My Invisible Battle

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The little one was 15 days old here, and I’m beyond exhausted.

I’ll warn you that this will be a LONG post and it’s a post that is deeply personal to me. I’ve dealt with this for some time now (far too long actually) and I’m ready to let the world know I’ve fought hard and valiantly. This is not what I normally post on my blog, but I want my story out there in the hopes that another mom will be helped through my experience. You are not alone in this and this is something that needs to be discussed way more than it is.

Some people call postpartum depression “the smiling depression” because mom’s often try to put on a happy face even when they’re depressed. – postpartum.net

Being a new mom is scary. It’s damn scary! While you’re pregnant (with your first child), you often hear stories from other moms, but you usually don’t hear the scary ones. No one tells you how hard labor is, how gory the actual delivery will be (seeing birthing videos just don’t compare to experiencing it yourself), how hard recovering is while concentrating on keeping the baby alive, how hard your first poop after delivery is, and basically dealing with your new baby. Then someone mentions postpartum depression (PPD) in passing and you know it’s something you should be aware of but think “it won’t happen to me” and let it go.

PPD can happen to any new mom…or dad, and there’s no real cause. From what I’ve researched, 1 in 7 women will suffer from PPD (postpartum.net). Symptoms can pop up in the first few weeks after birth and can develop as late as six months (mayo clinic). Actually, the consensus online is that it can happen at anytime in the first 12 months. How long it lasts depends on when help is sought out. In some cases it can last years (NIH).

It’s important to know and remember that the baby blues is NOT the same thing as PPD. The baby blues happens within the first few days and lasts about 2 weeks. It’s usually associated with the hormone change because your body is trying it’s hardest to normalize after carrying a tiny human inside for 9 months.

You can waste hours or days Googling the symptoms. The ones that best fit me were on Postpartum Progress. I could relate to every single one of them. So, this is where my story beings.

My gorgeous, silly, and affectionate son is now 2.5 years old, and I have suffered and fought a very hard and long battle with PPD in those 2.5 years. It’s taken me this long to finally admit that I have been fighting this war and that it’s finally time to seek help. I have suffered in silence long enough, and my husband and son have also suffered along with me.

