So I want to tell you about this lying biatch I know. I told Her to get lost years ago, but She keeps coming back. Truth be told, I’m not even sure She’s a “she,” because she tends to come in and ransack my life and home the way only a dude can – but for argument’s sake, let’s just call Her a “she.” You might know Her – or maybe you’ve only heard of Her.
Her name is Postpartum Depression.
It’s probably a little weird that I am referring to Her as some sort of being, but it actually makes sense if you’ve been through it. Because Postpartum Depression becomes whoever you are and morphs into everything about yourself that you’ve ever been insecure about. She is an expert manipulator, and oh so very sneaky – she can take the form of your deepest, darkest feelings of not being good enough, and then she can mirror those feelings back to you at 10x magnification. Suddenly you’re being held up the reflection of everything you’ve been afraid of.
In 2010 and 2011 after Russ was born, I lied to everyone and pretended that if I just didn’t call PPD what She was, then it wasn’t real. That didn’t work out well. Then in 2014 with Henry, I busied myself to exhaustion so that I didn’t have to acknowledge PPD. I made her sit in the corner while I tried to act like I could manage all of the crap going on. But just because you put PPD in a corner, doesn’t mean She is going away.
Eventually, She quiets down.
Eventually, She lies in wait.
And then, another baby.
I’ve struggled in the months since I gave birth to baby William Odin to deal with some of the things that have not gone as planned. Bear with me, cause this might jump topics a bit.
The importance of self-care is something that is now emphasized as a well intentioned path to avoid PPD. But the truth is, sometimes PPD is coming for you whether you get regular pedicures or not. PPD doesn’t give a shit that you took 3 hours to go get your hair highlighted and cut. Don’t get me wrong – it’s good to do those things, it is HEALTHY to do those things, but can we please stop selling women this BS lie that if you will just take time to “self-care,” then you, too, can avoid the raging bitch that is Postpartum Depression. (Which, by the way, “self-care” stops being a verb after baby #3. Kind of like “adulting.” Neither of these things should be verbs, but they are, because in the last 10-20 years we stopped teaching people how to do either of them – just an observation.)
I’ve struggled with guilt, for one thing. A lot of different kinds of guilt. Guilt that my marriage hasn’t always been as happy and healthy as it is now. I know that sounds strange, but when you walk through a fire that you yourself set (long story, one that I only discuss one on one, but am completely honest about), you carry that for awhile. Then there’s guilt because I have a lot of friends – an inordinate amount of friends, if you ask me – who have experienced baby or infant loss. And who the hell am I to whine, right? At least my baby is alive. Seriously…these are things that fly though my head every night when I go on another 2-3 hours of sleep. Then there’s guilt because my older kids are definitely missing out on the full benefit of their mom. This is why we’re pretty sure we’re done having babies. Then I feel guilt because – being super vulnerable here – I always wanted four kids. Not three, not five, but four. Is it because I love the insanity of small kids? Perhaps. Or maybe I would love to have a girl? Possibly…though the thought is both exciting and absolutely terrifying to me (I believe girl moms in this world have a harder job than I do). Is it because my mom has four kids and I think she’s just The Ultimate Bomb Diggity? Well, no shit, of course that’s part of it. I’m friggin’ lucky to have a mom who I actually want to turn into as I get older. But nobody has ever said that I needed to do that – that’s just some stupid princess ideal I cooked up in my head when I was younger, and old habits die hard, y’all. I’m processing letting go of that “ideal,” because I realize it may not be right for me specifically. And that is okay.
I get all of that. I really do.
And I refuse to sell Postpartum Depression as something that relates to the child. I’m not a friggin’ martyr here…I’m a nobody, an every woman, a OG Basic White Woman who loves Starbucks and suburban life and babies, and yes, I chose this. Absolutely none of this is my kids’ faults. One day, I hope these boys of mine might read some of this and rather than feel like it was ever their fault, be fortified with some sort of knowledge so that they can be the kind of dads their own dad is. Because seriously, ya’ll, that man is LIFE right now. I do not deserve him.
But his hands have been very tied at times with the addition of our sweet William. I chose to have a natural birth, outside of a hospital setting, but never imagined we’d end up in the NICU with him. The thing is, the birth center discharges you 4-6 hours after you have your baby (as they should – most moms, that works out pretty well and you have lots of preparation beforehand). I never imagined I’d immediately head off to the hospital NICU with my brand-new baby and have to sit down in a chair. I SAID SIT IN A CHAIR…10 HOURS POST BIRTH…TELL ME IF THAT SOUNDS COMFORTABLE (Also, this is the point where jokes about “the old days” where they’d “pop out a baby and go back out in the field” are both ill-placed and just flat historically inaccurate. So let’s…not.).
I was so thankful to have my parents, my inlaws, and my husband to help me and handle the older two boys in the midst of this. By the way, the NICU stay had nothing to do with the birth center. A few folks have asked me if it was related to the water birth, and it was not – William had ABO incompatability, a blood disease. Water birth is completely safe.
