3 days ago
Tuesday, April 29, 2014
Right around the time I was due with my second son, I felt like every single person I knew was waiting with bated breath to see if I would be as big of a mess this time around. This post is a long overdue answer to that question, but I never wanted to write it and jinx myself. I was fully aware that postpartum depression could creep in anytime within the first year of having my baby, so I was never willing to declare myself PPD-free until I had fully made it out of the danger zone. Now that Ashy Boy is 17 months old, we can all release the whopping big breath of air we have been collectively holding since the second I found out I was pregnant again. Thank God.
I know that sounds dramatic, but I promise you, I have never experienced anything so crippling as the paralyzing anxiety that followed the birth of my first son and I never, ever want to feel it again. The fact that I risked a repeat of that horrible time in my life by working super hard to have a second baby, just proves how badly I want more kids, because I promise you, nothing short of a sweet smelling, fresh from heaven newborn would be worth the risk. Thankfully, my countless prayers and pleadings were heard and answered. I did not have postpartum depression and anxiety this time around.
Don't get me wrong... it has not been easy. Anyone following the Ash Sleep Saga on this blog knows I am a sleep deprived shell of my former self, but that's okay, because I GET TO FEEL LIKE ME!!! I don't know if that will make sense to anyone that has not experienced the completely physical, emotional and spiritual effects of a mental disorder, but there is a difference between being tired, sad, sick, emotional, frustrated, worried and anything else under the sun, but still feeling like yourself, a child of God who is strong and can overcome hard things, who is rational and knows that this time will pass, who is connected to her baby and family and understands not everything is in her control, but that is okay and God is ever mindful of her.... rather than being in a black void that takes many shapes, but none of them are recognizable as you, the person you have always been and all you feel is fear.
Yes, I was tired the first time around, but tired was never what I prayed to be released from. I couldn't find myself. I thought I had been replaced by a girl who could only feel fear and pain and my biggest fear of all was not knowing if that feeling would ever go away. I was never suicidal. I didn't want to hurt anyone, myself included, but I also didn't want to live very long if I had to feel that way for the rest of my life. Attempts of thinking positively and counting my blessings only hurt me worse, as they served as reminders that I had no earthly reason to feel so terrible. I had just had a baby. One I had fought for for over two years. This was my dream come true. He was perfect and healthy and quite possibly the most beautiful creature to ever grace the planet and I had been in misery almost everyday since his birth. What was wrong with me? How could I not find happiness?
I still can't answer that question. I still don't know why it hurt so bad, where the fear came from, why it was such a physical feeling, or how I got to the point where I was on my couch literally trying to live minute to minute. I couldn't even take it day by day, I had to look at the clock, remind myself to breathe and tell myself I could make it to the next minute. Weird, I know. I sometimes think back and wonder was I just being a wimp? Could it have really been that bad? But after a second of reflection, I can tune in with that unexplained anxiety and I rush as fast as I can to get out of those memories. Yes, it was that bad and the only solitude I find in the experience is a greater connection to the human experience. Before my personal brush with PPD, in true Tom Cruise fashion, I thought that everything could be fixed with diet, exercise, nutritional supplements and a connection to a higher power, but here I was, an actively religious girl, who worked at a vitamin and herb shop, that lived a healthy lifestyle and had no history of depression and I got knocked to my knees.
Now I know, when it comes to mental health, there are no quick one size fits all fixes. I will try not to judge again. I will try not to assume I could have handled things better, or differently. I will give the benefit of the doubt to people. I will offer compassion instead of criticism and for these reasons and these reasons only, I have found a little something to be thankful for in my experience. The joy I felt parenting Ash as a newborn was such a revelation to me. I didn't even know how bad off I was, until I had Ash and realized this is how it should feel. I was overjoyed and angry at the same time. I wanted a do-over. River deserved a mom this happy and this present. Every new baby does and every mom deserves those love and attachment pheremone highs. It is our birth/birthing right.
I don't know why I was spared this time around and even though PPD is unexplained, I do think I learned a few things that helped me avoid it again.
First and foremost, protect your sleep like it is the most important thing in the whole world, because at this point in time, it is. If you are a night owl like me and your friends are used to coming over and staying late, don't think, like I did, that you'll just push through and sleep when the visits are over. Ahhh Helll Noooo! If you get in a sleep deficit, you often can't recover from it and once that triggers the anxiety, the sleeplessness cycle will continue to perpetuate. Love yourself enough to set boundaries and stick with them. Do not waste the initial sleepy first days of your baby. Suck every sleepy second you can out of them.
