You know when someone tells you they’re going through some issue in their life, and although you can try to relate or imagine what they’re trying to convey, you just can’t seem to understand it for the reason that you haven’t experienced what they have? That’s motherhood for me, in a nutshell. Friends and family may have told me stories about their experiences but I could only muster a smile or a polite comment until I’ve come across the playing field myself. Then, I become an active participant versus an at arms’ length spectator.
You may already be familiar with my story: I tried to get pregnant for three years, I had problems and had three miscarriages. Just when I thought I’d never be a biological parent after numerous fertility procedures, I get pregnant on my own. It seems all simplistic and black and white when I put it down like so, but the struggle to get pregnant, although difficult and frustrating, seems like a world away now. But I haven’t forgotten. Nor will I.
It is evident by my daily successes and challenges in raising my beautiful little daughter, who just turned 16 months. It’s cliche´, but nothing ever prepares you for your birth story, much less motherhood. Nothing. I went ahead and read the books, had my birth plan, made a playlist for my delivery – made with such earnest choices of which Radiohead, Jeff Buckley, or Bon Iver songs to include. So how naive and ignorant was I to face motherhood like it was going to be a mere peak and valley challenge like a setting on the treadmill? Incredibly. It’s more survival of the fittest. The faint of heart need not take part.
I was always wary about postpartum depression as I’ve had episodes of depressed states in my twenties. In the first few months after giving birth, I was always on guard of how I was feeling – I was in a soupy mixture of sleep deprivation fog and haze of bliss. I do remember having a big fight with my husband within the first 6-8 weeks at three in the morning. Looking back, the was the first time we had that big a fight in our marriage. I chucked it up to hormones and severe lack of sleep, which was the obvious thing to do. I hadn’t really felt like I was out of control until another fight, close to a year ago. It came out of nowhere. I was giving proclamations of my love for my little family one minute, and then all of a sudden, my kid was crying, the cat was whining to go outside and all the dishes from breakfast were coming at me and my mind was full of loud noise and chaos. I felt cornered and had nowhere to go for a quiet respite, and I lost it, 15 minutes before we were supposed to leave for a day out. The rage I felt was so real and so strong, that it even scared me. My husband, in his attempt to calm me down and shepherd all of us out of the house and into the car, came towards me to seemingly give me a hug to tell me it’s ok. But I swatted his hand so hard, it sounded like I slapped him in the face. That was also the first time I ever told to get the fuck away from me. The look in his eyes – it was pure devastation and confusion. He couldn’t understand how one minute I was fine and then a raging lunatic after. I couldn’t either. I started hyper-ventilating and had to go upstairs to try to collect myself and figure out what the hell just happened. Since then, I had incredible fits of rage on and off. Then I’d feel incredibly guilty for it. Couple that with growing anxiety for my baby’s safety at all times. I had visions of her getting really sick and hurt, that it would keep me up at night even when she would sleep right through.
I had been going on like this and was thinking that it may just be my new norm – always worrying about her state, and yet was short on patience with her; she was getting more vocal after all, not in a talking state, but she was developing her personality and had her ways of being heard. I loved her immensely but I noticed myself feeling a bit detached from her; caring for her as a duty but short with compassion and patience. I also grew a bit more jealous when she preferred her dad over me; I was beginning to take it personally. The whining was something I couldn’t stand. It made my head spin. My mind seemed like it was on overdrive most of the time and adding ‘one more thing’ was like cutting the last thin string holding everything together. As the moon would wax and wane, my fits of rage would ebb and flow, only to increase in intensity the next time it came about. I’ve also noticed that the dormant stages became less and less, as I would find myself very quick to anger more often. I’ve always had a temper, but this was different – anything could set me off, and it took me a while to get my composure back. I would seethe and feel my whole body heat up and shake in such rage. I couldn’t understand what was happening to me, with all the struggle to keep my wits about me. Running did little to help. The reprieve was only temporary and because of my decrease in energy, I wasn’t running as often as I should have to garner any effects of exercise endorphins.
This went on all through the dreariest winter we had and not until my fifth anniversary this past week did I realize that I really needed to get some help. I’d been so sluggish after my sister and niece visited for two weeks, and I woke up still groggy from a difficult sleep the night before, with my husband, greeting me with a sleepy smile and an anniversary card as he handed me a cup of coffee. I’d forgotten our wedding anniversary, and to top it off, I’d been such an insufferable bitch to him leading up to that morning. To be honest, he had been living with an insufferable asshole for the last year – and who wants to be around an asshole all the time? I made an appointment that day with my GP, got in and as soon as the doctor went in to see me, I burst out in tears because I had been trying to keep my wits about me until I felt safe for some release. She made me take the Personal Health Questionnaire Depression Scale (PHQ-9) to which I scored a 21; meaning I had severe major depression.
I know that this doesn’t excuse my outbursts, but it was such a relief to know that there was a reason, and I wasn’t just a crotchety, mean asshole especially to the people I loved the most. Having been diagnosed with postpartum depression, I was prescribed Cipralex to help me feel more like myself again. Studies say that this drug takes about 2-4 weeks efficacy and I’ve only been taking it for a short while but placebo or not, I feel like it was almost instant relief; I’ve been given something to take the edge off. I don’t feel agitated or annoyed; nor do I feel dull or hazy. I feel stable. I feel clear. There’s a lot less teeth gritting and heavy and deep sighing the last few days. I can curb my instinct to shut my daughter down with a mean “NO!” right away. I look at her with less annoyance, but with more wonderment and awe again. I never wanted to be a mother who relied on her offspring for validation, nor do I want to be a mother who was resentful and angry all the time. I was starting to be that kind. And it really gutted me, that this early in the game, I was already telling myself that I wasn’t cut out for this when only a couple of years ago, I was in such despair for not being able to maintain a pregnancy for more than two-three months.
As a (self-diagnosed) type A personality, it is incredibly difficult for me to ask for help so figuring out for myself that I did indeed, have to take medication didn’t come so easy. In fact, I didn’t want to, because I wanted to do it all on my own. Clearly, that wasn’t working for me, so here I am. I’m not a paid spokesperson for any drug company, and it is very early on yet for me to say for sure that this is the medication that works best for me. But I will take giving a more patient pause and reaction than a curt negative response; or a tender contact than a rough dismissal for my family any day. They deserve better. And more importantly, I deserve better too.
If you suspect you have postpartum depression and want more information about it, read up on it here, here and here. It would also be helpful to contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible to get you the help that you need. You deserve it.