Part 1 of 3:
Everything in this world has an opposite. Up, down. Left, right. Good, bad. This is parenting. I haven't found anything else in this world that could lift me up or drive me down; keep me awake at night or comfort me as I fall asleep. This is a difficult story to write because I am someone who didn't fit into the role of "mother" easily. I thought it would be natural. I believed that from the moment I laid eyes on my baby, I would fall in love, feel a connection, be washed over with joy and devotion. It didn't happen.
My pregnancy was plagued by major depression; three days after delivering my son I developed postpartum psychosis - the more rare and severe form of postpartum depression marked by hallucinations and often suicidal/homicidal ideation. Even though there was a medical diagnosis for my condition, I believed myself a monster- damaged and defective. I surrendered myself to science and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for treatment. Emerging, the world was unfamiliar to me. Everything felt false... and then there was the baby. He didn't seem to be mine either. Nothing in this new world made sense.
The nine months of my pregnancy and the year that followed was a journey of fear, shame, discovery and redemption. Some days I lived second to second, and others I wished would never end. So you see, with all things, there are opposites. It IS possible to journey from one extreme to the other and emerge intact, albeit changed. With time, trial, error and science, I finally found a place for myself in this new world and discovered a love for my son that is limitless.
The return home was an anxious start to this new beginning. I didn't know it yet, but psychosis was already setting in. My house seemed strange - not my own. I remembered it, but it felt like something I only recognized after studying pictures or hearing someone describe it to me. Everything felt wrong. I thought I'd been inserted into someone else's life.
That night I went out on the deck to breathe. I could see the baby though the patio doors, sleeping in his carrier. My husband came out after a while and asked how I was doing. I remember trying to act normal, but my body felt like it wanted to run away. I was so scared; I didn't want to be a parent. Looking at Jay outside that night, I hoped desperately that he was as confused and scared as I was. I tried to make my voice sound like I was joking and said, "I suppose we have to keep him, huh?" He nodded and stared at me, and I could see in his look he knew I wasn't kidding. When he went back inside I had to work hard to keep from crying.
The next two days were a blur of breastfeeding, trying to eat - and failing, trying to sleep - and failing. I was getting lots of practice changing diapers, so at least I wasn't failing at that. Still so tiny and pink, the baby stayed mostly in his infant carrier. I lived on his schedule - feeding, changing, trying to interpret the cries. My mother would take him occasionally so I could nap. I tried but mostly I stared at the ceiling fan because my body wouldn't relax. A sleep mask over my eyes only made me focus on the noises I heard - the baby, my husband's voice, my mother's voice, the dogs walking over the hardwood floors. I found no comfort there.
During those nighttime feedings, my mother would come and sit with me. We chatted about this and that and I did my best to sound like I was taking this all in stride. Chances are she saw it was an act. At a minimum, she knew I wasn't eating and when she asked if I slept I could only say that I rested. We decided it would be a good idea to try pumping breast milk tomorrow; she could wake up with the baby at night while I slept. The idea gave me hope that it wouldn't make me so necessary to him.
That second morning my efforts to pump breast milk failed. I didn't want to feed the baby formula as long as I could breastfeed, so I angrily resigned myself to being at the baby's beck and call. Minutes later I was berating myself for being so selfish. Eating and napping had the same success rate as the breast pump. My husband was concerned because I was sounding increasingly anxious and needed to get some sleep. I had to visit my Ob/Gyn for a well-check that morning, so I promised I'd talk to her about not being able to sleep.
At the doctor's office, we talked at length about how I was feeling. I didn't think I sounded that frazzled but everyone seemed to be concerned when they talked to me. Sitting in her office, I didn't pretend that I had it all under control. I was tired and frustrated and I wanted help. She knew my history of depression and said I had to be extremely cautious about postpartum depression. I admitted I was having trouble. We talked about the last antidepressant I was on and she wrote me a prescription. The prescription would get me thought the next 30 days and I told her I had a psychiatrist to call for an appointment.
On the way home we stopped at the drugstore to fill my script. I realized we had talked about depression but I hadn't asked for any sleeping pills. I couldn't believe I'd forgotten. Getting the prescription for an antidepressant made me feel a lot better about things and I was completely exhausted. It wouldn't be a big deal because I'd fall asleep today for sure. Maybe as soon as my head hit the pillow. I told myself things will get easier now.
I took my pills, fed the baby, then happily announced I was going to take a nap. I had practically fallen asleep in the glider feeding the baby and I was ecstatic. Finally I was going to get some sleep. I was sure I'd feel like eating again too once I work up. So into bed, sleep mask on, earplugs in. I made my breathing slow and steady. I practiced some visualization exercises. I made it to the end of the visualization but was still wide awake. I shifted and took off my socks. Maybe that would help. I got comfortable again, slowed my breathing, and restarted my visualization. Thoughts kept intruding:
You're overtired now. That's why you can't sleep. Ugh. Maybe that's true. Why didn't I remember to ask the doctor for some sleeping pills? Maybe if I tried to exercise I would be able to sleep. No, I can't exercise yet; I'm not up to it anyway. Falling asleep should be easy, I'm so exhausted. I just want to get some sleep. Just a couple hours. Something!
I lifted my sleep mask to look at the clock. Forty-five minutes had gone by with no luck.
Why is this happening?!? Is someone TRYING to make me crazy?!?...
-to be continued-
Written by H.W.