Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What is worth crying about

This afternoon I got a call from a debt collector.

Getting help meant getting bills. It's one thing to finally accept that you need some assistance with postpartum depression; it's another thing to pay off all that assistance for months and months. We had to borrow thousands of dollars from my parents to pay off the medical bills from my therapy program and from my knee surgery I needed just a few months later. The bills keep piling in, like terrible little surprises waiting in our mailboxes. They are literally dozens to keep up with - maybe 50 different accounts from different hospitals, doctors, labs, specialists. (Did you know that when you receive care over several months, medical folks create different accounts for each month? So there are three bills for each of my therapy doctors/hospitals/etc.) It's a paperwork nightmare, not to mention a financial nightmare. It's so embarrassing. I'm so ashamed.

So I've gotten a few calls from debt collectors before, but I've managed to avoid answering the phone. This time I did, and she gave me a long introduction about how she represented a law firm that needed $400 now. Like, right now. I told her I didn't have that right now. I didn't know when I would have that. I just went Christmas shopping and spent $90. If I had known, I wouldn't have got presents. She told me I had to pay or it would ruin my credit report. She asked me questions about what L and I earn, how much we take home, how much our bills are. She suggested we cash in our 401ks to pay our bills.

I started crying.

She told me to calm down and that it wasn't worth crying about. I told her it was worth crying about. We didn't have $400 and we weren't going to have an extra $400 any time soon. We have so many medical bills. We're just trying to stay organized and stay afloat.

I tried to stay calm and not take it personally, but I was so angry that she told me it wasn't worth crying about. How would she know? How would she know what in my life is worth crying about? How dare she.

For most people who get help, treatment has a price tag. There are so many treatment options - counseling, medicine, electric shock therapy. But there is an epilogue of getting treated. Bill after bill comes in the mail. I am so thankful we at least have good insurance. We have spent thousands of dollars this year, and our insurance company has paid out tens of thousands. If we didn't have insurance, we would have no options.

Every check I write for these bills makes me feel guilty and selfish. I think, "If I was a stronger mom, a better mom, I wouldn't have had to go for treatment in the first place." I know in my head that this isn't true, but my heart aches. I feel like a burden to my family.

So I'm grateful we have insurance. I'm grateful I got help. Now we the first thing we have to do is take care of this bill. I don't know how but we have to. I think I will return some of the presents and maybe not visit my dad for the holidays. We can cut out some things and make it. It will be all right. But it's OK to cry about it.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A birthday

I've been struggling for the past few weeks, and things have been particularly, inexplicably tough the past few days.

When I woke up this morning, I was sure I would feel better. Today is my birthday, and like New Year's Eve, I always have high hopes that it means the a new beginning.

But today a birthday has meant crying, eating and vomiting.

Last night I had what I think might have been a panic attack. I cried uncontrollably for maybe half an hour. L hugged me, but the feeling of sadness just pushed down on me. I felt this overwhelming sense of guilt for being alive.

I don't want to die; I happen to be horribly afraid of it. But I just feel like my family would be so much better without me. They wouldn't have to worry about paying for daycare or the house because life insurance would take care of it. They could find a better wife and a better mother to take my place. Another mom - a real one - could fill in and take my place. M would have a good role model. Life would be better for them for sure.

I feel selfish for being around. I feel like I don't deserve them. I feel so buried under these bad feelings. I don't know how to come up for air.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The girl I couldn't protect

I've spent the last week in a fog. It's the first time in several weeks that I've really felt down, depressed, dark. I couldn't get out of bed last Tuesday. Then M got sick and couldn't go to daycare. My husband didn't have any time off, so I stayed home with her Thursday and Friday. I took her to the doctor Friday and had to have blood drawn. I felt so scared. The nurse taught me how to clamp down and hold her still, and then she sent me to the hospital. I was nervous. M felt so sick that she just sat quietly on my lap, a rarity now that she has turned 1.

I wrapped my arms around her, held her tight and whispered shh into her ear while she screamed. She jerked her head back until she could see me. "Maamaamaamaaa!" I couldn't do anything. I cried. I tried not to let her see me, but I sobbed. She twisted and screamed, and the blood draw seemed to last for minutes, minutes, minutes. The nurse pulled the rubber tie off her arm and then took the needle out of her arm. I eased my grip. She spun around on my lap and clung to me. I held her close and rocked. She popped her thumb in her mouth until her cries subsided. They wrapped a tiny bandage around her arm while I kept crying.

