PB [&] J- Entry #8
Less than 24 hours after I returned home from giving birth, I found myself back in the ER.
Trigger warning: postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, suicidal ideation.
I'm going to be as real as I can be in this post. Where I am now, I never thought possible. I love Ella Ray more than anything and she is my reason for being. But it took me a longgggg time to get to this point and to feel this way.
I would also like to say that I'm not looking for praise, I simply want to share my story in the hopes that it may help someone else. That it may help end the stigma. That it may bring awareness to an issue that isn't discussed as much as it needs to be.
I've always struggled with anxiety and some depression. On and off meds and have seen the occasional therapist when I needed a tune up (p.s. I genuinely believe everyone needs and can benefit from therapy). When I found out I was pregnant I decided to wean off of my Zoloft. Even though they told me it was safe to continue during pregnancy, but I wanted to keep my body free and clear of all meds.
I hated being pregnant. I never felt the glow I kept hearing about... I threw up every morning for 22 weeks. I was miserable. I faked happiness because that's what I was "supposed" to feel. And I had friends struggling with infertility so how could I admit I hated pregnancy!? A lot of life happened during those 10 months... job loss and change, financial stress, and I had to put my cat down - who was my sidekick. So yea, hindsight it was the perfect fucking storm (sorry for the language mom).
So fast forward, my doc suggested an induction... after some thought, anxiety, panic, and fear... we decided to go for it. Friday, June 3rd. Child birth is no fucking joke. No one truly prepares you for what will happen in that room. I'll spare the details, but I remember thinking I wished I could have gone back in time and not gotten pregnant. I wanted it to be over so badly. And then it was. And I was like phew, ok, I can feel the joy everyone kept telling me about. The best moment of my life! I waited. And waited. I tried to feel it, I pretended that I did. It never came. I was so deliriously tired I chalked it up to that. I hadn't slept and quickly realized I wouldn't while I was in the hospital. If it wasn't time to breastfeed it was time to check my vitals. I faked smiles with the nurses and all of our visitors. I couldn't feel anything. Other than excruciating pain and a panic slowly taking over every ounce of my being. I remember the day we were to be discharged. I asked how long we could stay. I didn't want to go home. I started to panic. I cried to every nurse who came in my room. One told me it was my hormones and everyone feels this way and I'd be ok. I tried to believe it. We finally left. (Side note - I hope someday every hospital screens for postpartum mental health issues before women are sent home).
That night I lay awake. Feeding every two hours. Fuck. When am I supposed to sleep? What do I do if she cries? How do I know she's getting enough milk from me? And it goes on and on.... but the scariest thoughts came around 2am when I had been awake since the last feeding, shaking uncontrollably. I was in a full blown panic attack for over two hours. I couldn't breathe, I couldn't swallow, I couldn't make my arms stop shaking. I just kept thinking "I can't do this. I don't want to do this. There is no end in sight. I don't want this baby. I don't want this life." At that moment I knew I needed help. My hyper sense of self awareness is a blessing and a curse. I woke Shane up and told him to go get my mom. I told them what I was experiencing. I said "I need help. I can't do this. I need help. I don't want to do this. I need help". My mom found my discharge paperwork which instructed me to call my doctor if I felt this way. I called. The answering service kicked in since it was 2am. The woman who answered. Well fuck her. I told her what was going on and she responded, and I quote... "mental health is not an emergency you'll have to call back tomorrow". I hung up, sobbing, I thought well this is it. I'm not going to make it to morning. I was not suicidal, but I had come to the conclusion that if I were to die, that would be ok. In fact that would be more than ok. I thought, if Ella dies, that'd be ok. I'm crying as I type this. How can someone feel that way about their baby!?!? I knew I needed help. This was not just baby blues. This was not just hormones. This was a shit storm of darkness.
The next day I posted in my mom’s group - I let it all hang out. Thank god I did - they encouraged me to call my Dr. until I heard from her and just get to her office if I didn’t. That afternoon I finally got in touch with my doctor who told me to go to the ER right away. I panicked. How will my baby get food!? I called her pediatrician who gave us formula samples and a feeding schedule. Thank god for my husband and my family. My mom, sister, and dad worked around the clock to make sure Ella's needs were met, while Shane accompanied me to the ER. I knew I had to go, I wanted to go, but I felt terrible leaving my baby, taking both of her parents away from her when she was only 3 days old. Even though I couldn't wait to get away from her. After hours of waiting and a million nurses, doctors, blood draws, and psych evals, postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety were diagnosed. They gave me meds, a therapist rec, some other resources and sent me on my way.
Believe it or not I'm trying to keep this short.
A lot of people have heard of the baby blues or postpartum depression, but most don’t know what it’s actually like. What it feels like. What it looks like. This is what it looked liked for me. Granted, no one will ever fully know or understand my struggle, the demons I battled daily, or just how fucking hard I worked to overcome this. Everyone’s battle is different, PPD/A looks different for everyone. You never know what is hiding behind someone’s smile.
The next three months, the first three of Ella's life, are a blur. I don't remember her. I don't remember my time with her. Only in flashes. I was so numb. Yet felt everything. I was in such a fog. There were days I didn't think I'd make it. I never thought I would love my daughter. I felt like the worst mom in the world. I felt so much guilt and shame that when I wasn't fighting off a panic attack I was fighting the overwhelming sense of guilt for being where I was. I only breastfed for three days. I hated it. I never felt that bond. I felt guilty for that. I felt guilty for wanting nothing to do with my daughter, while simultaneously feeling insanely jealous that everyone around me was filled with so much joy. Everyone kept saying "isn't this the best!?" No. It's the fucking worst. This sucks. I hate it. Having depression and anxiety simultaneously is a very unique version of hell. It’s wanting to be in control of every little thing, yet not having the strength to do anything. It’s needing to leave the house to feel some sense of normalcy, but sitting in the driveway crying for 20 minutes not able to pull away. It’s finally getting out to run errands to make sure your husband has a first father’s day gift, only to have a panic attack and cry in the middle of Walmart because you can’t find the perfect card. It’s wanting to be around your closest friends and family so you don’t feel alone, but instead sitting in a dark room because all you want is to be alone.
