Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Surfacing


like to drown
like to drown by Aimanness Photography on Flickr
I always thought if I was drowning, I would be the first to know. How hard can it be to realize that you are being overcome by a force more powerful than yourself? That waves and riptides have gained control of your body? That you no longer have the oxygen so vital to survival? That you can't find your way up and out of the crashing water?

And yet, there I was, drowning. Batting away the life savers and ignoring the rescuers trying to pluck me out of the water. Because I thought I knew what drowning felt like and I didn't feel like I was drowning.

********

When Abigail was a baby, I struggled with post-partum depression and anxiety. Out of nowhere, I would be overcome with tears. Every time I closed my eyes, I would envision something awful happening to Abigail or her father. My greatest fear was that I would watch Abigial die in front of me, helpless to do anything. I feared sleep, because every time I closed my eyes I would see my fears played out; my nightmares were so realistic that I would awaken convinced that Abigail's body would be lifeless in her crib.

Unlike some women who suffer from PPD, I never envisioned hurting my baby. It was the farthest thought from my mind. So even though I knew some of the symptoms of PPD, I never suspected that I was suffering in an unnecessary and unusual way. I thought that breaking into unexplainable tears, inability to sleep, extreme weight loss, and frequently racing heart were just "baby blues." But by the time Abigail was 8 weeks old, my sister was convinced I needed help. She talked me into seeing someone, and within minutes of meeting, the doctor knew something was wrong. I left holding a prescription for Zoloft, with a tiny glimmer of hope that maybe I would be able to sleep again one day.

Eventually, the medications started working. I could drift into sleep without visions of my baby's dead body lying in a pool of blood in the street burning in my eyes. Sleep made a huge difference, and the bouts of crying eased away. Soon after that I was able to find a bit of normalcy in my daily life. Eventually, I realized that I no longer was sucked into the depths of fear, anxiety, and depression. I went off my medication, and I was able to experience the normal ups and downs of life with a toddler.


Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
Photo by heiressanj on Flickr
When I was a baby, I took swimming lessons. I was born in May and in the water by June. In fact, I took lessons every summer for the first few years of my life. I vaguely remember the diving board being sooo high, and having to open my eyes under water to count how many fingers the teacher held out. It was a good foundation, and I never felt scared around the water. As I grew up, I always felt like a strong swimmer. I never was a lifeguard or on the swim team, but I felt confident enough in my swimming to do whatever I felt like doing in the water... and haul friends to the dock or side of the pool when they couldn't make it themselves.

Surely, with my swimming abilities I would never be in danger around the water. Besides, with age came the wisdom to avoid stupid situations, like getting into the water without a lifeguard on duty or swimming out too far and being caught in a riptide. The few times that I felt that my swimming wasn't up to par were all times that I was attempting to help a friend who was not doing well in the water. I mean, strong swimmers don't drown, right?


its true
its true by Josh Parrish on Flickr

From the moment I had that first positive pregnancy test, one of my big, unspoken fears was that I would lapse into the post-partum depression and anxiety that I experienced after Abigail's birth. Once JA was born, I held my breath, waiting to see what would happen. If I caught myself crying, I would quickly fight the feelings inside me and force myself to calm down. I vehemently denied any problems to the pediatrician and OB. My mom and my sister visited. Both of them questioned how I was doing emotionally, but compared to my experiences after Abigail's birth, I felt... okay. I didn't feel great, but I chalked it up to true "baby blues." John even said something, following through on a pact I had made with him that if I was acting like I was falling into PPD, he would intervene. 

But I was unconvinced. I didn't have the same contributing factors that I had with Abigail. I could sleep. My hormones seemed to normalize. I wasn't constantly envisioning my baby's dead body. I refused to believe that PPD was controlling my life again.

Then, before I knew it, I was pregnant again. We moved across the country. I was put on bed rest. This wasn't PPD. This was just the normal emotional roller-coaster of all those stressors combining. Then my sweet Ava Joy was born. I had a quick physical recovery, and overall thought I was faring well emotionally. My family would ask questions, John often gave me the side-eye, but I thought I was doing okay... all things considered. I mean, how well can you expect me to do, really?

28.5 weeks pregnant with JA
August, 2010
The summer that I was pregnant with JohnAndrew, we went swimming frequently. I don't remember ever going swimming when I was pregnant with Abigail, and the sensation of my baby belly floating in the pool was fascinating. When I would lay back in the water, I would initially sink a little, then slowly, my body would be pulled upwards. My belly would break the surface of the water, then my feet and legs and arms. I would float on my back and feel like my belly was keeping my whole body afloat. That my baby was saving me.

Ava Joy
April, 2012

In the end, it was my baby that saved me.

After months and months of blaming everything on lack of sleep, I had a baby who slept soundly through the night, and nothing was changing. I wasn't in the depths of despair, like I had been with Abigail, but neither was I in a solid and strong place emotionally. I was fighting off the crashing waves, but it took so much energy to do so that I couldn't swim towards the shore. Every day was a struggle, fighting off the depression that was trying to pull me under. I was stuck. And I realized that I spent so much of my time and energy fighting depression that I was not able to move forward or do anything else.

I was not able to be the mother I wanted to be, because I simply didn't have the energy to be a mom and fight depression. I couldn't do both. And one night, as I rocked my sweet Ava Joy, I decided to stop trying to do both.

I got help. A life vest in the form of medication. The effects were evident within a week, even to John. It's been about 2 months since starting the meds, and while I still have bad days, I feel so much better, and my mothering has improved dramatically. Instead of fighting to stay afloat as waves of depression try to pull me under, I actually have the power to swim towards the shore. So I just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Swimming, swimming....

PPD is a vile, ugly creature that can be debilitating. Unfortunately, it can also be hard to recognize. Please, don't hesitate to get help if you have any of the following symptoms more than 2 weeks after the birth of your baby, or if they interfere with your ability to care for your baby or manage the daily tasks of life:


  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Intense irritability and anger
  • Overwhelming fatigue
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Lack of joy in life
  • Feelings of shame, guilt or inadequacy
  • Severe mood swings
  • Difficulty bonding with your baby
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby*


Have you struggled with PPD? How did you find help?

*From MayoClinic.com

1 comment:

scooping it up said...

You're awesome for sharing it and I am glad you are feeling better, dear. I never experienced PPD, but I was horribly depressed during all my pregnancies. I hated everyone, everything, even the babies. I wanted to die. I felt like I was dying. I got help with the medical complications of my pregnancies but I was never able to feel the crushing depression subside until the babies came out. And I mean, like a light coming on, within minutes, while they were still sewing me up I felt better. It was the weirdest and worst of times. I loved all my babies and until the toddler twins of craziness, I never had a day of motherhood as hard as one day of pregnancy.

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