I couldn't help her. I couldn't protect her from the pain. During all the therapy I've been through in the past eight months, I've sworn over and over that I will protect M. My mom never protected me, but I will protect M. When she looked up at me, I knew I couldn't always protect her. I couldn't protect her from this pain. I couldn't even explain to her why it was happening.

I was already feeling kind of down, and this was a real setback. I spent last Tuesday at home sick, but I was really just heartsick. This Monday I missed more work for the same reason. I feel anxious, depressed and hopeless. I can't get that memory out of my head of her crying so hard. It was the worst day of motherhood so far.

I know there will be more days like that, but I'm not sure how to recover from it. Does anyone have any suggestions? I could really use the help.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The most or the moment?

I've been thinking about something I heard someone say the other day. Sometimes we have to give up what we want in the moment to get what we want the most. I know what I want the most for my family: for them to be healthy, happy and stable.

Then I realized I'm not sure what I want the most for myself. I want to be better. I know that for sure. Whenever I cry or feel sad or lose it, I sob to my husband, "I just want to be better! I don't want to be like this any more."

But I don't really know what "better" means. It's a pretty nebulous term, so I'm trying to be more specific.
  • Mental health: take my medicine, go to therapy, exercise, do meaningful work, volunteer, write.
  • Physical health: keep a clean house, exercise, cook, play sports again.
  • Accomplish a big goal: TBD.
I haven't chosen a goal to accomplish yet. I had originally wanted to run a half marathon, but my knee surgery recovery has been slow and frustrating. Maybe I can keep that goal and just give myself some more slack when it comes to the time to achieve it? I'm not that great of a runner, and I'm absolutely not in good shape.  I think I would feel so good about myself if I could do this, but I'm worried about spending time away from my daughter.

I think I just need to keep shaping the picture of what "better" means to me. Maybe the more I try to figure it out, the clearer the picture will become.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Standing in the rain

I'm not the most religious person I know, but I do rely on faith. I was reading my friend's blog about her son, who is spending the first days of his life the neonatal intensive care unit. She shared an email her friend sent her about fairness, and it really struck me. She cites Matthew 5:44-45.
Often times I think, "Why me? Why me, God? Haven't I endured enough?" I wonder why bad things happen in succession. I'm not the greatest person out there; I sin and make bad choices like everyone does. But sometimes I feel so wronged by God, like I have a disproportionate load. I just wish He would give me a break - give me a time to come up for air.
But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
One time during my out-patient program this spring, a high school girl with bipolar disorder said to me that if you didn't have rainy days, you wouldn't be able to appreciate the sunshine. False. Going through horrible things doesn't makes me a better person. Surviving postpartum depression or the rapes or the abuse or the eating disorder or my surgery doesn't make me a better person.

Being a victim doesn't make me a better person.

We all survive things. We all are victims of hard times, of trials, of tribulations. It rains on the good and the bad; it rains on us all.

But what we do when it rains is what distinguishes us.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Accepting help vs. finding help

I came across this story today about how officials in Alberta are offering monthly information sessions about postpartum depression for the community. How amazing!

Getting help is a two-way street. Moms have to ask for it; health care providers have to offer it. But it's much, much easier to accept help than to find it. For me, I had to seek it out on my own. If someone had offered a month, two months earlier, I would have jumped for joy and accepted it in a heartbeat. I waited too long on my own.

I had a panic attack in late January or early February. I'd never had one before and wasn't really able to identify it as such until several weeks later.

M was sent home sick from daycare. She had a fever and was still battling colic. I had work assignments that had to be finished, so my hope was to work while a bit at home if I could. Well, of course, I couldn't. She screamed nonstop, tears pouring down her tiny, red face. Nothing would soothe her. I was still breastfeeding, and she would flail and cry and not eat.

While holding her, rocking her, I tried to connect to the Internet from my laptop. I thought maybe I could still complete my work when M eventually cried herself to sleep. The Internet wouldn't work. I couldn't call the Internet provider for help because I couldn't find my phone. I couldn't call work to let them know my assignments would be late. I couldn't call my husband for comfort. And M cried. I tried to balance her on my lap while I tried over and over to connect to the Internet. The clock ticked. My deadline loomed. My baby cried. And cried. I cried. She needed a diaper change.

I took her to my bedroom to change her. She cried. I cried. She eventually started calming down; she had tired herself out from sobbing so hard. She accepted a pacifier. I laid with her, putting my hand on her tiny tummy. Her eyes drifted open and closed, and she finally fell asleep.

