January 24, 2012

Faking It: My PSA About PPD

Well, I had a really shitty summer last year.  In my usual nothing is sacred way, I will tell you about it. I'll warn you that there is some heavy stuff ahead, but I promise I am doing much better. 

Two years after the partum, the depression finally struck.

I definitely had the "baby blues" after having Sweet P, but pretty much everyone does.  I pulled up my big girl panties and carried on.  It started less than an hour before she made her grand entrance when the nurse said, "I'll go call the doctor, it's time to have a baby!"  My reaction: panic, tears, blubbering.  Fear of giving birth?  Nope, something more like, "Shit, I'm actually having a baby.  I'm going to be a Mother.  Why did I ever think that this was a good idea?!?"

You would think this would have occurred to me at some point in the previous 35 weeks.  Not so much.  Luckily, it was an easy delivery without any drama.  It was actually so fast that she still had some fluid in her lungs and after getting to hold her for a few minutes she was taken to the nursery to get fixed up.  I'm sorry to say that I did not have the immediate connection with her that everyone expects.  It was just kind of, "well, I guess you're here.  Now what?"  Then everyone followed her to the nursery and I'm there, alone with the doctor and nurse.  The old, broken eggshell, forgotten as soon as the Golden Goose hatches.  Exhausted, starving, paralyzed from the waist down, sad.

The act began in the hospital, putting on a happy face for visitors.  Trying to eat, though everything tasted terrible.  Finally free from the fear of Listeria, I didn't even enjoy the cold deli sandwich I had been lusting after for months.  There was a moment the first night when the nurse had brought Sweet P into my room around 2 or 3 a.m. Doug was asleep and I looked down at the bassinet at the foot of the bed.  She was awake, and though I know she couldn't see more than a foot in front of her, she was looking right at me with those tiny, dark, newborn eyes.  Realizing that there was truly a life in my hands, I fought the rising panic and made a silent promise to her to do my best.  It may not be the best, but it would be my best.

I cried the whole way home from the hospital.  I couldn't believe that they actually sent her home with us.  I had been expecting someone to come in and report that I had been determined unsuitable and couldn't have her.  I mean, I lose things.  I drop things.  Couldn't they tell I was going to be a horrible mother?!?  It just seemed wrong somehow.  Irresponsible.

When we got home, I laid in my bed and tried to figure out how I could get out of it.  I didn't want anything to happen to her, I just didn't want to have to be in charge.  I wanted my former life back, the one with less responsibility.  The emptiness I felt was mirrored by the literal hole in my stomach left behind where she had lived when it had been so easy to keep her safe.  Babies start by rearranging your internal organs, and then your entire life.  The knowledge that nothing would ever be the same again was oppressive.  I knew I loved her, but she seemed like a strange alien creature to me.  I had no idea what I was doing.

Things did improve in a few weeks.  You quickly learn to accept being second fiddle to the newborn, and even to enjoy the short times of not constantly holding the baby.  Life goes on.  Smile.  Nod.  Yes, yes, very happy.

Forward two years to the summer of 2011.  I had been having a hard time with the toddler. I just didn't have the patience I needed to deal with a two-year-old, and that made me feel like a failure. She was happy and wanted to play, and I just couldn't.  I felt numb.  I found joy in nothing because of my own guilt.  I was a terrible mother and a terrible person and I didn't deserve to do anything fun. So I would do chores. Go to sleep. Go to work. Repeat.

I still don't know if it was me or just chance, but I was having trouble keeping up with things at work.  Not the actual work, just what people were talking about.  We do tend to get quite technical at times, but I felt like I wasn't getting any of it.  So now not only was I a bad mother and a bad person, I was also stupid.  I got paranoid about my friends not liking me anymore, as if I were still in high school.  What I felt was my inability to do anything right turned into anxiety...about everything.

Every part of my life was affected, and it had to get that bad before I would admit that there was a problem.  I got very good at the act and no one even knew that there was a problem.  Doug was suspicious, but I even hid the seriousness from him.  Below is text from the actual e-mail I finally managed - after 5 days of crying and hiding in bed - to send to the most fabulous work nurse anyone could hope for:

Hi Kay,

I left you a message earlier. I wanted to talk to you to see if I have any options for taking some time off of work. Things have been building up for a while and came to a head last week. The stresses and disappointments of daily life have piled up until I just feel buried by them and the thought of going to work makes me feel panicky and sick to my stomach. I have trouble driving anywhere because I get so nervous and stressed out by the other drivers. I feel like I'm about 80. I want to find a therapist and most likely start taking an anti-depressant to see if I can get my life back.

