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My baby is going to be two years old in three days. Memories of his birth and babyhood flood my mind…a lot of good memories. But others are darker. Scarier. And the truth is that the last two years have been really, really hard. I recently read a friend’s blog post about her journey through postpartum depression. Her post was so informative, but what surprised me about her post was how very familiar it all was…almost too familiar.
The night Ezra was born was by far one of the most terrifying and difficult nights of my life. It’s true what they say about the pain of childbirth melting away…the physical pain at least. I know it was painful, but don’t remember much of that. But other memories are impossible to shake. I hear the echos of my own screams, as though they were coming from someone else. I remember the horribly odd smell coming from the oxygen mask around my face. As I’m being wheeled down the hallway I notice the seafoam green tiles on the wall. I remembered them from our hospital tour, when I had thought to myself how horribly ugly they were and had been thankful that I would never have to see them again because I was far too informed about birth and how to avoid a c-section to end up “back there” in the OR to give birth. And there they were mocking me, oh the irony…for here I was, ugly seafoam green tiles and all.
No. This isn’t happening. This is too ugly, too cold of a place to have a baby.
I remember the wait for the spinal being a seeming eternity, trying to make it through pointless contractions that were doing nothing to bring my baby closer to his birth. All they were doing was doubling me over with pain. If I wasn’t going to birth this baby the way I planned, then couldn’t it just be over already? And for pete’s sakes would my arms and legs PLEASE stop shaking!!!!!
The surgery was a blur. It wasn’t very long before the baby was out, but he was whisked away. I got to see him…see, but not touch. I don’t even think I got to kiss him. Maybe I did, but I think I was still wearing that horrid mask, and my teeth were chattering. And I was still strapped down with arms outstretched because my they were still shaking uncontrollably.
Postpartum recovery was less of a blur and more of a dreamy reality. I remember feeling normal and lucid, but looking back I really wasn’t. This is when I start remembering the pain…sitting up, rolling over, getting out of bed…it was a major production and the pain was intense around my incision. I longed for a sense of normalcy.
I decided to take a shower mid-morning. Ezra was in the cart with Russ in my recovery room. The shower felt amazing, and I lingered. I started to get dressed into a nice soft pink nightgown, but I got confused. I still had an IV in one arm and a catheter bag (both attached to a pole). I got the nightgown partway on but couldn’t figure out how to get it around all the medical hardware. I stood there, lost, completely alone in the bathroom. Finally I reached for the help cord. I waited. No one came. Somehow I managed to struggle the rest of my nightgown on just as the nurse arrived. She asked what was wrong…I tried to explain, but my words jumbled and it came out all wrong. She yelled at me for pulling the cord. I burst into tears and told her to stop yelling…and then she kept yelling that there was no reason to cry and that she wasn’t yelling. Russ arrived in the bathroom (I guess he was concerned I had been gone so long), and then she started yelling at him for leaving the baby in the room alone. By the time I got back into bed, I was exhausted just from something as simple as taking a shower. I couldn’t wait to take myself and my baby away from this horrid place.
I arrived home to beautiful flowers and two already-framed photos of Ezra and our little family. Again I burst into tears. I couldn’t believe that he was mine.
But I just wanted to sleep. Ezra slept in the swing in the kitchen while my parents, inlaws, and husband played cards. I fell into a fitful sleep and had a troublesome dream–a beach full of naked pregnant women giving fully natural births, and I stood by them and watched, sobbing. I woke up terrified and alone. I didn’t know what to do. I just wanted to be held. I somehow made it out to the kitchen, tears streaming down my face, begging for Russ to come be with me. It was so surreal to see Ezra sleeping there peacefully in his swing…I was so scared that he was mine, or rather, that I was his. Because I knew that I was completely incapable of being his mother.
From then on I was terrified to sleep because of what I would dream. I was also experiencing pretty disturbing physical symptoms (migraines from the spinal, trouble breathing, chest pain, and ultimately the numbness of my limbs that sent me back to the ER for my 2nd post-birth visit.) There were several distinct times that I was convinced that I was going to die while I was sleeping. Then of course there was the worrying about waking up to figure out how Ezra was going to eat, since that wasn’t working out either. The first week after Ezra was born I only slept about 30 hours total.