My frustration drained away as I watched her sleep. Then I started thinking about things, and my mind wandered to a story I read in the newspaper that morning. A father had beat his 6-month-old child to death because she wouldn't hold still for a diaper change. M was just four months old. How could someone hurt such a tiny child, such an innocent baby?

Then my mind started flashing with images of the horrible scene. I imagined it was M. I lost it. I cried. Loudly. M woke up and her crying started all over again.

How could someone hurt a baby? What if I hurt my baby? If that man could do it, does that mean I could do it? Would I hurt her some day? Is that what happens?

I fled the room, leaving her screaming on the bed. I collapsed in her room into a pile of tears and terror. I shook. I thought the house might crumble. I thought M might roll off the bed and die in the fall. I couldn't get up. I had no phone. I couldn't call 911. I couldn't call anyone. I didn't know where my fucking phone was. I couldn't get online to even email out for help. I would die right here, leaving M to wail and die alone in this house.

In that moment, I thought surely the world would collapse.

If I could get to a phone, I would live. If I could just get to a phone, I could call L and he could save us.

I crawled across the floor, into the hallway, into my bedroom. I pulled myself up to the bed, where M still lay screaming. I pulled her down on to my lap. I leaned onto the side of the bed and pushed myself up.

If I could get to a phone, I would live.

I strapped her into her car seat. I was shaking and sobbing. I dug quarters out of her coin jar for the pay phone. I held my balance and carried her to the car. I just had to get to a phone. I inched down our block, driving without my foot on the gas, coasting down the street toward the gas station. My crying subsided. M's too.

I reached the 7-Eleven by our home. I climbed out of the car, dropped the quarters in and prayed to God that L would be at his desk and answer his phone. He answered. Please come home, I begged him. I could tell he was caught off-guard. But he didn't question me. He came home.

By the time he arrived, the panic had passed. He took M and put me to bed. I slept the rest of the day.

Even after all this, I didn't seek help. I thought it was a fluke and that I was OK. It wasn't until a month later that I made a doctor's appointment because I could feel another breakdown coming. I ended up in the emergency room and then in a six-week out-patient program.

But there were doctor's appointments in between. And there were doctor's appointments before. I don't think anyone ever asked me if I was doing OK with the new baby. Maybe they did and I just lied and said I was OK. Either way, I wish that all the medical professionals I came in contact with - especially our family doctor and my OB-GYN - would have asked me if I needed help of any kind. Even just handing out a brochure about postpartum depression at any point would have been helpful. I'm hopeful that efforts like this one in Alberta will create a wider awareness of postpartum depression. Maybe moms will know they can ask for help any time, even at the first sign of trouble.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

To choose her again

This is a blog I follow by a gal I know just casually, and something she wrote made me cry. She and her husband lost one of their sweet boys in May. Her blog that I read today was about the rollercoaster of grief their family has been riding since then. They've had moments of recovery and moments of terrible sadness. She wrote this earlier this week:

Most of all, I am grateful for Isaiah. Grateful for his short life. I know that if given the choice between not knowing him and not knowing grief or knowing him and experiencing a grief like you have never known before...I would pick him. Over and over I would pick him.
It made me think of M. I am so, so grateful she is here. She is healthy. She is happy. I dropped off into the darkest place of my life after she was born. I thought of suicide often. I felt so hopeless and so horrible every day, every moment. But when I see M, I know that the love I feel for her is worth any hell I had to go through. Every minute I spend with her is better than any minute before she came into our lives.

I love the way Lee Anne put it: "Over and over I would pick him." That's how I feel, too. Over and over, I would pick M.

Monday, September 20, 2010

My brain is defective

This story has been on my mind lately. It came out Wednesday, and I've seen it in several publications since.
Postpartum depression is often blamed on dramatic hormonal changes inside the bodies of new mothers. Estrogen, progesterone and cortisol all drop dramatically in the hours after childbirth, and some women are thought to be particularly sensitive to this.

But a new study suggests an alternate explanation. The brains of women suffering from postpartum depression reacted differently to images of faces that were scared or angry than did the brains of healthy moms.
I can't stop thinking about this story. I feel like postpartum depression something to work through, overcome, survive. But this new research makes me feel hopeless. There is something wrong with my brain. My heart breaks knowing that other moms see their children differently. They look at their crying babies and feel something different than I do. So I can't get this off my mind for two main reasons:

1. Does this mean that M and I don't have a normal relationship? Would a different mom be more able to respond to her needs, especially when she's feeling scared or upset? Is this why she doesn't cry very often?