If it weren't for my husband and my mom, I probably wouldn't have made it. I would lay in bed for hours in the morning just trying to convince myself to get up and face the day. Shane and my mom would feed and care for Ella, and I just laid in bed, paralyzed with fear and sadness. Night time was no better, I lay awake fearing the next time I heard Ella cry for food or to be changed. Some days I would go to bed, close my doors and just let everyone else take care of her. I wasn’t capable of doing so. I wasn’t capable of caring for my own daughter. My mom would remind me daily that this wasn't me. This was the depression. This was the anxiety. This was all the postpartum crap. She reminded me every day that I made it through the day before I could do it again. One day, one hour, one moment at a time.
I didn't eat. It's hard to eat when you feel like you have a softball size lump constantly in your throat. I lost all the baby weight and another 20 lbs in less than two months (which I've gained back because I'm enjoying my stress eating habits again). I rarely showered or got dressed in anything other than pajamas. And when I did, it was like I had won an Olympic gold medal. I was met with applause and congrats. I felt like a child learning to do even the most basic tasks. I literally couldn't function. I had panic attacks almost daily, sometimes more than once a day. The longest panic attack lasted five hours. FIVE HOURS. I thought maybe inpatient treatment was necessary. I saw my therapist weekly and took my meds religiously, I practiced deep breathing and tried meditation (that wasn’t for me), I tried to go for a walk daily and stretch/do yoga, I tried it all... Waiting for the 4-6 weeks to pass when my meds would finally fully kick in. Just as I was about to head back to work... 12 weeks postpartum, I was finally starting to feel like I was back to "my normal". So I spent my maternity leave (which is in no way a vacation) wishing the time away, wanting nothing more than to return to work. When that day came, I was finally feeling the love for my daughter, and a new wave of guilt swept over me. I wasted 12 weeks of my time with her. In my mind, I wasn’t there for her. I know I did what was best. I did what had to be done, a healthy mom is what Ella needed, but at the end of the day, that’s still a hard pill to swallow. I know I can’t get that time back, I wish I could, but I’m glad I sought help right away so that I didn’t lose any more time. And thank god (again) for my support system. My mom essentially lived with us during my leave. The poor thing was lucky if she could go home for 48 hours. The fact that this country does not offer paid maternity leave or appropriate postpartum support is an issue for another day. I swear if men had to go through pregnancy and childbirth and postpartum shit - this world would be a VERY different place. But, this is long enough and I could go on for 18 pages front and back about that!
From the beginning I decided to be open and honest with my family and closest friends about what I was going through. I wanted to help end the stigma, to get more people comfortable with talking about mental illness. I'll never forget something my therapist said to me when we were working through some guilt issues. She said, "Jeremy, let me ask you this. Would you feel guilty if you had sustained an injury during or after birth, like a back injury, that prohibited you from caring for your daughter?" I thought about it and quickly replied, no. She continued, "then why do you feel guilty now? Just like a back injury, your mental health needs to be treated. It's just as important as physical health". Intellectually, I know this. But our society makes it so hard to believe this. Because this isn't how I'm "supposed" to feel. This isn't what I "should" be feeling.
Here's the good news. I fought like hell and got out of the darkness. It wasn't easy, it still isn't. A few months ago I fell back into some of those old feelings, my meds needed to be increased. It's a work in progress. But I am so proud of myself and the mom I’ve become. Ella Ray is everything to me.
Also, a friendly PSA - PLEASE STOP asking me or any other woman for that matter, when they plan to have another! The truth is, I’m not sure I want another, I’m not sure I can go through what I went through again. It’s a personal decision for me, my husband, and Ella - no one else.
If you've made it this far, thank you. I honestly have so much more I want to say (hard to believe right?) but I'll save it for my book ;) I can't thank my husband, family, friends, and mom’s group enough for all of their unconditional love and support. I'm so lucky to have the support system I do. I couldn't have done this alone. No one should have to go through this alone. And the more I’ve shared and opened up, the more people I’ve connected with who have felt a similar way. 1 in 7 women will experience a maternal mental health complication - do you know 7 women in your life - then you know someone who’s struggling. I'm here for anyone who needs to talk. I'm happy to answer any questions. I'm an open book. If you want to share this because you think it may help someone, please do.
The weight of the darkness
consumes all the light.
Drowning in pain
no end in sight.
This isn’t what I thought.
This isn’t what I want.
How do I go on?
Panic continues to haunt.
| can’t do this,
I can no longer pretend.
This life is too much,
when will it end?
|ear consumes my soul.
The pain is too real.
I’ll never love her.
This isn’t how I should feel.
Isn’t this the best?
If they only knew
about the weight on my chest.
Photo credit: Baltimore Birth Photographers
Climb Out of the Darkness® is the world’s largest event raising awareness of maternal mental illnesses like postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety and OCD, postpartum post-traumatic stress, postpartum psychosis, perinatal bipolar mood disorders, and pregnancy depression and anxiety. Find a walk in your area and show your support of other moms through Postpartum Support International today.