At the time I found out I was pregnant with my only child, I was 24 years old and single. I lived in a cute beach cottage in San Diego, worked hard every day at a job where I felt very important and was a very good worker. My job was my life. I scheduled everything around my job. I had been dating a guy for about 4 months when my period was late.
My period was NEVER late! My body ran like clockwork in every respect. I took a home pregnancy test and then two MORE home pregnancy tests before I decided that all these “positives” must mean something. The next morning at work I found an OB/GYN in the phone book and made an appointment. When the receptionist asked what the appointment was for I was all of a sudden ashamed, “I might be pregnant” I responded.
I kept things to myself until my appointment with the OB. The nurse asked me why I thought I might be pregnant and I explained about the three pregnancy tests. She looked at me and said ”Honey, you’re pregnant then”. I was ashamed once again. However, I decided to keep my baby. Surely if I could do all that I had accomplished thus far I could handle a little baby! However, I was still unsure how to handle being pregnant and a professional at the same time.
I soon realized that it would not be possible for me to raise a child in my 550 square foot beach cottage. I moved to a 2 bedroom boring apartment inland. When I was 6 months pregnant, my boyfriend moved in with me. I bought a sensible 4-door sedan and I started accumulating things a baby would need and stacking them in the second bedroom.
It was getting tough for me at work. By this time everyone was catching on that I was pregnant in the office and I was shy about conducting my business in person. I kept myself shut away in my office and handled almost everything via telephone. My boss was very putt-out because of my regular prenatal check -ups as was I. It was at this point that total strangers in grocery stores and in shopping malls started touching my belly and asking all sorts of what I considered personal questions about being pregnant. “How far along?” “Boy or a girl?” “You must be so excited!”.
My due date was Labor Day, September 7, 1998. In the first week of July it was discovered that I suffered from pre-eclampsia and was put on bed rest. This was terrifying to my office because nobody was prepared for me to leave this soon, including myself. For the next 3 weeks I sat in my apartment, miserable feeling and wondering how soon I could get back to work. Three weeks later I had passed out twice and my doctor sent me to the hospital to be induced.
I could tell you about the long, drawn out 45 hours that followed. Labor was hard, painful and I was bad at it. I didn’t have time to take Lamaze or any other classes and I was a miserable wreck. There was nobody to call and ask how labor was going or if there was a baby yet because my family and I were not on speaking terms. My boyfriends family called, often, but that only upset me because there was nobody from MY family that would call or be excited.
As soon as my son was born, the nurse tried to give him to me and I told her to wash him first. Then I began shaking violently and when the nurse brought him to me a second time, I pointed to my boyfriend. Another nurse came in and told me I should try to breast-feed my son and I asked for a bottle. “Just give it a try” she coaxed. I wouldn’t have any of it. I waited with a screaming baby until someone brought me a bottle of formula and moved me to my semiprivate room. Soon after, my son was taken to the NICU because he couldn’t swallow and he was becoming jaundiced.
My son was submitted to so many tests and so much time in the NICU and that totally turned my world upside down. I wasn’t feeling terribly “Maternal” but I was sure feeling upset that my son was apparently “broken” and I could do nothing about it. I spent all of my time in the hospital visiting the NICU or being called back to my room so my OB could examine me, social workers could question me and offer me empty hope and compassion. Once I was in control of seemingly everything and now I was totally helpless.
My son spent 8 days in the NICU which left 3 days for me to be at home and my baby to be living in the hospital. Now, I was always a bit of a neat-nik, but let me tell you what my furniture looked like. I had a white on white sofa and love seat, glass tables and camel colored carpet. I had a white goose down comforter and white rugs and towels. I kept things clean AND drove to the hospital all of my sleepless nights and days. I went tot he NICU every morning with my infant car seat in one hand and a diaper bag in the other and each day was sent home empty handed. At 7AM SHARP every morning I called to check his billirubin count. I waited for what seemed like years but what was really only a few days. Finally my son was going to go home. He was sent home with Reglan to looses the muscle at the bottom of his esophagus and top of his stomach so food would be able to get to his stomach. Of course, if he were to tip over, the food would come right back out again as the muscles were relaxed with the medication. Remember now, about my white furnishings. I believe they call this “foreshadowing”.