2. Does this mean I'll go through postpartum depression with every child we have? L and I want to have another child and maybe two. Does this mean postpartum depression can't be defeated? Will I go through this ever time.

I feel defeated right now, like I destined to face this over and over because something in wrong with my brain. And this defect is a wall between M and me.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Feeling the anger of postpartum depression

Last night I was mad. Loading the dishwasher, I wanted to open the back door and crash every dish onto the cement back steps. I wanted to kick the dishwasher and throw pots and pans out into the back yard. I wanted to cry or scream or something. I didn't know. I was just angry.

At my husband.

Because I was loading the dishwasher and he was watching football.

I was so angry at him in that moment. Today, I see that all I had to do was ask for his help. I could have just asked him to load the dishwasher. He would have.

But instead I slammed bottles into the top rack, fuming at how inconsiderate he was.

Even though he had spent all evening with me looking for a new crib. Even though he went all the way to the store for me just because I felt like a soda. Even though he watched our daughter, fed her and changed her so I could make my favorite - tomato soup. Even though when I cry like mad or crumble to pieces or give up on a day, he always, always is kind.

I finished loading the dishes and went to bed. He brought me my medicine. I apologized for my anger. He climbed into bed with me and hugged me tight as a I cried.

I'm just ready to feel normal. I want to load the dishwasher without incident. I don't want to feel angry at my loving husband. Thankfully, I've never felt this rage toward M. It must be so terrifying for moms who feel anger at their children. I can't believe a mother would ever intend to hurt her child, so feeling so angry at a baby must be horrifying.

This morning I happen to come across - of all things - a blog about a postpartum anger. While this woman's anger was more trigger by her period than PPD, a lot of teh comments that followed were about PPD anger. Here are a few of them:
  • "I put my foot through a wicker chair because my husband wasn't home in time for the fish fry at a local legion. Like my foot went through it. I punched a hole in our pantry. I kicked my bathroom wall. And when the anger was so intense, I resorted to cutting my arms to release the pain. It's awful and I was very frightened that o wouldn't control it. But I guess that's how PPD makes you feel...out of control."
  • "Oh my gosh, the anger...I think that might have been one of the worst parts of PPD for me. It was insane, all-consuming, white-hot anger that was so frightening to behold. I've thrown a cell phone through a wall."
  • "I think that was my first clue that something was really going on with me. I have an 18 yr history of depression, but I have NEVER had the rage Ive felt with PPD. I get that feeling of fire in my chest and I thing Im literally going to explode."
I'm grateful now that I didn't actually pitch the dishes out the back door.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Somehow I'll get through

As I was blow-drying my hair this morning, I remembered something that made me laugh.

I chopped off all my hair and donated it Locks of Love a few months ago. (That's my donated hair!) I really love my new, super-short haircut. I plan to grow my hair out again, so I expect plenty of awkward stages between now and then. I'm pretty low maintenance in general, so even when my hair looks shaggy or crooked, it doesn't bother me very much.

The first time I ran in for a trim after cutting off my hair, I asked the stylist if she could give me something that would look nice as long as possible between cuts. I told her I didn't like the awkward in-between stages.

"Don't worry," she told me in a quiet, gentle voice, consoling me apologetically. "You'll get through this."

People have told me that so many times this year, but this has to be my favorite. I laughed. Yeah. I'm pretty sure after postpartum depression and knee surgery in the same year I'll be just fine with a goofy haircut. Somehow - some way - I will press on in the face of such great adversity. At least she did a good job cutting my hair. :)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Asking for help

I read this blog by a mom named Jen, shown here, and it really described how I feel a lot of time:
I found myself spacing out, shutting down, crying easily, getting angry easily, and feeling like I was emotionally sinking. I thankfully came out of it, but I tell you that only to say that I kind of feel like I'm working to out-run postpartum depression. I fear that if I go several days without enough sleep, if I let frustrations or day to day decisions overwhelm me, if I don't ask for help when I need it, or if I keep my emotions and thoughts bottled up, that PPD will catch up with me. And I worry that if I let it catch up, I won't be able to get away and it will consume me.
When I completed my out-patient treatment, I felt this huge sense of accomplishment and relief. "Phew! That's over." But it wasn't. It's a daily recovery process. I have many more good days than bad days now. I spend more time laughing than crying. I am closer to M than I have ever been, and I'm less afraid to be her mom. I realized now that she needs me - imperfect, regular me.

