50 Shades of Blue: My Journey with PPD
The moment they handed me my baby girl was the happiest of my life. All the pain of delivery and pregnancy melted away instantly when they placed my pink little wriggling angel on my chest. My husband and I looked at each other in shock and bliss. How could this be ours?! We were instantly in love.
When I found myself sobbing uncontrollably at 4:45 AM the next morning after struggling to breastfeed my infant for the past 24 hours I thought, “You are just tired. You need to get some rest. Your nipples will toughen up soon. Just get through this”. I pulled myself together and got a nap in around lunch that day. Good as new, right? Fast forward a week. My husband and I were both fortunate enough to get paid time off of work for maternity/paternity leave. I got 12 weeks. He got one. The entire week he was home with me was great! My once sort-of-helpless husband had transformed into Super Dad; feeding me, cleaning the house, doing the laundry, helping me get naps in. Things were great, but every time he brought up his return to work I had to fight down a surge of panic in the back of my throat that made my eyes well up with big tears. At night while he was sleeping I would be up feeding the baby- sobbing again. Sometimes I cried because breast feeding is HARD. Sometimes I would cry because I was tired. Sometimes I cried uncontrollably….and I wasn’t really sure why. I kept telling myself that I was just tired. I would tell myself that soon I would get some real rest and these overwhelming feelings of panic and distress would subside.
Dylan returned to work the following week and it took some real adjusting to find a routine at the house for Salem and I. On top of feeding a tiny human- I now felt the weight of the laundry, the bathrooms, our hairy floors (we have two chocolate labs that shed like CRAZY!) meals, and rest of the housekeeping. Of course, Dylan would jump in after work but I couldn’t help but feel defeated when he came home to find me in my 3-day old spit up pajamas nearly buried under 5 loads of unfolded laundry. The waves of distress I was feeling got taller and more frequent, crashing over my head like ocean breakers and I couldn’t help realizing that I was doing less and less of a good job keeping above water. Isolated at home with little to no visitors (thank you COVID-19) I did my best to keep up with life as a new mom. Nights were the worst, mostly due to the fact that I didn’t sleep a lot. I was pumping or nursing every two hours- so I was up for an hour and then would sleep for an hour. Repeat. All night. Salem slept in a 3 sided bassinet that rolled next to my side of the bed. Most nights I slept with my arm around her- they say not to let your baby sleep in your bed, but no one discouraged me from sleeping in her bed. I would have waking nightmares that someone had broken into our home and taken my baby. I woke in cold sweats, disoriented and panicked. Sometimes I didn’t know where I was right off, and would scramble in the sheets frantically searching for my baby- who was sound asleep in the bassinet immediately to my right. “I’m just tired” I would tell myself.
After a few weeks Salem started sleeping longer stretches, which I thought I would welcome given my sparse sleep schedule but the more she slept the less I was able to. I would set alarms on my phone to get up every hour and a half to check to make sure she was alive. Yes, read that again. For some reason, I had this overwhelming fear that I would wake up in the night and she would be dead. I don’t know where this idea came from, or how I began the ritual of setting these nighttime alarms. But it was a nearly constant fear that was manifesting itself in more and more areas of my life. Daytime became as stressful as nighttime. Dylan would return home from work to find me a blubbering mess, and I could not figure out how to explain to him why I was so upset. He would ask me over and over again what he needed to do to help me but I could never give a straight answer- to him or myself. I would mostly just repeat my favorite old line, “I am probably just tired” and he would take the baby for me to take a short nap. I kept reminding myself that this would get better, right? None of my feelings made sense. I was simultaneously the happiest and saddest I had ever been in my whole life. Every look and smile I got from my baby girl sent my heart soaring, and I took so much pride in the tiny human I made! So why did I feel like such a piece of trash for the majority of the time? I crucified myself for every mistake I made- every little parental oversight sent me reeling into despair. Despite coming without a manual- I constantly attacked myself for not always being able to figure out what my baby needed. I felt like a bad mom. Even though all the people closest to me assured me I was doing great, I couldn’t shake the feeling of failure.
Five weeks into parenthood, I was more frantic than ever. I didn’t leave Salem in anyone else’s care- no friends, no grandparents, I even had a hard time leaving her with my husband while I took a shower at night. If we were driving in the car and Salem started to cry I could only stand it for a few minutes before I was crying too, and Dylan would have to pull over for me to get in the back seat with her. I was still up every hour or hour and a half at night checking on her. I was beyond tired. My episodes of disorientation and panic at night grew more frequent. Some days I would check the clock and find it was 2 pm and I hadn’t eaten a bite all day.
As my six-week checkup approached my mom cornered me and asked me to talk to my doctor about my feelings. I felt embarrassed and exposed. Was it that obvious that I was drowning? A few days later I painted on my best I-am-perfectly-fine face and went to my OB checkup. My doctor told me how great I was doing, and gushed over Salem’s cuteness. She causally asked “So, how are you feeling?” I froze. Instantly my eyes blurred. I focused on not blinking. “I’m just tired” I said mechanically as a tear overwhelmed the levy of my eyelid and plummeted onto the leg on my pants. Before I knew it I was word-vomiting it all to her. My breakdowns, the crying, the "is-my-baby-still-alive" alarms, the kidnapper fears, the waking nightmares, the disorientation. She calmed me down and diagnosed me with Post-Partum Depression, which shocked me. Seriously, it was never on my radar. I had filled out the PPD survey at least 3 times since leaving the hospital at all of Salem’s pediatric checkups. Nurses, friends, and social workers had all talked to me about PPD and the signs. I never felt like I fell into that scary category. I never once thought of harming myself, my baby or anyone else. My doctor explained that PPD can manifest itself in other forms other than classic sadness or wanting to do harm to yourself or others. I was prescribed an antidepressant and my life has done a complete 180 since then. No more disoriented night terrors, alarms, meltdowns, or half showers.
Motherhood is hard! There are so many emotions involved with bringing a human into the world. Even with the biggest and strongest support network, there will be challenges to face and overcome. I would be lying if I said that I no longer feel the waves of panic and anxiety that once submerged me in an ocean of fear. Today they stay safely at my feet, and I am able to wade through these feelings without crying uncontrollably. Three months after giving birth, I am the happiest I have ever been in my life. I love waking up each morning to see my little girls face peering out of her crib. I still have fears of kidnappers or falling down the stairs with my baby, but I keep them in check and no longer break down into hysteria every time my baby cries. I lived 6 weeks with PPD without even knowing I had it because I made excuses for my feelings and tried to tough it out. As a new mom, remember that you are not alone! Being emotional is completely normal, but if things start getting overwhelming, do not feel afraid to contact those closest to you and/or your doctor to talk about how things are going.
According to the CDC, 1 in 8 women experience feelings of Post-Partum Depression. Just because you don’t check the boxes of self-harm doesn’t mean you aren’t experiencing PPD. Talk to your friends, talk to your doctor, talk to your family. There are different treatments available, and believe me it’s worth taking that step! Keep taking care of yourself and your baby, be honest about how your feeling, and remember that you are doing your best. Enjoy this beautiful ride called motherhood, you’re doing a great job.