the very bad time – my struggle with PPD after infertility and loss

This post was originally published on my personal blog Little Chicken Nuggets – please check back there to read the comments from other women who went through this or offered their kind words. This post is about my struggle with postpartum depression (PPD) after the birth of my first son. Postpartum depression (and anxiety) is a very real mental health condition and is more than “just the baby blues”. It is something that is not widely discussed in society in general and in the ALI community specifically (at least, it seems that way to me*). I am cross-posting here at PAIL in the hopes that maybe you or someone you know can benefit. I appreciate your sensitivity and understanding.

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I have alluded to The Very Bad Time here and there, but so far have not really discussed it “publicly” beyond saying that it happened. I am not sure why I am ready to talk about it now, but I am. Maybe it will help someone to recognize that they need to ask for some help, and that it is OKAY to do so. Maybe it is because I am having such a different experience this time. The difference between that postpartum period and this one is like night and day. That was a very dark, and lonely time. This one is not. Beyond the usual frustrations and exhaustion, I am fine. Yes, I am sure.

I am.

I know what to look for and so does BJB. I am not afraid to ask for support or talk about my feelings. This time. Last time was very different indeed. On top of what I was feeling (which I will talk about below) I felt a paralyzing SHAME and incredibly crushing GUILT. I finally had the baby I had fought (and lost) for. He was born healthy and beautiful after a textbook pregnancy. What kind of terrible, horrible, ungrateful, undeserving person was I? At least I HAD a baby.

And so, because platitudes are not helpful, I said nothing. To anybody.

After about 4 months, my husband realized that I wasn’t sleeping, eating, or taking care of myself. I had repeated graphic visions of terrible things happening to my baby, and eventually stopped leaving the house as a result. I wouldn’t even go out front to the mailbox.  My emotions were extreme. I was no longer able to function. My husband took me to the emergency room.

I recently wrote an article for PAIL
 discussing a study related to genetic markers for PPD. While I was writing, I went searching for a link to a list of symptoms of PPD in “plain mama English” fromPostpartum Progress to include in the post. I gave them a quick scan and then had myself a good cry. I saw the person that I was in that list, and it made me sad for her. And for me. I’m going to go through their list with you (all italics below – emphasis mine) and tell you what it was like for me. Maybe it was, or is, like that for you or someone you know. But before I start, we’re going to have a Good Will Hunting moment here where I tell you this:

It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.

This is what is was like (keeping in mind that everybody has these thoughts from time to time, but with PPD they are relentless, for more than 2 weeks and significantly impair your ability to function normally):

You feel overwhelmed.  Not like “hey, this new mom thing is hard.”  More like “I can’t do this and I’m never going to be able to do this.”  You feel like you just can’t handle being a mother.  In fact, you may be wondering whether you should have become a mother in the first place.

YES. With a side of “maybe I went through infertility and had those miscarriages for a reason.” Maybe I don’t deserve to have children because I obviously do not have what it takes. The universe was trying to tell me what a shitty mother I would be, but I used science to do it anyway and now I was being punished. I thought that my colicky, high needs infant cried so much because I was the worst mother a child could have.

You feel guilty because you believe you should be handling new motherhood better than this.  You feel like your baby deserves better.  You worry whether your baby can tell that you feel so bad, or that you are crying so much, or that you don’t feel the happiness or connection that you thought you would.  You may wonder whether your baby would be better off without you.

You don’t feel bonded to your baby.  You’re not having that mythical mommy bliss that you see on TV or read about in magazines. Not everyone with PPD feels this way, but many do.

I kept waiting for that “as soon as you see your baby, you’ll feel a love you never knew existed” feeling and it didn’t come. I LOVED my baby, but I didn’t the The Feeling you are “supposed” to get.  I would have walked through fire for him, but at the same time, I felt nothing. Nothing. The absence of feeling. I worry to this day that I’ve screwed up our bond for LIFE because of this. I work very, very hard to form and maintain a special connection to HGB. I love him with everything I have, but it didn’t come “naturally.”

You feel irritated or angry. You have no patience. Everything annoys you.  You feel resentment toward your baby, or your partner, or your friends who don’t have babies. You feel out-of-control rage.

