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.

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