I am more aware of my feelings, and this has been a big help. I can identify sadness more easily. Last night I asked for help twice. First, I felt very anxious and wanted to be sick. I said this aloud to L. Just by telling him the feeling faded. Second, I was trying to fall asleep and my thoughts rode away with me. I started fretting about how we'll pay for M's first birthday party, which is only a cookout for family and close friends. Nothing big. But I spiraled into worry that we couldn't afford any of it and, therefore, I am a terrible mother. I asked L to hold me, and that anxiety faded.

This is probably a good life skill to have. So maybe bottling up fear isn't a good idea. Weird. Who knew? Hopefully this will help keep me a step ahead of postpartum depression.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Researcher looking for dads

A graduate student at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, is looking for fathers whose wives are suffering from postpartum depression. You get a $20 gift card to Tim Hortons, which has locations in Canada and the United States. But better than getting free coffee or donuts, you'll probably get to help this girl do some important work. Contact Janet Siverns at at: sivernjb@mcmaster.ca or (905) 966-3364.

I wrote earlier this week about postpartum depression and fathers. I'll be interested to see what Janet's research shows.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Freak out!

I stay home with a sick baby who wasn't sick today.

Long story short, my daughter has a virus. Another little boy her in room at daycare has a different virus. But because she has a virus, my daughter couldn't stay at school without permission from our doctor. I took her home and had to wait for five hours before the doctor's office faxed the OK to daycare. I missed several things I had scheduled to do at work and was freaking out. I had three things to finish by noon, and I couldn't take care of M and finish them. I tried to watch her and work at the same time, but it just ended with M crying. I tried my best but eventually gave up and drove to Target to walk around for a while with M. I called the doctor's office several times to no avail. 

I ended up in the parking lot of my husband's office. I texted him and asked him to come outside because I was freaking out. He came outside, sat in the passenger seat and let me cry. I cried and cried. What was wrong with me? Why can other moms do everything and I can't?

They can't, he said. Nobody can do everything. And anybody would be stressed out trying to work while watching a baby.


Yes, really.

My husband always offers gentle reminders to be easier on myself. I worry a lot that he will get exhausted of all my drama and just leave. Surely there are wives out there who are much easier to live with. But he always dismisses the notion.

There's another mom with postpartum depression whose blog I follow. She wrote this today:

I felt like I had my best friend in the whole world with me and we were on this journey together. I was a bit nervous that Phill would bail on me and not be able to tread the unchartered waters with me. When I brought that up he gave me a goofy look. He said, "Jodie I'm not going to leave you, you don't ever have to worry about that."
It's easy to feel bonkers, and it's easy to feel like your husband got a raw deal. But the longer L and I are married, the more I realize that he is in it for the long haul. He hugs me every day whether I'm normal or crying enough tears to create a small duck pond in from of his office.

We decided he would take a really long lunch, even though he doesn't get paid for hours he misses at work, so that I could catch up and take a break. I was so grateful. I thanked him for helping me when I was freaking out. He said "you're welcome" by singing this song to me:

That's why I married him.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Taking a time out

Therapy was difficult today. I talked about lots of heavy things, which is I guess what therapy should be, right? I talked about my discomfort around my stepdad over the weekend. I talked about how much guilt I feel about the burden my husband has to bear; he has to go through so much because of things that aren't his fault. I feel bad about trying to get a few seconds to myself to take care or chores or fix dinner. I came home feeling overwhelmed and sad. I cried. Then I decided it was OK to take a time out. My husband has soccer tonight, so M is going over to my mother-in-law's. I'll have a couple hours at home alone. There are mixed reviews of alone time for moms with postpartum depression. Some say it's good to lean on family for support. Others say you should spend plenty of time around other adults who are positive. I think I"ll lean on the side of alone time. I don't plan to wallow; I plan to work. Maybe it will be good to have time to myself to kind of sort out everything I talked about today in therapy.

Thank you, Lady Gaga

Of all people, Lady Gaga and Britney Spears saved the day. Listening to some silly dance music really perked me up. It got my mind out of that negative rut. Then I got some good news at work. I might be getting a bump in title. While that doesn't equal more pay - at least for now - it's a great feeling to know my boss has confidence in me.

