It’s taken me a while to write this post, and a little while longer to be sure that I wanted to share it.
Postpartum depression is a real and serious problem faced by many mothers and fathers. It can begin up to a year or more after the arrival of a new baby. If you or someone you know is struggling with postpartum depression, know that you are not alone and there is help available. Postpartum Support International and Postpartum Progress have valuable resources, including a list of support groups in the U.S. and Canada.
This morning I spent about 15 minutes dancing with my Little Boy, holding him in my arms and twirling to the country music playing on the radio. I wasn’t thinking about anything else I had to do or worrying about finding the time to do it. We were simply happy.
Months ago, I was afraid that I would never be able to enjoy time with my child in this way. I was suffering from postpartum depression, often referred to by the acronym PPD.
I attend a postpartum support group, and whenever a new mom begins attending, the moderator asks a few of those who are doing a little better to tell their story. It was enormously helpful for me to hear someone else describe going through the same extra-crazy feelings, to know that I wasn’t alone.
This is my PPD story.
I knew I was at high risk for PPD, because I’ve struggled with depression my whole life. Several months before trying to conceive, I tapered off the antidepressants I’d been taking for years; I wanted to stop them anyway, as I was doing reasonably well and had grown tired of the major side effects. And it was a good decision. Things went well for a while.
Then I started having depressive episodes. I can’t pinpoint exactly when they began, but they were bad by the start of the third trimester and getting worse. Something small would set me off and I’d spend an hour sobbing on the bed, my brain convinced that it would feel dark and terrible forever. Legitimately upsetting news (like learning about a last-minute office switch) would ruin three or four days. I was stressed about getting the nursery ready on time while simultaneously struggling to find the motivation to work on it. And on top of it all, I felt guilty because I knew I was dragging my husband down with me.
I talked to my doctor – because that’s what the pamphlets always say to do, right? “If you think you’re experiencing … talk to your doctor.”
“Well, we don’t like to prescribe meds in the third trimester.” No problem, what about therapy? “I don’t know which therapists take your insurance. I’ll have my assistant look into it and call you back.”
The assistant never called me back. All I got was a couple of super-generic pages of information, most of which weren’t even about perinatal mood disorders.
Little Boy arrived. By the mysterious ways of hormones, I actually felt better. Exhausted and weepy and anxious about the welfare of this tiny new creature, but not black with despair. My OB-GYN asked about my mood at my two-week check-up, and I remember that I said very positive things. I thought that maybe I was going to be OK. Maybe I’d taken the worst mental hit during pregnancy.
The initial weepiness seemed to slowly get darker. I was getting anxious about going back to school at the end of my six-week maternity leave, because I knew I would be expected to get some work done despite being still too groggy to read even the abstract of a paper. And Little Boy was starting to wake more frequently (which is normal baby behavior as you approach the period of “peak fussiness” at six weeks of age).
In Little Boy’s sixth week of life, he stopped sleeping for longer than 45 minutes at a time. My husband and I traded off several-hour shifts in an attempt to ensure that both of us got at least a few hours of unbroken sleep, but it was exhausting. The worst part, however, was the new neighbors. We’d lived in that apartment for four years and had at least two, maybe three, sets of upstairs tenants, none of whom had disturbed us in any particular way. One couple had played loud bass for a few nights and then apologized profusely when we’d asked them to turn it down.
The new neighbors were LOUD. Constantly, incessantly loud. They apparently stomped, slammed doors, dropped heavy things, and moved furniture every day and night. We heard them moving around at 3 a.m. when we woke to feed Little Boy, and yet they all clomped around and woke us up at 6:30 every morning. We heard them over white noise, over the TV, and even over earplugs.
Consequently, every time I lay down to sleep, I was bound to be awakened in short order by either the sound of a hungry Little Boy or a loud BANG! from upstairs. It got to the point where I could no longer relax enough to actually fall asleep, so wound up was I with anticipation of the next sound. The anxious thoughts simply wouldn’t turn off.
After a few days of this, I adopted the temporary solution of not trying to sleep at all during the day, so that I might fall asleep late at night from sheer exhaustion. If we hadn’t been caring for a small baby who needed food at night, this might have been an OK idea. But as it was, my sleep debt just kept accumulating and I found myself running out of energy to cope long before I ran out of hours to be awake.
This is the really hard part to say.
My Little Boy is a precious gift from the universe and I love him. I always have and always will. But during the blackest hours of his infancy, I regretted becoming a parent. I was afraid that we had made a terrible mistake and ruined our lives forever; I was kicking myself for how much I had wanted this child. There were moments when I wanted to walk out the door, leave my beautiful son and his wonderful father behind, and start a completely new life somewhere else.
It took a while to process this after I wrote it. When my son smiled at me after his nap, I felt ashamed, as though he could somehow know that I had been ruminating about this dark time. I debated deleting the whole post, thinking, ‘That time is past and hidden away. Why bring it up again now?” And, “Everything’s fine today. Are you sure you aren’t being overdramatic about this whole PPD experience?” And yet… things definitely weren’t fine in the early months. To pretend they were – to say that it was just a minor thing – to bury it all deep inside – that would be to do a disservice to myself and every other mother and father who has suffered.
I got help. I drove across town to attend the only postpartum support group that didn’t meet during working hours. They pointed me in the direction of a good psychiatrist, and the necessary phone calls were made so that I could avoid the typical multi-week wait to be seen. Antidepressants take a while to kick in, but eventually you notice that the bad episodes are coming less frequently, and you are no longer dreading challenges but tackling them with calm acceptance.
The neighbors upstairs continued to be total jerks, but the medication made it possible for me to sleep. Usually. With a loud fan parked right next to my ear and a pillow over my head. But the universe must have been looking out for us, because an opportunity arose to rent a single-family house from a friend. Other amazing friends helped us move, and now we have a separate office, a master bedroom that isn’t under the stairs to someone else’s apartment, and windows that are more than a foot from the sidewalk. Oh, and a garage. And a yard. And natural light in every room. It’s also closer to school. Seriously, I love this house. We had to pay two month’s rent to break the lease on our apartment, which I can say unequivocally was the best money I have ever, ever spent.
As this all was happening, Little Boy got older. He began to sleep for longer stretches of the night (more on that in future posts) and eventually his naps consolidated into a regular daily routine. He became increasingly interactive, “talking” with us in an adorable baby voice. At 3 months, he discovered the ability to entertain himself by kicking at the toys hanging from his play gym. LIFE-CHANGING DISCOVERY. Now I could do the dishes while he was awake.
Little Boy is still hard work, but our lives have found their new patterns. He is a darling, happy, curious, excited little man, and I love watching him grow. Wonderful moments like the one I described at the beginning happen on a daily basis.
There is hope.