Fourteen years ago I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby boy, at 7 lbs. 9 ounces, and named him Owen (not his real name). I’d been waiting for Owen for a few years. I’d had two miscarriages before him: one in my 10th week of pregnancy and one in my 14th week of pregnancy. Right after the second miscarriage, I needed a D&C and lost 1.5 liters of blood during the procedure, which was quite scary. The medical staff in Europe, where I was living at the time, told me, however, that the blood loss was a fluke. As I found out after delivering Owen, it really had not been a fluke because after he was born, I lost 3 liters of blood due to the uterus not contracting, and it took medical staff 6 hours, from 1PM until 7PM, to get the blood loss under control. It was a life-threatening situation; thank goodness for blood transfusions! I don’t really remember much of this because I was mostly out of it, but my husband will never forget… to this day he says those 6 hours were the longest hours of his life. A doctor had talked to him twice during this time to tell him they were trying to do everything they could, but were not sure if I was going to make it. Obviously I did.
I was in the ICU for 2 nights and then was wheeled into a room with 2 other mothers who had just delivered their baby. Between the 3 of us, we always had one baby that was up and needed to be fed. So, needless to say, I got very little sleep; so little that I broke down crying on my 5th day at the hospital and begged my husband to take me home. He supported my decision, and I checked myself out of the hospital. That first night at home, I experienced my first panic attack ever. I asked my husband to call 911 because I thought I was dying. I could feel extreme tingling in my whole entire body from head to toe, so much so that I felt I was leaving my body, which I thought meant that I was about to die. My husband called the doula that had helped us deliver Owen and, over the phone she explained that I was experiencing anxiety. She recommended my husband normalize the experience, turn on some calming music and make me a warm drink. He did all of that while I experienced one panic attack after another and had yet another night of no sleep. And so our journey to hell (as we refer back to it) had begun.
I became an insomniac (even though I used to fall asleep at the drop of a hat) and had absolutely no appetite, even had an aversion to food (even though I had been a total foodie my whole life). I lost about 30 lbs. in a little over 2 weeks (pregnancy weight included) and became thinner than I’d ever been. I experienced many more panic attacks and started having intrusive thoughts, which were very graphic and therefore very disturbing. I saw danger everywhere, literally everywhere! I would look at things and worry about how those things could potentially hurt my baby. For example a window: he could fall out, a bath: he could drown, a knife: he could get cut, a belt: he could get strangled, a washer/dryer/ oven: he could end up in there and would never make it out alive. I had stopped nursing Owen about 2 weeks after he was born – very heart-breaking decision, but I’d come to realize that as long as I kept breastfeeding, my body would be unable to catch a break - and had started bottle-feeding. Every time I mixed up the bottles I thought for sure I was using the wrong water or not the right amount of formula, and that would eventually kill him. Owen’s level of dependency on me seemed to be a responsibility I could not handle; he just seemed too vulnerable to be put in my incapable hands. I had thoughts of disappearing, of no longer having to be a part of Owen’s life or my husband’s life, not just for their own good, but also for my own survival. Owen felt like a leech, sucking the life right out of me. Because of his existence, I felt myself just withering away… slowly, but surely. My thinking scared me tremendously because I thought I had gone completely crazy. I did not know what the thoughts meant: did they mean I wanted to hurt my baby? Or maybe they meant I became “bad” overnight and was turning into a criminal? As I was trying to make sense of it all, I knew one thing with certainty: I no longer trusted myself. So, I told my husband (who I thought, without a doubt, was going to leave me and take the baby with him, but at that point, I had already come to terms with that). When I told my husband that I no longer wanted to be left alone with Owen and why, he immediately went down the stairs to talk to our neighbor, a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist came to see me that same day and listened to my story as well as he could because I was sobbing the whole time. He wrote me a prescription for an anti-depressant - one that also helped with sleep and appetite -, which I started taking that day. I slept well that same night for the first time in almost 2 months! I also started seeing someone for therapy, just a handful of times, but it helped. I also stopped spending time alone with the baby. We were expats, so we flew family and friends out to help us. Once my thoughts were back to normal and I trusted myself again, which was about 2 months later when Owen was around 4 months old, I started taking care of him by myself again. And so our journey back from hell had begun.
Being diagnosed with Post Partum Depression & Anxiety was such a relief to me! It showed me that psychiatrists had heard of this illness before and that I was not the only one suffering from it. I was so happy about the diagnosis that I told everyone about it: family, friends, and neighbors. My guilt about being the most ungrateful and undeserving mother on this entire planet started to subside little by little. I would say, all in all, it took about a year for me to feel completely like myself again, but I did get consistently better once I reached out for help. In hindsight, I guess I had a few things going against me: giving birth in a foreign country with no - to a very low - support system, changing from having a full-time job to becoming a stay-at-home mom and the isolation that comes with this, a traumatic birth, prior miscarriages, an extremely colicky baby who could cry for 7 hours straight, and finally, a genetic pre-disposition to depression and anxiety. This temporary “soul loss,” as I call it, and permanent loss of a large part of my innocence and naiveté luckily did end up serving a much greater purpose.
I became a Marriage and Family Therapist treating new mothers who suffer from depression and anxiety. Also, eight years ago, my husband and I adopted an adorable baby girl at birth, so Owen has a younger sister. Both kids are doing great and I’m confident I am a “good enough mother.” And last but not least, my husband and I are celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary next year, and I can honestly say that most of our two decades together consist of fun times with memories that put a smile on my face J