Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Mom Confession

  I'm going to go a little off topic today and post about something that is very personal to me, but something that is hardly ever talked about let alone admitted.

   I would like to add a *TRIGGER* to this post for anyone who has ever gone through, experienced, or known someone who has experienced post partum depression, post partum psychosis or even just depression.

   I survived post partum depression. Actually, I should probably say we survived post partum depression, because this was a hell of a trip that my small family took the first 15 months of my daughter's life.

   I was excited to be pregnant even though my pregnancy sucked and was really rough. I had severe morning sickness from 6 weeks until 9 months that did put me in the hospital overnight for severe dehydration and hyperemesis gravidarum. I had itching all over my body that I could not get rid of, severe headaches, blood pressure problems, carptal tunnel and in the end, was induced a week early due to Pre-Eclampsia. I can honestly say I would take my 9 hours of labor and delivery over being pregnant any day.

   The first 3-4 weeks at home with my daughter were relatively easy. My husband was home with us for a week before returning to work and I had a little anxiety about being alone with my daughter that I couldn't expain. We had decided on a schedule of me waking up with her from Sunday night to Thursday night and then every other Friday, so my husband could sleep during the week and help me out on the weekends.

   About a month after she was born I noticed I was suddenly angry for no reason at all or for reasons that made no sense. I would be exercising while my daughter slept and if she woke up before I was done I would freak out. When we left the house to run to the store, any store, she would always be hungry once we got there and I had this wierd notion in my head that she should be able to last through a quick grocery store run without needing to be fed all the time - I mean, other babies slept the whole time, why couldn't mine? This anger quickly turned into rage, an all consuming rage at everything and everyone and I was like this all the time. My husband would come home from work and I would almost throw my daughter at him because I couldn't stand to be around her anymore.

Postnatal Depression
Aisling Longworth
   My husband later told me he suspected I had Post Partum Depression but didn't saying anything to me about it for fear of pushing me further over the edge and making me angrier. He would also later confess that he was scared most days to go to work and leave me alone with her, but we had no choice at the time. He needed to work. I developed what I've heard coined "sleep envy" and would find myself sobbing uncontrollably at 3 a.m. as I fed my daughter on the couch in our living room, feeling overwhelmingly sad and alone. So this went on for 3 1/2 more months before one afternoon I put a hole through our bedroom door because I was trying to stop myself from going over and shaking my daughter's bouncer with her in it. I was so angry and finally realized that day that if I kept going like this I would end up hurting her; unintentionally of course, but hurting her nonetheless. And the horror of that shook me through and through - the thought of having to bring her in to the doctor or even worse, the hospital, and telling them that I did it, I hurt my daughter. The evening, when my husband walked through the door I was sitting on the couch in the living room with my head in my hands as my daughter played and bounced in chair. I looked up at him and simply said, "I need help. Something is wrong".

   This whole "period" lasted until my daughter was about 15 months old. I called our local behavioral health line and was given a reference to a therapist who also diagnosed me with an anxiety disorder and OCD as well as the PPD and she and my psychologist started me on medication and weekly therapy. I would then go through at least 12-14 other medications as well as various doses of each until we found one that seemd to stick. During this time the highs were pretty good and I found myself bonding with my daughter and starting to feel more like a mother to her than a caretaker. During the lows, when the medication was wearing off or I found myself building a tolerance to it... those were the scariest. At one point I found myself having images, thoughts and even urges to drown my daughter in the bath tub during a bath one afternoon. I immediately called my husband and told him he needed to come home right then and there. The next day I set up an emergency appointment with both my therapist and doctor. That was the first time I was faced with the possibility of having my daughter taken from me and I was terrified. For as much as I could not stand to be around her, I couldn't bare the thought of not having her with me either. My emotions were all over the place and I couldn't make sense of anything. Even today, trying to explain feeling that way at the same time to people is extremely difficult.

   As of today my daughter is 23 months old and I am 4 1/2 months pregnant with our second child, due January of next year. I have been off my medication since April when we decided to try and conceive again. It has been a challenge, and there are some days I find myself having trouble coping with little things here and there so I am beginning therapy soon to help me through the next couple of months as I do not feel comfortable taking medication while pregnant. However as soon as I deliver I will be starting them back up since I was told I have a 20% chance of devloping PPD again.

   Post partum depression, PPA (post partum anxiety), PPOCD (post partum OCD) and the like are definitely not talked about enough, either during pregnancy or after. Most mothers may feel what is called the "baby blues" after giving birth, but these symptoms usually subside after a few weeks.  If and when it is brought up, especially in the media, it's usually when it has progressed too far and a mother has harmed or killed herself and/or her child, such as the pretty famous case her in the States of Andrea Yates, who suffered first from PPD, then later PPP (post partum psychosis) and drowned her five children in the tub before calling her husband and the police to tell them what she had done.

   However, there have been a number of celebrities over the past few years who have come out publicly with their personal stories of battling post partum depression, giving very public faces to a previously very private problem. Most notably was Brooke Shields, actress and author of her journey through PPD Down Came the Rain, who came under fire from fellow actor Tom Cruise for using medication to deal with her depression. Others include Gwyneth Paltrow, Alannis Morrisette, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Amanda Peet.

   So why, if it's more common than people think, do more women not speak up and speak out to get help for themselves and others? I believe it has to do with this image of motherhood that society presses on women. The image that once you deliver your baby you will fall madly in love with him or her and instantly bond; that even though you may feel like you have no idea what you're doing, your "motherly instinct" will kick in and you'll make it through. So when this doesn't happen, women may feel like they failed at something that millions of women before them have done and something that should just be natural. They feel embarassed or ashamed and instead of asking for help feel like it's something they should just continue plugging away at because, by the gods, it will come eventually. To add to this, many women as well as their significant others, family and friends are not aware of the signs of post partum depression so it goes undiagnosed and mothers struggle with it alone.

    I share my story hesitantly, and there are many more things that I have not written that will never be written or spoken aloud to anyone but my therapist because I could not bare the looks of horror on someone's face if they knew. But it is something that needs to be talked about. I am no longer ashamed of how I felt nor do I feel like I failed at being a mother to my daughter, but it was not easy to get here.

   If you know of a mother or suspect of one who is experiencing PPD, or just haing a hard time, HELP THEM. Offer to cook for her, clean the house so she can get a break, watch the baby so she can sleep, or just be there to listen if she needs to cry, scream, or yell. If you notice she seems to be in an extremely dark place or that even after venting she doesn't seem better, urge her to get help. It may be therapy, it may be medication or it may be both. Sometimes simply asking "Are you okay?" is what makes the difference and can save someone.


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