Today’s entry is a continuation of last week’s. As I mentioned, it’s frightening exposing my innermost feelings, emotions and experiences for all to see, to judge, to read. I feel naked and extraordinarily vulnerable. My hope is that my message will bring comfort to those going through something similar or help foster a sense of community amongst those of us who have already been through it.
After realizing that I was probably suffering from postpartum depression (PPD), my husband and mom quickly rallied around me in support. Thankfully, they took my unusual behavior very seriously. They didn’t make me feel stupid, weak or guilty, though I felt all of those things and more. Having my mom there made me feel a little better, so I decided not to call my doctor for help.
Needless to say, unlike all the other nights since I’d been home from the hospital, that night, I was unable to visit Asher; Steve went solo… and that was something else that made me feel incompetent. I couldn’t even go see my own son! How would he ever forgive me?
Since giving birth, I’d been taking the maximum dosage of pain pills allowed. I had to call and get refills twice (the second time, I nearly had to beg for more). I wasn’t overdosing; I just wasn’t weaning myself off of them as quickly as others had, I guess. They’d become my security blanket; they helped numb the crazy feelings I was having (and of course, the pain too); however, as I quickly learned, they came with a price…
I began having intense night sweats. I’d wake up drenched and lying in puddles; I had to change my sheets and pajamas three times a night. And then, like the flip of a switch, I’d start shivering and feel freezing cold.
I also began suffering from night terrors. The images and scenes in my dreams were disturbing, terrifying and ghastly. I’d never dreamt like that before; I’d wake up screaming and crying. I couldn’t figure out where those horrible subconscious thoughts were coming from. I was afraid to close my eyes; can you imagine?
During the day, I started hallucinating. Images would distort right before my very eyes. Once, I saw my mom walking up the stairs with really long dark hair (she has short blonde hair). It took a moment, and I had to blink my eyes a few times, before her image corrected itself.
It was at that point that I decided that I needed help. I did two things: (1) I stopped taking the pain pills; I blamed them for my night terrors, night sweats and hallucinations and (2) I picked up the phone and called my OB/GYN’s office. It took all the courage, energy and patience I had to explain to the nurse practitioner what was happening. She immediately asked me if I felt like hurting Atia. I vehemently said, “No!”, because I didn’t.
At that point, I expected her to tell me that she’d be happy to help me and prescribe an antidepressant, but that wasn’t the case. Instead, she told me that she couldn’t help me and that I needed to go see a doctor that could – even though she knew full well that my son was preterm and in the NICU, my 2 year old daughter was undergoing one of the hardest phases of her chemo treatment and that my hormones were all out-of-whack because of childbirth.
Her response was so unexpected, it took my breath away – I felt like I’d just been punched in the stomach. I began crying and told her that I couldn’t get myself to a doctor; I could barely get out of bed. Simple things, like the thought of getting Atia dressed, paralyzed me with fear and prompted anxiety attacks. I was so sad and fell into deep despair; I handed the phone to Steve.
The nurse practitioner provided him a list of recommended specialists and encouraged him to take me to see one of them. After Steve explained this to me, I angrily responded, “If I’m going to get out of bed, get dressed and put makeup on, I sure as hell am NOT going to go see some stranger and waste my time retelling these details; I’m going to see my son in the NICU!”
At that point, it seemed hopeless…
My mom was livid and couldn’t believe that my OB/GYN’s office had let me down. It’s not like they hadn’t handed me a pamphlet on PPD during my prenatal visits. It’s not like I didn’t have the perfect ingredients for PPD. It’s not like I was the first one ever to experience PPD. How could their postpartum support be so off the mark? How could they leave me to drown in the black abyss?
I couldn’t bring myself to go see a specialist; I couldn’t even bring myself to call my OB/GYN’s office back and demand to speak directly to my OB/GYN. I was defeated. So, I waited it out and worked through it on my own. My mom and Steve were amazing support, but they were new to it too. No one we knew had ever experienced PPD so we didn’t know what to expect.
Even after we brought Asher home, I would burst into tears for no reason and was highly irritable; I was antisocial for several weeks. Luckily, my mom was able to stay and help for an extended period of time. It was obvious that I couldn’t do it alone.
Over time, I shed the deep, dark, sad feelings. I became more involved in everyday tasks. I found my smile here and there. However, it took me longer to overcome my guilt. I hadn’t experienced PPD when Atia was born; I felt horrible that I was unable to give Asher the same attention and have the same bonding experience with him as I did with her. Honestly, it took me much longer than I’d like to admit to bond with him.
PPD forced me to stop worrying about everyone else and simply concentrate on myself. Steve and my mom helped me realize that I had to get better in order to care for Atia and Asher. It was scary and debilitating, but there was a light at the end of the tunnel… after many, many long weeks I made it through.
If you or anyone you know is suffering from PPD, there are resources available to help support you through the experience.
(1) Healthcare Alternative Systems (H.A.S.) created a Postpartum Depression Program to provide psychotherapy, case management, and psychiatric services to new and/or expectant mothers suffering from or at risk for developing Postpartum Depression.
If you need immediate assistance, call the H.A.S. hotline at: 1-866-364-MOMS (6667).
PPD affects approximately 15% of all childbearing women making it the #1 complication of childbirth in the United States. www.treatingmomswell.org.
(2) Postpartum Progress is the most widely-read blog in the United States on postpartum depression (PPD), postpartum anxiety, postpartum psychosis and other mental illnesses related to pregnancy and childbirth. http://www.postpartumprogress.com/
Katherine Stone is a nationally-recognized, award-winning advocate for women with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. In 2001 she suffered a devastating bout of postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder after the birth of her first child. The feelings of fear, isolation and shame she experienced inspired her to take action to help others. In 2004 she created the blog Postpartum Progress.
Did You Know?
Dads can experience postpartum depression too. A new study indicates that fathers suffering PPD tend to do so between three to six months after childbirth. You can read more in the article entitled, “Postpartum Depression in New Dads: Fathers Get It Too.”
Oh, the Irony!
According to baby gooroo, October is Depression Awareness month. Asher was born October 9th and I struggled with my postpartum depression the rest of that month (and longer).