Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Story I Never Told You: My Experience with Postpartum Depression {Part 1}

{Disclaimer: If I know you in real life and this is the first time you are hearing this story, please don’t be offended. At the time when it was happening I was ashamed and didn’t want to tarnish anyone’s opinion of me. By the time I was recovered enough to cast off that mistaken notion, so much time had passed that I wasn’t quite sure how to bring it up.}

I tend to keep the tone of this blog fairly light. I write a lot about house projects and sewing, which makes sense because those are the things I love to do. However, I have often wanted to share more introspective posts here, but I can’t because I haven’t given you the proper context. There is a big part of my history that I’ve left out, and without it my present doesn’t make sense.

I’ve been debating writing this post for a long time. I have just as many reasons to continue to hide it as I do reasons for sharing it, but in the end I have decided to be open about what happened to me in 2013 so that others who may be going through something similar might not feel so alone, as I did.

My resolution for 2014 is to be more honest--with myself, with my loved ones, and with the public. This post is an attempt to do that. This is my fresh start. 

So, before the clock strikes midnight, I want to tell you a story.

Well, here it goes.

During Holy Week of 2013 I was hospitalized to be treated for postpartum depression and anxiety. 

Part I: The Rising Action

I never expected it. Noni was a much hoped-for and eagerly anticipated baby. Before CJ was born I suffered from recurrent miscarriages, and when I became pregnant with Noni it gave me great hope that I might still fulfill my dream of having a big family. My labor with her was quick and nearly painless and right after her birth we enjoyed a lot of skin-to-skin cuddling. Everything began just perfectly.

However, by the time Noni was three weeks old it was clear that she was a colicky baby. The only way to keep her calm was to swaddle her, put her in the sling, and walk in endless loops around the first floor of the house. CJ, at nineteen months, was already a little scientist and he wanted me to participate in his exploration of the big, interesting world. He needed attention. He needed his mother. But I couldn’t stop walking. I couldn’t stop or the baby would cry, and I couldn’t stand it when she cried. I had to make it stop. People told me to just let her cry, but I couldn't do it. I saw it as a failure on my part. My job--my only job,  it seemed, was to keep her from crying.

Getting the baby to fall sleep was a Herculean task, and the only way to keep her asleep was to never break contact. She would only sleep in the sling or, at night, on my chest. When I was pregnant with Noni I dreamed of cosleeping with her so we could always be as close as when she was curled up inside me, but the real experience was nothing like it was depicted on Facebook. I am a very light sleeper, and having a congested, gassy baby sleeping six inches from my face meant that I rarely slept, and when I did it was only for 45 minutes at a time at the most. It began to eat away at me. Never being alone. Never allowed to curl up and rest. Never being able to let go.

When she was about seven weeks old I scrapped the whole idea of cosleeping and we moved the bassinet out of our room. After the typically horrific time trying to get her to go to sleep, something amazing happened: once she was asleep, she stayed asleep for nine hours. This happened night after night after night, and I was ecstatic to be getting a full night’s rest with nobody touching me.

However, during her waking hours the colic became even worse, and it seemed like those nine hours were the only refuge I had.  I began to obsess over them. Hoarded them like the dragon and the proverbial gold. As soon as I got Noni to sleep each evening I would reject Nemo’s suggestion that we watch a TV show or play a game (the idea of any form of recreation, especially the ones in which I had previously found fulfillment, like sewing, made my skin crawl), turn off the lights and lie in bed, all alone with the silence.

Being able to sleep at night should have made me feel better, but I kept getting the eerie feeling that I had lost myself somewhere, and I was no longer a person.

My body began rejecting what was required to keep it alive. Food began to lose its flavor. Nemo cooked all of my favorite dishes for me, but they were about as appealing as garden mulch. Even the smell of food began to repulse me and just the thought of eating made me feel ill. In the end I lost the ability to swallow (dysphagia). For a period of two weeks I could only eat two or three bites of food a day.

I began to wake countless times each night, my mind blaring, and I would not be able to get back to sleep for hours. One morning when it was time to get out of bed I started to hyperventilate. My whole body shook and I felt like I was going to faint. I told myself to stop being so dramatic, to snap out of it.

All mothers suffer from sleep deprivation and have to soothe crying babies--that's kind of the deal. It's the deal you asked God to give you, remember? Other mothers just suck it up and move on. Why are you being such a whiny brat about it?

I managed to bully myself into taking deep breaths and in a few minutes it passed. But a panic attack became part of my morning routine.

Then one night, I didn’t sleep at all. I could only watch the clock as it counted down to another day that I didn't want to face. My thoughts were out of control. Some of them ran backwards through my mind. Sometimes I would have two or three thoughts simultaneously. They all looped in on themselves and lead me to scary places. I tried every trick I knew to quiet my mind and bring on sleep, but no amount of counting backwards, Hail Marys, or imaginary walks through my childhood home had the power to make it stop. All night I lay in bed, sweating, shaking, and trying to resist the urge to run to the bathroom and be sick.

What I was feeling was fear. The most intense and primal fear that I had ever felt.

It's like when you are going down the stairs and you miss the bottom step. Your hind brain knows you're going to fall and you instantaneously break into a painful, cold sweat. Your heart begins to race so fast you're not even sure if it's still beating. Your muscles become rigid and your airways slam shut, preparing your body for the impact--but then you find your footing, and everything returns to normal.

That moment of abject terror is what I felt, but the moment didn't pass. It was forever and I was all alone. I reached out to God, to Mary, to any Saint who would listen, but I didn't feel anyone reaching back.
I realized that it wasn’t going to stop until I was dead. And if being dead is what it took, then that’s what I wanted. I didn’t have any specific suicidal thoughts, but dead was a place I longed to be.

That thought scared me. I saw it as an act of cowardice and I hated myself for doing it, but on Thursday, March 21, I called my OBGYN's office and asked to be evaluated for postpartum depression.

To be cont.
Read Part 2 here.

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Postscript: There's more Humblebee on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Hope to see you there! Especially on Instagram. I love Instagram.

6 comments:

  1. wow, this sounds horrid. But I am happy to know you have survived. So sorry you had to go through this! Looking forward to seeing the rest.

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    1. Thank you for reading! It has been cathartic for me to get it out there.

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  2. Eva, I'm so sorry you had to go through all of this! I am happy to know that you are "on the other side" of it now. (((Hugs))) and lots of admiration for your willingness to share this.

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  3. Oh honey. Just found your blog and am so glad I did. You described exactly what it's like in the initial stages of panic attacks - the blaming yourself, the "pull yourself up by the bootstraps" mindset that's doomed to fail. Very glad to see that you're doing better!

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  4. Oh hon. This is so scary. I have an anxiety/depression/PTSD story too (on the blog) and I know exactly how scary and terrifying and isolating it is. I'm so sorry you had to go through that. But I'm so glad you seem to have come out of it okay. So glad you got the treatment you needed.

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  5. I lived something very similar to this after my second child as well. 24/7 fear. You're awesome at sewing, btw... randomness.

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