Thursday, April 23, 2009

Neck and Neck

Postpartum depression is the vehicle in which a parent's shame can catch up to a parent's love until the two emotions are neck and neck. In a case of the baby blues where the mother is weepy and overly emotional, the love rallies and beats out the shame in a neat 6 week period. When the shameful behavior surpasses the love, in either a singular act or over a duration of time a mother can find herself dealing with the opposite extreme - postpartum psychosis.

During my postpartum depression with Cohen I entered into therapy when she was 6 months old. Looking back at my blog it looks like I was trying to keep it funny. I didn't blog honestly about the depression and in retrospect I know why.

I didn't understand that it was the postpartum depression making life so hard then. I thought I was crazy. I blogged about my zany stories and tried to make light of a dark and secretive time. Back then Dan could still come out the hero and I would blog about his stepping in and saving me from myself in some funny way. Readers assured me that I wasn't crazy. That, in fact, I seemed like a great mom. My blog was a great source of comfort when Cohen was born. What I heard from my readers was, "You are not crazy." One reader even said I "didn't sound fat." With some therapy and a great sigh of relief I eventually began to feel normal.

I knew before I had Merrick that I would have to face my postpartum demons again. However, this time I would be prepared. I knew what to expect because I had felt it before. I would recognize it as postpartum depression instead of questioning my constitution as a sane person. I still had a loving husband and in addition to that I had a daughter for whom I needed to keep it together.

Unfortunately, all my understanding and preparation, all my love for my husband and son and daughter went the way of all the king's horses and all the king's men... ultimately these things alone could not restore me to my pre-pregnancy state. In the same way that my pregnancy symptoms varied in my subsequent pregnancy so has the severity of my postpartum depression.

For now, in an attempt at sweeping honesty I will disclose the following;

Recently a friend of mine had one of her children bring home head lice. After delousing the house, canceling weekend plans, and picking nits for two days straight she ended up having to do it all again a week later because some nits were left behind and the infestation started all over again.

In the first week my friend had planned to tell the parents of a few of the neighborhood children - just as a precaution. As in, "Hey, I know our kids play together all the time, just want you to know we found lice on our kid, you might want to check yours - just to be safe." Courtesy. Except my friend's husband let the kid out to play and my friend found her kid at play with another neighborhood kid. The information she had planned to share as a courtesy could quickly become the source of her admonition. So she kept it to herself. Never told the other parents. Canceled plans for made up reasons. Holed up in the house until every nit was dead.

I tell this story because it is a lot like how I have been dealing with my postpartum depression. In retrospect it will seem manageable. One day laughable. Perhaps in the passing of just one more week I will be able to turn and say, "Wow, wasn't that awful." But this depression is alive for me now. It is active. I can be honest enough to say that it is shameful, difficult and sad. It has been scary this week, but as of tonight, this week has passed. Still, to be honest, I have no idea what next week will bring. I could be writing about Cohen's birthday or Erin's visit or all of the amazing-ness that is baby Merrick but I can't. I am frozen most days. I use every ounce of my energy to make each day the best I can for my kids, and I still fail some days. Today Cohen and I baked sugar cookies. Earlier this week we went to the water park. But last Monday I laid on the couch with Merrick on my breast all morning unable to move, to get up, to start my day and Cohen just flickered around me like a moth to her flame. Opening and closing her singing Shrek birthday card in my face. Watching cartoons and rambling to me about Scooby Doo and birthdays as I drifted in and out of sleep. Looking back it is no different than how a mother gets through the flu. There is no one to help everyday. Some days you get sick and you just do the best you can. Until you get better.

I am seeing a psychiatrist and my naturopath next week. The psychiatrist for the depression and the naturopath to aid in my treatment since I equate giving up breastfeeding completely with pushing my kid off a bridge (yeah, I think it is that important to breastfeed - call me crazy if you haven't already). I feel it is important that I have a back up plan when I go to see a psychiatrist who I cannot imagine will say anything other than - "I'll trade you your baby for a handful of pills. Seriously crazy, hand over that baby."

