This is the story of my battle with depression during pregnancy (antenatal depression), and post-partum depression. As I have stated before, these are feelings that I wish I never had felt. This is not the way I wanted either my pregnancy or post-partum experience to go. But this was my reality, and I am not going to sugar coat it. That doesn’t do anyone any good. I have decided to share this for the benefit of other women, especially those who may be going through, or have gone through similar experiences. While I was in the midst of my battle with PPD I desperately searched the internet for stories of experiences like mine, and came up with only a few results.
This was not easy to write, and I suspect it’s not going to be easy to read. But the ending, though still in progress, is a happy one. This should be a story of hope and preservation as opposed to one of sadness and bitterness, and I hope that it touches you.
And finally they brought her to me.
Note: This is another particularly painful admission. This is something I’ve only spoken about to a very small amount of people, but I promised to be honest so here goes…
And my first thought was, “Oh my god she’s so ugly!” And that is all that I felt about her.
And my next thought was, “Somebody take this baby and bring me the dinner menu!”
I handed the baby to my husband and quickly scanned the dinner menu as the kitchen was about to close. It was a Tuesday evening and the last time I ate was Monday morning (and there had been intense physical exertion) so starving is probably an appropriate word to use. I ordered a grilled cheese, and looked forward to eating it more than any other meal in my life.
When it came I took a hungry mouthful. And it tasted like cardboard. I'm not sure I've ever been more disappointed in my life.
After eating all I could (a few bites), I was walked to the bathroom and cleaned up a little. Then we were all taken into a recovery room- which I was sad to see was much smaller, and not as nice as the delivery suite. With the baby fast asleep in the bassinet, N fell dead asleep on the couch and I too tried to get some rest. I was absolutely exhausted after all.
At some time during the night I awoken to the sound of a baby’s cry. The sound of it sent shivers down my spine and I immediately broke out in a cold sweat and started to shake. I looked over at the bassinet next to me and noticed that my baby was still sleeping peacefully, the cry was not coming from another room. Shaken I paged the nurse immediately and asked for an anti-anxiety pill. I was brought one with no hesitation. We all slept for the next few hours.
The next day both N and I took MUCH needed showers, and we had a few visitors come by to admire our new addition. I was mostly concerned with learning how to breastfeed, and my baby seemed to latch well. We had two different “lactation nurses” come in to examine us and both said the latch looked great. I started to feel like things were going to start going smoothly- although I still didn’t feel anything for the tiny little creature I held to my chest.
The morning that we were supposed to go home a doctor came in to give the baby a heel poke to check her bilirubin levels. He saw her sleeping and was able to pick her up without complaint. Beaming, he told me that he was a firm believer that a baby’s temperament in the hospital was a good predictor of how they’d act at home. I sighed in relief at the prospect of having an easy baby. Truly that thought went through my mind.
Then the doctor pricked her heel and she let out a scream that could rival something from a horror movie. She wouldn’t stop screaming, even when he gave her to me and I frantically tried to calm her. He gave me a concerned look and left in a hurry.
I felt more than ready to leave the hospital. I felt like things had been going pretty well and there was nothing more I wanted than to get home to my comfy bed, and my DVR’d episodes of 16 & Pregnant.
As we were driving away from the hospital I noticed that N was going very slow and acting very careful. Quite the change from the previous drag racer! He had said he wasn’t going to be phased by having our baby in the car, and I teased him about being wrong.
When we got home I immediately settled into bed with the baby. I got her situated on the nursing pillow and turned on the TV. N left to go to the drugstore to pick up some of the supplies I had no idea I’d be needing, and I felt confident letting him go. I heard the car drive off... and all hell broke loose.
Looking back on what happened next is almost comical because it was so terrible. As soon as N left the baby started SCREAMING and would not stop. I started to panic and then she broke out into a rash. I was completely over the edge. When N got home he tried to comfort the screaming baby as well with no success. Then my mom showed up and she too could not quiet the baby. She made a frantic run to Babies ‘R Us to buy a swing and N called the doctor to ask about the rash. They said it was probably nothing and to keep an eye on it, but I had already lost my mind. I was sobbing uncontrollably by this point and when my mom got back to our house she couldn’t get the swing together fast enough (she’s not very good at assembling things.) My mom was downstairs banging around and cursing at the swing, N was holding the screaming baby, and I was crying almost as loud. And then my mother and grandmother-in-law showed up with a beautiful fruit tray! And what a scene they came across! I was having a melt-down in the shower and told my husband to tell them to come back another time. It was all just too much.