A remedy for sad

For the past few days I've felt really down. This has translated into not spending as much time with M as I could, but I don't think my avoidance has been totally negative. I've done some cleaning and cooking and other little projects. But I can't seem to break out of this down feeling. I've been trying to remember my coping skills that I learned while I was in my out-patient treatment for six weeks. Some remedies:
  • Exercise.
  • Be around people who make me happy.
  • Do something to snap out of the negative mind rut.
All of those things are easier said than done. I think the simplest thing to do at work will be to do something to snap out of my negative mind rut. I'll listen to some fast-paced music on Pandora. Sometimes Britney Spears is good for something.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Inspiration from a survivor

I came across this cool blog from a mom with four kiddos - two of her own and two foster children. She is really an inspiring gal. Here is an excerpt from one of her posts:

The day I went to the hospital, my mother-in-law was upstairs putting my daughter down for a nap. Baby Phillip started crying. I picked him up and put him right back down. I walked into my kitchen and started crying. I couldn't comfort him, I couldn't hold him, I was so far removed from myself that I didn't even want to hold him. I started crying because I felt like a horrible mom who couldn't even comfort her crying baby.

Now I was sitting at my desk in my room at the hospital. I looked at the picture on the front of the pamphlet. It was a picture of a mother holding her newborn baby. I felt tears well up in my eyes. I missed my baby so much I didn't even realize I was crying. I cried and cried and cried some more. I was crying the happiest tears of my life! I missed my baby. I wanted to hold him and never let him go. I had emotions again. I had maternal instincts again. I was getting better. I was going to be alright! Praise the Lord!!

Morning with my family

A little before 7 this morning, I heard M coughing in her crib. She'd cough and exhale a wimper. I got her bottle, gathered her in my arms and brought her to our bed. She always manages to maneuver her way around until she's perpendicular to us instead of parallel, like our family makes a big letter H. This morning I listened to the rain fall and M suck on her bottle in the grey light filtered by clouds and curtains. M put her hands on my shoulder and open and closed her palm. Open and closed, open and closed, open and closed, scratching my skin with her short fingernails. Peace.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Finding a new normal

I read this great blog by a gal named Paige, shown here. Here's a short excerpt:
Most days, I don't think about postpartum depression. I feel fine. However, there is the daily reminder of popping that little pill that reminds me something is askew. While I am grateful that it seems to be helping me cope with less than ideal sleep, there are fears brewing inside. What if this isn't just PPD and I really am and always will be a funny but tired, cranky, short-tempered, person with hermit-like tendencies who will always feel a little undesired as a friend and a tad bit lonely? Oh, that just sounds entirely too depressing! However, I have always felt like a misfit... even in preschool. I didn't play the normal games that the other girls played. I didn't let the boys chase me. I tended to watch and assess long before I would join in. Pills don't fix peculiar.
The last line she wrote really stuck with me. Pills don't fix peculiar. They really don't. I think one of the hardest things about life after giving birth is finding out what is the new normal. How much of how I act is me? How much is the postpartum depression? What will go away with therapy, medicine and time? What will remain? Returning to the person I was before M arrived is impossible. But who is the new person I am now? Her blog got me thinking.

Who I am:
  • Kind and caring.
  • Talkative and friendly.
  • Organized mostly, disorganized occasionally.
  • Messy but not dirty.
  • Head over heels in love with my husband and M.
Who I am not:
  • Angry.
  • Unforgiving.
  • Weak.
The challenge going forward is to forgive myself and find myself.

No milk for baby

There's a good blog on Mommywise about the pressure to breastfeed. I don't think the pressure to breastfeed contributes to postpartum depression, but I do think the pressure to breastfeed can be especially difficult for moms with postpartum depression.

I've written before about my struggle with breastfeeding because of a hormone patch designed to prevent postpartum depression. It lead to a low milk supply and therefore growth troubles for my little girl.

I still feel the urge to breastfeed, and my breasts still leak when I feel very emotional about my daughter. I feel bad for giving her a bottle, and I feel guilty in public for doing so. I try to remind myself that the bottle could be pumped breastmilk. No one knows what it is. That helps a bit to hold back the guilt.

I also try to remind myself that the reason I can't breastfeed - the medicine I take - is just as important. I'm more stable and present with her than without the medicine. I think it's better for us both, even if I had to give up breastfeeding early.

The anger inside me

All I was trying to do was make a sandwich. Dinner didn't have to be so complicated. I mean, how hard is it to make sandwiches?
My husband was holding M, whose first tooth is about to peek through any day. She was fussy and crying. She wanted me to hold her, but I just wanted to finish dinner. I suggested that my husband give her some Orajel. He said OK. He lingered in the kitchen; she continued fussing. I lost my cool and told him to go put some medicine on her teeth. Stop waiting. She was hurting.

