Postpartum: One Woman’s Struggle
January 17, 2013: A train. A buzzing cell phone. A cat meowing. A baby grunting. The dishwasher sounding its cycle completion. The hum of a baby monitor. Snoring. My mind buzzing with a thousand thoughts about tomorrow.
My son was about five weeks old the day I posted this to Facebook. I was deep in the throes of postpartum depression, but had not yet realized it.
The moment I found out I was pregnant, everything about me changed. I took at least five home tests to confirm the pregnancy, all but demanded an ultrasound at the clinic where I took yet another test, and had a heartbeat monitor at home that I would wake up and use in the middle of the night as the pregnancy progressed. I read every pregnancy book and article I could get my hands on. As a planner who craves organization, this was the only thing that calmed me. I was terrified.
I did not always know that I wanted a child. I felt the pull of travel and the need to be free from an obligation to stay in any one place too long. I was not convinced that I had the patience to raise a tiny human. When I met my future husband in 2009, he told me about his two children who were ages six and four. I thought it might be fun to have kids in my life but without the commitment of a full time gig. The more time I spent with them, though, the stronger I felt the urge to have a child of my own. Nine months after our one-year wedding anniversary, our son was born.
The funny part about my need to plan and organize is that I forgot to read anything about what happens after your baby is born! I realized the morning we went to the hospital that I could count on one hand the number of times I had held a newborn baby. I think I just assumed that it would all come naturally, or that because my husband had two children already, he would be the expert – WRONG! As it turned out, I was afraid to change my son’s diaper. I had no breastfeeding technique. I would not put him in the bassinet at the hospital because I thought we would miss out on bonding. I refused to lay the hospital bed back so I could rest. In the 72 hours after my son was born, I slept maybe two hours. On about day four, I stood at the end of our bed with my son and husband, sobbing because I felt like a failure at diapering. I remember saying, “I cannot do this! And I’m so tired. I think I might die from this.” This was when the train officially came off the track.
My mind could not comprehend the new normal. It was winter, the days were short, no family was in town and now I was responsible for this baby boy. My husband worked from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. most days, I did not want to leave the house and I was convinced something terrible would happen at any moment. Break-ins, car crashes, tornadoes, murderous animals sneaking in, you name it and I thought it could happen. I cried for hours and hours every single day. The first time we put him in his swing, I burst into tears because he looked lonely. I put a diaper on him and wrapped him in a blanket because I was afraid I might scratch him or make him uncomfortable putting an outfit on and he would hate me.
Though we did have fun together. I regularly turned on music and danced with him or showed him little cartoon clips. I talked to him constantly (and I do mean nonstop), explaining what we were doing, naming objects, carrying on a one-sided conversation about what we should eat for dinner. Every moment of every day was not doom and gloom – but I was lost nonetheless.
Adrift as I was, I did not reach out and ask for the kind of help I (eventually) knew I needed. I rebuffed the idea of “Baby Blues.” While my OB/GYN did put me on an SSRI, it was not enough. If I could go back and change anything, I would have gotten myself to a therapist or a hospital and expressed just how bad it was. I never felt as if I would harm myself or my son, but I was in a very dark place. A telling example is the fact that the first time we left him with a sitter, I wrote her about two pages of notes, including a section devoted to how to handle feeling overwhelmed and what to do if she felt she might lose control. This was not normal behavior, and yet I couldn’t admit there was something wrong.
I reluctantly went back to work part-time when my son was 14 weeks old. I ran from my office to my car that first day in tears. I could not wait to see him. It took another seven months for me to return to work full time in finance for a state university. Considering the bare minimum employers are required to accommodate new parents in the US, I was lucky. I was relieved to see that he blossomed socially and still loved me once he started daycare. It was not perfect and never will be, but it has worked out for us. And my own emotional state gradually started to improve.
My son is now four, and it is only in the last year or so that I have begun to feel truly like myself again. Being a Mom is the best thing that ever happened to me. My son is my best pal and we do all kinds of crazy stuff together. He has already been to more concerts than a lot of people and the little dude even met Steven Tyler of Aerosmith! My fears are not gone – not by a long shot – but I have learned so much about letting go and letting life happen. I have learned that it is okay not to have all the answers or to have control over everything all the time.
And most importantly, I have learned that you are the expert on your own mental health in these situations. You must advocate for your care and for those around you to take your concerns seriously. There is nothing shameful in admitting you have an issue. Had I seen a therapist or a doctor and expressed myself more fully, perhaps I would not have suffered for so long. I know not all Moms go through what I went through, and I am so happy for those that do not. For those that do, though, know this: you are not alone.
Lauren Lee-Lewis is passionate about food, Italy, her son, and Steven Tyler. She has lived and worked abroad and, like Anthony Bourdain, thinks that the best way to get to know a culture is through a meal. She loves raising cats of abnormally large size and intends to live forever. When she is not working in finance for a state university, she may be found listening to Aerosmith, attending local festivals with her son, or shopping at Target. This ageless woman has been married since 2011 and intends to one day conquer the world.