I am going to list the remedies that my good friend B. found for me. It was after reading these remedy descriptions that I considered seeing the naturopath at all. Before B. shared this with me I was in state of panic that the only way out of this depression would be through abandoning breastfeeding. Devastation. Never a good mix with depression.

So on my worst day I turned to my friend B. who gave me some light. Some hope. Some sense. With no judgement. Then I turned to Dan. Who cannot save me this time. But who stands by me knowing that, and sees me through this depression. I told him the truth about everything I was feeling. And I cried. He listened. Even though I could not hear him at the time, days later I remembered what he said and knew it had helped. He told me I was strong. That inside of me I had the strength to see my way through this even when it felt as if I had nothing. That I choose how I live my life. I choose.

This morning I was on the phone with B. We were laughing and that is particularly wonderful because before having Merrick we had not been in touch as often as either of us would have liked. But she visited when I had him and we rekindled our friendship in a great way. So mid laugh this morning, I had to take another call. I told her I would probably talk to her soon. It's what we always say. She said she would talk to me tomorrow. Great, I said. And if not tomorrow I'd be sure to call this weekend. Then, in the warmest voice without an ounce of condescension she said, "I'll be calling you tomorrow," and I knew that she was going to call everyday until I see that doctor. You're a good friend B.

Me and Merrick @ 3 mo.

I hope that every woman that struggles with postpartum depression has someone that loves them like those that love me and I hope they recognize it like I do. As a resource for anyone working with postpartum depression or if you know anyone this would help - reading about these remedies is a good jumping off point towards a treatment plan.

1. CIMICIFUGA: for excessive moroseness, negativity, strange or irrational fears, or alternating physical symptoms like grimacing or freaky arthritic or neuralgic (nerve) pains.

2. PULSATILLA: emotional reactions are too readily adaptable to every outside force or influence at the expense of their own inner needs. The choice of this remedy should be confirmed by the typical indications like intolerance of warm rooms, overeating or rich food, or emotional excitement and improvement from cool, fresh air, drinking fluids, and simple caring or warm emotional contact.

3. SEPIA: The leading remedy for miscellaneous postpartum complaint, SEPIA is of particular benefit to women who feel overwhelmed by the responsibilities of caring for others, insufficiently appreciated for their efforts, and involuntarily or unconsciously "turned off" to their spouses and children as a result. Typical examples might include an overly dutiful wife and mother prone to exaggerated outbursts of anger or sadness or a successful professional woman ambivalent about whether or how much to defer her own career plans. In both cases, the impression is of someone worn down, dispirited, and resentful of her obligations to her loved ones, wanting to be alone and quiet, with the usual physical symptoms like bearing-down sensations in the pelvis, a loss of muscle tone in general, and a marked improvement from vigorous exercise.

4. IGNATIA: Indicated in situations colored by acute grief, sorrow, or disappointment and resulting in contradictory or anatomically "impossible" symptoms. Other signs of an overly sensitive or irritable nervous system should also be present, such as craving for or intolerance of drugs and stimulants, insomnia, or simple "nervousness".


Stephanie Meade Gresham said...

Wow. Number three was written about me. I'm certain of it.
I guess clinging to the high I get after a really "good day" is the way I deny there's something wrong when a really cold-ass bucket of "bad day" tossed in my face wakes me up the next.

kara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kara said...

thank you for this. My husband and I are hoping to have a baby this year (my first - and at age 39 no less). And just knowing myself, I am anticipating a doozy of post-partum despression. I'm naturally agsty, so i just know that storm is coming. I am def saving this post (as well as Heather Armstrong's postings on this subject from Dooce) in my "toolbox" for future use. I'll have to try hard to remember that i'm not going crazy, and that i'm not the only one.
So thanks, girl! Naturopath is the way to go. Hang in there - your storm will soon pass. You do know that.

ps: sorry, had to re-do my comment with better spelling!

kara said...

agnsty! see what i mean. sheesh...

Erin said...

Get it out sister! This was an incredibly honest post and beautifully written. You have been through this before and you came out the other end unscathed. So much so, that you decided to do it again! This too shall pass. You ARE an incredible mother. Just know that you have people who love you more than pupcakes who will come to be with you any time you say the word.

Lori said...

I second Erin!