Friday, May 13, 2011

Postpartum Depression - My Take

I said over a year ago that I would write a post to share my experience with postpartum depression (PPD). Well, that post never happened. Not that it takes much explanation as to why…I mean, really, who wants to try to relive a period in their life when they didn’t want to be alive?

But really, that’s how it was. I have never ever, in my 28 years, through breakups and loss of loved ones and stress in school and moving and wondering if I’d ever find “the one” and struggling friendships, I have never felt as low as I did the weeks after Krewson’s birth.

I didn’t notice it at first. Perhaps it hadn’t come in full force yet. Honestly, I think that the pain killers I was taking were masking the depression. If your body undergoes tearing or damage during birth, the doctors will provide you with pain killers. Such was my situation. But my body began to heal from the birth process, and I stopped the pain pills, and suddenly I began feeling as if life weren't worth living.

A heaviness began overtaking me. It was this constant feeling of dread and hopelessness. I began mourning terribly for my life pre-baby. I wondered why Dave and I had ever wanted to have a child. I wished I could take it all back.  I wished I could even go back to being pregnant, which I had practically hated, because even that was better than the new way I felt.

I loved my child…in the way that you are obligated to love any family member. But I did not want him. And it absolutely breaks my heart to admit that…just typing it now has me shaking, tears streaming down my face. But it’s the truth. The thought of taking care of this little human being, of devoting my every waking hour to making sure he was being fed and coddled…it was overwhelming. It felt like the largest burden I had ever experienced and it was far too much. I truly thought that life as I had known it was over. My new life was to be painful, like slavery, with no fun and no hope.

Along with the depression came insomnia. Even when Krew was sleeping, I laid in bed, wide awake. I cried and cried and cried. My appetite was gone, and I had to force myself to eat.

I stopped smiling, I stopped laughing. Things that had once been enjoyable felt pointless. I wouldn’t respond to emails and phone calls. I didn’t feel like blogging, didn’t feel like reading, didn’t feel like cleaning, didn’t feel like seeing friends, didn’t feel like going to church, didn't feel like going out to dinner. I tried to force myself to do these things…I thought that maybe if I made myself participate in my pre-baby activities, I would start to feel better because I would see that my life wasn’t over. I thought I would realize that things were still normal, the way they had been. But it didn’t work. No matter how well an activity went, I still felt the underlying presence of the fact that I had a baby to take care of, and I felt the unmanageable weight of the knowledge that I had to go back to that life at home with him, and that things would never be the same.

And oh, the guilt. Horrible, gut-wrenching guilt. It made everything ten times worse. I questioned what kind of person I was, what kind of mother I was. How I could be so selfish and unloving. This was supposed to be one of the most wonderful times of my life. Instead, I was hating it and didn’t even want to be alive.

I only lived in this state for days, but it felt like an eternity. The physical hole in the middle of me, my depression and hopelessness, which I could physically feel, was unbearable. One night, in a desperate attempt to sleep, I took one of my pain pills in hopes that it would make me drowsy. I fell asleep, and when I woke up a couple hours later to feed Krew, I found that the hole in my heart was gone. Suddenly, I saw my child through new eyes. I could see his beauty, I could feel a mother’s love for him. I wanted to snuggle him and feed him. I actually felt like I wanted to live. Dave had gotten up with me that time, and as we sat in Krew’s room together, I whispered to him, “I feel normal right now.” It was a life-changing moment for me, because I suddenly knew that the way I had been feeling wasn’t reality. I knew that I could feel desire for my child, I knew that I could feel joy at his presence. I knew it was possible to perform the duties of motherhood without a heavy heart. I wanted to cry tears of relief.

But then, just as quickly as the relief arrived, along with it came the knowledge that something was very very wrong. I knew I wasn’t ok. I knew I needed help. But I didn’t know what to do. At this point, I still didn’t realize I had postpartum depression. Krew had only been born for a week and a half at this point, and I had read that it took weeks for it to kick in. Well, don’t believe everything you read. It can happen quicker than that. Much, much quicker.

I called my friend Jaclyn, who is a pharmacist, the next morning, nearly in tears, and told her that I thought I was addicted to my pain killers. In retrospect, this thought seems absurd and makes me laugh, but at the time it was more acceptable to me than admitting I had PPD. Jaclyn talked me through it, and asked how long ago I had stopped taking the pain killers. I told her it had been several days, and that the depressed feeling had started when I had stopped the pills, and that it was consistently getting worse and worse. She carefully explained to me that if it was a pain killer addiction, the depressed feeling would be most severe the first day or two and then it would start to lessen. It would not get worse and worse over time. She gingerly suggested that she thought I may have depression and that I needed to call my doctor. I am so grateful to Jaclyn for being such a strong friend and doing the right thing in telling me what I didn’t want to hear.

After we got off the phone, I called my doctor and left a message with the phone nurse, still claiming that I thought I was addicted to my pain killers. In the message I explained how miserable I was, that I felt no joy, that I didn’t want to take care of my baby, that I was plagued by guilt, and that I just wanted to feel better and to be able to care for my child and would she please please please give me some more pills so I could slowly wean myself off of them. By the end of the message I was crying, holding back sobs, barely getting my words out. I squeaked out a “thank you” and hung up the phone.

