Monday, September 1, 2008

Lifting the veil

A few weeks ago a blog buddy of mine wrote a post about her struggle with post partum depression. I remember writing something like "I am so glad I read this. I can't write something like that on my blog or people would freak out and check up on me constantly." Then I thought, who cares? Why can't I write something like that? It's my blog about my life. The shame and judgement that surrounds depression of any sort, especially post partum, is completely unfounded. The only people who should be ashamed are those who make assumptions and judgements about another individual once they're labeled with the infamous "Dx: Post Partum Depression (PPD)". Post partum depression is something outside of your control that in my case had nothing to do with my love for my baby. As a matter of fact, being Avelyn's mother was the only thing I felt like I was doing right. So here it is, the honest truth. It's taken me a few weeks to get this post together so bear with me if it reads a little jumbled. Everything I've posted on my blog to date is true, every comment, every picture, every story. This one was just left out because of one reason or another. Here it goes....

Each time someone asks how old Avelyn is and finds out how much she weighs they always ask the same question, "Oh you must have breastfed her, right?" I can't tell you how happy it makes me that they think that.

As you may remember, I tried so hard to breastfeed. Avelyn never latched properly or I never learned or whatever, but it didn't happen. I was miserable about it and cried for months, feeling like a total failure. I'm not sure exactly why it meant so much to me but it did, and I was incredibly disappointed in myself when I couldn't do it. I think it was a combination of many things. As a nurse I knew all about the nutritional benefits of breast milk over formula but more importantly, I had heard so much about the bonding experience between mother and baby during feeding and I felt like I was cheating both Avelyn and myself.

For the first two weeks after she was born I cried everyday throughout the day and pretty much nonstop from 5pm until I went to bed. I was just so overwhelmed with emotion. I cried almost every time I looked at her because she was so tiny and so beautiful. I cried because no one was taking care of us at the hospital so I checked out early and I was not ready to go. I cried because Avelyn was sick and had to be under the bili lights 24 hours a day and I couldn't hold her for days. I cried because Kevin had to go back to San Antonio when she was 4 days old. I cried because we had to go to the doctor's office everyday for a week and have her weighed, poked, pricked and prodded to monitor her progress. I cried because she wasn't eating and she was losing weight so then I cried because I was the one that couldn't feed her and I felt like I had failed at the most basic thing I should have been able to provide. And of course I cried because I had to go back to school when she was only 3 weeks old and she was so small and she needed me.

Those first few weeks seem like such a blur. I was so overwhelmed with an all encompassing, earth shaking, terrifyingly strong love for this baby that it almost hurt. It seemed like I couldn't stare at her enough, hold her enough, love her enough. I was terror stricken that she would stop breathing. Kevin could sleep through several minutes of whimpering and crying but I barely slept a wink. I slept at the foot of the bed right next to her bili bed so I could hear her if she made a noise or worse, didn't make a noise. I kept the hall light on too bright because I was afraid of it being too dark. I kept the temperature way too hot because I didn't want her to get cold. I almost never went downstairs because I was afraid I wouldn't hear her if she cried/moved/breathed/wiggled her pinkie toe....

Those first two weeks I knew I was suffering from the "Baby Blues". I was also in so much pain from the delivery I could barely move. Forget walking, just rolling over in bed was agony. Sitting up or getting out of bed took another person or a lot of work and time. It was almost four weeks before I could walk without feeling like my insides were going to fall out on the floor. It was a pretty awful recovery. I knew it was Baby Blues and I knew it would get better and it did. At the end of two weeks I woke up one day and just felt better. I didn't cry all day. I took a shower that lasted longer than 5 minutes and kept the door closed (although I did keep the monitor in the bathroom!). At the end of three weeks I noticed I could walk from the front door to the car without too much discomfort and it was becoming less of an effort to move.

Starting back to school was hard but I looked forward to going home to Kevin and Avelyn every day. I was so tired from being a new parent and my hormones were so wacky that my brain was fried and I couldn't concentrate or remember anything at all. I was determined to give her breast milk and not formula for as long as I could so I hooked myself to the pump every 2-4 hours to try to keep up with her demand. Between feeding her, pumping and going to school I was exhausted. The exhaustion I felt can only be understood by someone who's been there. Trust me, I have pulled plenty of all-nighters and a few all-weekers but this is something so completely different. You can only understand the depth of "new baby fog" once you've been through it. It's indescribable.