When you are not sleeping, you totally lose grips with reality. I had moments of pure eurphoria where I watched Ezra sleeping peacefully and felt like all was right with the world. I listened to soft music and worship songs that made me feel stronger and closer to God than ever before. Then the next moment, postpartum depression would plummet me into a dark place of fear and horror. I started to deal with intrusive thoughts…thoughts of harming Ezra.
It’s normal for people to have intrusive thoughts, but most of the time people are able to fight them away without much thought, as you might swat away a fly buzzing around your head. But because I was dealing with fairly severe postpartum depression, these thoughts were more like huge scary monsters popping out of the closet every time I tried to sleep. I couldn’t fight them and that terrified me more than anything. The last thing I wanted to do was harm my precious baby, but every time I tried to sleep I would see these horrible flashes of myself hurting him.
At Ezra’s two-week checkup I was given a postpartum depression screening questionnaire, (administered by the then-chief of pediatrics who was a mother of two who had personally suffered from postpartum psychosis and believed strongly in prevention and early detection). I answered the questions hesitantly but honestly…even the question about “thoughts of harming self or others.” I was instantly flagged. I wasn’t allowed to leave the appointment until I had a same-day appointment scheduled to talk to a counselor at behavioral health about my postpartum depression and anxiety.
I remember sitting there outside, eating a sub sandwich in the lunch break between appointments, apologizing to my husband for messing up on “that stupid survey” and having to drag him to another appointment. Now I am thankful. I needed to talk to someone about my postpartum depression – to be able to process my fears and my experiences in a safe environment and know that everything was going to be okay.
Over the next few weeks people continued to stop by with gifts and meals. I greeted them with a smile, happy to show off my new baby and all his hair. But it felt fake…like I really didn’t know what I was doing. Nursing was a nightmare, but by 2 weeks Ezra finally latched and by 20 days old he was bottle free! I started taking walks and doing a little shopping, getting to sleep for longer stretches, and my blood levels had risen enough that I was well on my road to recovery. By the time Ezra was 5 weeks old, we had a much happier visit with my family and I felt like my sanity had returned. I even got a breakfast date with my husband…we went to Walmart!
The darkest times were over, but the struggles remained. The recovery phase was ending, but there was a giant clock ticking off in my head reminding me that I had to get my act together because my husband was leaving. We were in the “make-every-minute-count” phase of pre-deployment, but unfortunately I was having a really hard time making any minutes with him count. I was so exhausted that there wasn’t much energy left to be taking care of my husband.
One morning Russ called me on his way home from PT, asking me kindly to get up and fix him some oatmeal. Sure, I could do that. The next thing I know he was standing over me in full uniform. I had not only fallen back to sleep, but had slept through him coming home and showering as well. He was leaving for work. And I started sobbing, “But I didn’t make you OATMEAL!!!!!!!” I knew we were doomed. We had entered “that” phase of our marriage where the mother is too exhausted to take care of the needs of her husband and she puts her children first. I was the worst wife in the world…all over oatmeal.
This is postpartum depression. You start being unable to think clearly.
I was honestly relieved when he left for Afghanistan, but I felt horrible for feeling relieved. It was such a relief to not have to worry about getting up in time to make oatmeal, or to not have to worry about doing his laundry. I was temporarily relieved of the duties of being a wife. All I had to worry about was this precious baby, whose personality was starting to emerge. Ezra was such a bright spot in those first few months of the deployment. As I told friends many times, “It’s so hard to be depressed when I have this baby who giggles at me for nothing more than changing his diaper!”
I gallivanted across the country visiting family and the months flew by. But by April, exhaustion was setting in. Ezra was teething, which brought on infection after infection. It seemed like he was constantly sick. And never sleeping. Many nights we were up every hour nursing and rocking and patting. I began to dread night time and the frustration it would bring.
(Mother’s Day 2011, Ezra 8 months old…sick with an ear infection.
We stayed home and played outside.)
