My Story, Part 4- After Secondus Arrives

Just after I gave birth to Secondus I thought things were going to be different. I did not have the birth I wanted, but I was given all the support, love, and encouragement I did not have during my first birth. The day I birthed Secondus was sunny and beautiful. After everyone had a rest it was all cuddles and happiness. Unlike Eldest’s birth the anxiety and depression did not sink in until the day/night before I was to leave the hospital. I chalked it up to nervousness about being at home with two little ones. Two under two is what I had at this time. That would be a little anxiety inducing for almost anyone.

A few days after being home I realized that I was sinking once again into depression. I went to a few therapy appointments where I was diagnosed with Post Partum Depression (PPD) and Post Partum OCD (PP OCD). Due to the expense of therapy, and the fact that I had to leave my newborn for an hour or more, I terminated the therapy sessions. Not the wisest idea, I will admit, but I was not going to leave Secondus. We had a house guest come and visit. The timing was not the best, but it did show us the true colors of this person. Needless to say the house guest was asked to leave early and we have terminated contact.

I had up and down success with breast feeding. In the beginning, when my anxiety and stress were the highest, I had more down. At the 5 week mark my milk had dried up. This was confirmed by the lactation consultants (LC) that ran my support group. However, I continued to go to the meetings, and found small ways to manage the stress and anxiety I was under. I was able to relactate, and exclusively breast feeding (EBF) from the time Secondus was about 7 weeks old until Secondus was about 6 months. It was great success to a mother who was unable to breast feed the first go around.

During this time I began taking an anti-depressant that was breast feeding safe. It seemed to work decently and then something weird happened. I began to hear voices coming from our downstairs. Now, our downstairs is not a typical basement. It is a family room with an attached laundry that leads to a garage. I loved it down there just a few days before this happened. And then I didn’t. The voices were telling me I was a horrible person. I was a bad mother. That my family would be better off without me. And that they were going to eat me. Then, one night I thought I heard a loud noise coming from the downstairs, and thought I saw a shadow coming up the stairs. It scared me to death because I was sure it was the people in the basement coming to make good on their threats. I did not sleep for the rest of the night, and I went off the anti-depressant the next day.

My doctor, worried with how quickly I ended that pill put me on Zolft. This pill was just as bad. I felt manic on it. One minute everything was rainbows and light, and the next minute the sky was falling. I would get into depressive funks so bad I could not feel. I was numb. One day it got so bad that to feel anything would be better than to feel nothing. I do not even remember doing most of it, but somehow I took a samll kitchen knife and cut myself over 20 times before I was able to stop (I counted the cuts). That woke me up figuratively and literally. I called my doctor, told him my plan, and then got on the phone to my midwife. She recommended several herbs and teas, which worked very well for me. I am a believer in medication for treating depression and other mood disorders; but the medications that I tried did not work for me.

The herbs, on the other hand, while not very strong, were extremely helpful for me. They would quiet my mind and calm me down just enough that I could reason through my issue for myself. I used the weakest tea almost daily for several months. Then, just like with Eldest, the sun came out at about 8 months post partum. It had been a long, hard road. Hubby and I had battled it together. Unfortunately, I went as far as I could go by myself. Like I was on a straight forest path and had run into a glass wall- I could see the other side, but could not get there myself. We decided that maybe, just maybe, we should give therapy a second shot…

My Story, Part 3- The 8th Month Change

So, what happened at 8 months to help change me a bit? Daisy (not real name) had her baby, Lily (also not real name); and we went out to see them. This trip pulled me out of my comfort zone and thrust me into a situation where I controlled nothing. I had to get on a plane. I had to go to somewhere where I knew where nothing was, had no control over my environment, and generally did not know what to expect. For this first time in 8 months I went somewhere without expectations and only minimally planned. It opened my eyes.

The trip to Daisy’s helped in several ways. The first way, and I am quite sure Daisy will laugh when she reads this, is that her house seemed so calm and serene. I remember watching her breast feed and a felt a twinge. Sure some of that twinge was the desire to have breast fed Eldest, but the majority of it was from the fact that she look so peaceful. At the time I did not know she was a Duck – calm on the surface but paddling like hell underneath. All I knew is what I saw, and what it made me realize. I realized that all my efforts to “create” a calm place had the opposite affect. Instead I made my household a stressful place. I looked at her, and said I want to be like that. I resolved to try and change.

