Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Postpartum healing: The Mental Side

Today is my last day of family leave, and then it's back to the daily grind. I'm sad that I can't spend every moment with Liam....but I'm also glad that I won't be spending every moment with Liam.

I had my two week follow-up appointment from my 6 week postpartum appointment today. I had a follow-up because at my 6 week appointment I was diagnosed with severe postpartum depression/anxiety. And that's what I want to write about now.

As I wrote about in my last post, I feel pretty much back to normal physically. But mentally/emotionally? That's a completely different matter. The first four weeks with Liam were a blur; but a happy, sleep-deprived blur. So much was happening (the birth, buying a house, moving, etc) that I didn't really have time to think about anything. I was operating on pure adrenaline. We visited my parents (a wonderful trip) and tried to settle into the new house. I was still nursing around the clock. Jimmy was on leave with me, so it felt like a team effort. Things were fine.

And then he went back to work, and everything came crashing down. Although Jimmy gets the same 8 weeks of paid leave as I do, we decided he would only use 4 at first, and then save the remainder for later/emergencies.  There were a lot of factors that went into this decision, and it was the best decision given our circumstances. But it sucked.

I'm a first-time mother. I have NO experience with infants. I had no help either. Both sets of our parents were unavailable due to health issues, and with the house purchase we had no extra money to hire outside help (such as a postpartum doula). I was on my own. Completely on my own. I had no car at the time, so I couldn't go anywhere. I could take strolls around the neighborhood with Liam, but living in such a rural area, there was really no place to go within walking distance. I would spend an entire day not talking to another adult human being, let alone another parent. I felt like I had been dropped onto a raft in the middle of the ocean without any paddles/oars, and told to head for land. I was overwhelmed. I was lonely. I was scared.

I spent more time crying than Liam did. He was having trouble nursing*, and I felt like a complete failure. Every nursing session was a battle, and I began to resent having to feed him so often. He wasn't gaining weight, and that scared me. I began a ridiculous schedule of nursing/pumping/supplementing with formula every 2 hours, around the clock, that left me exhausted and hating breastfeeding. I felt like I had to breastfeed at all costs*, so this was becoming a major ordeal. I dreaded every nursing session. I watched Liam like a hawk to make sure he was actually swallowing what little milk I was producing. It was exhausting for both of us. Pumping wasn't going much better. I could barely get 2 oz a day. I began to loathe the sound of that damn pump, and hated the time it was stealing from me.

At his next weight check, he had gained weight! The bare minimum, but it was still a gain! I was so relieved. And then the nurse came into the room to congratulate me and told me to "just keep doing what you've been doing!". And I broke down into sobs. There was just NO WAY I could keep doing what I was doing. It was killing me. I needed a break. I needed to sleep.

So I said enough was enough, and made the decision to just formula feed. I felt (still feel) tremendous guilt over not breastfeeding, but Liam has been gaining weight & feeding him no longer feels like a battle. He smiles! He's happy, and I'm happy.  Plus, Jimmy gets to help out too, so that's a bonus.

I still felt overwhelmed, however. I became afraid to leave the house. I couldn't be away from Liam for more than 15 minutes before I became terrified that something horrible was happening/happened to him. I felt like I was drowning.

When I was still in training as a police officer (so many years ago, ha) a call came out for a shooting at our communications building (this is where our dispatchers/911 call takers worked). It wasn't our call so we didn't go, but I did get to talk to the officers that went afterwards. A female police officer that was assigned there had locked herself in the bathroom. I don't remember what had set her off, but she refused to come out. The responding officers tried to talk her into coming out, but ultimately she ended up shooting herself & died.

She had a 6 week old newborn at home.

I hadn't thought about her in YEARS. I don't even remember her name. I do remember thinking that I couldn't understand how a person could do that. She had a brand new baby at home that needed her. What would drive a mother to abandon her child? What would that kid think when he grew up?! I couldn't understand it.

Until now. I understand now.

And that scared me, and that's when I knew I needed help.

At my 6 week postpartum follow-up appointment (which took every bit of my strength to get to, especially since I had to bring Liam with me. I kept imagining horrible car accidents on the way), I think we got as far as "how are you doing?" before I broke down into tears and couldn't stop. I basically hit every note on the postpartum depression scale. We didn't even get a chance to get to the physical part of the exam.

She prescribed an antidepressant & told me to join a mom's group for support (which I have, application is pending. Yes, they take applications). The antidepressant is working, thank god. I never thought I would be the type of person that would need medication. But it's amazing. About a week after I started taking it, I felt completely different. It was like everything had been a bad dream. I didn't feel paralyzed or drowning anymore. It just reassured me that I wasn't crazy--just my hormones had thrown everything way off balance. I feel so much better mentally/emotionally.

I still feed bad that I can't breastfeed, and sometimes I still feel despair when Liam is crying. But its not crippling anymore. It passes. I feel more confident as a mother.

Cycling/running have always been my go-to when it came to lifting my mood, so I've been trying to work them in as much as I can. It's hard though, when there's a baby that needs looking after. Soon he'll be strong/big enough to use the jogging stroller & maybe to put in a bike trailer. In the meantime, I try to work in 20-30 minutes of running/biking when I can. I'm really, really hoping that I can be back out on bike patrol when I go back to work. I really need it, especially since I no longer bike commute.

I'm still working on getting through this PPD/PPA. I spent a good portion of the day crying because it is my last day home with Liam. I know I'll be struggling for a a bit. But I just need to take it day by day. I'm also excited to get into a regular routine again. Being on leave with Liam has been great, but it also kind felt like I was floating in the wind. I don't like that feeling. I need a routine to ground me. Going to work everyday will hopefully help with that.

*I have SO MUCH TO SAY about the crappy way postpartum mothers are treated, and how "Breastfeeding Support" is anything but supporting. This is probably not the blog for that, though. I will say that finding the Fearless Formula Feeding group saved my sanity, and that the current Breastfeeding Cult Groupthink is awful & terrible, and anytime a group tries to ACTIVELY KEEP CHOICES AND KNOWLEDGE FROM WOMEN, that is not a women-friendly group. Pro-choice isn't just about abortions, its about all decisions that women make about their own bodies, including breastfeeding (or not).