Postpartum depression honestly feels like a lifetime ago. At the same time, the postpartum depression is present in my every day life. Little reminders of the darker days still exist all around me – the sign on the highway, the bracelet I wear every day, the resentment that resurfaces at times, the immense sadness and guilt. It’s overwhelming.
I have always been self-sufficient; maybe to a fault. My nature is to be the caregiver – I am the oldest child, the oldest of many cousins, a wife, a mama, and a NICU nurse. Even my own mother always says that I am “the one she never worried about”. Was that all just a self-fulfilling prophecy?
The Beginning with Postpartum Depression
The symptoms started during my pregnancy with my first, Finn. It was a difficult pregnancy. Looking back, I believe I had undiagnosed gestational diabetes, as Finn was over 10 pounds when he was born, and I gained a steady 75 pounds before birth. I was swollen, working full time 12 hour shifts as an RN in the NICU, and suffering through loud nights in Wrigleyville as the Cubs played in the World Series.
This mama was exhausted physically and mentally and in definite need of support from my loved ones. Which, until the day of my due date, I felt that I had 100%.
Then, everything shifted. My nine year old cousin was diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer of the soft tissue of his facial sinus cavity, on my due date. To say we were all devastated was an understatement. My family is very close knit and came together for my aunt, uncle and their family in an incredible way that I will never forget.
But for me, I felt, well…forgotten.
Three days later, Finn was born. 10 pounds, 1 ounce of a hunk of love, and right to the Neonatal ICU he went for meconium aspiration and low blood sugars. This is where he spent the first week of his life.
My family juggled time between visiting my cousin in his first round of chemotherapy at the adjoining Children’s Hospital (incidentally the same hospital where I work) and seeing Finn in the NICU. I quickly slipped into a postpartum hypomania, barely sleeping, wired, and switching off shifts with my husband, but never feeling exhausted. I actually felt like I had a good handle on things. This environment was familiar to me as a NICU nurse – but I felt out of body. Almost as if Finn was a patient and not my own baby.
Then, BOOM. We were home. Finn had a tongue tie, and my nipples were raw and bleeding. I went to breastfeed him, and the pain was so unbearable that I actually screamed, “GET HIM AWAY FROM ME!” and I pushed him toward my husband’s lap.
Postpartum Depression Lies Settle In
I resented myself, I resented Finn, and resented my husband for not feeling a bond straight away with the baby. I resented my family for supporting my aunt and her family during this unbearable time. I resented my friends who didn’t have kids. And I COULD NOT voice it. I couldn’t say it out loud. I felt as if my pain, my depression wasn’t worthy.
“You don’t have CANCER, you can GET OVER IT”.
“You CHOSE to have a baby, many people can’t!”
“This is supposed to be the happiest time in your life!”
“You have everything you have ever wanted! Why aren’t you happy?”
“SNAP OUT OF IT!”
I thought this time was supposed to be so joyous, bringing a new life into the world. It wasn’t. No one was checking in with me, because on the outside, I was fine. I always was, remember? I’m the one they didn’t have to worry about. The support system I always knew as my own had crumbled below me. I felt guilty asking for help, when I could also see the deep pain and suffering of my family. I couldn’t burden them with anything else.
I went back to work and my “childcare”, my mom, fell through as she couldn’t commit to helping me one day a week. She had to help my aunt, at her beck and call. So I had to cut back at work and resign my position. Working was the one thing that got me out of the house and using my brain, not feeling trapped. The one thing that made me feel “normal”. I slipped deeper and deeper.
I was only working 3 days a month, and things escalated. My husband was like a deer in the headlights – no idea how to deal with my mood swings, my chronic crabbiness, my exhaustion, my depression. Then, I got my period. And, WOO! I began to feel much better. My hormones stabilized a bit, and Finn was a great sleeper. Why not add another one to the mix? We got pregnant on the first try. Finn was 7 months old.
