was a big part of our decision to go - and then they went back on their word. But I'll get to that later.

Anyhow, trying to house hunt long distance was hard and extremely discouraging. Houses in the areas we wanted would come on the market and get snatched up in an instant. Neither of us felt comfortable buying something we hadn't seen in person. We wound up living in a fully furnished temporary apartment, with all our belongings in storage. It was a nice enough place, but it faced thick woods and was always so gloomy, even if it was bright and sunny outside. In a new state with no family, I longed to at least be surrounded by my own things.

When we found a house a couple weeks into our stay there, I was ecstatic. And then the inspection revealed it was a total money pit, we had to pull out of the deal, and my hopes crashed. I was convinced we'd be stuck in that apartment forever, that I'd never sleep in my own bed with my own comforter, never see sunlight stream through my windows ever again.

Meanwhile, I continued to work at my job from my apartment. I was exhausted and the baby's position caused me to have painful leg and back spasms at random intervals. My one saving grace was having my mom there. She took over all the cooking and cleaning, and I think I would've gone crazy a lot sooner if she hadn't.

My due date was August 8th, and since almost everyone in my family had their babies early, I assumed I would, too. The date I'd predicted for his birth was July 29th, and that was the date my sister and her husband flew down, expecting they'd be able to visit their new nephew.

Imagine my surprise when August 1st came and went, and I was still pregnant. And still working, and still miserably uncomfortable.

In the midst of all this, I'd been going for weekly ultrasounds because the measurements for the baby's abdomen were all over the place. One week it would be in the 13th percentile, one week the 29th, and then the next week it would measure small again. The doctors told me it could be because his position in my uterus made it too hard for them to get an accurate measurement, or it could be a sign of something more serious, like my placenta dying off and not supplying enough nutrients.

Because I really needed one more thing keeping me awake at night.

When my doctor offered to induce me two days before my due date, I agreed wholeheartedly. I was sick of worrying about weather or not the baby was still safe inside me, and terrified that my family would have to go back home without ever meeting my son.

So, on August 6th, 2013, at 4:41 p.m., Andrew Domenick was born.

Let me say this:

Yes, it was the most beautiful moment of my life when they put him on my chest and he looked right at my face and curled his tiny hand around my finger.

Yes, I thought he was the cutest baby in the universe.

No, I couldn't not cry when I tried to tell people about the way he turned his head and looked right at my husband the first time he heard his voice outside my belly.

Does that mean everything was wonderful? Absolutely not.

My problems started immediately. I had no idea how hard childbirth would be on my body, and was shocked to find that I could barely walk for the two days following. I kept wondering why no one told me that something as simple as going to the bathroom would be excruciating.

And then there was the exhaustion. Yes, every new parent is sleep deprived. But those of you who know what it's like to have a thyroid problem can vouch that you have never experienced exhaustion like that caused by a whacked-out thyroid ON TOP of sleep deprivation.

Andrew was fussy almost immediately. His cry was loud and strong and he was not afraid to use it. It seemed that no matter how much I breast fed, he would still scream from hunger. And scream if he was wet, and scream when we changed his diaper, and scream when he had gas, etc. etc. The only way to keep him happy was to keep my breast in his mouth, which only led to soreness, cracking, and bleeding.

Then there was my job. I worked right up until the day before I got induced, and made sure I'd wrapped up all my projects to the best of my ability. The weekend I came home from the hospital, I tried to log in and send everyone pictures. And couldn't. The next day, I tried again. Still, I couldn't access the system. So I emailed my boss from my personal account and asked what was going on. She replied that the IT department had been instructed to lock me out, because according to her boss, I couldn't work with a baby at home. The "three months notice" I'd been promised turned into a short note saying "Call us if and when you find daycare." Just like that, as if I hadn't spent the last EIGHT YEARS coming to work in good or bad health, weather, and regardless of family emergencies.

In the blink of an eye, I was jobless, essentially homeless, and a new mother to a child who screamed in almost every moment of consciousness that wasn't spent eating. He slept only 1-2 hours at a time, and fussed even then. My family went back to Connecticut, my husband went back to work. I was all alone.