The other thing that had really changed was that a bit of the veil had lifted. A lot of the pregnancy and birth hormones had cleared my system, and it felt like a veil had been lifted. The world seemed a little brighter, a little more manageable. This small attitude change made it easier to work on some of the issues I had. Many issues did continue to hang around, but I did live in ignorance about what they might mean.

By the time Eldest had turned 10 months I was working in a new job, we had moved, and I had let go of many of the stifling rules that I had put in place. Understand, I said I had let go of many of the rules, not all, and probably not some of the worst ones. However, Hubby and I felt I was making progress. By the time Eldest was a year I was better. I was visibly more happy. I felt lighter. Things just seemed to be moving in the right direction for us. Then I got pregnant.

Do not read that sentence and think I did not want the new life I was carrying inside of me. I did with all my heart, but it brought a lot of fears and questions to the surface too. Would I turn into the horrible woman again? Could I handle this emotionally so soon? Could Hubby handle it?

The joy of the new life was overshadowed by the fears of who I had been. Slowly, I got over those fears. Not because I conquered anything, but because I began to educate myself. I worked with a midwife knowledgeable in natural remedies and herbs to help me. I tried to identify my “bad” areas from Eldest’s birth and babyhood. I got the midwife to have a better birthing experience and to aid in breast feeding. We brought in my Mother-In-Law (MIL), with whom I have a great relationship, to help with the kids after Secondus’ birth. I found a non-hospital breast feeding support group to aid in breast feeding. I spent time relaxing, breathing, and generally enjoying my Eldest and Hubby, while eargerly awaiting Secondus’ birth. I never once did anything about the PPMD I had battled. I preferred not to think about it as it only marred a gloriously sunny part of my life.

My Story, Part 2- At Home

One could reasonably assume that the dreary atmosphere of the hospital (let’s face it, hospitals have a certain depressing blah that home usually does not have) contributed greatly to my problems, and that being at home would lessen them. It did not. My problems got worse. Breast feeding did not work out for Eldest and I. I had no confidence in myself, and no support save Hubby. Yes, I knew all about the hospital lactation department, but with no one to drive me there, and a closer hospital costing $150 a session help from the hospitals was not doable. I then called La Leche League (LLL), but the leaders in my area were either nonexistent (they never returned calls or answered their phone, ever) or were condescending (two notes: 1. this is NOT a reflection on the entire LLL organization, but the women to which I had contact with; 2. this spurred me to find help outside of these two venues and though I was unable the breast feed Eldest I was able to breast feed Secondus).

When breast feeding failed for me I got more depressed. I took it as a sign I was a horrible mother. I was in so deep I could not hear Hubby saying that I did what was best for us at this moment in time. All I heard was fail fail fail. After a few weeks I was given the clear to drive and jog again. I was so happy. I would go out in the warm autumn sun with my precious Eldest for little walks. I felt emotionally stronger. I was so happy things seemed to be turning around that I did not realize how fragile my state of mind actually was. Then I went to the store one day and my delicate world fell apart. All I was doing was feeding Eldest a bottle, but the cruel words of the breast feeding mothers across from me cut so deeply I could hardly contain my tears. I know it is not right to base my worth on what others think, but for some reason I was putting my worth as a mother on what other women who did not know me thought. Because of this I became a shut in.

(I would like to note here that while the majority of mothers have the self confidence and beautiful strength to understand that advice from other mothers, no matter how self righteous it might sound, is just that- advice. Some of us out there, like me, take this advice, no matter how well meaning, as a condemnation of our parenting skills. Admit it, you have been on a blog or thread, and some woman professes that her way is the only right way to mother because she has produced brilliant little angels that way. I can guarantee you two things: 1. her little angels have their devil moments because people only portray the best versions of themselves online, and 2. she is not mothering your kids. Advice is great and sometimes a life saver; but in the end you have to what is best for your family and your child, and have the confidence to know you are doing the best you can.)