You feel nothing. Emptiness and numbness. You are just going through the motions.

You feel sadness to the depths of your soul. You can’t stop crying, even when there’s no real reason to be crying.

You feel hopeless, like this situation will never ever get better. You feel weak and defective, like a failure.

When I read the four points above last week, I felt punched in the gut. This was *exactly* my experience.  The RAGE. The SADNESS. The NOTHING. The eternity of each and every moment because it would be like this FOREVER.

You can’t sleep when the baby sleeps, nor can you sleep at any other time. Or maybe you can fall asleep, but you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep no matter how tired you are.  Or maybe all you can do is sleep and you can’t seem to stay awake to get the most basic things done.  Whichever it is, your sleeping is completely screwed up and it’s not just because you have a newborn.

You can’t concentrate. You can’t focus. You can’t think of the words you want to say. You can’t remember what you were supposed to do. You can’t make a decision. You feel like you’re in a fog.

I think that at one point, I hadn’t been asleep for the better part of three weeks. I was only eating because I had to feed the baby.  I think that this physical manifestation is when BJB really started to believe that something was wrong. That this wasn’t normal new mother/new life stuff. My thoughts we both muddled and racing such that I would just trail off when I was talking.

You might be having thoughts of running away and leaving your family behind. Or you’ve thought of driving off the road, or taking too many pills, or finding some other way to end this misery.

In my case, I just wanted to go to sleep and not wake up. To be very clear, I did not want to die, I just wanted to sleep. I wanted to crawl into my bed and close my eyes and just do that forever. I wanted silence.

You know something is wrong. You may not know you have a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder, but you know the way you are feeling is NOT right. You think you’ve “gone crazy”.

You are afraid that if you reach out for help people will judge you. Or that your baby will be taken away.

I knew I was in a bad way, but I also thought I deserved it. I thought that I deserved to feel this way because I felt shitty after getting what I wanted. I felt as though I couldn’t say anything because “At least (I) have a baby!” and “But you have a beautiful baby!” and “Just be grateful!” and “It’s just the baby blues.” I felt an overwhelming fear that my baby would cry in public and they would know what a terrible mother I am. If I told anyone how I was feeling, they would come and take my child away.

Rationally, cognitively, I knew the above things were not true. But when you are suffering from a mental illness, you are not rational. You need help.

I am profoundly grateful that the doctor I saw the hospital took me seriously. Our family health team swooped in right away and got me the help I needed. Within 24 hours I had a social worker, a psychiatrist, and a mental health nurse. There were detailed discussions (that actually included me) about medications that would allow me to continue breastfeeding, but were a necessity in my case. I went to a support group for 4 hours every Wednesday morning for 3 months. I saw the social worker every week. The nurse came to my house every few days for a few weeks until I got my feet back under me. But still, I was ashamed. Horribly, irrationally ashamed. I admitted some things to some people, but everything to nobody. Not even BJB. If I didn’t tell you, it is because I was ashamed. Regardless of what it should have been, I felt so much shame, I couldn’t tell you.

This isn’t all of it. There are some things I don’t think I want to discuss because there are some places that are too painful to revisit. And mercifully, there are many things I can remember only with the faintest of reality. I am myself again, but believe me when I tell you that I was broken. Believe me when I tell you that I am whole again.

If you recognize yourself or someone you know in the above, or in this list of symptoms of postpartum depression/anxiety/OCD, please, ask for help. You need it. You deserve it. You will get it. You will get better.

It’s not your fault.

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*Recently, I have come across the following posts or had them shared with me as a result of writing the above post. I know there is more out there and I wish I could have found it when I desperately needed it. If you have written about PPD, post adoption depression syndrome (PADS) or prenatal depression and would like to share, please link up in the comments below.

When PPD Strikes – Bohemian Transplant (also check out her posts on prenatal depression “Floundering” and “Turning Over a New Leaf“)

PADS – From IF to When

The Dark, Dirty Secret of Prenatal Depression – The Infertility Voice

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Comments

  1. lifebytheday says:

    I did not go through PPD, but I have a very dear friend who did. I know this post will help many, MANY women…thank you.

  2. Love this post. again…..and again….and again….

  3. Thank you for writing this. It’s so important to speak about.

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