Within a couple hours I received a phone call from my doctor herself, the one who had delivered Krew. If you have had any experience with doctor’s offices, you know that getting a call directly from the doctor is practically unheard of. Well, I did. I am forever grateful to her for this, because it made me feel understood and cared for during a very dark time in my life. She asked me to share my story, share how I was feeling, and as I told her I sobbed and sobbed. She told me that I was ok, and that it was all going to get better. She said that I had postpartum depression but that the pain would go away. She said over and over that I should not feel guilty and that I was normal and that it was all going to be ok. The relief I felt at hearing those words, at knowing that there was a reason, at knowing that the emotional turmoil was going to was some of the best news I've ever received.

She immediately called in a prescription for me, and told me that it would take about two weeks for me to feel better but that it would happen and I needed to have patience. Dave picked up the prescription that afternoon, and my road to recovery began.

For several days, I felt no relief. I continued to cry and not eat. I continued to take care of my child to the best of my abilities through my pain and apathy. I cut up my remaining two pain killers into small pieces, and each night I’d swallow a piece to help me fall asleep. It was just enough to take the edge off the pain. During the day, if the sun was out, I’d sit on the back porch while Krew was napping. Sunshine and tanning has always lifted my mood. In general it makes me feel warm and happy inside, so I thought it may help with the depression. And it did. I got sun burnt, but for once I don’t think Dave minded, because he knew the sunshine was helping me heal.

The next weekend, about four days after I started the antidepressants, I found something to be humorous and let out a small grin. Dave looked over at me and said, “You’re smiling!” I paused for a moment inside, as the reality hit me. I had been feeling so incredibly low that even my husband, who had spent more time with me than anyone but the baby, had not seen me smile in days. It confirmed the severity of my situation, and made me so so grateful that I had received help. It also showed me that there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and that I was getting better.

Just as the doctor had said, within a couple weeks I had returned to my former self. The pain was gone, and I felt joy at being a mother of a newborn. I loved caring for him, watching him, taking pictures of him, and toting him around. He was my precious baby and I loved him. Our mother-child bond quickly grew and before long was as strong as any other. It just had a later start than many.

When I look back on the situation, I know that God was watching out for me. I have thanked Him over and over that He allowed me to believe that I had a painkiller addiction, because if it weren’t for that I don’t know if I would have ever called the doctor. Who knows what would have happened. And in the midst of my pain, I also learned to follow Christ’s example in a way that was different from ever before. When I was at my lowest low, and I just didn’t know how I could continue on, I heard God telling me, “Take care of your son as Christ would. Follow His example. What would Jesus do?” I thought of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice for us, I thought of His love and compassion for those who needed Him and yet gave nothing to Him in return, I thought of His patience with everyone he encountered. And so I repeated to myself, over and over, “What would Jesus do?” When Krew cried and all I wanted to do was sleep, I thought “What would Jesus do?” When he needed fed again and I felt frustration and anger boiling up inside, I’d say “What would Jesus do?” When Krew peed through another outfit, or needed a bath, or had another poop explosion, or was crying for no reason, and all I wanted to do was hand him to the neighbor and climb under my covers, I would say to myself, “What would Jesus do?” Then the anger and frustration would subside, and I’d be able to show compassion and patience that was not my own. Christ enabled me to take care of Krew when I didn’t have the strength or emotional stability to do it on my own. I am so so grateful for His love, grace, and guidance. His example helped me pull through.

In the meantime, I prayed and prayed and prayed for Him to take the pain away. I prayed that I’d feel normal again, that I’d see the joy in life, that I’d be able to take care of this child without a heavy heart. And through a strange set of circumstances involving some confusion over pain pills, He did just that. He led me to my answer, He led me to healing.

My prayer is that if there is anyone out there who is reading this post and feels anything close to what I was feeling, or perhaps knows of someone that they think may be feeling this way, please please please call your doctor. Postpartum depression is serious. I never thought about actually killing myself, but I now can fully understand how people would. And postpartum depression isn’t just something you can “think” yourself out of. It is a hormonal imbalance. It has nothing to do with your attitude or with the way you view the world. All the pep talks and counseling in the world aren’t going to fix a depression that is based on a chemical imbalance in your brain. And that’s what PPD is. It’s hormones, it’s a chemical imbalance. It’s an illness. And you have to get help. Without help, you will instead have to just wait for your body to balance out. And as a person who is still having some hormone-related issues over a year after her son was born, I can attest to the fact that waiting on your body to fix itself can take a long, long time. I mentioned that the several days I went unmedicated with PPD felt like an eternity. Without the antidepressants, that would have been an eternity many times over. No one…absolutely no one…should have to go through that. Not when there’s help a phone call away.

I am glad to say that when Krew was about six months old, I weaned myself off the antidepressants and today I am medication-free. Coming off of them felt a bit weird at times, but I never experienced any severe mood swings or depressive symptoms. Has my PPD affected my desire to have another child? Unfortunately, yes, it has a bit. The thought of experiencing an emotional pain anything close to that again is very scary and makes me reluctant to get pregnant again. (Not to mention that I really didn’t like being pregnant.) I know that with my next child I will most likely be put on antidepressants the second I give birth, but I’m still wary. Do I plan to have another child? Yes. When? I don’t know.

If you made it all the way to the end, thank you so much for reading this. I’m sorry it took me 14 months to write it, but I figure that later is better than never. I just pray that this post can in some way touch or help another.

God bless.

1 comment:

  1. What anti depressant med were you on ? Think I might need them to. Its almost 6 weeks but I find that I still cant love my baby