I rarely went outside, the curtains were always drawn before Hubby arrived home from work, the walls felt like they were closing in on me, and I made up the oddest rules- like after the baby went down for the night there must be absolute quiet. I do not mean a general quiet in the house. I mean we watched t.v. with closed captioning on, and Hubby cringed if he dropped something lest I visit my wrath upon him. We had what my Hubby termed “The Lab” where bottles were set up, organized and standing ready (i.e. clean and with the proper amount of powder in them). Anything that came into contact with Eldest’s mouth what washed in hot water with soap, boiled and then rinsed in boiling water- by hand.

Do not think that I am talking about the first few weeks. Hubby ensured this for the first 10 months of Eldest’s life. Rules were set in place to prevent what I saw in my head from coming true (down to specific distances we had to walk through doors to prevent hitting Eldest’s head). I was depressed, demanding and always agitated. We bickered more than we ever had before. Honestly, I am surprised Hubby is still married to me.

This went on for 8 months (yes, I know I said 10 months but give me a bit). Then, at 8 months, something happened to me and I changed ever so slighly…

My Story, Part 1- The Hospital

My story actually begins in the hospital. The largest misconception people have about PPMD, besides the one that every mom who suffers from them is another Andrea Yates, is that it takes time to develop. It doesn’t. Some moms start struggling with them while still pregnant, some develop them in the hospital, and others do not develop them for months. I, unfortunately, developed signs of a PPMD about two days after delivery.

It really did start small, things one could easily discount. Things that, under other circumstances, would have meant nothing. Since, I had a c-section I had to stay in the hospital and my Hubby could not stay with me. We had a dog at that time and he had to work at least a half day so him going home to sleep was non-negotiable. When he would get ready to leave in the evening I would start getting agitated. I would insist the blinds needed to be closed. Not because light would shine in and keep me up, but because I could not bear the outside world “looking” in. In reality the only one who could look into my 8th floor room was a pigeon, and I am sure he wanted my sandwich more than he wanted to criticize my mothering.

The anxiety before bedtime very quickly, like next day quickly, lead to anxiety during the day. It did not help that the common new parent mistake of forgetting to check and change Eldest’s diaper ONCE lead to the thinking that I have already ruined my child and I suck as a mother. The lactation consultant that I had helping me in this hospital sucked. She was cruel and violent (I do not believe you should EVER forcibly shove a child onto its mother’s boob). She made me sit in an extremely painful position and constantly berated me when she came in to “help”. The night nurse, bless her heart, tried to help; but by then I was a lost cause.

It has always surprised me how quickly I went from having some modest confidence in my ability to mother my child to absolutely none. As if the loss of confidence was not bad enough, I began to have terrible thoughts. At first they were fleeting, but then they came with more and more regularity. The first time I had thoughts like these was when my night nurse dragged Eldest in under a warmer with bili lights due to jaundice, and I told her just to leave Eldest in the room with me. The thought was something small and easily dismissed- “What if I roll over on Eldest?”

Looking from the outside it seems ridiculous. You are in a hospital bed and Eldest is in a warmer. Like I said, it seems small and inconsequential; but it caused me a lot of anxiety. I slept very lightly. Woke at every sound. And checked on Eldest constantly. I gave into this anxiety and instead of helping it made it worse. The depression got deeper, my lack of confidence stubbornly remained in place, and the thoughts/visions got worse, got violent.

By the time I was “ready” for discharge I was fully submersed in my PPMD. I did not want to leave the hospital because I was convinced I could not mother without the nurses around me. No one was allowed to touch my baby because only I could hold Eldest right. It was very difficult to let Hubby hold Eldest. However, I did and something unexpected happened. Eldest quieted and calmed. In my mind that meant I was not to touch Eldest, I was the problem. It never reached me that maybe Eldest was calmer with Hubby because Hubby was calm. I did not want to touch my baby, nor did I want anyone to touch my baby. I was a mess.

Not once was my Hubby told what to look for in relation to Post Partum Depression or signs that maybe I need extra help. Not once was it explained to us that sadness that does not start lightening or gets worse after “x” amount of time should be looked at by either a therapist or another trusted professional source (midwives can be extremely helpful during the post partum period as they can help with breast feeding and PPD identification, though not a diagnosis). We were left to flounder alone.