October 2, 2012

That Time I Had Postpartum Depression.

There's still a package of brown paper lunch bags in my laundry room, leftover from a time that ranks among the worst in my life. Tessa was only a week old when my mom sent Nekos out to buy the bags for me to breathe into. She'd read that it could help a person who was hyperventilating.

By that time I had only slept a few hours total since leaving the hospital four days earlier. And never more than an hour at a time. And never a restful sleep. Instead my body clawed onto a ledge of wakefulness, desperate to hang on. At night, when I was supposed to be sleeping, when Nekos was masterfully swaddling Tessa and shushing her and bringing her to my breast every few hours and then falling soundly back to sleep, I took up residence in our guest bed downstairs so that I couldn't hear her cry in her bassinet upstairs. It was a cry that set my body buzzing like a misplaced piece in that Operation board game. I was too scared of what was happening to me to even feel like a terrible mother. That would come later.

On the day that Nekos went out to buy the paper bags my body was so besieged by panic attacks that I could do little more than lie in bed, paralyzed. My mom and my husband were perplexed; they had everything taken care of, were swishing around me cleaning and shopping and cooking and caring for Tessa, encouraging me to go take a long nap, to sleep it off, whatever "it" was. Looking at me like he'd seen a ghost, Nekos went outside to plant shrubs in our barren front yard while my mom tried to calm me. From my post in bed, my eyes wide and eaten up by dark circles, I asked her to tell me that everything would be OK, to read me affirmations, to tell me anything peaceful. I also told her I thought I was going crazy and needed to be taken somewhere. In the end, the only thing that made me feel any better at all was a Xanax prescription and, finally, sleep.

In the two and a half years since then, I've been plagued by insomnia, never so terrible as it was those first weeks but persistent and often without much reason. Having never found real relief otherwise, I've become quite an expert on sleeping aids. (Really, ask me anything. I'll tell you that Ambien is scary and weird and that if you have young children who you need to be able to tend to in the middle of the night, half of a tab of Unisom is the way to go.) I've also fretted relentlessly about postpartum depression returning with another baby. In the time since, I've read a lot about PPD and now know that insomnia is the main symptom and that, unlike other types of depression, PPD is more about anxiety than it is about the blues. That's what kept me for so long from acknowledging that I had suffered PPD or from talking about it to close friends; I never felt particularly sad, just scared out of my mind.

Now I consider myself a hands-on but laid-back mom, the mom I was always supposed to be. I've put my fears about motherhood behind me and have become so much more secure in my decisions about how to raise Tessa. Still, I am shaken by how profoundly PPD bulldozed its way not only through my first weeks of motherhood but through my entire first year. Long after my hormones returned to normal, my confidence was in the crapper. In the end, my PPD was the primary reason I stopped breastfeeding Tessa when she was just six weeks old. (This broke my heart.) Not only was she born tongue-tied (which just means her tongue is more tightly fixed to the base of her mouth than most people, making breastfeeding really painful for the mother), but pumping and dumping out so much of my Xanax-y milk led to a quick decline in my supply--and my morale.   

Now we sometimes use those brown paper bags to pack Tessa's lunch and send her off to Mother's Day Out. And I've prepared myself and my doctor and those I love for the very real chance that PPD could make an unwelcome return in a couple of months. This time I hope I'll know better what to do, and that I'll remember, truly, that everything and everyone will be okay. Most of all my newborn daughter.