I’m taking meds for post-partum depression.
There, I said it. Posting has been sporadic around here because I didn’t want to be all, “Hey, life is great!” without first ‘fessing up. At the same time, I was a little worried that any subsequent, “Hey, life is great!” posts would then seem to be medication-induced.
Of course, they are. Everything is. My experience of everything is better.
The other reason I hadn’t posted about PPD is that I wasn’t sure I’d do the topic justice. I’ve started and restarted posts over and over, but I’m not hitting on anything I really love.
Let’s try by answering this question: why did I wait nine weeks to get help?
Because it wasn’t all the time (but it was enough of the time).
Because I still loved my kid and recognized his awesomeness (but I didn’t feel the awesomeness).
Because every hour wasn’t bad (but every day was).
Because I wasn’t suicidal or having thoughts about harming myself or my kid (but suddenly I couldn’t stop thinking about all the ways we might all die or how much I didn’t want to have to survive all those minutes left in my life).
And why did I finally admit I needed help?
Because my son could tell the difference between a fake smile and a real one by his fourth week. And by his sixth, he would only smile back at the real deal.
Because at one point I was afraid he’d never smile since he didn’t see much of us smiling.
Because thinking about the thousands of minutes stretched in front of us, waiting to be filled, made me so tired and down I just wished I could sleep through every one.
Because I couldn’t function as a parent, so deep was I in my sadness. I couldn’t bring myself to have Jav do tummy time because I couldn’t bear to see him frustrated. I would put off changing his diaper because he so hated being cold. I wouldn’t move for fear of making him uncomfortable, and spent most of my time holding my breath in anxious anticipation of anything changing.
Five Mondays ago I cried from morning until night, able to get through the day with my newborn son but lacking any capacity to do so well. Suddenly I couldn’t ignore the impact it was going to have on his life to have a mama that couldn’t find joy in anything. The next day I saw my (new) therapist and finally said what I’d been too chicken to mention before: “I think I need help.”
We talked as per usual, albeit with a few more tears, and then just before I left, I made myself ask what I’d been wondering all along: “Do you think meds would help me?” He said yes.
I made an appointment with my OB/GYN, not sure what to say to the scheduler and eventually settling on, “I need to discuss PPD.” They found me an opening within a week. Oh, right, they would be pretty experienced with this kind of thing, wouldn’t they?
Four Mondays ago I saw my doctor and forced myself to tell the truth. Yes, I’m down far more than I’m up. Yes, it’s affecting my ability to function. No, no thoughts of suicide, but when I think about the future, I’m somehow too tired to want to go through every one of those thousand minutes. I forced myself to be honest and not minimize anything I was feeling, a struggle for someone who has a lot of practice acting like everything’s fine.
I left with a prescription and a caution that the med I would be taking could take up to two weeks to make a difference. Note that, okay, because that’s the general experience.
I felt better – brighter, alive, awake, out of the fog, aware – within two days. I didn’t even really notice it until I looked up and realized I hadn’t felt dejected in more than a few hours. Oh, wow. Was that really my life?
Three Mondays ago (six days after I started the prescription), my demeanor was so different that my new therapist felt the need to take me aside and triple-check that I was really okay.
I am really okay. Super okay. Incredibly, deeply, gratefully okay.
Holy cow, people, I have this cute kid! And I feel his cuteness now! I want to hug and squeeze and snuggle him! I look at him and can’t help but smile! He smiles back! OHMYGOD THIS IS WHY PEOPLE WANT TO BE PARENTS.
Two Mondays ago my baby started day care and it went well. I started down the “make myself as miserable as I think I should be right now” path and was able to redirect myself back to, well, myself. I could not have done that pre-medication.
Last Monday was also a good day, and I believe Mondays in the future will be too. This is my new normal.
I am honest enough to admit that I have qualms about the whole thing, something I discuss ad nauseum with my husband and therapist.
“How is this different than taking uppers to feel less tired?” I ask.
“It’s not an upper,” the therapist responds. “It’s no different than taking insulin because you’re diabetic. Insulin makes diabetics feel better, too, and quickly.”
“This kid of ours is so adorable I could just eat him!” I say to my husband. “Um, he is adorable, right? Or is this just the medication talking?”
“Nope, you sound like a mother,” he replies.
I can see why schizophrenics go off their meds all of a sudden. When mental meds are working, you start to wonder if you need them. Maybe I was just tired and overwhelmed? Maybe now that he’s older, I’ll be okay? Maybe it was taking him to daycare that made a difference, not the medication?
But I recognize this messy logic, and I remember how dark and gray and hopeless I felt when my son cried, or fussed, or looked into my eyes. For weeks (months!) I was horrified to find I had no optimism about anything. “Life is just a series of disappointments, frustrations, pain and discomfort,” I’d find myself saying to him. “I’m so sorry we did this to you.”
Now? “You’ll get to love, and hope, and dream,” I say to him. “You will have a child with whom you’ll be unable to help smiling sooo big your face hurts.”
Women aren’t getting help for PPD not because they don’t know the symptoms or who to talk to, but because we convince ourselves what we’re feeling isn’t bad enough, must be normal, shouldn’t be blown out of proportion. Everyone must feel this bad after having a baby, right? And they can all handle it without meds!
After a tiff with my husband, I found myself calling an 800 number I thought was for a PPD hotline. After a few minutes of confusion, we figured out I’d been routed to a help line for all manner of needs, but primarily used when people felt suicidal. “Oh. Well, I’m fine, thanks. I’m just a little sad. Yes, I’ll get out of the house and rely on my husband more, sure. Thanks. Good night.”
We tend to minimize ourselves when we have a new baby, even when we know we tend to minimize ourselves when we have a new baby. (Get it?) But we musn’t. Our children need us to be well and alive and even somehow happy through the fog of exhaustion and transition. I had been lacking the capacity to handle anything even the tiniest bit negative, but my son needed me to be his shield, not his burden. Now I can deal when he’s spitting up incessantly or fussy for no reason or frustrated because he’s a baby. It’s hard for me to believe how overwhelming I found all of these things before, actually.
So if any of this seems familiar to you, I will ask you what I finally asked myself: what’s worse, taking medication (and thereby admitting you’re not perfect or something) or losing more minutes to the sadness? What do you have to lose? Only you can know if what you’re feeling is “bad enough,” but let’s be honest. You know it is.
I still struggle with the idea that I have to take medication to get through being a
mother. What does that say about me? But I look at my son and can’t help but smile, see my husband and feel love and appreciation for this awesome kid we created, and I feel much less worried about what it all means and far more grateful to have found a solution.