I’d like to tell you when the baby stopped screaming but I can’t remember because she screamed for at least three straight months. And I call it screaming as opposed to crying for a reason. She did three things and she did them well- she ate, slept, and screamed. If she was awake she was screaming. I did not see her awake and not screaming for a few months, and she refused to be held when she was sleeping. In fact, the only way to get her to sleep was to put her in her car seat and swing the car seat back and forth. That was it. There was no medical reason for her screaming, she was eating well (more on that another time), gaining weight like a champ, and sleeping for normal stretches when we could get her to sleep. It was just some sort of “colic” that she’d have to grow out of.
Meanwhile, I was being completely smothered in the depths of Post-Partum Depression. Although I had started on the SSRI anti-depressant Lexapro in my third trimester to try and assuage my Antenatal Depression and prevent PPD, it wasn’t doing much.
Now, having been born with Bipolar and various anxiety disorders, I have fallen into many a deep depression. But PPD was unlike anything else that I have ever experienced. One of the strange side effects was the complete loss of my appetite, and the paralysis (?) of my taste buds. I am a comfort eater and always have been, but just the thought of even my favorite food completely repulsed me. And when I would try to get something down for the sake of making milk everything tasted like sawdust. N and my mom tried to bring me anything and everything delicious they could find in hopes I’d find it appetizing, but it was all the same. I could barely bring myself to eat.
Another of the side effects was the complete loss of my ability to use my imagination. This may sound strange, but it was terrifying. One of my lifelong coping mechanisms is to image things, i.e. “go to a happy place.” When I’m feeling down or anxious I’ll imagine myself at a beach or by a river in the mountains. On a limitless shopping spree or eating something delicious. But when I closed my eyes I could think of nothing but blackness. That was truly one of the scariest experiences of my life.
My anxiety, which has been out-of-control for as long as I can remember, was also affected in strange ways. One night when N and I had finally gotten the baby to fall asleep in her car seat I found myself staring at her, dreading with all my soul the minute she’d wake up and we’d have to repeat the soothing process over again. I began to taste blood, and saw that my thumb and index finger were also covered in blood. I had been picking at the skin on my lips to the point where they were cracked and bleeding. I hadn’t noticed it before, but whenever the anxiety had gotten too overwhelming my hands would be up at my mouth picking away at the skin. Once I realized what I was doing I tried consciously to stop it, but it’s a habit that remains to this day.
I wish words could adequately describe the depression and devastation that both N and I felt during this time. He may have not been suffering from PPD himself but the screaming, and his concerns about me were hard on him too. He had to go back to work two weeks after I gave birth. This may sound like a luxury for some (of us Americans) but it just wasn't enough for me. He only had three weeks of vacation for the whole year and also wanted to take some time off for the criminal trial regarding his father’s murder that was set to take place at the end of the month. I was a mess when he had to go back. The thought of being alone in the house with the screaming baby all day was almost too much to bear. And my mom was too tied up in her own personal issues to be there. For many months I would spend all week waiting until Saturday night when I knew N would be off for the next two days. And then on Monday nights I’d be a disaster once more, dreading him leaving in the morning.
And all this time I felt no emotion for the baby. I felt nothing. There were certainly times I disliked her because of the incessant screaming, but I never hated her and certainly never wished harm upon her. Luckily my PPD never devolved into Post-Partum Psychosis. In fact, I was saddened and ashamed with my inability to feel a connection with her. Although she was a tiny newborn, I felt like she knew my feelings and that she hated me. I was convinced she hated me. I tried my best to be a good mom. I nursed her throughout excruciating pain, I held her as often as she would let me, and I tried to never look at her without a smile on my face. But inside my heart would have broken if it had been there at all.
I’ll never forget being at my parent’s house one night for dinner. I had gotten the baby to sleep and we were sitting down to eat (meaning I was sitting down to pick at another meals worth of food.) My dad turned to me with shining eyes and asked me if I felt the all-consuming parental love for my child yet- the kind of love he had felt for me. I shook my head and croaked out a “no” before collapsing into tears. Both my parents were concerned and reassured me that it’d happen one day. I hoped so, but I didn’t know how I was supposed to try and develop something that I thought would appear automatically and naturally. I felt completely broken and useless as a person and especially as a mother.
-> Part Four