I normally don't feel angry, but since my daughter's birth, sometimes I feel frustrated and irritated. This night in particular, I was feeling short of temper, and I snapped at my husband for not moving at my pace. I immediately felt an overwhelming sense of guilt and he took M out of the room.

I checked out what BabyCenter had to say. (It's a great resource for legit information.) Symptoms of postpartum depression include sadness and despair, and anger fits in there, too. Here's an excerpt from their article about anger and postpartum depression:

Anger can take the form of yelling, fighting, withdrawing, isolating yourself, hostile feelings toward others, arguments, or chronic dissatisfaction. It's typically accompanied by related feelings of being trapped, resentful, and full of guilt.

Anger is one of the most troubling symptoms of PPD because it's scary, and usually quite uncharacteristic for the woman experiencing it. It can make you feel as though you're slipping out of control: Even moms who say they would never hurt their baby or themselves may fear that something dreadful will result from their anger.
Thankfully, I've never felt anger toward M. I've felt it toward everyone else, though. I'm trying to learn to control it by recognizing it for what it is - not based in any real cause - and apologizing immediately to whomever has been at the other end of my frustration.

Fewer babies but more PPD

The U.S. birth rate dropped in 2009, and officials are attributing it to the terrible economy. There's a story in the San Francisco Chronicle about the issue, and the reporter brings up an interesting aspect of giving birth in uncertain times. While doctors have fewer babies to deliver, some are reporting a higher rate of depression during and after pregnancy. Prevention is more important than ever. Here's an excerpt from the story:

In the meantime, she said, the hospital has seen more patients with prenatal and postpartum depression - often directly related to financial worries.

"Our patients are the ones who are cleaning offices in the middle of the night, they're cooks and housecleaners, and there just isn't as much work around. They're worried about how they're going to make ends meet," DiMattio said. "We're seeing a lot more depression before delivery, and that puts women more at a risk of postpartum depression. So we try to follow them and see them afterward too, just to be sure the supports are in place."

A word for daddies

A friend of mine asked me how my husband handled the day I ended up in the emergency room and signed up for an out-patient treatment program. What was he feeling during all of that?

I had no idea.

I'd never asked him. I'd been so wrapped up in the madness that it never occurred to me that it might have been hard for L, too. He might have been afraid or terrified or angry. I asked him. He said he was scared but wanted to put on a brave face for me. Wow. I hadn't even thought of that. I figured he was fine. You know, fine. Like seeing his wife losing her mind in the ER was totally cool and not scary in the least.

I think dads suffer in silence a lot. There's evidence now that fathers are more susceptible to postpartum depression that previously thought. The depression rate for women in the first year after birth is about 14 percent. For me, it's about 3.5. That's still a significant number. Even though women are more likely to suffer, men should be tracked, too. There was so little pre-birth intervention for me. I can't imagine how unlikely it is for men to receive any pre-birth depression screening. Hopefully family doctors and obstetricians will take note of these findings and keep an eye on the men in the appointments, not just the pregnant women on their tables.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The edge of panic

I couldn't sleep tonight. My thoughts swallowed me whole as I lay next to M. She coughed a bit. I'd turn her over onto her back, only to watch her roll back to her stomach. Back, stomach. Back, stomach. The longer I was awake, the more consumed I became by thoughts of how inadequate I am as a mother.

Someone else should step in and take over my life. I'm sure there are many women who are much more qualified than I am to be a mom to M and a wife to my husband. One of these superwomen should take over. I imagined my daughter with another mom, someone who always smiles and cooks and keeps the house immaculately clean. I imagined my husband with another wife, someone who could have sex any time he was ready, someone who wasn't shackled by the emotional scars of her past. Sleep would not come.

I got out of bed and went to the living room to find my husband sleeping with the television off. He wanted to sleep alone tonight. I asked him to get the luggage out of our car. I forgot to take my medicine. I needed it, especially the Trazadone to help me sleep. I told him I knew he didn't want to come to bed in the guest room. He said he would come in. No, I told him angrily. You didn't want to before. You don't want to now. Don't give me your pity.

I returned to the guest room, sat on the edge of the bed and cried. My husband followed in with the suitcase. I sat still. My mind raced.

I pictured myself screaming on the lawn, pounding the grass with my fists until I passed out in a heap of tears. Jogging circles around the cul-de-sac until I collapsed. Vomiting. Driving away in our car and off a bridge. Dying.

All these scenarios flashed by in loud spurts while I sat perfectly still, tearing falling onto my bare feet.