When she was seven weeks old I made the difficult decision to switch exclusively to formula. It was very hard but I knew it was what I needed to do. I was pumping night and day and barely sleeping trying to keep up with her appetite. With Kevin being gone all summer and me going to school full time I was going crazy. I don't remember when it started because I felt so much better after the BB had lifted but one day I realized that something had changed and I was going downhill.

Depression runs deep on both sides of my family. I have never suffered from a major depression although I do have a history of panic attacks and severe anxiety that over the years I have learned to control to a good extent. There was a time when I would have multiple panic attacks a day but I have worked hard and now only suffer one every few months or so. I know that during times of great stress or emotional upheaval I am at risk for relapsing and I work hard to notice the signs ahead of time to hopefully prevent or at least lessen the toll.

I was sitting in Psych the day we were learning about depression and anxiety disorders. Dealing with the lack of sleep, new mother obsessions, full time course load, etc. I was out of tune with my body. It wasn't until the slides popped up on the screen that I started to realize I was probably suffering from depression. I was getting more and more anxious sitting through class, wondering what I should do, who I could talk to about it without sounding like a crazy hypochondriac that thinks they have every disease they learn about in class. After the lecture I waited for the other students to leave and I approached the professor. I didn't even know what to say but before I even said a word I started to cry and she sat down and talked to me for a good 20 minutes. I am so thankful for her silent ear.

Once I started talking I just couldn't stop. Everything had been building up inside of me and I didn't even know it. I told her about Avelyn's birth one month before, about Kevin having just left for the summer, about the lack of sleep, the lack of friends, the anxiety attacks that had been occurring more and more frequently without me even realizing it. The more I talked the more I was amazed it had taken me this long to see it. I felt a little stupid for laying it out there to someone I barely knew, but it felt so good to talk to someone who didn't know me, that could be objective and caring without making me feel inferior or dependent. I pride myself on my independence and my privacy. I didn't want to lose that. I didn't want anyone close to me thinking I couldn't do it all. I still don't. My professor suggested I contact the university counseling service since it was FREE and came with my tuition fees. Uh, yes, thank you. I called that afternoon and had an appointment two days later.

My therapist was wonderful. That first day I think I cried the whole time and I told her everything. I talked about being disappointed in myself for not breastfeeding, for not being able to stay home with Avelyn, for feeling guilty when I enjoyed being at school sometimes even though I would choose to stay with Avelyn in a second if I could. I talked about feeling guilty for choosing sleep instead of homework once Avelyn went to bed. She asked me about my appetite (none, I hadn't eaten anything real in weeks), my sleep (exHAUSted), my fears (uh, yes, many) and everything else she could think of. I told her all about my increasing panic episodes and my obsessive thoughts that I just couldn't seem to get rid of. That was my biggest concern.

I was obsessed with thoughts of dropping Avelyn on the concrete, as if I spent SO much time walking on sidewalks with her hanging loosely in my arms. I couldn't shake the thought of stumbling and falling down the stairs or losing my grip and watching her little body fly down the steps. It was uncontrollable and terrifying. I was so overwhelmed with anxiety and fear that I felt like I was going crazy.

Luckily I never had bonding issues with her, never felt distant or afraid of her. I loved her the moment I knew she was conceived and felt the overwhelming warmth of that love take over my body the moment the doctor laid her on my chest. Taking care of her was the only thing I felt like I was doing right. I could recognize her "feed me", "hold me", "change me" cries after just a week or two, although it took a little longer to really trust that voice.

Anyway, we talked about everything and she suggested I see the psychiatrist to determine if I fit the criteria for post partum depression and if so what we could do about it. The psychiatrist determined that it did sound like I was suffering from increased anxiety and depression. I started on an antidepressant and haven't looked back. I've been seeing the therapist almost every week since my initial appointment and the psychiatrist once a month to monitor side effects and improvements.

I am so happy to say that I feel better than I've felt in years. I feel good. I didn't even know what good felt like, it had been so long since I hadn't felt sad. It wasn't just pregnancy and hormones that made me feel this way but it was what sent me over the edge and made me realize it was something I could try to help myself with. I wish I had sought help years ago. I wish it wasn't such a stigma to have "Psychiatrist" on your insurance bill. I wish I could tell everyone feeling sad and anxious and worried that life isn't supposed to feel that way. I wish someone had told me that.

