I had an easy pregnancy. Easier than I thought anyone with high risk factors like I had, could anticipate. No morning sickness. No bloating. I was able to wear my wedding ring until the very last days. My feet stayed the same size throughout. I even went off blood pressure medication and my blood pressure stayed low for almost the entire duration of my pregnancy. I was glowing. I gained weight only in my belly.
Birth was amazing, too. I was induced because my blood pressure climbed in the last three weeks of pregnancy and could not be managed. And so a week after my due date, I checked into the hospital, clutching my yoga ball and a huge bag of snacks for my husband. They started me on cytotec, gave me an Ambien, and I went to sleep (well, I thought I went to sleep–my husband said I started dancing and falling and dancing on Ambien). The next morning at 6:30am, they started me on pitocin, and what felt like the worst diarrhea cramps in the world paired with the ultimate in constipation, hit me. I breathed through the contractions. I had no desire to scream–I just rode the waves of pain with deep breaths. I felt calm and ready. I wanted to meet my kid.
Every time the pump clicked, I knew a contraction would hit me. My contractions reached two minutes long, with less than a minute rest in between. I got an epidural. I felt no contractions from that point on, amazed when my husband read the monitor and announced, “That was a huge contraction you just had!”
Really? I couldn’t feel it.
Little did I know, that I would have to get very used to feeling nothing.
I took a long nap. I woke up and said, “Hey guys–I have to either fart, take a giant poop, or the baby’s coming out. One of those things is not acceptable right now.” The baby was coming. I was 10 cm dilated. Time soon to push. They called my doctor, who arrived and had to tell me, “Stop pushing! I haven’t scrubbed in yet.”
I was bearing down and counting to ten. Breathing. Bearing down and counting to ten. My amazing doula coached me, coached us. It was calm and peaceful. They brought in a mirror. She was coming. And then at 6:35pm I pushed her into the world of oxygen and light.
And I felt nothing. When they handed her to me, she felt like someone else’s child. I waited for the gush of joy, and I felt blank.
I had a great pregnancy, and a great birth, but had a nightmare first year of motherhood, instead.
I had no idea I had postpartum depression. It took me months to realize I was in over my head. I told people it was like walking into the ocean step by step holding my child on my head until I was underwater, struggling to keep her alive holding her aloft. I felt like I was dying.
Not until I had the darkest thoughts a new mother could have (wishing my baby didn’t exist–wishing for SIDS), did I pause and think, “This cannot be right.” My OCD was off the chain (obsessing over the sterility of bottles was crippling). I was unable to let my baby go into anyone’s arms but mine. I forced everyone to wash their hands well beyond the first 6 months before handling my child. Still, I waited. I thought the postpartum depression would lift. I waited.
Meanwhile, my daughter thrived. My husband went back to work.
My friends told me I cried when they visited. They said I told them I felt hopeless. I couldn’t get myself to shower. I went days without showering. I tried to go on walks, and went on walks everyday with my baby, but came back so exhausted, I crawled right back into bed.
I pumped in bed. I ate in bed. I slept in bed. I cradled my child in bed. I did not leave that bed almost all year. I begged my husband to stay in bed with me. He resisted.
My daughter thrived. My husband was going to work. My husband was traveling. My husband said he was traveling. My husband said he was out of town. My husband said he could not come home.
I was at pre-pregnancy weight by 3 weeks postpartum. I stopped being able to eat. I couldn’t figure out how to make food and take care of a baby. Food no longer tasted good. I dipped down to the lowest weight since junior high. Clothes started to fall off my body. My wedding ring slipped off my finger.
I hired help. The help didn’t work out. I hired more help, and found I could not let my daughter out of my arms. The help, who has now turned into one of my dearest friends, kept me company. That was help. We watched movies while I sat in bed with my daughter. She washed the bottles, the G*dawful bottles. Did the laundry. Got me food, which I only nibbled.
My friends dropped off food (posole, pasta, tomato sauce, minestrone, eggplant parmigiana). When they left, I would cry with gratitude, but I could not get myself to eat.
My friends emailed me. Texted me.
I walked. I tried to do yoga. I tried to be happy again. I used every tool in my toolbox to overcome my depression.
My husband was no longer coming home except on weekends. Where was he?
My best friend happened to move nearby. We met for a meal, for coffee, for a walk, everyday. I was at the bottom of a well, and my best friend met me at the bottom, and stayed with me in the dark.
I looked up from the bottom of the well. I could see the sky. I knew I had to get up there, somehow. I could hear my baby’s laughter, like a distant bell.
I started wearing makeup again. Tried to pretend. Fake it until you make it. I faked it and faked it and faked it.
I held my daughter. I fed my daughter. I survived each day.
My friend met me at the bottom of the well.
My friends brought me food.
I turned 40. I planned my own birthday party. I woke up so exhausted, I didn’t shower. I put on a dress and some makeup and attended. Faked it. I could not look my husband in the eye.
The postpartum depression did not dissipate. It was now October. I read somewhere that postpartum depression could last 2 years. I couldn’t last that long, I knew.
I called my husband and cried each night. Told him I was dying. He asked “What are you dying from?”
And I said, “I don’t know. I’m dying,” before bursting into tears. I needed help.
He said, “I can’t help you. I’m not coming home for a year.”
I cried until I lost my breath. I’d never felt more alone. I’d never felt so helpless. I had to save myself. And I was fighting a creature I had never before fought. I needed help. I cried. I needed help.
“I can’t last a year,” I said.
“You have to,” he said.
“I don’t think I’ll last 3 weeks.”
And so the next day, I called the doctor. “I have postpartum depression,” I said to the receptionist.
I had to explain.
I waited and waited and waited for the return calls. The help.
I called and called. And finally, the help came.
And then my life changed. I started climbing out of the well. And my best friend–my friend climbed out, too.
Forever grateful to all who saved my life in 2013.
Joining Heather’s Abecedary, Fog City Writer, and other writers like Susan Ito in working through the alphabet with short, memoir-like pieces. Except I’m going to go in reverse, beginning with “Z.” It’s called Alphabet: A History.
There are resources out there–here are a couple, which the Postpartum Resource Center of New York, provided me this morning:
You are not alone. You are not to blame. With help, you will be well.
Postpartum Support International (PSI) is dedicated to helping women suffering from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, including postpartum
depression, the most common complication of childbirth. They also work to educate family, friends and healthcare providers so that moms and moms-to-be can get the support they need and recover.
Helpline: 800-944-4PPD (4773) or email firstname.lastname@example.org
In New York:
Postpartum Resource Center of New York provides emotional support, educational information and healthcare and support group resources for New York State families. Free and confidential support including Moms on Call and Family Telephone Support available
Helpline: Toll-free and State-wide at (855) 631-0001 (Hablamos Espanol)