My family deserves better than this.

A house that isn't mine

Our family is spending this weekend visiting family, and today I had a bit of a setback. My cousin is having a new house built, and nealy all of it is being paid for by her fiance's trust fund. It's huge and absolutely beautiful. I was fine on the little family tour until she opened her utility room door. She hugged her tall, sleek washer and dryer. There was a sink and countertop. Her utility room was the size of our kitchen - same number of cabinets, same number of draws, same count space.

My husband and I work so hard, and we barely scrape by. We come up short every month. They live off a trust fund. I cried when we left because I felt like a bad mom. I can't give M that. She'll have to grow up in our two-bedroom house with a air conditioner that breaks down in the summer.

Intellectually I know my cousin's beautiful home isn't related to my ability to be a mother. But I still feel like it's another reason I'm inadequate, another reason she'd be better off with someone else. I'm trying to let my head help my heart figure this out.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Depression during pregnancy can lead to low birthweight

A new study suggests that depression during pregnancy could translate to a lower birth weight for baby. The study is of women in Bangledesh, though PPD is know to occur at similar rates across races and ethnicities. It's a reminder to health care workers to keep an eye on pregnant women for symptoms of depression and anxiety.

M was born at a normal birth weight - 6 pounds, 9 ounces. But she struggled greatly to gain weight. She's still quite small. During her last checkup two months ago, her pediatrician said she was in the 7th percentile for her age. She is healthy, he said, but just very small.

To me, her small size is related to my PPD. Because I was afraid of depression after birth, my obstetrician prescribed a hormone patch that would stave off symptoms. While it kept my hormones from going wacky, it was only a temporary fix. Eventually I had to peel that patch off for good.

Also, the patch affected my ability to produce milk. As a first-time mother, I didn't know what it felt like to produce milk. I didn't know my breasts were mostly empty. After I stopped using the patch, my milk came in and my daughter could eat. But she was greatly behind. She still is. But she's healthy.

Hopefully the children with low birth weights will have an opportunity to catch up, just like my daughter.

She loves me

Today I took M to a developmental screening that our county health department offers. They asked me lots of questions about the way she talks, plays, moves and interacts with people.

There's all kinds of research to suggest that postpartum depression can have residual effects on infants. When they don't interact enough with their mothers, they can withdraw. Some even learn not to cry because no one will come to their aid if they do.

I scheduled the screening to see if M had any of these signs. None. I was so relieved.

"It's obvious she loves you," the child guidance counselor said. The speech pathologist nodded.

I wanted to snatch M up from the floor where she was playing and hug her silly. How forgiving she is. I'm sure this doesn't mean we're out of the woods. I have to be sure I give her love and attention. I have to move past my fear and anxiety and be present with her when it's just the two of us. I can't avoid her when I feel terrified that I'll screw her up because I'm screwed up.

We left the screening, and I felt such joy. I took her to daycare and waved goodbye.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

When home isn't safe

This weekend I'm going home to attend my high school reunion and visit family. I'm feeling so nervous about this trip. It's the first time I will be home since my therapy and my awakening.

Postpartum depression helped me dig up the past and sort through everything. I realized there were so many issues I hadn't dealt with, and having the new pressure of being a mom was the end of me.

I've never much cared for architecture as an art form until I heard an interview with an architect on NPR. He said he loves creating buildings because they frame our memories. So true. The house where my husband and I live is the place of good memories - rocking M to sleep, watching her play, seeing her take her first (and so far only) step.

The home where I'm going this weekend is the background of bad memories. My older stepbrother molested me. My stepdad tried. A peeping tom stared into my window at night. I begged for help, and my mother always dismissed me as a child who was misunderstanding things.

Since I've gone through therapy, I understand better that I was right. She was wrong. But even though my mom knows about my recovery, she is ignoring the real roots of the problem. I don't think she's really absorbed what I've gone through. So I'm sure she won't understand why I feel antsy.

Every minute of the day is dragging on and on. Only tonight and tomorrow are left. Then I will see him and be back in that house.

At least my husband and M will be with me.

Hi there

I've been journaling on and off about my struggle with postpartum depression since my first panic attack in February, when my daughter was about 4 1/2 months old. But hand-writing everything doesn't give me the immediately I sometimes need to get things out so I don't start bawling at my desk.

I don't want to just be negative or write about the hard things, but I do want to give a complete picture of what it's like to battle with postpartum depression and all the other junk that comes with it.

Thanks for reading and for the support.