I have been meaning to write about my experience with postpartum depression for some time now, but put it off because it was such a dark time in my life I never wished to revisit. Writing things down has always been a way for me 1) to articulate my experiences and thoughts in a coherent way (when thoughts stay in my head for too long they’re either packed away into the abyss of my memory or they become extremely muddled) and 2) to heal.
Postpartum depression (PPD) is one of those terrible, unpredictable, uncontrollable events surrounding pregnancy I never expected to experience after having a baby.
There may have been some things contributing to my “level of risk” in having PPD:
- I have a family history of depression (although I did not have a personal history of depression).
- I had a higher-than-normal level of anxiety during my pregnancy, as I had gotten pregnant one month after experiencing a miscarriage with my first pregnancy.
- I do not deal well with change. I like routines, predictability, and schedules.
- I am a bit of a perfectionist. Some might call me an over-achiever.
The first two weeks postpartum were exhausting, but I was in a state of bliss. I am certain my body was running on hormones and adrenaline. I was elated – completely in love with my baby and so grateful she was born healthy and without complications.
Then came week three. And exhausted does not even begin to describe how tired I was. I do not think a word exists in the English language to accurately portray how tired I felt. I learned sleep deprivation has been used as a torture method for prisoners of war; this is probably the closest description of how I was beginning to feel. Tortured. With no way to escape.
I am convinced what began my downward spiral was my insomnia. Anxiety breeds insomnia breeds anxiety. It is a fun never-ending cycle. I was hyper-vigilant about Aliya’s feeding and sleep times. I counted her poop diapers and pee diapers. I had an overactive flow, which made breastfeeding a stressful time for both mama and baby. When she was asleep, I always worried she would wake up, and when she was awake, I was afraid she would not sleep. So I could not sleep. I had many opportunities to sleep, but my brain refused to shut off. At best, I was sleeping two hours a day (meaning two hours in a 24-hour period) for several days straight, and then at some point I began to lose my mind.
Here is a progression of some thoughts I began to have at this time:
I am losing my mind. I do not know how I can do this another day. I am never going to sleep again. How am I supposed to take care of my baby if I never sleep again? My husband is going to leave me because I am losing my mind and I am not the sane woman he married. Then I will have to be a single mom. I am not cut out to be a mother. I am a failure. I am incompetent. I am a terrible mother. I do not know what I am doing. I feel hopeless. I will feel hopeless forever. Perhaps I will be institutionalized.
Any rational person could tell you these are all untrue; but these thoughts and others became scarily true to me, and I felt panicked. All day long. I could no longer keep it all together because I no longer knew how. And my inability to “enjoy every moment” made me feel guiltier by the minute. (By the way, I am convinced that any mother who tells you to “enjoy every minute” is far removed from and has long forgotten the horror of sleep deprivation.)
I felt embarrassed and terrified about PPD. Before having a baby, I was confident. I had always excelled in school, from K-12 all the way through college and graduate school; I had been successful in my career, quickly advancing from one position to the next. I prided myself in being an excellent worker and a fast learner. After having a baby, I felt defeated. Becoming a mom was clearly the hardest thing I have ever had to do; my life as I knew it was forever changed, and being a mother was something I needed to learn by doing.
I knew what I was experiencing was more than just “the blues” and so I sought help very early on. I was desperate. I was desperate to get better not only for my family’s sake, but for my own sanity. And I am so glad I did.
Today, I am alive. My baby is alive. Both are amazing feats I was not so sure were possible in the early days. In the early days, I did not know if I was going to make it to tomorrow, much less the next hour.
If you are experiencing PPD, please know you are not alone. PPD is an illness and is treatable. Do not be afraid to ask for help. You will get better.
Up next: Day by Day, Moment to Moment: Coping with PPD