"...Beware the Jabberwok, my son
the jaws that bite, the claws that catch"
On July 6th, I drove to the hospital to be induced. I was expecting my sixth child. A much wanted, beloved baby boy. I was nervous about the induction but with my history of precipitous labor, it seemed like the best choice, particularly since I was GBS positive and wanted to have time to receive my antibiotics. However, although I was 39 weeks +2, my cervix was very unfavorable, so I knew it would be a long haul. When we arrived at the hospital, my doula was there, and my awesome midwife started the induction. For the first 10 hours, nothing really happened. We walked the halls, ate breakfast and then lunch, napped. It was peaceful and relaxing. At dinnertime, still no change so we decided that we would start some pitocin. I sent my husband James home to be with our other children. My doula and I walked to the lobby and went up and down the stairs and did squats to try to get the baby lower. At 7pm, my water broke! It seemed things were finally happening. I called my husband and my midwife back to the hospital and labor began in earnest. I remember feeling so taken care of and loved throughout the entire experience, which ended up being a 24 hour marathon. At 8:02 AM, 24 hours after arriving at the hospital, Felix Heathrow was finally born. When I saw his face, it was like seeing the faces of all my other children. He was so beautiful, and so healthy.
It was truly the happiest day of my life. As the mother of six, it seems to me that with each child, the love I feel for them is multiplied by the love I feel for my other children. So by the time Felix arrived, I had so much love, I felt that I could burst. After getting settled in my room, I sent James home again to be with our other children. I wanted to be alone with the baby. We spent a blissful day, him resting on my chest, me breathing him in. But that first night, things started to change. At midnight, a nurse came to get vitals on both of us. I had had an IV for the first 12 hours after his birth and was pretty uncomfortable and by then, had been awake for 36 hours. When she put Felix on the scale and announced his weight, I was horrified. It showed he had lost a pound in 12 hours! How could that be? It turned out to be a scale malfunction, but after that I was on high alert for problems with his weight and feeding. By 3AM, I still hadn't slept and called James and through tears, told him I needed him with me. The night seemed endless. Finally morning came and I was dying to be released from the hospital. I felt that if I could just get home, things would be better.
"But I'm not sad!"
Postpartum depression can be a very isolating experience for mothers experiencing it, however, there is a lot more information out there than even a decade ago. Newly delivered mothers are often told to be on the lookout for sadness, excessive crying, feeling detached from their babies. I had none of that. I was downright blissful when I snuggled with my perfect little bundle of baby. The whole world receded and I cared about nothing else but caring for him. But I was terrified. Every night, as dusk settled, I became more and more agitated. Nighttime was a nightmare for me. When I slept, which wasn't often, I had terrifying dreams that left me exhausted. I felt like I existed in a horror movie that I couldn't shut off. When I cried, it was tears of terror. I developed an almost violent aversion to my business, the business I had worked so hard on for the past four years. The business I grew from a tiny seedling into an enterprise that provided my family with income. I literally couldn't stand to return emails, or even look at my inbox. I stopped answering my phone, shut off the ringer because every sound from my phone was like impending doom.
The effort of withstanding the adrenaline in my system made me sick. Every morning I was dry heaving in the bathroom. I shoveled food that was served to me into my mouth without tasting it. I didn't care about my appearance anymore. Through nine months of my pregnancy, I wore winged liquid liner every day. When Felix was born I never touched my makeup bag and cared not. I hadn't been out of the house without makeup since I was 13 years old. Through 5 prior pregnancies and postpartums, I still put effort into how I looked, because it made me feel better. Now I showered and brushed my hair mechanically and didn't so much as look at my myself in the mirror for days on end. My business suffered. I closed my shop for a couple of weeks because I was in no shape to run it, but felt guilty about not having it open and reopened it, leaning on my husband and teenage son to do the bulk of work. I simply couldn't do it. The simplest tasks were overwhelming. I spent hours psyching myself up enough just to look at my orders. I didn't want to put the baby down long enough to make products, holding him even when he slept.
And then he had his two week checkup. I was terrified he was losing weight and it turned out I was right. He wasn't nursing as well as he seemed to be and was still well below his birth weight. I truly believe that my anxiety was causing my milk supply to suffer as well. I was horrified, guilt ridden. I felt that I had let my baby down, that he was starving and I had not noticed. I visited two lactation consultants and got on a grueling regimen of round-the-clock pumping and nursing. And I knew that I had to treat my anxiety. I called my midwife and explained to her what was happening. As much as I didn't want to be on medication, I felt that it was the best chance of me being functional for my children. When I took my first pill, I cried. I was afraid of the side effects, afraid of it affecting the baby, afraid of everything. But I started to feel better, bit by bit. It wasn't a miraculous recovery, I'm afraid. Recovering from PPA or PPD often takes months. But things started to get better.
Am I "cured", three months in? Not even a little. I am still more anxious than I would like. It is still hard for me to complete daily tasks, but I am trying. I took back over the reins to my poor beleaguered business that had suffered so much from my neglect. I have always been extremely ambitious but I had to give myself a huge break on this one. I had done the best I could and my business was in the ditch. It was going to take a lot of effort to pull it back out. Now I consider it a success when I answer my emails promptly, when I am productive in making products, when I am attentive to my children, when I make dinner and go to the grocery store. This isn't a story about supermom, I am far from that now. But I think this experience has made me a more compassionate person. I never understood the crushing weight of anxiety and how it makes completing simple tasks a huge victory. I never understood breastfeeding struggles and how much work it takes to get a baby gaining weight again after things weren't going well. I never understood people that didn't push themselves to achieve more and more, and I didn't know the simple joy in struggling so hard to be "normal" and succeeding, at long last.
I didn't slay the Jabberwocky, he is sitting quite calmly in the corner as I go about my day, subdued. And I can live with that.