I knew OF postpartum depression. I thought it was just like depression, that women get it after having a child and then it goes away.
I didn't know until two years after the birth of my son that I had a traumatic birth. I knew it was scary and that I would have a scar from my emergency c-section after our induction failed (I was induced two weeks early due to high risk pregnancy from gestational diabetes); but I didn't know it would leave me with mental scars. We spent a week in the hospital while he was in the NICU. When we finally came home I knew something wasn't right with me. I would sleep with the lights on, scared I wouldn't be able to see him if he needed me. I would put my son in his bassinet, put a baby gate in the doorway, close the bedroom door and lock it. If an intruder came in I would hear them messing with the baby gate and I would have time to protect my son. I began a nightly ritual of checking to make sure the backdoor was locked and the stove burners were off (even if we hadn't cooked a meal). Breastfeeding was beyond difficult for us. We couldn't get a good latch, my nipples were cracked and bleeding. We saw lactation consultants, tried a nipple shield, but my son still was losing weight. We decided to exclusively pump so we could monitor how much he was getting while supplementing with formula. But my body just would not produce enough milk, so we transitioned to formula feeding exclusively at two months.
I felt like a failure as a mother.
I couldn't believe how much my body was failing me. We already struggled to conceive our little miracle with infertility from PCOS. I don't remember why or how, but I came across the Postpartum Support International (PSI) helpline and called them while I was doing tummy time with my sweet boy in his bedroom. The nice supportive women on the phone talked to me, listened and told me it sounded like I had postpartum depression (ppd), postpartum anxiety, postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and postpartum post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I remember telling her that I thought only soldiers could get PTSD. She gave me resources and encouraged me to talk to my husband, who saw his wife suffering, but did not know what was wrong or what to do. We decided I should go talk to my primary doctor. I was prescribed an antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication. The medications took a few weeks to begin working. I was no longer white-knuckling my son's stroller when I took him in public and I was no longer barricading our bedroom door. Life adjusted and I transitioned into my new roll as mommy very well after that.
At my son's first birthday I was one month pregnant with baby number two! We were excited! Given I was previously high risk, due to gestational diabetes (GD), I was tested much earlier this pregnancy. Looking back now, I know I was depressed through pregnancy. The doctors informed me that because of my placenta it was much more difficult to control the gestational diabetes. I also was informed that I had an anterior placenta this pregnancy. I wasn't able to feel my baby until near the very end of the pregnancy. There were times I was scared to go to bed, fearing that my daughter and I would die because my blood sugar would be so uncontrollable and high. There were so many more needle sticks from blood sugar checks due to the large amount of insulin we required. I was so terrified, during both pregnancies, of a stillbirth. But I never talked about it. I held those emotions in. Fearing that if I said them it would come true. One month before our scheduled c-section I went to the restroom at work and saw that I was bleeding. I was terrified. I raced to labor and delivery for monitoring. I was given medications to stop contractions and told to rest. That month I held my breath, hoping she would make it. I already decided that I was not going to breastfeed, as I wanted to go back on my anti-depression and anxiety medications, and my doctors agreed.
On January 4th my husband and I went to the hospital and had our beautiful baby girl.
I was terrified she would be taken away from me like her brother was to go to the NICU. But she didn't! When we got home we settled in to being new parents again with the added bonus of our toddler son! It was so much harder this go around. But we were making it work. Three weeks postpartum I saw my doctor for birth control options. We decided on the birth control shot. A week after the shot the fog rolled in.
The fog was billowing, thick and dark. It engulfed me. Consumed me. I never in my life experienced depression like this before. I was a zombie. I could hardly function. It was a struggle to get me out of bed. My husband became the primary caretaker of the kids. He could usually get me out of bed by lunch so he could go to the office for a few hours. These hours alone with the kids were tumultuous. When my daughter cried it was a scream. I couldn't bring myself to go to her. She was an aversion to me. I knew I loved her and she needed me. I had to take a few minutes to 'psych' myself up to go to her. I felt like a failure to both my children and my husband. What kind of mother doesn't go to their child immediately?
She became colicky. When she was inconsolable, I would put the kids in a safe place, go into my closet, shut the door, curl into a ball in the corner and scream. I would pound at the floor. I was filled with so much rage. I screamed and cried sometimes until I passed out. I would message my husband and tell him he needed to come home right away. Thankfully his office is just 10 minutes away. He always came. I wanted to run away. I felt my family would be better off without me. It was the flight or fight feeling. I would grab the keys the second he got home and run. I would drive to empty parking lots to scream and cry.
During this time I was on 8 different medications trying to find the right one that would work for me. One medication in particular I only took for two days, but it exacerbated my dark feelings and emotions to the point I thought I was in a living prison in hell. I drove myself to an inpatient hospital to commit myself. I wasn't strong enough to walk-in. During all of this my husband remained the rock of the family. He cared for the children and he cared for me. He would hold me as I cried and I told him how everyone would be better off if I wasn't around anymore. I didn't want to feel this pain anymore, my brain burned. I felt like a vase that was once beautiful and strong, now smashed and useless. He told me he knew I would come back to him, that the real Christina was in there and she was fighting to come back. I was in therapy weekly for months.
I called the PSI helpline several times when I was nearest to the edge. Each time a mother who had once struggled herself told me to not lose hope, assuring me that healing will come. The last time I called I was ready to drive my car into a brick wall (literally). I truly felt that family would be better off then without me. Thankfully the mother on the phone gave me the number of a local hospital worker. I called Jackie and told her what was going on and she directed me to a local support group that had just started. I was willing to try anything as everything up to that point wasn't helping. Unfortunately it was another two weeks till the meeting. I had something to look forward too. It was so amazing. I shared my struggles. I was met with understanding, compassion, love and a strong sisterhood of solidarity. None of us asked for this. We wanted to be mothers. But with our gift of new life came a darkness too. We gave each other hope, understanding, advice and compassion.
My support group saved my life. I finally was able to bond with my daughter when she was six month old. She is my sunshine. I don't remember a lot of those first 6 months, and that's okay because I am here today. The vase is finally put back together because I was. I am a beautiful mosaic vase. The broken pieces put together, still strong but forever change.
It's been almost a year now since I have been going to the support group and well over a year since my postpartum onset. I think I have only missed one meeting and it was because my son was sick. I love to go, because not only do I continue to heal each time I tell the story of my journey, but I get to help other mothers through the darkness find the light.
There is always light in the darkness.
Shared with permission, by: Christina Lynn Fairbanks