Read on for Jessica's story.
I could not sleep. I could not eat. I couldn’t physically swallow. It was as if there was a wad of cotton stuck in the back of my throat. Food was so dry. And the waves of nausea that would ebb and flow only made it worse. The advice given to women when breastfeeding? You need an EXTRA 500 calories a day to help your body produce milk. I was lucky if I could nibble my way through 500 calories total in a day. I couldn’t eat. Dizziness ensued. I wouldn’t stand while holding my child, for the fear of falling over lingered in the back of my sleepy head. Talking on the phone and watching tv only made my head spin more. I spent most of my day with my eyes closed.
Calls to the doctor were made. Try vitamin this or that. Maybe ginger ale? How about the BRAT diet? No. This wasn’t my equilibrium giving me problems. This wasn’t an ear infection. I COULD NOT SLEEP. I COULD NOT EAT. I could not take care of this newborn who was placed in my arms only a few days ago. But, I tried these remedies. Nothing helped.
Finally, after a week, I went to the doctor. In a tearful sleepy daze, I remember asking her if this was all self-inflicted. Was I just nervous? I didn’t know what was going on. At the time, I had only been educated on postpartum depression. I had never even heard of postpartum anxiety. But, that is what it was. Anxiety. Now what? Zoloft. Oh how it pained me to hear the word antidepressant. The stigma of antidepressants weighed ever so heavily on me. Only weak people took pills to make themselves feel better right? But, if they helped with the anxiety. Ok. What ever you say doc.
But I wasn’t depressed…yet. A few days later, those “I don’t want to hold my baby” feelings kicked in. Even looking at him would make my stomach flip over. He was the cause of all of this. He was why I felt like a zombie in someone else’s body. I wouldn’t share those thoughts with anyone, but you could see it on my face.
Luckily, after a week or so, I was feeling better. So much better. I was sleeping. Eating. Loving my baby. The meds helped, but made me feel a little off. So I decided to stop taking them after three weeks…never taking a whole dose of the medication.
About a month later, we let my mother keep our child overnight. For no reason, only because she wanted to. I felt very awkward about it, which I assumed was completely normal considering it was the first night away from my little one. But, something felt awkwardly familiar. I hardly slept that night. Was rather panicky. Not hungry. And when the time came to pick up our little boy, I didn’t want to. I wanted to leave him there. I told my parents I did not want this responsibility. Knowing full well that was not me. And it was not how I really felt. But I could not help having those thoughts. I still remember the look of dismay on their faces. How do you explain to someone how you feel, when you don’t understand it yourself? I did not want my child. I wished I had had a miscarriage. Wished none of this had ever happened. I cried every day. Went through the motions of life with so much anger and confusion. My anxiety level was at an all time high. Panic attacks every time I tried to sleep. My temper was short. Especially with this being that I wanted nothing to do with.
I couldn’t eat, again. And because I could not eat, my body would not produce enough milk to sustain my child. So I pumped as much as my non-caring brain would allow me to. But soon enough, even the thought of having to pump caused me much grief. My breasts just hurt. I would cry at the thought of pumping one more time.
I felt so alone and in such a dark, dark place. “How DARE YOU feel that way about your child.” “Suck it up and deal with it.” “Oh, it’s all in your head.” All of this floating around my head like some cartoon character in deep contemplation.
And then one day while at my parents house, I tried taking a nap. I laid on the bed and closed my eyes. The longer I laid there, the faster and harder my heart would beat. I tried taking deep breaths. In. Out. My heart was racing. Soon enough, I found myself close to hyperventilating. I got out of bed. Short of breath. my heart felt as if it would just jump out of my chest and run away. And as I walked out of the room I saw my mother holding this sleeping child. MY sleeping child. My child who I wanted nothing to do with. But there he was. And I loved him. But, I could not bring myself to take him from her. I burst into tears. Rambling apologies through gut wrenching sobs. And I knew right then and there, this had to stop. I had a job to do. I had a child to take care of. He relied on me. And I could not continue going day to day feeling like this.
I was done. I knew what this was. I knew that THIS was not me. And I could not deny it, fight it or hide from it. It was staring at me in the mirror every day. Postpartum Depression and Anxiety. I wanted it gone. I wanted to feel somewhat normal. I wanted to be able to enjoy at least a flicker of time with my child.
So, back on the medication I went. And this time, I took the correct dose, knowing that I was in fact not weak. And if I needed this medication to help me get through my suffering, then so be it. I also started taking birth control to help regulate my hormones. Anything to get my brain and body back in working, functioning order.
But, in order to take birth control, I had to make a very difficult decision. I had to stop breastfeeding. A decision that broke my heart into a million pieces. My body had failed me. Because of all of the mental interruptions, my physical body could not do what it was meant to do. Feed my child. Something I wanted so badly and still pains me to this day. But, I knew it was best for my child and my mental health. Antidepressants, birth control and formula. Three things that would be my life savers.
Then, I waited. Waited for those pills to start working. A week went by. I was still not sleeping well. Waking way too early, thinking my heart was going to bounce out of my chest and walk away. Food was a little more palatable. But, I couldn’t eat while in the presence of my child. He still made my stomach flip. So I would sneak off into the bedroom to attempt to eat.
But soon enough, one day, I slept. All night long. And it felt like I had slept for days. A small victory. But what it did for my mental state was immeasurable. Food began to have a little more flavor. Swallowing became a little more easier. I started feeling a resemblance of my former self. I began to see the light after a long struggle in the dark.
A few weeks later, I sat in my rocking chair feeding my child. The child who, only a month ago, I wanted nothing to do with. Wished his existence to cease. This being in my arms with a head full of blonde hair and big blue eyes. A sole dimple on his right cheek. This wonder I had created, with a whole life ahead of him. He was mine. His presence no longer made my stomach flip in agony. He made my heart jump. But in a way I never could imagine…
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If you or someone you love is struggling with perinatal mood disorders, find help at www.postpartumprogress.org.