It all started the day I decided it was time to have a baby. I was 32, already had two master's degrees, had been working professionally for eight years, had lived, worked and traveled abroad, and had just recently bought my first house with my husband. Everything was going to fall into place because thatís the kind of life I had. Everything Iíve always wanted, Iíve received through hard work, perseverance and family support. I would wake up every day happy, try my best at all times, achieve more than humanly possible and go to sleep satisfied. So the day I decided it was time to have a baby, I knew I would get pregnant right away. And I did. I planned the pregnancy so that the baby would be born at the end of June, at the end of my first year at a new teaching job.
My pregnancy was uneventful. Apart from morning sickness and some back pain, I had no other issues. People would ask me, "Aren't you so excited to have a baby?" Iíd say yes, but in reality I was thinking, I guess so ... I donít know. Of course, I never told anyone how I really felt because all new mothers are supposed to feel happy and be prepared to take on the daunting and all-consuming task of motherhood, which is something that should come natural to all women. Well, this was my preconceived notion, anyway. I felt more like an incubator than a mother during my pregnancy. I was not unhappy, but I was in no rush to have a baby. I continued with my work and home responsibilities in the same capacity as before the pregnancy. At work. I was always prepared and went above and beyond my normal teaching duties to create lessons that were engaging and dynamic. At home, I cooked a healthy meal every night, paid the bills, did the grocery shopping, dropped off and picked up the dry cleaning, made elaborate meals for houseguests, and hosted parties. Oh, and I baked 20 different kinds of cookies to pass out to friends and family. I was on overdrive because it was the only mode I knew.
During this time of perceived bliss and happiness, I was secretly worrying and obsessing over certain topics. From when I came home from work, I would read whatever baby book I had recently purchased: Your Pregnancy Week by Week, The Breastfeeding Guide. Then, I would Google any information these books mentioned and read more about a topic that could be of concern. For instance, I spent a lot of time researching the side effects of epidurals and probably read every horror story out there on epidurals gone wrong. I researched all about the improper "latch" and how formula-fed babies were at a disadvantage. I read about being induced and the dangers of that. I read about being induced after one week or two weeks post-term and the dangers of that. I read about eating and sleeping schedules. I read about how much weight I should be gaining. I spent a lot of time on Amazon.com ordering books. Since no one realized that I was getting information overload, my husband and family just thought I was a very well-informed mother-to-be. No one realized I was secretly obsessing about this information.
My daughter was born a week late. I was induced and everything went as planned. I was determined to breastfeed my daughter from Day One. I put signs in her bassinet stating: This is a breastfed baby, no pacifiers please. That first night in the hospital was pure hell. I was exhausted and my husband was too. Our daughter would not sleep unless she was attached to me. I was extremely sore all over and the breastfeeding was painful and hard to do. I could not put my daughter down because she would cry. I could not sleep. I sent her back to the nursery for the night and had a tightness in my chest because I knew this was only the beginning of a change I was not really ready for. The second night in the hospital I woke up at 2 a.m. and never went back to sleep. I felt deliriously tired but my mind would not stop worrying about everything. The only way I could calm my daughter was to nurse her. I started to get really nervous.
The day we went home with our daughter my heart was racing and I was delirious with fatigue. I felt like I needed my family around me all the time to hold myself together. I could not be alone with my daughter. Not because I thought I would hurt her, but because I did not think I could survive it. From the very beginning, I not only felt overwhelmed by motherhood, but I felt inadequate in my capacity as a mother. I constantly told myself I didnít know what I was doing and that I would never get through the pain and anguish I felt as a new mother.
Of course, no one around me noticed I was suffering through motherhood. My husband thought I was cranky and irritable from the lack of sleep. My mother was more than happy to spend four to five hours a day with me in the house to help with cooking, cleaning and the baby. In fact, without my mother in the house, I would have been crippled with fear. When the baby was breastfeeding, I was hostage in a chair and would grit my teeth in pain. But I would not give the baby a bottle or a pacifier for fear of nipple confusion. I had read up so much about it on the Internet that I was panicked. When the baby wasnít nursing, she was fussy and needed to be held and walked around the house in the football position, lying tummy down on our arms. The baby needed constant movement to be happy. And when she would finally fall asleep, she would wake up as soon as she was placed in the crib or bassinet. It was nothing short of torture for me. My mother urged me to leave the house when the baby was napping or finished eating, but even when I was in the store the baby was always on my mind. I obsessed about everything from how many times she was nursing, to how little she was sleeping. I also started obsessing about how often and for how long she would be up at night. I actually starting dreading the night from the moment I woke up in the morning. My days and nights started blending together.
When the baby turned 4 weeks, I felt as if I had been through a war. I was fatigued all day, yet I could not take naps. I had a constant feeling of butterflies in my stomach, or really felt sick to my stomach all day and night. I would forget to eat meals if family members did not offer me food. I lost 30 pounds in six weeks. My OB said, "You look great! Your stomach is already flat. What are you so worried about? The worst part is over. I can give you some Zoloft, if you want." I couldnít take meds because I was breastfeeding, or so I thought. Plus, Zoloft was for depressed people and I wasnít depressed, even though I walked around like a zombie and was in a constant state of panic. I did not like being a mother. I did not feel qualified to be a mother. I felt like the baby could get along fine without me. I felt happier when I left the baby than when I stayed with her. What kind of mother feels this way?
