Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Post Partum Story

Earlier today I was chatting with Laura on Gmail chat while she was reading an article on Gwyneth Paltrow's blog about postpartum depression.  The fact that PPD can kick in up to one year after the birth of a child shocked us both so she sent me the link, and I read too.   The facts are interesting, but it's the true life story from Bryce Dallas Howard that captivated me. (I had to Google her name since my pop culture knowledge could fit into a pistachio shell with room to spare for the pistachio.  Apparently she's an actress and was in the second Twilight movie.) Since I have so many friends with new babies right now, I thought some of those friends might be interested in the article too. It definitely made me think about my own experiences, and although I didn't suffer anything severe, I might have had a minor case of it myself.  She had two points that I related to: the feeling of nothingness post birth and the part about yelling expletives at her husband.

The nothingness was shocking.  In all the movies and documentaries the rush of love the mom feels as she pulls her freshly birthed baby to her chest is obvious, so obvious that it fills up the screen and makes me feel all warm and fuzzy from my seat on the couch.  When I birthed Hannah, I felt relief, and I felt calm, but I didn't feel a rush of love.  When the nurse or midwife or whoever placed her on my chest, it felt awkward, surreal. Three thoughts flashed through my head: 1. Please let me have the energy to keep this baby from rolling off my chest. 2. The whole idea of putting your baby directly on your chest after being birthed is silly. 3. Where's the rush of overwhelming love????  These thoughts were fleeting though, dismissed almost as soon as I thought them. In general, I felt brain dead, sorta like I'd had a lobotomy.

I was a robot operating on auto-pilot.  The first time I thought about it and put those words to it was back in May when Mary had her baby. I stopped by the day they arrived home from the hospital, and she asked if I had been terrified to bring Hannah home, leave the safety of the hospital. ""No," I said, "I didn't."  I don't remember feeling anything, least of all worried.  I mean, in general, I am not a worrier.  You know those stories about parents who call the pediatrician every time their child sneezes? Well, in this whole first year of Hannah's life, I never once made an inquisitory or emergency call to the pediatrician.  Granted, Hannah has been super healthy, but even so, my general belief is thaty "Everything's gonna be alright," and when it's not, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. So no, I didn't worry about bringing her home.  Like Howard, I felt nothing. I did everything I knew I needed to do to keep Hannah healthy, and I snuggled her and carried her around and napped with her napping on my chest, but it took a week before I felt the first tiny twinges of love, and months before I was in love.  In the meantime, I slept when she slept, ate when the hunger pains were to strong to ignore, and tried to remember to drink a bottle of water every time she nursed because otherwise I got a headache.

Then came the anger.  Howard wrote: "[My husband] would ask what he could do to help, but knowing there was nothing he could do, I screamed expletives at him, behavior he had never experienced in the seven years we had been together."  We all know that Eric and I were barely together for 1 year before getting married and pregnant, so he didn't have quite as much of a frame of reference for typical Terri behavior and was probably wondering what he'd gotten himself into when I started kirking out on him. I don't remember when it started, maybe as early as the second month, but maybe not until the fourth. (I'm sure if I dug back through my blog entries I could figure it out--I know I had some pretty crazy ones.)  I don't even know where all that anger came from, but I have never, ever in my entire life felt like that before. If I were a cartoon character, I would have been blowing smokestacks out of bright red ears.  I was so angry that I would clench my fists and my jaws but even then I wanted to throw things, BAD.  That's actually how the bowl to my mini cuisinart got a crack in it. I flew into a rage while washing a pan or something and after rinsing it, pitched it into the dish rack angrily where it landed on the little plastic bowl of the cuisinart with a loud crack.  Ooops!

Right after having Hannah I read It Sucked and Then I Cried, a present from Libby and the start of my fan club adoration for Heather Armstrong.  Like Howard, I could relate to a lot her passages, but overall, her experience was waaaaaay more severe than mine. I mean, she ended up checking herself into the hospital for help.  I was nowhere near that bad off so when I started getting my 'roid rages, I wasn't sure what to attribute it too. I thought the hormones were long gone from my body and didn't realize the symptoms can appear anytime within that first year. It did get bad enough that I put forth the effort to sign us up for family counseling.  I still think we had some real issues with adjusting to the responsibility and cooperation needed to operate as a team, but I know it took a long time before I learned how to broach this issues sanely and without screaming expletives.  Shortly before our first scheduled appointment, my hormones stopped raging and our communication started to click again. The night before the first appointment was a bad one with Hannah up for hours, so I canceled the meeting and never rescheduled. I haven't since felt the need to.

Marriage pre-baby might require team work, but it's the kind of team work required to play on your local neighborhood softball team.  Having a baby puts your team in the big leagues overnight and requires way more cohesion, communication, synchronicity, etc. All of a sudden you need the rule books and the play books and you need everybody onboard and playing for the same team.  It ain't an easy adjustment.

I don't know if I had a minor case of PPD or not, but either way, it's a relief to know that plenty of other women freak out and lose themselves post baby, and also to know that my marriage is strong enough to withstand that temporary freak out and loss of self.


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  2. Last semester I did extensive research on postpartum depression and read Brooke Shields memoir "Down cam the rain". First I felt really sorry for her, and when I felt how lucky I was.

    As a part of new health bill Mothers Act requires doctors to screen pregnant women and women who recently given birth for postpartum depression. Some states, New Jersey for eg, already passed similar law.
    However, there is a downfall to mandatory screening - many women can end up on really addictive antidepressants, since it is the most popular route of treatment used by doctors.

  3. Ah! My last comment didn't make it through. Here goes another try.
    Well written post - I read the Goop post as well, a friend told me about it. I think the transition to being a mother is very difficult and I know I had some rough patches and most of my friends did too. It's so important to have a helpful support network that you can be honest with. For me writing my blog was a big release valve too.

  4. @Anna: I heard about Down Came the Rain and really want to read that. I didn't know about the Mothers Act health bill--I'll have to look that up! Thanks for sharing!!

    @The Mama: Ditto on blogging being the release valve!! Writing has always been my form of catharsis, and I love the community I formed as a result. I have a great real life community too who I can talk too, but I'm loving my growing cyber community as well! You can never have too many people on your team :)

  5. I don't know if Michigan does the screening that Anna mentioned because nobody said anything to me when I was in the hospital (for the 2 weeks before he was born and the 2 days after), but every time we visited Jasper in the NICU I was asked over and over how I was doing. The NICU nurses and patient advocates/social workers who get involved with all the premie cases would always remind Evan to look for signs that I was feeling off.

  6. I don't think I had any screenings either. I think I was asked how I was doing when I went in for a checkup, but there wasn't much emphasis on it....That's interesting that there was so much emphasis in the NICU--I guess because premies are much more fragile??

  7. I would usually be a little teary when we went in for the 9 pm feeding, which was the last one we could do for the day, so the nurses always wanted to know if they were happy tears or sad tears. They were both. I remember one night I was super crying and I got so upset because my nose got stuffy and I couldn't smell him. I never let myself cry too hard after that. :)

  8. Awwww! I can't even imagine how difficult and terrifying that must have been....I'm so glad that Jasper is all big and strong and handsome now!!!


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