A New Battle Begins
So, let’s tell my family!! And the phone rings. My cousin’s cancer has spread, the chemotherapy isn’t working. What? How? I can’t do this AGAIN without them. But I just can’t ask for help. I am not worthy.
I completely checked out. I didn’t ask about my cousin. I didn’t support my family. I simply just couldn’t – I was frozen in depression. The two most joyous moments in my life were completely overshadowed. And deep down, I really understood. But I needed support, and it just wasn’t available. I sunk deeper and deeper into a depression.
I was completely numb. Cancer is such a tangible disease – confirmed by labs, imaging, effects from chemo. No one could “see” or quantify my postpartum depression, and I could not work up the courage to speak to the depths of my suffering. I wasn’t worthy.
He passed a month later.
My family rallied around my aunt and her family. Supported them unbelievably. The community came together so beautifully. There I was – a shell, a ghost myself. But I am not worthy. I have my child, they do not. Their baby is gone forever. Snap out of it. I still carried so much resentment. How could they not see that I am suffering, too?
Then, my daughter arrived. We didn’t know the sex beforehand, and when the doctor said, “It’s a GIRL!”, I was absolutely terrified. I don’t know how to love a girl! What if she turns out like me?
And the cycle began again. Hypomania. Depression. No bonding. Not telling anyone. More depression. Crying all day. Crying in the shower. Outbursts. Exhaustion, but unable to sleep. Crabby. Snappy. Not responding to my friends. My actions were screaming for help. Why is no one helping me?! Why is no one hugging me and telling me it’s going to all be okay? I am not worthy.
The heaviness of the depression slowly pulled over me like a down comforter. Just enough pressure to keep me from moving. Every day was a struggle. I would force myself to get out of the house, and then have crippling social anxiety, and hurry home. I couldn’t look my parents in the eye. No one once asked me how I was doing. “The one they never worried about”. I am not worthy.
The Depression Lifts
And then, I got my period at 7 months postpartum. WOO! The depression lifted somewhat, but still lingered. I was feeling a bit better but not back to myself. This lift gave the fog a bit of clarity – I needed help. I called my OB and started antidepressants that day. I AM WORTHY.
And to be honest, I don’t know why I waited so long. I don’t think I was mentally capable of moving forward with the depth of depression I was in.
It took a good 8 weeks to feel the positive effects of the medication. I feel better, and it’s been about 6 months since I started medication and 8 months since I started therapy.
Some one reading this story may not truly understand how I could react the way I did during an incredibly hard time for my entire family. I write this story because I know there is someone out there experiencing a similar situation; not feeling worthy of expressing their suffering in fear of burdening others. I am here to tell you that YOU ARE WORTHY.
My entire life, I was surrounded with a large web of support all around me. I am lucky to have never before struggled with mental illness. But what I have learned is that a large support system does not make postpartum depression impenetrable to you.
Growing up in an affluent household and having everything you have ever needed and wanted doesn’t put you at an advantage. Having amazing friends, a caring partner, a best friend as a sister, close relationships with your parents, healthy children, a happy home does not mean you are not “allowed” to have postpartum depression.
PPD does not discriminate. PPD is ruthless. PPD kicks you when you’re down. PPD whispers to you that your emotions are worthless, that your suffering doesn’t matter to others. PPD makes you angry and yearn for the person you were before, for the life you had before. Postpartum depression is now forever a part of me. But I will not allow postpartum depression to make me feel that I don’t matter.
YOU MATTER, MAMA.
The resentment I carried for so long has slowly lifted; I am able to see more clearly why I felt the way I did for so long. I resented those I always expected to pull me out of whatever hard time I was experiencing. But I slowly learned that the only person who was going to pull me out of the darkness was ME. I needed to make the change.
Take that first step mama, and ASK FOR HELP. It’s by far the hardest step you’ll take. You can do it. I believe in you!
Today, I feel forever changed; I will never be the same person I was before and I am becoming at peace with that. It’s been a slow process; I need to remind myself that it won’t happen overnight. More and more every day, I see that I AM WORTHY.
And mama, YOU ARE WORTHY, TOO.