Saturday, October 5, 2013

Thinking about Postpartum Depression

When niblet was born I was sad.  Very sad.

My OB, in hindsight, didn't ask me many questions about how I was feeling.  I am fairly sure I filled out some sort of standardized questionnaire about my feelings at my 6 week visit, but I am pretty confident I would have checked off all of the boxes that said "nothing to see here, kids, all's honky-dory."

Niblet's pediatrician showed a few signs of concern at her early well-baby visits, given that I was a quivering teary-mess.  She had colic, you see, and cried for about 8 hours straight every day, from about 3-11pm  (no, really, I promise you, I am not exaggerating.  I wish I was).  He explained the "baby blues" and noted that once niblet started adjusting to the world better, in a few weeks I would feel better too, my hormones would regulate, things would look up.

Unfortunately, they didn't.  I was still pretty fucking sad well after the normal two-week period of baby-blues had passed.  And with the sadness came guilt.  How could I be depressed?  What kind of ingrate was I?  I had given birth to this incredibly beautiful, stunning life.  Relatives came to stay, friends came to visit, we were literally immersed in love, we were truly a lucky little family.  But it didn't matter, I just felt awful and powerless.  And very afraid.

It's difficult for me to conjure the memories of the many months that I felt on the verge of breaking during niblet's infancy.  But while many friends expressed concerns about my well-being and stability, I never actually sought additional medical help.

My hormones started regulating - or at least, my depression abated -  after about 5 months of what I consider "phoning in" my mothering.  Don't get me wrong, Niblet was nursed and hugged and carried and cooed at and given all of the attention plus some during those early months, but I often felt like I was having an out of body experience while devoting that attention.  Anyone looking at me would see an ordinary mom enjoying her newborn, and not the reality of a scared mother who spent many hours feeling disconnected and dead inside. 

I was obviously driven to write this post by the recent capitol hill shooting.  It got me thinking about my own circumstances, how even with great access to medical care and an extensive support network of friends and family (including a husband who is incredibly "hands-on" about fathering), my less-than-picture perfect reaction to childbirth was incredibly frightening.  It also got me thinking about the only other times I ever felt this deep, dark weight - after my two miscarriages (though more acutely with the first one, characterized by through the roof HCG levels, when I had carried my doomed cancer baby for nearly three months).

Women who suffer miscarriage are often told to just go home, rest a day, stay out of swimming pools and warm baths if they've had a D&C, and refrain from sex for a few weeks. My own OB actually told me I would be physically "just fine" one day after my first D&C.  I don't know about you, but no one ever explained to me that I would feel awful, not just from existential grief, but from the rapid hormone drop I would experience.  In a way, I was lucky to know my body so well from my past experience, I could anticipate what I knew would also be a dreadfully painful physical reaction to my miscarriage, let alone the emotional one.  And lo and behold I anticipated correctly, because the depression that came on was a doozy. 

I wonder how many women out there are suffering very real physical hormonal after-effects of miscarriage and told to basically suck it up and get on with their day?  How many women who carry babies and lose them in their second and third trimester are being monitored?  Yes, some people expect them to be sad, but how many doctors are really watching for the potential after-effects of very real chemical crashes they are experiencing?

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