Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Motherhood and Tears: Part Two

"I think there's something wrong with me."

The words rolled out of my mouth like thunder in the distance, echoing in the room as they surged forward and then dissipated into the atmosphere. 

"What do you mean?" JM responded as he wrapped his arms around me as tears started streaming down my face.  So, I told him.

Earlier that night, Evelyn had woken up to nurse.  For the first time in a long time, I had actually been sleeping and my first response to this innocent cry for nourishment was to feel complete anger and frustration, followed by extreme guilt for ever allowing myself to feel that way.  I picked her up gently, stroked her beautiful soft hair, and nursed her silently in the dark.  When she fell back asleep, I gently put her back in the co-sleeper and just stared at her. 

It was when I finally laid my head back down to try to sleep again that the bad thoughts had started.  I don't want to recount them here because even now they give me such shame and guilt, even though I know I wasn't in control of them.  They were thoughts of hurting her, and they were ridiculous on all counts, but they were terrifying.  That's when I knew something was wrong.  It wasn't the panic attacks or the constant worry that got me; it wasn't the interest I was beginning to lose in life entirely and even my daughter that convinced me there was something wrong.  It was a series of thoughts that occurred late at night that I couldn't drown out even with prayer as I lay trying to sleep with my perfect baby next to me.

Instantly, I felt terror.  It grew inside me like a sapling on a time-lapsed video, jerkily stretching it's bare arms through all my muscles and organs, tickling me with its thorns and trying to uproot my very sanity.  I thought to myself, "If you can't even control your thoughts, how long will it be until you can't control your actions?"

I'm glad I don't suffer from any over-inflated ego, from any undeserved self-confidence that would have tried to convince me that I was strong enough to deal with this on my own and keep it buried.  It was in my weakness that I confessed to my fiance my feelings and fear that night, that made my problem our problem, that got me help.

"Are you thinking about hurting the baby?" he asked me.  Truthfully, and with tears, I answered, "Yes." 

"Would you?" That question caught me off guard.  "No," I told him with honesty and conviction.  "But I'm scared."

Seeking Help

The next day, he went to work as usual and I sat in the rocking chair as usual, waiting for him to come home, rocking the baby and trying to read her a story.  We both were worried enough, though, that he came home early.  As he watched me crying on the phone and hyperventilating as I spoke to a nurse at the pediatrician's office asking her if there was anything I could take that would be safe during breastfeeding, he offered to drive me to my parents' house back in Erie so I wouldn't have to be alone during the days, and he encouraged me to stay there with the baby until I got better.

It was upon arrival at my parents' house that things slipped even further downhill.  Being there made me more aware of the situation.  I was once again a child helpless against the big scary world searching for reassurance and safety in my mother's arms. 

That night, I sat in the living room alone while my father slept and my mom was out for a little bit.  My parents had purchased an adorable pack n' play for Evelyn to sleep in when she visits, and it was set up next to me as I sat on the couch.  I was holding her, but I didn't feel like she was actually in my arms.  I stared blankly at the television, bright cartoon characters speaking words I wasn't interested in. 

"What would happen if I just shook her!?" The thought came out of nowhere.  That's what they do; these thoughts are like rats, burrowed between the walls and beams of your mind, and they come out when things get their darkest.  I turned Evie around to face me and I had my hands around her arms.  This is insane, I thought to myself, but anxiety crept up on me and I quickly laid my baby down in the pack n' play and called my mom, asking her to come home.  I didn't want to be alone; I had trusted myself, but I felt it slipping.

"Why would anyone want to hurt their child?"

Postpartum depression doesn't care who you are.  It doesn't care that you have infinite love to offer your child, it doesn't care that you've never done anything violent in your life.  It doesn't care that you have patience to spare, an endless and well-researched knowledge of child development and the desire to encourage your child's growth with love and understanding.  It doesn't care that your favorite smell is the scent of your daughter's hair or her sweet baby breath, or that your favorite feeling in the world is her tiny hands gripping at your face while her smile is so big that keeping her lips together couldn't possibly contain it.

Postpartum depression can happen to anyone.  It happened to me. 

For years, I wanted to have a child.  It wasn't until two years ago that my fiance finally agreed that, while we wouldn't actively try, we wouldn't not try either.  While I didn't keep charts of my cycles and calculate the most auspicious days for fertilization, I also didn't do anything that would even hint of trying to keep a pregnancy from happening.  I loved Evelyn before she was even in the womb.

