Leaving the hospital after giving birth is an exciting, monumental experience. It signals the beginning of your new life as parents (or your new life as parents of two or more). It also means that you finally get to introduce your baby to his/her nursery (how could they possible sleep through such an extraordinary event?), dress and undress your baby as many times as you want, and most importantly you get to be in the comfort of your own home, surrounded by your own things. Ahhh.... let the memories begin!
However, in a situation where you are forced to leave the hospital without your child (because of his/her pending medical issues) leaving the hospital is pure torture. I'm typically a very level headed person; I understand cause and effect - Asher was diagnosed with E.coli, therefore he had to stay in the NICU for two weeks - but this time, logical thinking and obvious reasoning didn't quell my unyielding yearning and sadness. I simply couldn't reconcile the fact that I'd just had a baby, but I was going home without him.
As I mentioned in a previous blog, I vowed to pump my breast milk for Asher. Being in the NICU, fighting a serious infection, he desperately needed my magic serum (besides, I had intended on breastfeeding him all along anyway, if I could). So there I was, every four hours, attaching myself to the most archaic contraption, feeling like a barnyard animal and dreaming of my baby boy - I was constantly wondering what he was doing at that very moment. I pumped at 6:00AM, 10:00AM, 2:00PM, 6:00PM, 10:00PM and 2:00AM. So, again, there I was going through the motions of having a baby at home (exhausted from interrupted sleep), but he was nowhere in sight.
Atia was still going through her 'Delayed Intensification' phase of chemotherapy. As you may recall, her hospital stay (the week before I gave birth) had delayed her treatment and therefore, she was in the midst of one of the hardest, most aggressive phases; it required increase chemo dosages, countless home care visits to access and take blood samples from her port and caused excruciating side-effects. It was awful for her and it was everything I'd feared, though in my wildest dreams I'd never imagined that Asher wouldn't be home with us.
Steve stayed home from work that Monday and Tuesday (I was released on Sunday). Daily, we'd go to the NICU to visit Asher; Atia came with us. It was a struggle - I walked slowly and hunched over. It took all my might to heave myself into our SUV. When we got to the hospital, I was transferred directly from the SUV to a wheelchair (Atia sat on my lap as we were wheeled around). It was tiresome and exhausting, but necessary and critical.
Our extended family was planning to visit the following weekend. On Wednesday, Steve went to work. It was the first time I was left alone, although I wasn't completely alone; Atia was there. I was a little nervous about taking care of her solo. She was pretty demanding (as she should have been, under the circumstances) and I was unable to move quickly, plus every four hours I was occupied and unable to tend to her while holding the two bottles dangling from the suction cups attached to my breasts (the joys of pumping).
Throughout the day, I did OK but slowly a panicky, sad, suffocating sensation began to build from within. I could feel it moving up my body from my toes, through my calves, up to my knees; it was all consuming. I attempted to stifle it with deep meditating breaths and it seemed to work. Thank goodness Atia slept a lot that day. After Steve got home from work, we headed over to the hospital to visit Asher. We stayed late into the evening.
Sharing the following details is a scary prospect. It leaves me exposed and vulnerable; though I think it's important to tell the truth without embarrassment, I'm still nervous about your reaction (and possible judgment). If I, the woman that everyone saw as incredibly strong, could crumble like a sledgehammer to bricks, then perhaps others that think themselves weak will find solace in reading my experience.
On Thursday, Steve went to work again. Though it was a seemingly normal day, that day will forever mark the beginning of an experience I NEVER want to relive. The morning was fine; I held it together pretty well, but by early afternoon it was a different story. I was yelling at Atia for every little thing she did. I was so angry and I couldn't figure out why. Moments after recklessly shouting at her, I was overcome with guilt and I began begging for her forgiveness; pleading with her, crying. She was extremely confused and a little afraid; I was confused, too. I couldn't control my emotions; every feeling was exaggerated and the creeping anxiety began again. It slowly enveloped me, like the scene in the movie 'Ghost' where the the dark shadow spirits take the bad ghosts away.
My best friend, Angi, called and I quickly answered the phone. I honestly thought that she'd be asking to come over, but instead she excitedly asked me how things were going. I told her that everything was fine, selecting my words carefully, and deliberately trying to sound peppy and normal. All the while, I felt like I was teetering on the brink of insanity. And then it happened... CRACK! - right in the middle of our conversation - I began crying, hyperventilating and speaking in broken sentences - one word and then a huge sob, two words and then another huge sob.
Physically, my body tensed up and panic ensued. I apologized incessantly for my outburst and hurriedly tried to get off the phone; I needed to figure out what was happening to me. Angi reluctantly said her good-byes and unbeknownst to me, called Steve at work. She told him everything (it was the most thoughtful, helpful thing that she could have done). Steve immediately called me to hear for himself. It only took a moment for him to realize that he needed to get home right away.
In the meantime, he encouraged me to call my mom, tell her what was happening and ask her to drive up (from Springfield, IL). I did and she too immediately dropped everything at work and promised me she was on her way. She made it up to Chicago in record time.
My mom held me and rocked me; I sat comforted within her embrace (the safest place I know); it was as if I'd reverted back to childhood. I'd never felt as awkward and out-of-control in my own body. For months (years), I'd kept it all together, stood strong and maintained clarity in the midst of adversity, but at that moment I was useless, debilitated and muddled.
To Be Continued Next Week...
For those of us who have suffered postpartum depression, we are in good company. Recently, many celebrities have spoken candidly about their battle with postpartum depression, helping to draw attention and awareness. The most well know is Brooke Shields.
Filed under: Postpartum Depression
Tags: Amanda Peet, Angelina Jolie, Brooke Shields, celebrities and postpartum depression, chemo, chemotherapy, Courtney Cox-Arquette, delayed intensification, depression, Ghost, Gwenyth Paltrow, Kendra Baskett, Kendra Wilkinson, Lisa Rinna, Lisa-Marie Presley, Marcia Cross, Marie Osmond, NICU, postpartum, postpartum depression, preterm birth