One day I went to a mall about an hour away. I remember an intrusive thought that threatened to overwhelm me…what if I just left him here in his stroller in the middle of the mall and walked away? It was scary having my postpartum depression re-surge with such intensity. I knew I had to make some changes. I realized that asking for help and getting treatment for postpartum depression was a necessity. I went back to counselling, got Ezra registered in the on-post childcare program, and began reaching out to friends for help with babysitting. Things improved throughout the summer, and our excitement built toward RnR.
I think it was during RnR that I realized just how much my life had changed. Seeing how our marriage had changed because we now had an active almost-toddler on our hands was a shock to both of us. All we wanted to do was cuddle and sleep, but it wasn’t an option. We struggled to reconnect.
As Ezra started walking I started facing new emotions. Exhaustion had turned into grief and resentment. Grief over the loss of control, of the loss of a flawless body. Frustration and resentment that I could no longer just sit and watch TV or blog or play on Facebook whenever I wanted too. Ezra was demanding more and more interaction and attention. When Russ returned in January these negative emotions continued to grow as I felt the loss of our pre-baby marriage. Things were just so different and it was a struggle to adjust to the loss of freedom and spontaneity that comes with having a child.
Which brings me to now. My love for Ezra grows with each passing day. If you regularly follow my blog you know how much I love him and how much fun we have as a family. The postpartum depression has lessened in severity, but sometimes that resentment is right there under the love. I get tired of having to be a mother. Having a child is such a permanent thing. There’s no return receipt, no expiration date on parenthood. I am responsible for his life–his health, safety, and emotional/spiritual well-being. And no amount of “mommy breaks” frees me from that responsibility. It’s always there. The struggle is in seeing that it’s a God-given opportunity, rather than an exhausting burden which my shoulders are too weary to bear.
I still fight depression and mental confusion. Some of it’s physiological I know (hormones, fibromyalgia, allergy shots). I can feel great and then one thing will send me reeling into an outburst of anger and frustration…the resentment bubbles over, and I hurt the people closest to me. Then I lie in bed crying because of how horrible I’ve been, how confused I feel, how nothing makes sense. I can’t think straight.
Aside from the fatigue, I’m struggling with severe sensory overload that accompanies fibromyalgia. I think it’s exacerbated by the fact that I spent a year living COMPLETELY alone during Russell’s first deployment…pre-pregnancy, pre-baby. I miss the quiet and the freedom to do whatever I pleased. Now I have two high-energy, constantly talking, loud, fun-loving, constantly-touching-me-and-begging-for-hugs males vying for my attention. Two beings whose needs I am responsible to meet. And it’s so overwhelming I just want to run away. Not forever. I love them too much. Just for like…a day. Or a week. I promise I’ll come back.
I am plauged with guilt because I don’t think that deserve to feel this way. I am so incredibly blessed…why can’t I see it through the cobwebs of frustration and over-stimulation? I have two very close friends who are mothering boys Ezra’s age with severe special needs. They spend their days going to therapy appointments just in hopes that their sons will eat and talk! And here I am with a normal, healthy boy who will eat just about anything and talks in full sentences…and I still feel like I’m ready to drive to the Holiday Inn if one more thing pushes me over the edge.
Motherhood has been tough, it seems, since day one. There really hasn’t been much easy about it. And while some days I marvel in the blessings of being a mommy, so many times the extra laundry and toddler tantrums crowd out the vision of the blessing I know is right in front of me.
I’m making baby steps…reading books that are encouraging and convicting, yet full of grace and understanding. Trying to focus on the blessings instead of the burdens. Surrounding myself with people who are both honest about how tough things are, but yet are seeking, along with me, to see the beauty in everyday parenting, even when it’s not apparent.
I have so much to learn and so much more adjusting to make to this huge responsibility. I am thankful for my husband making what was a difficult decision for me to swallow and asking that we wait to have more children. Adjusting to this one hasn’t been easy, and I’m glad for the extra time that I now have to soley focus on the wonder that Ezra is.
When I read Jode’s post about her postpartum depression, I didn’t pity her…I admired her for how brave she was. I wanted to be brave too. To say “yes postpartum depression is tough, but I have gotten through it and continue to grow through the struggles of being a mother.” I wanted to encourage and inspire others who are facing postpartum depression…mothers of new babies who wonder why it’s all been so hard. I wanted them to know that they are not alone and that we are all in this together.