I compartmentalized like a friggin’ boss that week. I didn’t know what had come over me. I was so happy and thankful, and it was nothing like I planned, but I kept my chin up and eyes focused. I was so proud of myself – I was beating Her! Postpartum Depression, suck it! I felt so hopeful that She was on a permanent vacation this time! Between sleeping in a chair, nursing 24/7 and pumping after each session to get my milk to come in faster (neonatalogists are “numbers guys,” as one of them told me – so I hearkened back to my sales days and sandbagged like a mother), I was beating myself into a bloody pulp inside, but I thought I was fine.
I really thought I was fine. And that’s kind of how it always starts for me.
There was no recovery for me. I gave birth to a little boy and then became completely secondary. I’m still dealing with that. Did I expect the world to stop and baby me? Absolutely not…in fact, there was very little I really needed. But sleeping in a chair for the first six nights postbaby, changing my gigantic postpartum maxi pads in a public bathroom that had man-piss all over it, and getting checked out by a few grown men as I hobbled across the hospital parking garage deck to my 3 day old baby all lent a feeling of becoming invisible. I was disappearing.
Then I came home with my baby and my husband went back to work the very next day. There was nothing for me to share with him – we spent the first 6 days jockeying in between the hospital and our two confused boys at home – the same 2 who were excitedly expecting mommy to bring a new baby home just a few hours after I left them, because that’s what we had prepared for. That first dreamy week of new baby bliss that Jonathan and I had with both Russ and Henry evaporated right in front of my eyes, and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it. And don’t even get me started on the fact that new dads in the US get less paternal leave for new babies than just about any other developed country in the world.
With each passing week, I felt like I disappeared just a little bit more. I tried. I told myself She wasn’t back. I swore to myself we’d get ahead of Her. I started seeing my therapist “early,” trying to beat PPD to the punch. And when the sleeplessness hit, I tried to make smart decisions – hiring daytime help to watch the baby so I could get work done. After all, that was another thing that was different this time – I took three weeks off after the baby and then I began working again. Was it for the best? Financially, yes. But for my health? Maybe not. But again – it wasn’t anyone’s fault, not even my own, it was just the choice that I had to make. I was lucky that my “work” was from my couch and computer – when a lot of women in the US are forced to return to work 2 weeks after giving birth or they could lose their job. At least my clients worked with me and understood what was going on.
None of this is meant to be a complaint so much as an explanation of how She crept in.
But the bitch is back. Postpartum Depression has gobbled me up in the last few weeks, and there’s just no use in calling her by any other name. Is She here forever? No. Absolutely not. Just by calling Her out, I take away more and more of Her power. Just by talking honestly about how She broke into my head and home again, I render her a bit less relevant.
But the nerve of this bitch, y’all. She keeps me awake even after my baby has gone to sleep. And lately, that’s not a lot of hours. Over the last few weeks, the nights have gotten longer and longer. We have been walloped with a combination of overly attached, teething, four-month-sleep-regressing infant. It’s unlike anything I’ve experienced with my previous two. THIS is why I say there are NO EXPERTS in parenting. Anyone who tells you to “Just do ____” is selling you something, or they’re just scared by the idea that their magic fix was just dumb luck or happenstance.
“Just buy this book.”
“Just let him cry.”
“Just do attachment parenting.”
“Just give him this food.”
“Just stop breastfeeding.”
The reality is, none of us know what the heck we’re doing. We are all feeling through the dark here. Yes, we have resources and Google and parents and friends, but in a world of billions of people, there’s a good chance that we’re all just a little different. Nothing is a “sure fix.” Every parent is different, every baby is different. And this sleeplessness, the depth of it – the all-out, catatonic-state-inducing, chronically exhausting depths of this tiredness…I don’t have words for it. What we’ve been dealing with this time around has not been normal baby sleeplessness. Normal baby sleeplessness is awful and difficult enough – but this has been something really wild. We’re riding waves of exhaustion that we can’t really anticipate or control at this point, and just hoping for a resolution soon.
I’m not sure how I want to wrap up this piece, except to say I will not embrace the friggin’ suck. Nope. I will not embrace it. I will learn from it and I will embrace my baby, my boys, my husband, my family and friends, but I will not accept PPD, worthless, lying bitch that she is. I will not sit here and believe that my baby is just a non-sleeping banshee (though he does a good job of putting on the act sometimes). I will not wallow in self pity…for more than like maybe 15-20 minutes, emmmkay? I’m human here.
I will lean on the strong people I have cultivated in my life, and I will have honest conversations with God while I drink ALL the coffee and drive my boys to school in the morning. I will remember that these days are fuzzy and hard to remember, but they will pass.
And I know one day my memory will romanticize and white wash all the difficult of this time, and I will miss this. But right now, I’m just trying to clean up after an unwanted house guest named Postpartum Depression. And she’s kinda messy.