Please call me so I can find out what I can do.

Kay, you saved my life.  I needed someone to tell me exactly what to do: "You have post-partum depression.  Call your doctor, and don't worry about work."

It's one thing to realize that you need help and another thing completely to actually say it out loud; even to your own family.  Depression makes you incapable of the simplest things, even just getting up out of bed.  Those TV commercials about depression where they show the lady sitting on the edge of the bed?  That's right before she gives up and lays back down.

I just didn't see the point.  There wasn't anything I wanted to do.  Nothing I was good at.  No one wanted me around.

It sounds silly now, but I truly believed it at the time.  I thought it would just be easier for everyone if I was gone.  Especially me, because then I wouldn't have to worry about all of the things I wasn't getting done or doing wrong.  Part of the reason I didn't want to drive was because I would find myself thinking about how easy it would be to just turn the wheel into a tree, oncoming traffic, whatever.  The strange thing was that it all seemed so logical, like I was thinking about these things so clearly.

I knew it was selfish and not what I wanted to do, but I still spent days hiding in bed too afraid to get up because I wasn't sure what I would do.  After the first dose of Prozac stopped working, I was worse than I had been before.  I laid in bed thinking about the 6.5 Xanax tablets on the bathroom counter.  I didn't know what they would do to me, but I considered finding out.  Then I realized that if my death wasn't accidental, Doug wouldn't get any insurance money.  I'd have to think of a different way.

Fortunately, it never came to that.  The increased dose worked and I slowly started to feel human again.  Prozac worked, but had way too many side effects.  So began the battle of finding the right drug.  I am now on Zoloft which only kind of works.  I have an appointment on Wednesday with a psychiatrist to find a new anti-depressant.  I see a therapist about every two weeks; just having a safe place to talk about things helps so much.

The  irony of depression is that it makes it so hard for you to get the help you need.  I am guilty of thinking that someone who is depressed should just go and get help.  Duh!  It's so easy, right?  Now I know how paralyzed you feel, incapable of mustering the energy to do the smallest things.  If I hadn't had people who depend on me and care about me, I fear I might have been lost.

Don't let the people you love get lost, help them.

I am not weak, I am human.
I am a wife, daughter, sister, granddaughter, cousin, niece, and aunt.
I am family.
I am a boo-boo kisser, bath giver, doll finder, puzzle-doer, book reader, song singer, and tucker-inner.
I am a mother.
I am a listener, a commiserator, a laugher, and an advice-giver.
I am a friend.
I am a chef, dishwasher, laundress, duster, folder, wiper, mopper, scrubber, and shopper.
I am a homeowner and a neighbor.
I am a member of the Quality Team, party planner, meeting facilitator, poster-maker, presenter, consultant, report writer, experiment planner, and a good employee.
I am a scientist.
I am a blogger.
I am a promise-keeper.


  1. Wow, Christie. How intense. How scary. How real.

    Thank you for sharing your real life struggle. I know too many other women who have been in the exact same situation, fighting postpartum depression, and feeling like they were so alone, such a failure, and that everyone else was getting it right, so why was she "getting it all wrong". Your strength to share something that so many women naturally want to hide and make seem like everything is perfect is appreciated.

    Hugs and love, and prayers for the ever increasing joy and joy alone that you might one day feel, and rejoicing for you the joy and clarity you have gained in your journey, and that you and your husband and sweet munchkin are still all here and healthy for the journey ahead. <3

    1. The fact that so few people talk about it is exactly why I wanted to share my experience. If PPD is accepted as a normal and fixable thing, maybe people won't have to suffer silently for two years like I did.
      Most importantly, as much as I hate to hear stories of mothers who hurt or kill their children, I can't help but wonder if depression is behind it. Way to many people fall through the cracks.

  2. I, obviously, have no experience here. But, you wrote so eloquently, yet humbly and openly, that I wished I could reach through the screen and hug you. (And possibly supply you with cranberry moonshine)

    1. Cranberry moonshine, I have. I'll totally take a hug the next time I see you, though. :)