Let me be perfectly honest here. When you have a child who screams constantly, it is impossible to bond with him. There are no rewarding smiles, no indication that he even knows you're there except when he latches on to feed. I started to see him as this forever-crying THING, the thing that prevented me from sleeping even when I was so exhausted I felt like collapsing. In the rare times when Andrew did sleep, I had a choice - I could either try to sleep myself, or I could eat. I didn't have time for both. In most instances, sleep won, but by the time I drifted off, he'd start to fuss again.

Soon I was crying all the time. My thyroid, which had always been underactive, had swung in the opposite direction, and as a result I went down to 96 pounds within 6 weeks. I was starving all the time, but didn't have time to cook or grocery shop. The bags under my eyes dominated my entire face, and I looked like a skeleton. Every morning, I'd beg my husband to go to work late or call out sick so I could get some sleep. He'd tell me he couldn't, that he couldn't afford to lose his job since I'd already lost mine. On top of it, he'd work late, and I'd end up going days on end without showering because there was simply no time if I wanted any rest at all. And writing? Forget it. I didn't have time to respond to email, let alone write books. I felt like a shadow of my former self. I didn't even feel like a person.

It got to the point where, even when my husband would take "baby duty" for a couple of hours so I could go to bed, I couldn't sleep. I'd lie there, anticipating the next wail that would be my cue to get up, and crying so hard I could barely breathe. I missed my mother, I missed my home. I resented my husband for insisting we continue fertility treatments even when I had been ready to give up. I kept telling him I wanted my old life back, that I wasn't cut out for this and I didn't want my son.

I didn't want my son. That's the worst part of all of it.

At my lowest point, I remember sitting in the armchair of my dark, dreary apartment, rocking my wailing son. I sobbed right along with him, screaming, "What do you want? What do you want? I don't know what you want and I don't care!"

Let me also be honest in saying that while my husband was worried about me, he absolutely did not get what I was going through. He thought I was exaggerating, that I should be able to get a few hours sleep and not wake up dizzy and out of it and weepy. But I couldn't.

Meanwhile, I was afraid to let on how bad my condition had become. I thought I would disappoint everyone, myself included, if I admitted there was a problem. Luckily, my husband intervened in the nick of time. One morning, after yet another sleepless night, I whispered to the baby that I wanted to die.

I've never admitted this to anyone.

I didn't think my husband heard me, but he did. He emailed my mom that morning, and by that night, she was at my apartment. For the first time in weeks, I slept more than an hour. I also started a mild antidepressant that week.

I'm not going to say it was an instant turn around: it wasn't. In fact, it wasn't until recently that I've started to feel like myself again. But what I want people to take away from this is that IT IS OKAY TO SAY YOU'RE NOT OKAY.

There is nothing wrong with saying you're depressed, and taking medication is not an admission of defeat. The people who really care about you are NOT going to judge you for your imperfections. They're going to help you up and let you lean on them, and that's exactly what you need.

My mother stayed with me for a month while I got back on my feet, and it was the best thing I could have asked for. We would sleep in shifts, and while I was still tired and suffering with night sweats and dizziness while my hormones balanced out, it made all the difference in the world to have someone in the house with me who could take the baby off my hands for a bit when things got intense.

The other thing that made a big difference?

When this little guy finally started to see me - really see me. And I knew that he knew me, and not only that, he loved me. For no other reason than because I am me. Because I am Mommy.

Today I'm worlds better. Andrew is 3 months old, and nothing like the fussy, unresponsive newborn he used to be. I still have my moments where I wish I could sleep more, write more, eat more. It would be nice to go out without packing the diaper bag like I'm packing a suitcase.

But people told me that one day it would all seem worth it, and I can finally say they were right. I adore my little boy, and he adores me.

Getting there wasn't easy, but I'm not ashamed of it anymore. If reading this can help even one person, than everything I went through was entirely worth it.

For anyone who's suffered in silence, don't go through it alone. It WILL get better and YOU will get better, but you have to take those crucial first steps. It seems like the darkness will never recede, but take my word, brighter days are around the corner.

Thank you for letting me get that off my chest. And if anyone has a story they'd like to share, please do. Never settle for silence when you should be screaming out loud. Andrew certainly didn't. :)