My son came home and while I felt very responsible for him, I did not feel like I loved him. He was an obligation that I needed to take care of. I tended to all of his needs and he was always clean and fed but I was a wreck. I didn’t sleep because I had what I considered to be “Mommy ears” so that any little sound sent me running to the baby’s room to make sure he wasn’t suffocating or starving. Almost any time he began crying his food would come up all over the place and then after tending to Dakota I would also be scrubbing up messes. I tried to do it all. Soon I started crying.
I was sleep deprived, I was worried about child care for my son, I was worried about returning to work as the emotional wreck that I was. I started folding my towels over and over again to make sure they were “just so” and then I’d take them out of the cupboard and fold them all over again. I became highly agitated as well. I would yell and rant almost constantly when in the company of other people. I became afraid to leave my apartment because it only agitated me further. I would yell at neighborhood children for playing ball too close to my car until they cried and ran for their parents. I stopped eating for the most part because eating meant that I would have to go grocery shopping and grocery shopping meant being out in public. IF I showered it was frantically so that if my son cried I’d be right at his side.
There were many times that my son vomited up his stomach contents all over the inside of my car while I was driving and I’d spend hours cleaning the interior. I was scrubbing and washing and never seemed to be happy with the results. Same thing went for the apartment.
The incident that made me realize there was something “wrong” with me was when I was pushing my son in his stroller on the sidewalk and a big truck was going by. In my mind I had an intrusive thought that showed me pushing the stroller in front of the truck as it passed. That startled me. I ran back to my apartment and sobbed for hours. Finally I called my OB/GYN and told her what was happening. She told me that this was rare but there was a group I could contact for support, the Postpartum Health Alliance. She also referred me to a psychiatrist who was familiar with PPD, Dr Christine Saroian.
I had more intrusive thoughts. They were generally about harming my son and it disturbed me. I continued my towel folding ritual until I stayed up for 3 days and nights either caring for my son or folding and refolding towels. I was really feeling quite crazy until I finally had my appointment with Dr Saroian. She assured me that PPD was NOT as rare as I kept hearing and that it’s a fairly common illness that postpartum women have. She explained chemical and biological things to me about PPD and prescribed me Paxil and gave me Xanax for the times when I really wanted to fold towels but needed to sleep. Then I spoke with Dr Kelly Boyd from the Postpartum Health Alliance and she listened to my problems and told me about her support group.
I went to the PPD support group and was astounded to see so many women there! Just about everyone was crying and I cried too just listening to other women with a lot of the same symptoms I had. I was assured that “You’re not alone and this does end”. That statement was what I clung to for months. I went to that support group every Tuesday for four months. I was on disability from work because I was diagnosed with PPD. My boss and coworkers giggled behind my back about my “fake” illness. It was very distressing to have to educate everyone I met about PPD. I almost felt like I had to defend my illness.
It took the full 8 weeks for the Paxil to kick in. I remember waking up everyday and before I’d open my eyes I’d feel out my body and mind and try to feel if anything had changed. Finally one morning, I felt a little lighter. My spirits weren’t quite as down. The Paxil was working!
From that morning on I would have ups and downs, good days and bad days until the good days started outnumbering the bad. When Dakota was 6 months old I finally was well enough to go back to work. However, I went to work for a different company. I was functional again. I wasn’t tip top, but i could do my job. I could get up each morning, get ready for work, get my son fed and off to daycare every morning. That was HUGE for me. That was HUGE for everyone in the PPD support group! I was getting better!
Now, mind you, I wasn’t all better. I still had brief episodes of panic and anxiety and had intrusive thoughts. there were days where I’d get to work, sit through a meeting and then just go home and cry. The only support I had was my support group. If I did nothing else, I went to the group.
People are always asking “How long did it take before you were better?” I really don’t like answering that question. You see, it’s different for all of us. Some people are over it in a couple months, some over a year. For me it was over in a year. My son reached his first birthday and I was A-OK with the exception of having a 1 year old on my hands!
Every now and then I will show up at a PPD support group meeting. I remember all too well the feelings behind those sad and frightened faces. I see these mothers with their babies and they are fighting back tears and it just hurts inside because I can relate. I KNOW how that feels. But, you know what I tell them? “You are not alone and this will end”.