By the way, there is no hidden message in this post, no cry for help, no woe is me tale. I just wanted to be honest. This was part of my "new mommy" transition. Now it's something I know I have to be aware of the next time around. I will know what to look for, Kevin will know to speak up if he sees these behaviors, and I will know that it will get better if it happens again. I am so thankful for all the support friends and family provide without being overbearing and checking in too often. I appreciate the respect and Independence you provide that I so desperately require. I also appreciate that I know you will be there should the need ever arise.

So thanks for all that, and if something I said here resonates with one person then I won't feel too totally stupid for writing this. If it doesn't, well, now you know. Have a great week!


  1. I know. =:-/ It's okay to seek help. Otherwise, I would have fallen apart like that Andrea Yates. I would rather seek help, than end up like her.

  2. i'm glad you know we'll always be here =)

  3. thanks for everything...i am so glad you finally posted this!

  4. You are a wonderful mom, and you proved it here with this post and every other post you write.

    My Sister-in-Law also couldn't breastfeed. She pumped day and night for months before finally moving to formula. You do what you can, and I think you both have done great!

  5. I'm so impressed with your honesty and courage to tell about this struggle that is so close to your heart. I know that I would never make it doing what you're doing - having a baby, starting nursing school, living in a different city from your husband. You've done great - anyone who looks at Avelyn can see that! Oh, yeah, and I loved the story about how you told Kevin that you were pregnant!

  6. Now it's my turn to thank you for this post. I can't believe how similar our stories are. I didn't have a blog for the first couple of months of Brooklyn's life, but if you look back at some of my first posts, I couldn't sleep at all because I always thought she was going to die if I did. And I haven't even delved into the four months it took to get her to where she could latch on and breastfeed. And where you talked about the pain for weeks after seems like it doesn't hardly hurt anyone else, the way they talk about it. It was awful! Then you add to that all the exhaustion and fear and just being overwhelmed....I know all those horrible, guilty, sad, scared feelings oh-so-well. I still don't feel great, like you do now. I hope I get there. I think you rock and you are so brave and honest for posting this! Hugs!!!!!

  7. Way to keep it real! It's so hard to be a new mom and describe all the things you are feeling- especially when you are used to being seen as strong, independent and in control. That's what's great about blogging- you find out you're not alone. You're doing such a great job balancing it all. I'm always amazed at how you do so well with Kevin traveling- you're so much stronger than you think! Keep it up and thanks for the honesty.

  8. Hey you! Oh yeah I had some of the same things you mentioned here in this blog. I also woke up one day and was myself again...weird how that happens huh? I think all moms want to be seen that they can do everything and anything and still keep all our marbles in! I know I can def relate to you also on that!
    Call if you ever want to talk!

    Carla Bell

  9. Jennifer, you are an amazing classmate, friend and mother. I am proud of you that you sought help-it is hard to do and you have nothing to be ashamed of. I think that you have a beautiful family and I pray blessings for you all!

  10. Been there sister! Now that I am studying to be a Douls I share my experience with every client! Thanks for sharing yours!

  11. I don't even have a baby and I have irrational baby fears. I am scared to hold babies for too long, because the longer I hold one, the greater the chance that something could go wrong. Will's sister's youngest is just starting to walk. He falls all the time. It's normal when first walking. His dad asked me to watch him for a second while he tended to another kid. The child didn't want me too close. He kept running off and stumbling. We were at a lake and it was unfamiliar to him and nothing was making him happy. It was the end of almost two weeks away and he was melting down in front of me. This meant he was stumbling all over the dock and not paying any attention and crying. He tripped and went off a step. I caught him but I have never been so terrified for so long in my life. Five minutes became an eternity. When his dad came back, I walked away where no one could see me and bawled. I was sure that I was not cut out for children. I was a failure. I couldn't do anything right. Then later that day the kid fell off the side of the porch. The grass was soft and the step was low. His dad quickly picked him up, handed him to his mother, and stalked off. Then I realized that he was hiding, like I had been. This man is a great father but he also has moments of terror. These thing just do happen. We can't control everything. Everyone is terrified at some point. We just have to work through the terror. I don't like that but it's something that we can't control. It's amazing how something so small and helpless is so powerful and terrifying.


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