Hang on folks, this is a long one! This post has been a long time coming, thanks for your patience as I get it all off my chest. Let me assure you that I write all of this safely ensconced in normal (or almost-normal) land on the other side of crazy. Deep breath, here we go.
Two years ago I was a newbie - Liliane was about six weeks old, Stéphane was back at work and I was learning how to be someone's mother. A Mom. Or Maman in my case. I cried at least once a day in those first weeks, then months. It was OK because there is no shortage of reasons to cry after giving birth. Hormones, sleep deprivation, you name it, you can cry about it.
Then we figured out the transition to formula (Hallelujah! Thanks Baby Guru!) and at three months our now happy and content baby was sleeping in her own crib (not curled all hot and twitchy into my insomniac chest). The difference to our family life was tremendous. We were all well rested, Liliane was thriving, I genuinely enjoyed those months.
But then it was summer and although Liliane was now sleeping 11 hours a night and our routine was stable and even sometimes fun, I was still not myself. I fantasized about breaking things, throwing plates and smashing glasses. I had a dark well of anxiety that was now installed in my chest. Liliane was learning how to eat solids and dinner time became a high point of stress for me when she wouldn’t eat and I couldn’t figure out what to give her. Much howling ensued.
June 23, 2008 was the first time I imagined shaking my tiny daughter to make her stop screaming. It was dinnertime, Liliane was yowling and Stéphane had just gotten home. When that violent and horrible image came to me, I cracked and left the house. But not before slamming the cupboard door and the front door as hard as I could bringing sweet, guilty relief for a moment followed by remorse and stinging tears. I wandered around our neighbourhood sobbing, terrified for myself, for what I thought I could do.
I desperately wanted our OLD life back. The one where I knew what I was doing, where I had fun, where I could experience joy. I sat in a little park not far from home and let the tears flow, not caring who saw.
An hour later I slunk in the front door overwhelmed by shame and failure. My husband was equal parts worried, apologetic and confused. I held Liliane and hated myself for losing control, for maybe scaring her. That night I went online and Googled Montréal+postpartum depression and found my psychologist, Dr. Z. I left her a message and she called me the next day. We set up an appointment for the following week and she sent me some evaluation forms to fill in before our meeting.
Sitting down with her that day in June started me on the road to reclaim my life. I sat down and promptly burst into tears. I remember saying that I didn't know what was wrong with me. On paper, I had no reason to be so unhappy. I was overwhelmed with feelings of failure and anger and remorse and despair. She took one look at the information on the forms and diagnosed me with Postpartum depression on the spot. She confirmed that I wasn't suicidal (I wasn't) and ruled out bipolar disorder. She explained that we were going to do cognitive behaviour therapy and that I was going to be OK.
I did some research and knew that this approach was effective and didn't involve any medication. But don't get me wrong! I'm not an anti-pill person. I'm the first one to reach for the Advil when I get a headache, and if you read this blog regularly you know that I'm not afraid of dosing my toddler with Motrin or Tylenol or Gravol when necessary. But I really wanted to explore the possibility of beating this on my own steam.
But let me be clear about this: I was lucky, I had the luxury of deciding. I wasn't suicidal or paralyzed by anxiety or the very real fear of hurting my child. My case was absolutely minor compared to what a lot of new mothers go through. I applaud those women for getting help through medication because it takes just as much courage (if not more) to get all that (dosage, side effects) figured out.
The road to finding my normal again was long and a little bumpy. I had two appointments with Dr. Z before I took Liliane on a solo trip to B.C. for ten days. Looking back now it is safe to say that I hadn't at all mastered the coping skills I needed to be a travelling single parent so that trip, well, it SUCKED. The whole family was sick with the flu! My brother and SIL visiting from NYC were getting sick! My Dad and his wife of 25 years were splitting up! But super busy with work so never home! I didn't have anywhere for my 9-month old to sleep since the crib was at my Mom's! Liliane got the flu and barfed for days! My grandparents were away! My fantasy of handing off my kiddo and comforting my fragile psyche in the safe haven of HOME was exactly that, a fantasy.
Man it was hard work. I had a breakdown (complete with tears and hysteria) when I realized I left Liliane's bottle at my sister's house 45 minutes away. That's part of the fun, too, an inability to remember things. Like an emotional, irrational version of the dotty old aunt at family gatherings. So that was fun, I gave my Mom, brother and SIL a little taste of the crazy. Hi! This is the new me! They rallied around me and fixed the (really not a problem) problem (I think my adorable brother bought one of each bottle at the store, just in case). In spite of their kindness, it's still horrible to be that vulnerable. Not to mention unhappy! Not to mention the awareness of just how unbalanced you are in the face of people who maybe don’t know the real (new and cuckoo) you.
When I got back I kept up regular appointments with Dr. Z and we worked on all kinds of issues. I had homework to do every week and every painful session led to a gradual but perceptible healing. I learned how to handle panic attacks, invasive thoughts, anger and despair. With her help I undid the knots that had formed in my seratonin-lacking brain and dug deep down to dispell my conviction that I was an unfit mother. Surprise!
I started sharing my experience with my friends because I absolutely believe that we need to TALK ABOUT THIS STUFF. It’s not a mystery, it’s not a shameful secret, postpartum depression affects anywhere from 10 to 28% of all mothers. That is as much as one out of almost every three women. Isn’t that wild?
I am eternally grateful for the support I received during those difficult days. My own family and my church family and all the prayer warriors that were behind me and still pray for me now. My friends who spoiled me and listened to my sad stories and made sure I got out and had some fun. My husband, my best friend who stepped up to the plate and parented for the both of us, who kept me accountable, kept my feet on the ground.
And to my sweet Liliane who doesn’t even realize what a hot mess her mother turned out to be. Baby, all I can say is that all this wacky chemical brain stuff has nothing to do with you and everything to do with how my brain is made. You are by far the best adventure your Papa and I have ever been on and I want you to know that you will always be my greatest accomplishment. I love my work and am proud of some of the things I’ve done in my life so far, but none of it will ever compare to the day you and your head full of strawberry hair came into this world. You will always be enough for me. Plus I’ve already started your future therapy fund, so don’t worry about that :)
Well okay, rereading this big fat post makes me afraid to publish, but I feel like I owe it to you readers and fellow parents, and to myself. This whole motherhood thing is as complex as it is miraculous and we owe it to each other to keep it real.
So thanks for reading! And possibly commenting! If you need any information or if you think I can answer any questions you might have, please email me.
Back to our regular cheery, photo-filled programming in a few days. It’s the Santa Claus parade on Saturday and I promise to post some clearly non-depressing pictures of the big event.
Am also hoping to report by then that Liliane is over her new sleep issues. It’s a whole new nightmare of possibly teething related unwillingness to fall asleep AND then to wake up at 3 and try to get me to come and rock her by calling Maman over and over and over and over and over again. Until I wish to TEAR MY EARS OFF just so I don’t have to hear her voice anymore. Oops, did I say non-depressing?