Looking back at the past 18 months, I have become stronger than I ever imagined. There were days when I thought that I couldn’t take anymore and I wished for the kid-free life that I once had. Every mom has those thoughts. For me though, it was more than just a thought every now and then. It wasn’t about getting more sleep, going places easily, or sitting while eating hot food. I wanted to be able to leave the house without worrying that I would never return. I wanted to see something, anything, that made me smile during the day. I wanted to not be afraid of my family and myself. I wanted to love my life again.
I believe my postpartum depression/anxiety (PPD/A) started during my pregnancy. My pregnancy with my first child was easy. So easy. I couldn’t wait to experience pregnancy again. My second pregnancy was not the same. I visited a high-risk doctor multiple times a week for the entire 3rd trimester because Ali wasn’t growing and hardly moved. I was very stressed. I just wanted her to be healthy. I wanted her to be born so I could stop worrying. As a parent already, I knew worrying doesn’t stop at birth but only grows. I knew that but I thought if I just knew Ali was healthy, everything would be easier.
Ali was born early, and even at 4 pounds, 10 ounces, she required no NICU time. Sigh of relief. She breastfed later that day. Another sigh of relief. A big one. This was very important to me. She had squeaky-sounding breathing from her larynx collapsing when she inhaled. I was told she had laryngomalacia (LM) but that she would just outgrow this by 18 months when her larynx would harden. Fine. I could do this!
But she didn’t outgrow it. By her four-month appointment, she was labeled failure to thrive. She would sweat constantly, couldn’t focus on faces, still couldn’t lift her head, slept most of the time, and didn’t startle with loud sounds. Ali was using all of her energy just to breathe. After a blue spell where she lost consciousness and went limp, she had surgery to fix her larynx. The extra tissue was trimmed to open her voice box so she could breathe without struggling. Ali’s surgery was successful and she recovered quickly, even smiling and kicking happily the same afternoon.
Things should have been easier for me after the surgery. I now had a baby that slept, breathed quietly, nursed easier and smiled more. I tried to keep busy but this proved difficult. I was terrified of Ali getting sick and not being able to breathe again. I didn’t want to leave the house. What if something happened to my baby? What if Ali stopped breathing again? Her response to stress was to hold her breath until she passed out. This is a reflex that many children have as a response to frightened or angry emotions but was terrifying to me because I kept flashing back to the night when she went limp. Her spells would come very quickly and often, sometimes several times a day. Something as small as her foot being touched would cause her to hold her breath and pass out in a few seconds. I became terrified that someone would get too close to her if I left the house and cause her to pass out. I had a hard enough time with her passing out at home. The thought of having this happen outside of house, where everyone was watching, was paralyzing.
What It Felt Like
I am naturally a bouncy, enthusiastic, energetic person. But I had become someone who didn’t smile much. My heart raced and my chest felt tight most of the day. I would gasp for breath and hyperventilate easily. With everything I did, I had the crushing feeling of what could go wrong next. My favorite part of the day was when I could go to sleep at night. I would fall asleep very quickly as soon as my head met the pillow. I felt pangs of sadness and distress the second I woke up to nurse Ali at night. I didn’t want to be apart from her from fear that she would stop breathing in my absence and die and that I would never see her again. I craved contact from others but it was too hard to make plans. There were months that the only people I saw were my daughters, my husband, and Ali’s occupational therapist. My mind was always full of “what ifs”. I felt isolated and trapped. I felt like a failure because this baby needed so much and I had so little to give. I was afraid of my own baby. This couldn’t be right. Shouldn’t I be savoring every second because kids grow up so fast?
I only had known of one person that had had PPD. She told me how she had wanted to hurt her daughter. I didn’t have harmful thoughts toward my baby, so in my mind, I decided I must not have PPD. Other people had kids in NICU. I did not. Other people had children higher maintenance than mine. Other babies with LM had to use thickened formula to eat. I was lucky to breastfeed like I wanted. Sometimes I felt like breastfeeding was the only thing I was doing right. My child was easier than so many babies! As a former teacher, I had known parents who had much more on their plate than me and they could do this. Why couldn’t I? Why was I so weak?
I had become very anxious all the time. To control the frightening feelings I had, I would dig my fingernails into my skin and scratch my arms. It made me feel better because it was something that I was actively doing and it made me concentrate on that very moment so I wouldn’t lose control. I had scratches down my arms that my older daughter would comment on. I hated that I did this. I was embarrassed and wished I could get through difficult moments without hurting myself.
Sometimes I would have moments that I was happy with my life. They confused me because then I couldn’t be depressed, right? I was cheerful at that period of time. I just needed to hold onto this feeling and not let go. Maybe I just needed to get out by myself. But what if something happened to Ali? I just needed to be stronger. Others could do it. Why not me?
Those hopeful moments came less and less. Thoughts began to fill my head: I am just going to run away because it’s never going to get better. I don’t deserve my family. I am no good for anyone. I am ruining the lives of my kids. I was afraid to mention my feelings to my friends. What if they didn’t want to be my friend anymore? After all, I must be a horrible mother to not enjoy my children. I couldn’t handle everyday life. My husband could do better raising them than me. All I did was cry. While I had pumped milk at work for my older daughter when she was a baby, I hadn’t pumped with Ali because she couldn’t take a bottle. Sometimes the fact that I didn’t have milk in the freezer for Ali was the only thing that kept me from running away.
Asking for Help
My husband, although going through depression and anxiety at the same time as me, was my biggest supporter. Somehow when one of us was feeling weak, the other was strong. He got help from a doctor before I did and was able to convince me to see a doctor as well. I found a wonderful doctor through Postpartum Progress. PPD/A was something that I had not heard friends discuss but once I mentioned I had PPD/A, many people told me that they had gone through it as well. I followed @PostpartumHelp on twitter, joined PostpartumProgress and Postpartum Anxiety Support Group on Facebook, and found stories that mirrored what I was going through.
I didn’t feel better immediately. I didn’t feel hungry while taking my medicine and lost 10 pounds during the first month. During the next month though, I began to feel better and hungry after my levels equaled out. One day I noticed my head felt clear. I could live in the moment instead of wishing for bedtime. I smiled and enjoyed everyday moments with my family. I noticed that I didn’t gasp for breath anymore, but would find myself giggling so hard with my daughters that my stomach ached! I was excited to take the girls places. I stayed calm when Ali would pass out because I knew that she would be okay in a few seconds. My favorite part of the day was the morning snuggles with my family and nursing Ali when she woke up because I looked forward to all the fun ahead in the day.
There are still days when it’s bad. Sometimes I worry that I did damage to Ali because I was sad for so long, but I know that’s not true. There are moments from time to time when I still feel lost but these times are coming less and less. Overall, my days and nights are filled with excitement for what is coming next.
So, to all the moms who think they are not enough, the ones who look at the other moms and wonder how they do it, the ones who cry from frustration, the ones who feel isolated, the ones who feel like they should be happy but are not. You are amazing. You are enough. You are loving. I’ve struggled with Postpartum Depression/Anxiety. You are not alone.
“A difficult mood is not here to stay. Everyone’s moods change day to day.”
-Sandra Boynton, Happy Hippo, Angry Duck