Don't worry about your body. That picture of me at the top is the picture of my belly AFTER I had the baby. I liked my body before my baby and I felt beautiful during my pregnancy, but after my first baby, I couldn't wrap my head around the big pile of mushy bread dough I had become. I was leaking from every orifice; milk, blood, tears... you name it... it was pouring out of me. How did I never realize I was still going to look pregnant after I had my baby? Did all my friends hide until they had shrunk back down? Well this time I embraced the changes and it helped. I wasn't surprised to still look pregnant. I took a final belly shot and it might not be my best look, but it is all part journey.
Let people help. Don't try to entertain your visitors. If there is ever a time in your life where you don't need to pretend your dishes are always clean.... this is it! No really, sit down and let someone else do them. Everyone wants to help, but they don't know what to do. Ask for meals. Ask for someone to listen to you cry and vent and while they listen, ask them if they can vacuum your floors, because the floors are grossing you out, but you just can't get to them, because your vahjayjay is sore and you are so, so tired. They will get it and then they won't feel weird asking you to do the same, when they need help.
Don't think it is all on you. Remember you have a husband who wants to help. Let me reiterate... he WANTS to help. Let him. I would feel so guilty leaving the house for an hour and when I came home, if my husband vented to me about the baby crying, or a really bad diaper, I took it as him being mad I left, as him saying I was a bad mom that I couldn't stay and do it all by myself, that I wasn't keeping up my end of the deal. Irrational I know, but it took a long time before I stopped apologizing for everything the baby did, like it was somehow my fault and I promise you.. My husband is really nice and yours probably is too, they might be dramatic about how long the baby cried, but it is because they are male and not because they think it is your fault, or that you should never leave the house. (Husbands... if you are reading, just say everything was great. It went smooth and that you are glad she got a break, even if it is a big fat lie.)
Plan a trip. One of the most overwhelming feelings attached with my PPD was claustrophobia. I had my baby in winter. It was cold, gray and the inversion was thick with pollution. I felt trapped. I wanted to crawl out of my skin. My freedom was gone. My life was ruled by someone else's needs and I couldn't even take a walk. My husband realized I needed a change of scenery and it helped so much, so this time we just planned for it. I knew week three seemed to get extra bad the first time around, so this time we planned a trip to Grandma's house during that time. It was still too cold to get outside, but her house is bigger, I had company, my older kid was entertained and most importantly... it was a CHANGE!
I know not everyone can and this might be a source of pain for some, but if you can breastfeed... do it. It isn't always easy, but every time I wanted to run away, because I thought my family would be better off without me, the tiny bit of rationality I still had would say, "But who would feed the baby? He needs you. Hold on for a little longer."
Service... Many church related things caused me more anxiety, because I couldn't understand why I didn't feel the connection to God that I normally felt, but serving someone else got me outside of my problems, even for a minute and that helped. This time around I really wanted to not look at the papercut, if you will. When I started feeling blue, I tried to figure out how I could help someone else. This is not easy, when you are in the full swing of PPD, so try to do this before you fall in the depths and maybe it will help keep you afloat. If you are already underwater, it might seem impossible to focus on anything else but solving the problem of how bad you feel, but anything you can do to not dwell on how you feel, will help you more at this time. It seems counter-intuitive, but helping someone else, really helps you more than trying to fix yourself.
Finally.... and this is where I might lose some of you... I encapsulated my placenta and then took it like a supplement. It rocked! I was hesitant at first, but like I said before, desperate not to revisit PPD. Most mammals consume their placenta after giving birth and it made sense to me that we could benefit from the nutrient rich organ that had been keeping our baby alive for nine months too. I am not hard core enough to freeze it and mix it in a smoothie, but a capsule... no problem. I called them my happy pills. My placenta made 153 capsules (the midwife said that was a lot) and I initially started off taking three capsules, three times a day and decreased the amount gradually, so when I ran out, I would pretty much be weaned off them anyway. I totally recommend it. It cost about $100 and you just bring a cooler to the hospital with you. The nurses didn't even think I was crazy. You call your midwife to pick it up and she delivers a bottle of pills to your house. If you are the untrusting sort, you can have the person prepare them at your house, but I met with her and got references and referrals and I was fine with her just bringing the capsules to me. They helped so much. I am a believer and now you know someone that has tried it, so if you feel like you need to do it too, it won't seem so crazy. Or you might just think I'm a freak now and that is okay too.
It's my post-party and I can eat my placenta if I want to. Ha ha... Do you have any postpartum tips that helped you? I would love to hear them. It is a much bigger problem than anyone talks about and I am passionate about helping the world become a friendlier, more understanding place to new moms. Thanks for reading and feel free to share, if you think any of this advice could help someone you know.
Posted by The Bears at 12:29 AM