So I started to research postpartum depression, because as you all know, I like to read. Depressed? No. Suicidal? No. Crying all day? No. Lack of concentration? Yes, but when you sleep five hours a night, that's normal. Difficulty sleeping? Yes, but the baby is in a bassinet next to my bed and I hear every groan out of her mouth. Rapid weight loss? Yes, but I'm breastfeeding and they say it's normal to get back in shape right away. You see, I had an excuse for everything. I read up on PPD so I could make excuses that what I was feeling was normal. My days were all the same. Wake up exhausted. Breastfeed. Change diaper. Get a shower. Get dressed. Eat breakfast. Try to get baby to take a nap. Feed, burp, rock, put down in baby bouncer seat. Start cycle all over again. I really believed it would never change. It would never get better. I would always feel exhausted and inadequate.
The day everything fell apart for me was the week of my daughter's baptism, when she was 8 weeks old. In typical Dana fashion I planned a party, made favors, made invitations, went shopping for christening gear. I did things the way I used to do them before the baby. Leading up to the baptism, I couldn't stop worrying about Mia's sleeping-eating-crying schedule. During the day of the baptism I felt frozen. Having everyone in my house was overwhelming.
The next day I had a breakdown: I could not stop crying. I told my mom I knew something wasn't right. I told my husband I felt inadequate. No one knew how horrible I really felt because I put on a façade. That was the day I called the PPD hotline and spoke to a counselor who recommended a therapist in my area.
Starting therapy was the best thing I ever did for myself, but the road to recovery was a long one, with many ups and downs. While my therapist gave me ways to manage my days and lessen my anxiety, my insomnia worsened to the point where I would wake up and stay awake for hours before falling back to sleep. When my daughter was 4 months old, I went five days with three to four hours of sleep per night. I was delirious and felt hopeless. I previously had resisted the suggestions of my therapist to see a psychiatrist because I did not want to give up breastfeeding. The psychiatrist I had seen a few weeks before my horrific insomnia experience had discouraged me from going on any medication unless I totally gave up breastfeeding. This frightened me. The only connection I had with my daughter was breastfeeding. It was the only thing I thought I was doing right. So, even though I needed medication for my insomnia and anxiety, I did not get any because my doctor would not treat me as a lactating mother. This was devastating to me. It took a lot of guts for me to go to a psychiatrist. It's embarrassing to admit to family members and friends that you're being treated by a psychiatrist because of the stigma associated with mental health issues. So by the time I broke down from lack of sleep, I thought there was nowhere to turn. In reality, I had a lot of support and resources but, in my state of heightened anxiety, I could not focus on what I had before me.
I remember the morning of the fifth day of little sleep. The previous night I had actually not slept at all. I was wracked with anxiety all night and actually had a panic attack. I called my mother that morning and told her I could not stay at home by myself with the baby. I felt out of control and hopeless. I thought I had come along so far, I had been seeing my therapist for two months, and here I was desperate and crying. Why was I still feeling this way? Why couldn't I get better? These were questions racing through my mind. My first instinct was to call Kennedy Crisis Center. The intake nurse was nice but could not help me. "Are you suicidal?" No. "Do you have thoughts of hurting your daughter?" No. "We cannot help you here. You need to find a psychiatrist." I explained that I had seen one, and that she wouldn't help me because I was breastfeeding. I called the psychiatrist anyway, and left a desperate message. She didn't call me back for two days. The pressure and the failure to get help was too much for me to handle. I really thought I would feel this way for the rest of my life.
My mother saved me once again. She suggested I call my therapist on her cell phone. I felt bad doing that, bothering her at home, but my mom made me. My therapist told me to call my OB to get sleep medication, and to take it that day, since I hadn't slept in five days. She also put me in touch with a psychiatrist who wasn't against treating lactating mothers. This psychiatrist was able to see me that week. It is because of him and my therapist that I am now, one year later, fully recovered.
For the past 15 months, I have been attending both group and private therapy sessions. In the PPD group I attend, I have made many lasting friendships with other moms going through the same thing as me. The group really saved me when I could not get through my days. My therapist guided me toward making decisions to ease my anxiety and help me enjoy being a mother. My psychiatrist always made me feel at ease, and helped me realize that taking medication to get better is OK and nothing to feel bad about. I have been fortunate to have a wonderful support system in place. My husband, parents and friends with PPD were all a part of my recovery. If you had known me during this time, you would not have realized that I was falling apart inside. No one knows what some moms suffer unless they really delve deeper and ask. I never believed my therapist and psychiatrist when they told me I would get better one day, that I would be fully recovered one day. I felt so much anxiety that I couldn't understand how it would just disappear. But now that I am there, I can only smile and think "Wow, they were right after all."
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