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The days were long and the nights were longer.
Caring for a newborn is not so easy especially when you’re healing from surgery.
We were still struggling with the latch. Nursing didn’t come easy for me and Vivi partly because I didn’t have enough milk. We would struggle for thirty minutes to an hour trying to get a good latch, her screaming the whole time. It got to the point where the site of my boobs made her cry out of anticipated frustration.
At her first doctor’s appointment she had lost 12% of her birth weight and I was feeling terrible. Feeling like a failure of a mom.
We began supplementing with formula, but it was not easy. I was so looking forward to nursing my baby and not nursing made me feel like an outcast.
But, I stuck with it.
We went to 6 different lactation consulting appointments. Drew formula-fed her with a finger tube (a little tube taped to his finger in which he squirted small amounts of formula - recommended to keep her from bottle/nipple confusion) during the day while I practiced getting her to latch after she had a little something in her tummy.
During the night feedings, I quickly realized how much harder dealing with formula was than nursing (when the latch is right). She’d wake crying and it was painful to make her wait while I prepared and warmed the formula.
Out of disdain for the formula process, I slowly began attempting to nurse at night when the house was calm and we were both a bit sleepy.
Lo and behold, she began to latch.
I remember the first time it happened, I let out the biggest sigh of relief.
I didn’t tell Drew for a few days about our night successes because I was truly scared I would jinx it. Turns out we had finally clicked.
After 3 weeks of tears from both us, we were nursing. I was so proud of her and proud of myself.
However, I was still struggling to feel like a good mom.
I worried excessively. I knew I didn’t feel happy and I couldn’t figure out why. I had joined a mom’s group and was making new mama friends, but I still felt lonely, sad, isolated and terrible at my new role as mother.
I didn’t feel like me.
For a long time I couldn’t hear or read about other birth stories. If I did, I would immediately flash back to the surgery room and wave of panic would wash over my body - chest tightening, breath heaving. When I finally was able to hear the birth stories of friends, I found myself bitter and resentful that I was robbed of the joy of birth of my daughter.
Some days I would start to feel a little better, like maybe I wasn’t such a terrible mom. Maybe I could do this. I didn’t seem that different from the other new moms in my group, but I knew felt different inside.
I would try to pull myself up by my bootstraps. I should be happy. Maybe if I just took a walk…or dressed up a little…or put Vivi in a cute dress…?
I hid my thoughts pretty well; however, my mother-in-law picked up on in it during their visit. She sweetly alluded that if I was feeling low I needed to talk to my doctor.
I knew I was low, but I didn’t realize just how low I had sunk.
I began having thoughts of what the world would look like without me.
Maybe it would be better for Vivi not to have such a mom.
I wondered how would I do it. A knife? A gun? I wouldn’t even know how to get a gun. Plus, I couldn’t really do it and I knew that.
Drew and Vivi deserved better. I began having thoughts about Vivi too. Terrible, terrible visions I’ve never said out loud or written down and I probably never will.
I cannot bear to admit what kinds of horrors entered my head during that time. I would cry afterwards wondering how can a mommy think such things? What is wrong with me?
It all came to a head at the end of November just before she turned 4 months.
I don’t remember why or what in the moment caused it, but I was sitting on the floor in our bedroom and I had started to cry. Uncontrollable, heaving, panicked crying. She was sitting happily in her bouncy chair staring at me.
Every time I would calm myself down, one look at her looking at me crying and I would break down again. I couldn’t stop - I didn’t know what to do. I called Drew at work. Understandably, he was worried - he was coming home. I couldn’t take care of Vivi like that. I needed a break.
No, I thought. This is not right.
He can’t come home from work to take care of me. I cannot be this burden in our family. I told him stay. Please don’t come home. I am taking Vivi and driving myself to the psychiatric center.
This was not right. I needed professional help.
And so I left.
I strengthened myself enough to load Vivi in the car and get us safely to the psychiatric building within our hopistal system. I had paid careful attention when someone recently mentioned in passing, “This is where you go if you have postpartum depression."
I walked into the waiting area and it was quiet. I thought, “You can do this. You’re doing this for yourself, for your family, for Vivi. You’re not crazy or insane. This can happen to anyone”.
"Hello, do you have an appointment?"
"No, I’m sorry I do not. But I need to speak with someone today. Now. It’s serious. Please. Help me."
"I understand, we will help you. Please take a seat and we’ll have a psychiatrist come get you in about 15 minutes."
I filled out the paperwork and checked on Vivi in her little carseat beginning to feel some relief.
But then a family came in. An elderly couple with their adult son. He was erratic and manic. I overheard his poor parents saying he hadn’t slept in three days. He was agitated and storming all over the waiting room. He pushed chairs. Slammed magazines. The recenptionists barely took notice. It was obvious this was not unusual behavior for them to witness.
I was scared for Vivi. I worried he would try to kick her carseat or approach us aggressively. I picked her up and held her safe against my chest and thought, “What have I done? Am I on the same level as this man? I’m in the same building…I must be. Oh, what kind of situation have I put Vivi in?”.
A few minutes later, I was called into the office for my first evaluation. A gentle and small woman asked me several questions. How was my mood? Have I been crying? After about 10 minutes she stated I was likely experiencing postpartum depression, but she wanted me to have a full visit with a psychiatrist.
A short walk and new floor later, I was entering into the office of the psychiatrist though it felt more like a time warp into 1976. Macrame plant holders hanging from the ceiling (and not the fashionable trendy kinds) and old faded psychology books lined the walls. The light in room even had the faded look of a worn polaroid.
He was soft-spoken but cryptic and had a slightly superior air about him. He had clearly been in the business a long time and was under no pressure to evolve his methods. An hour later I left with a diagnosis of postpartum depression, a prescription for Zoloft and the number of a recommended therapist.
I let our another sigh of relief and looked at Vivi’s sweet and dozing face. I had done it. I pulled myself from the drudges to take care of myself the way I needed. Maybe I wasn’t such a horrible mom. I knew enough to do this.
Despite the warnings that the meds can take up to 6 weeks to fully kick in, I began to feel better immediately. Whether it was the real stuff or placebo effect, I didn’t care.
I remember distinctly the moment when I realized I was starting to feel better.
Vivi was napping either next to me on the couch or in her bouncy chair on the floor, I’m not sure now, and I looked around our brightly lit living room thinking, “Wow, what a beautiful room. Look at the way the light comes in through that giant window. Why have I been hating this room again?”.
It was as if a dark shroud had been lifted from my face. Perspective shifted. A shift to the positive. A good sign. A very good sign.
The first year continued to be a struggle with depression.
I independently stopped my medication about 6 months before Vivi’s 2nd birthday which caused a terrible relapse into anxiety.
I couldn’t breathe. My chest felt as if it was positioned under a fifty pound weight. I couldn’t focus.
I knew then this was not a simple one and done problem.
This was my thing.
Everyone’s got a thing.
Sometimes its a tough relationship with a family member. Sometimes it's a different type of disease or addiction. Sometimes its money troubles. No one's perfect.
For me, it's depression and anxiety and I know now it will be lifelong.
At this realization I worried that I may have passed it to Vivi and our future children would be susceptible too. I vowed then and there to model the best way to cope and thrive under the weight of depression.
I cannot change whether or not I’ve passed on a hereditary depression gene, but the best gift I can give to my children is the gift of knowing how to handle and have a fulfilling life despite the struggles of depression and anxiety.
It will be my gift to my family and most importantly, my gift to me.
If you’ve been following this series since the beginning, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for listening. The process of putting my experience into words has been more than therapeutic. I appreciate and thank you for your kindness and support.
All my love,