Saturday, December 29, 2007

Looking Back: My PPD Journey Revisited

This is part of a document I wrote for PPD Task Force that I'm on... it was my way of summarizing my PPD journey.

I'll break this document into several different posts... because, like everything I write, it's really long!

This section will be an overview of what PPD was like for me... and how I figured out something was terribly wrong.

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Looking back, I think it’s quite possible that my Postpartum Depression started the very moment I found out I was pregnant. So I guess you could say my journey began with Prenatal Depression. I remember that moment well…

I was alone in the bathroom in the dark at 1:00 a.m., waiting for the little pink pregnancy stick to declare my fate. My husband Ben told me later:

“I could tell what the result was before you came into the living room. You let out a sound of despair.”

I hate that my first reaction to my unborn child was one of despair. But that’s the truth. I can’t change it now, I can’t rewrite the past. I came out of the bathroom doubled over, my hand over my mouth, and I wandered around that apartment until the sun came up… wondering what the heck I was going to do.

The truth is, at some point in my life, I did want to get pregnant. But this wasn’t the time. I wasn’t ready to be pregnant at this time. It was five months before my wedding, my business was booming, and gosh darn it, I had a sexy wedding dress to fit into!

Looking back, I see that bits and pieces of the depression started surfacing at that time… poking up into my consciousness here and there. It got worse as the first trimester nausea set in and my body weakened, but I could always squelch it back down for a little while. I used the wedding, honeymoon, and baby planning activities as coping mechanisms – they distracted me from my depression.

I remember feeling very strongly that I didn’t want to be pregnant. I tried to hide those feelings, though, for two main reasons:

1. I felt like I had to keep a happy face on to pretend like it was all part of the master plan. Since Ben and I weren’t married yet, we didn’t know how people (our families, friends, my clients) would judge us.

2. I didn’t want the unborn child in my womb to catch on to the fact that his mom wasn’t ready for him. Not at that particular moment in time, anyway. I knew that the baby was soaking up all of my emotions… and so, I thought that if I covered up my anger and sadness, that he wouldn’t pick up on it. My negative feelings were very strong, so I countered them by throwing myself headfirst into the world of birth planning. If I could only plan a great birth, do lots of prenatal yoga, and look great as a pregnant woman, and do lots of reading about natural childbirth… that I could wash away the feelings of angst and resentment that I had towards the pregnancy. It wasn’t that I hated my baby… but I did hate the position that my baby put me in.

My entire life changed in an instant… and I didn’t ask for it… and I wasn’t ready for it. So, my PPD actually started when my baby was the size of a speck of dust. For the most part, I managed to hide it and pretend it wasn’t there.

That is, until January 16, 2005 when I was 35 ½ weeks pregnant. That was the day when my two midwives and their assistant came to my Cambridge apartment, birth tub in tow. They looked around the apartment and declared it suitable for a homebirth. Then they discovered that my baby was breech (head up) and they told me they wouldn’t deliver him at home. My entire world came crashing down.

We looked into other options, and had a consultation with an OB who’d done breech deliveries in the past at our original hospital, but she wouldn’t deliver my son. At the end of a few tearful weeks, it looked like our only option was a Cesarean-Section.

This is when my depression came back roaring with a vengeance. I couldn’t contain it, I couldn’t hide it, and I couldn’t hide from it. It overwhelmed and overpowered me like a wave crashing on me, over and over and over again.

I remember crying almost nonstop for days after getting confirmation that my son was breech. I cried so much that even my husband (who’s not a big proponent of counseling or self-help) said, “I think you need to get some help. Do you think you should talk to somebody about this?”

I remember dreaming that I was watching myself die on the operating table, and I woke up sobbing from that one. But the baby wasn’t here yet, so I didn’t think this was depression. Now I’ve learned that birth-related depression can actually start (and can be the strongest) in the third trimester of pregnancy… but I didn’t know that back then.

Then Evan was born. The C-section was extremely traumatic, in ways I can’t describe in just a few sentences. I’ve written extensively about the birth itself in other posts on this blog.