I cried almost every time I heard her heartbeat at my prenatal appointments; I talked to her and referred to her by name during my pregnancy.  I hardly ever used to words "me" or "I" anymore, but rather "we" and "us."  I wasn't going grocery shopping, we were.  She'd kick me, and I'd laugh at poke her back.  She'd hiccup, and I'd rub my stomach gently hoping that she could feel the pressure and be reassured that hiccups weren't so bad.  Despite throwing up all day for weeks, losing two jobs, having almost constant heartburn that would keep me up at night, low blood pressure after I ate, peeing every fifteen minutes and getting stretch marks, I never once felt any anger or regret or even remote annoyance at my pregnancy or my daughter.

After giving birth, I wanted nothing but to hold her.  To feel her weight in my arms and breathe in her newness while counting her breaths was my favorite past-time.  When the nurses came to take her from me in the hospital to do whatever checks they do, I would wait up nervously til my baby was returned, swaddled tightly and sleeping, and I'd eventually end up with her right back in my arms where she belonged. 

I'm a good mom, and I wanted to be a mom more than anything in this world.  I love my daughter with a passion I've never felt before in my life, the kind of raw emotion that convinces you that nothing in this entire world matters except your child and you would tear down anything that stood in your way to keeping her healthy and happy.

And still, I got postpartum depression. 

It doesn't happen only to women with preexisting character flaws; it doesn't happen only to women who didn't really want their child in the first place; it doesn't happen only to women who are messed up to begin with.  Postpartum depression doesn't care who you are; it can happen to anyone.

Trust me when I tell you that those of us who suffer or have suffered from PPD don't want to hurt our children.  These thoughts literally come out of nowhere and you can't control them, and they horrify us more than they horrify anyone else.  That's our child.

To be continued in Part 3...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Motherhood and Tears: Part One

This is the story of my brief, yet terrifying, struggle with post-partum depression, a condition that is often misunderstood by those who never suffered it.  In sharing this story, I hope to put a human face to this disorder to help people better understand what it is, and that it can happen to anyone.  I also hope that any women who are pregnant now or who just delivered their babies can learn from my experience, and if they recognize the signs in themselves, can become empowered to seek help and support as soon as they can.

After Birth

Five and a half months ago, I was laying in a hospital bed watching a screen where my contractions were monitored in jumping black lines that skidded slowly across a white grid, nervously shooting up into jagged mountains of pain only to slowly come back down every minute or two.  I laughed, noting how I would never know the contractions were happening had it not been for that monitor as I made a last-minute decision to get the epidural when the nurse convinced me I didn't do enough research and that the medication I would receive wouldn't affect my daughter, who's heart rate beat across its own white grid in a comforting red line.  Despite the rhythmic pounding of the walls of her womb-home closing in around her, she remained as calm and steady as I had. 

My mother, father, and of course fiance were all in the room to welcome Evelyn into the world.  My dad was sitting on a couch as far from the action as possible; JM was next to me holding my hand and peeking down once in a while.  My mom, however, was situated where she could get the best view, and when she started skipping in place and threw her hands up to her face, I knew that she could see the baby.  She commented several times on how happy she was that she was allowed to experience the birth of her first grandchild, and Oh! Look! I can see her black hair!

It took four fruitless hours of pushing before the doctor brought in the vacuum.  She explained to me that I could push for several more hours and still make no progress, as Evie's head was tilted to a point that made it nearly impossible for her to get through the pelvic bone.  I cried when she explained to me that if the vacuum didn't work, I'd have to have an emergency Cesarean section.  I was determined that it wouldn't come to that, and with the help of the vacuum, we delivered a healthy, gorgeous child into this world.

For two weeks, my mom stayed with JM, Evie and myself to spend as much time with her new granddaughter as possible, as well as wait on me hand and foot as I laid in bed nursing, unable to move thanks to all the stitching and subsequent swelling I endured.  The post-partum period was extremely scary for me, worse than anything I experienced during my pregnancy and birth:  I was afraid to use the bathroom, afraid to shower, afraid to walk down the stairs.  I was in so much pain, and I was light-headed. 

My emotions were on a roller coaster as well from the massive change in hormones.  One minute, I was absolutely elated to be holding my daughter in my arms; the next, I realized how exhausted I was and I'd catch a glimpse of the Japanese tsunami on the news and think of all the people who won't hold their daughters or granddaughters anymore and I would bawl.

It's normal to experience emotional highs and lows as your body regulates itself and you settle into the new role of mother.  It's one of the most life-changing experiences a person can go through, and coming to terms with an entirely new purpose in life takes a little time.  They call this period the "baby blues," and most women can expect to feel it.

