Friday, November 25, 2011

Motherhood and Tears: Part Three

This is the final part in my story of postpartum depression.  I'm sorry that it has taken me so long to finish my story, but I've been enjoying life too much to have enough time to sit and post.  Obviously, my story has a happy ending, and for this I am eternally grateful.

The First Night

That first night spent in my parents' house was horrifying.  I was finally in a safe place, one that threatened to blow me apart before it glued me back together as I started to revert into a helpless child, and in the safety of the house in which I grew up, in the company of the people who care most about me, it all fell apart.  That first night, I should have slept:  My mom was sleeping in the family room with me and the baby, and was taking care of her throughout the night.  I lay awake, tossing and turning as I could feel my nerves crashing in me like waves, anxiety gripping my throat and knocking the breath out of me only to let up enough for one big breath before it crushed me again.

I watched the starry summer sky turn from nighttime's inky infinite blackness to the velveteen indigo of dawn, watched the leaves on the maple in the backyard rattle with a gentle summer breeze.  When morning finally came spilling through the skylights, I opened my eyes and realized I had slept for at least an hour.

I remember my mom getting up when the baby cried, remembered hearing the squeaking of the rocking chair as she gently soothed her granddaughter back to sleep.  I knew Evelyn was safe wrapped in her grandmother's arms, and a potpourri of conflicting emotions emerged within me.  Feelings of guilt followed feelings of freedom like a shadow, behind comfort crept fear.  I was off the hook, it seemed, as someone else was able to step in and parent for me before I started to fail miserably.  The suggestion that I could focus on myself was the most damning of all, as what I had to focus on was hideous.

The Road to Wellness

I tearfully scheduled an appointment with my old family doctor.  When I showed up, I was clearly a wreck.  My hair was wet from the first shower I had taken in days, my eyes puffy and red above my tear-stained cheeks.  My face was hollow and sunken, as I couldn't eat or drink.  I felt I couldn't even stand on my own two feet.  Being upright made me dizzy, walking made me hyperventilate.  I had just nursed my daughter for what would be the last time, and my mind was spinning with fear as she had never taken anything from a bottle, and could I really give up this soon?  Three months of nursing was all I could offer my daughter?

It wasn't a long appointment.  I was started immediately on an SSRI I had taken previously for a panic disorder that plagued me most of my life.  The doctor and her nurse both went out to meet my Evie in the waiting room and simultaneously tell my mother how lucky I was to have her and how happy they were that I was back with family through this.

The pills took a week to work.  In the meantime, I spent most of my days curled up in my parents' bed under the fan, hyperventilating while my mom rocked the baby in the hammock, or bathed her, or did all the things I should have been doing in those days.  I went to the hospital with my then-fiance to visit his step-dad, but I ended up napping off a panic attack in the car.  When I was feeling a little better, I went shoe shopping, but had to nap off another panic attack when we got home.

Most of these days are lost to my memory, and I'm glad they are.  They were full of moments where, in all my inadequacy, I just wanted to hold my daughter but was terrified because I kept seeing myself opening my arms and just letting her go.  Other times, I would feed her and immediately want to hand her to my mom because I was afraid of myself, afraid of her.

I ended up doubling my dosage of the medication, and the rest is pretty much history.  It took a little while to feel confident mothering again, to hold my daughter close without fearing for her safety.  Much had changed in the time I spent at my parents' house:  Evelyn was on formula, and I had gone through the painful process of weaning cold-turkey, which hit me hard emotionally as well as physically; she didn't eat as often which gave me more time to actually do things with her; she was sleeping through the night, so I was able to sleep.

When my mom finally brought me back home, she stayed a few days.  My fiance and I went to a baseball game, but I had a panic attack.  It was the last one I would have.  A few days later, my mom left and it was back to life.  Not life as normal, because "normal" up until that point was anything but.

Babies and Postpartum Depression

There is a basic scale used to gauge how a child is dealing with her mother's depression.  There are infants who are still happy to see their mother, who still prefer her to all other caregivers, who light up when they see their mom and who get nervous when they don't.  They are the lucky ones.  There are infants who are indifferent to their mothers, as they haven't been harmed but have been emotionally neglected by their mothers as they dealt with debilitating depression.  Then there are the babies who are afraid of their own mothers, who cry in fear when they see them.

Evelyn was one of the lucky ones.

Despite all the fear and doubt and insecurity I suffered, the horrible thoughts that haunted me, I held my daughter close, and often.  I nursed her on demand.  I played with her, being able to cover up momentarily my lack of interest in anything.  When I suffered a panic attack, I would just sit in the rocking chair holding her.  She was young enough that this was interesting, thankfully.  I fought with every last fiber of my being to make sure that Evelyn never suffered because I did.

Right now, my daughter is almost nine months old and we spend every hour of every day together, playing, reading, giggling, taking walks.  We co-sleep, sometimes comfortably where she falls asleep stroking my face as I run my hand through her hair, sometimes uncomfortably, like when she wakes me up by smacking an elbow in my face or farting really loudly.  She's hilarious, and I've never been happier with where my life is now.  We always wake up with smiles on our faces, start each morning with generous hugs and kisses before we go downstairs for First Breakfast.  It's almost as if nothing ever happened at all, and I like it that way.

I've never been depressed in my life, and I never understood depression.  I never understood how someone could be sad for no real reason, how a person couldn't just turn their attitude around.  But I learned the hard way that it's real and it's terrifying, and it swallows you alive.  I've gained perspective and empathy, two treasures found in an otherwise empty pit.  Nothing will ever be perfect like we plan, but there is no path unworthy of walking, because the end always justifies the means.  Somehow.