I cried for the first few weeks…but I thought it was the baby blues. I went to a postpartum support group six weeks after my C-section. I sat in a roomful of women and talked angrily and sadly about my experiences as a mom. All of the other women were on medication for Postpartum Depression (PPD). I felt bad for them, but I was glad I didn’t have PPD… I was just really, really pissed off and angry about my C-section. That’s all.

I went online when Evan was a few weeks old, to take some tests to see if I had PPD, and at that point in time I met almost all of the criteria. But I thought I’d get better soon… after all, I wasn’t depressed or anything. I don’t get depressed. I’m too self-aware, too healthy, too strong, and way too in tune with myself.


Then we moved to a new house three months after Evan was born. I was still crying a lot and being angry a lot and I still didn’t like my son… but I thought that I was just having problems adjusting to being in a new house in a new city.

I signed up for a Money and Business course (by phone) when Evan was 5 months old. Interestingly enough, several people in that group were depressed. I felt bad for them, but was glad I wasn’t depressed. I was just having flashbacks and crying spells from my C-section. That’s all.

It took until I was 7 months postpartum for me to realize that something very serious was wrong with me and my reactions to new motherhood. I remember that day very well. I was on the phone with another holistic health counselor, and we were planning a support group for new moms (ironically enough). This other new mom had an empowering natural vaginal birth with her 3-month old son. As we spoke about our first few months of motherhood, I could hear – quite clearly and distinctly – the difference between the ways I was talking about motherhood… and the ways she was talking about motherhood.

We were both talking about sleep deprivation and a loss of freedom and the trials and tribulations of breastfeeding and getting our babies down for naps. The topics were the same. But the underlying tones in our voices were very different. There was an anger, bitterness, frustration, resentment, sadness, grief, and depression present in my voice that simply wasn’t present in her voice. I was shocked to realize that not all new moms felt the way I did… not all of them were depressed and still in shock from the experience. The way that she remembered her birth was almost the exact opposite of my memories of my birth. Her birth had empowered her and made her feel confident in herself. Mine had made me feel disempowered and violated.

That was the moment in time when I knew something was wrong with me. So, seven months after Evan was born, I found myself taking the same PPD tests I’d taken when he was a few weeks old… and I was scoring just as high. I also found a few sites that talked about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Apparently, you don’t have to be a prisoner of war to get PTSD – you can get it from a traumatic birth. So, as it turned out, I had a combination of PPD and PTSD… a double whammy.

Looking back, I should have known (and someone else should have caught on) that depression was in my future. I’d never been depressed before, so I didn’t even know that it was a possibility. I’d heard about PPD, I’d read about it, but it was similar to the C-section in my mind – I never thought it would happen to me. And it if did happen, I simply thought I could handle it. And the old Christi (non-mommy Christi) might have been able to.



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2 Comments:

At January 2, 2008 at 2:57 PM, Blogger Laureen said...

Holy crow, Christi... I'm reading the new posts now. And I just want to double over and throw up.

You are so brave, for standing up and saying these things out loud. There is so much stigma there, so much judgment. I salute you.

there are days when, although the cesarean work is so important, I really think I'd be better off organizing a group whose mission was giving EVERY new mother 21 solid days of support, for two hours a day minimum. Beyond postpartum doula work, just hanging out with the babe, helping moms figure out babywearing, cosleeping, food allergies (a huge source of crying and wakefulness!), meal prep, housekeeping...

And being pregnant, then cut, then married, then moving? Jeezsus, woman. Anyone would plotz. I wanted to be pregnant, and I was already married, but just cut then moving knocked me for a loop for a year. The fact that you're even still alive is testament to the strength of women. =)

Anyway... you rock. thanks for putting it out there.

 
At July 22, 2008 at 9:24 AM, Blogger julie beth said...

oh man, your blog is leaving me trembling and incoherent. i found it yesterday but just can't quit thinking about it. that realization that other moms' experiences were 180 degrees off from your own? i had that recently with a group of my friends who spontaneously burst into the whole telling about their births, the dads joyfully shouting across the room "oh yeah, remember when they woudln't let you push? that was HILARIOUS" kinda stuff...they were all so happy. i didn't say anything and ached to be anywhere but there.

8.5 months into my son's life and i'm still petrified of him, of the fact that now my life is going to be like this. for. ever.

 

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