I stopped crying over everything within two weeks.  I instead filled my days nursing my daughter in her rocking chair, nervously checking over her and counting diapers and calling the pediatrician's office every other day with questions as I discovered new things.  "Is her soft spot supposed to sink in this much?  I think she might have thrush.  Can I bring her in to weigh her so I know she's getting enough to eat?"  Every time she cried, I'd try to nurse her.  I was absolutely terrified that we weren't doing it right, that she was always hungry.  Feeding her, worrying about feeding her, became my life. 

Within two months, I was having panic attacks.  I didn't leave the rocking chair hardly ever, even to feed myself.  The effort would cause me to hyperventilate, so Evelyn and I sat in that chair all day and watched television.  She didn't realize anything was wrong, as she was asleep most of the time, a luxury I myself rarely got.  You can imagine how boring it was being a shut-in; soon, I lost interest in nearly everything as my life was a continual loop of tossing and turning at night, not eating, rocking my daughter and nursing her while worrying the entire time. 

One Monday night when my daughter was just barely three months old, I knew something was wrong.

Not Just the Baby Blues

My fiance and I were sleeping in separate rooms, as I had decided to keep Evie in our bedroom in a co-sleeper attached to the bed.  She woke up every two to three hours, and he needed more sleep than that to be able to function at his job.  So, he slept in the guest bedroom where he could unwind watching some TV as I caught a little sleep here and there between fits of the baby's wakefulness.

I walked in to that guest room at 4:30 a.m., feeling like a ghost.  I hovered in the doorway watching him sleep for a little while, hoping he'd wake up on his own as if by some miracle.  When he didn't, I lurched into the dark room, illuminated by a small blue light on his laptop, and placed my hand on his shoulder.  I changed my mind and walked away, but returned within minutes and sat on the edge of the bed and gently shook him awake.

"I think there's something wrong with me," I said as my eyes welled up with tears. 

To be continued...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Spiders In My House

Often times when I come across a spider in my home, I take a few minutes to watch her as she walks carefully across her web, tenuously checking each strand to see that it is placed impeccably along her web.  I lose myself in thought as the philosophical questions regarding the spider's ultimate fate arise within me. 

The Life of a Spider

A spider's nervous system is surprisingly simple for the complex tasks it allows a spider to accomplish.  We know that spiders are capable of learning cause and effect, and when something is amiss in their webs, or if something they are doing to fix a web is only contributing to the problem, they drop their present task and instead focus on a different approach to overcoming the problem. 

We can't say for certain whether or not a spider feels pain, but if they do, we can say with some certainty that they attach no emotion to it as humans do.  They simply do not have the ability, as their nervous systems are composed of two very basic ganglia, or clumps of nerve cells, and no brain capable of true thought. 

They are fascinating to watch, though.  As artists in the medium of silk, they weave fantastic webs as they work their spinners behind them, and deftly move their eight legs across those thin strands like an expert dancer.  The slightest disturbance in a web sends them into a frenzy, either fiendishly approaching the disturbance hoping for nourishment, or running away to avoid destruction.  Those who don't spin webs are equally fascinating, as they roam across our windows, talented hunters ready to pounce upon their next meal.

Most spiders wouldn't be considered menaces, as their diet consists of all the other insects that share our home like unwanted roommates.  I often find the hollowed-out exoskeleton of house centipedes in the webs in the basement, and breathe a sigh of relief knowing there's one less of them trying to crawl up my leg as I do my laundry.  Some spiders are dangerous, such as the brown recluse and the black widow, the venom of which is unapologetic and indiscriminate.  But for the most part, the spiders in our homes are harmless.

Is it right to kill a spider?

Life is here because our Creator, in all His wisdom that is often times out of our realm of understanding, has decided that the life is meant to be here.  All living beings are under this divine purview, and all the non-human creatures were put under the stewardship of mankind.  How far does this responsibility extend?  Are we then allowed to do to these creatures whatever we feel, or must there be some ethics involved?

Certainly, we must remain ethical in our treatment of the creatures around us to prevent needless suffering as well as we can.  But if a creature is incapable of higher thinking, is incapable of fear, feels only rudimentary pain, like a spider, does it truly suffer?

Is it right, then, to kill a spider?


I don't know if it's right or not to kill a spider, and usually by the time all these thoughts have run through my head, I'm already carrying a tissue to the trash containing what was once a spider building a web in the corner of my house, and am on to my next task.  They're creepy.

Plus, they started this war by hanging out in our beds.