I knew I wanted to breastfeed our son, but I had NO clue how hard it would be. I pictured the two of us would miraculously pick it up somehow when natural instincts would kick in. Boy was I wrong! He didn’t know what he was doing and I certainly didn’t know what I was doing, so we were learning together.
There are so many different opinions from so-called experts, doctors, nurses, friends, family, and your neighbor’s uncle’s sister who knows someone on how to nurse. You nurse for so long on one side and then switch, or nurse on one side and then go to the other side for the next feeding. For me, personally, that took the “specialness,” if you will, out of it. Nursing became mechanical, and not a bonding opportunity.
I didn’t bond with my son immediately either. I distinctly remember thinking this when he was about two months old. TWO MONTHS OLD! Two months had gone by and I felt like I hadn’t bonded with my baby. Obviously he had bonded with me because he’d look at me and flash his cute little toothless smile. I’d smile back and shower him with kisses and hugs, but it didn’t feel like I was giving 100%. There was some part of me that felt nothing.
While I was trying to get the hang of nursing, my nipples were sore and I had blocked milk ducts…twice! Me being me, I Googled what was going on and dealt with it myself. Also, I wasn’t producing a lot of milk. When I pumped, I’d manage to get 2 ounces and that was on a good day!I was SO proud of myself when I managed to pump 4 ounces one time! Just once. We agreed to supplement with formula from the start because he had jaundice (which apparently is pretty common in little bitty babies), and that made feel inadequate. (One of many things!) I didn’t want to admit to anyone outside of family that that’s what we were doing because breast is best you know. I felt a tremendous amount of pressure to breastfeed and I cried A LOT because I already felt like I was failing at being a good mother.
I had a partial third-degree tear and an episiotomy. Plus my son was too busy sucking his thumb that he required the assistance of forceps. So sitting was extremely difficult! On top of that, I swear we were having the hottest September ever! We had no A/C (not standard in Northern Alberta) so I was hot and sweating, it felt like my son was sweating when I held him to nurse, and I couldn’t find a comfortable position to sit in to nurse him. I always felt like I was sitting in a way that would pull on the stitches. I tried everything. I was scared to death of messing something up down there.
My in-laws were in town for the first month. I was embarrassed at first whenever I left to go nurse. Why? In my mind it made sense because they know what I’m doing. Something that’s supposed to be private all of a sudden wasn’t anymore. Not to mention them, especially my father-in-law, knowing why it was so difficult for me to sit. Irrational, I know, but that’s how I felt at the time.
The month they were here probably helped delay the onset of my PPD. Even though my kitchen was rearranged (I can joke and laugh about that now), it was nice having my mother-in-law around to hear about her birth experiences and to ask questions. I won’t forget to mention that we were also unbelievably and incredibly lucky to have them fly from Scotland to Edmonton to help for a whole month!
The Hubs only had five days of paternity leave and I cried when he had to go back to work. How as I going to do this by myself? How was I supposed to measure out the formula? How do I mix it up? What if I measured it wrong and accidentally poisoned our child? What if I can’t do it on my own? I was too embarrassed to ask for help (at the beginning). I don’t know how to clean his little belly button, how do I do it? Eventually I got over my embarrassment of not asking for help. The real fear came when they left. All of a sudden we had to plan and cook meals ourself, and there was no help.
As a new mother, you don’t know what to expect. There are no manuals and everyone’s experience is different. What worked for one person might not work for you. So, when I saw other women who seemed to be natural mothers I compared myself to them. You know the ones who seem to be happy all the time, can manage to get dress and put on make up everyday, and seem to be totally in love with their baby. Why couldn’t I be like that?
Getting out of the house was a big deal to me. Going to the grocery store seemed like I had accomplished something amazing like climbing Mt. Everest. I didn’t want to see anyone because I was fighting an invisible battle and I didn’t know what was wrong.
I had no sex drive. Like none. Zero. I kept apologizing to my husband, and he graciously understood and was compassionate. However, that didn’t stop me from worrying about him “going somewhere else.” I was terrified that he was going to cheat on me. It was totally irrational, but those were the thoughts running through my mind.
On top of that, I felt like I couldn’t really “unload” or talk about things to the Hubs because I didn’t want to worry him. He was dealing with his own problems (at the time) and I didn’t want to add to them. Sometimes he couldn’t sleep at night or ended up on the couch because he was so stressed out. I did not want to contribute to that so I kept everything inside.
I couldn’t control my thoughts so the only thing I felt I could control was my son’s schedule. He would eat, nap, bathe, and go to sleep at a certain time. We had to be home for lunch and for his nap no matter where we were. And I mean, I didn’t care where we were. We had to be home. I was so rigorous with his schedule that I know I totally sucked the fun out of his time with his grandparents when they visited. They didn’t tell me verbally, but I saw the disappointments on their faces. I saw it on my husband’s face way more times than I care to count. Also, in retrospect, I think I used the schedule to avoid socializing with people. Ever see a wild animal trapped? That’s how I felt in social situations. I just didn’t want to socialize with anyone even if they were very dear friends.
Everyday I felt like I was walking through a very thick fog. My memory had disappeared, my libido was gone, I felt despair a lot, and I really felt like I was failing as a mother. Sure I was keeping him alive by feeding him, bathing him, changing him, and trying to love him. See what I just wrote there? “Trying to love him.” I felt I couldn’t connect and by connect I mean I didn’t fall in love with my child instantaneously. This was one of the main reasons why I felt like I was failing. I honestly didn’t think it was until a few months when I started to really love my child.
I am not proud to admit this, but I do remember several times crying while changing my son’s diaper and thinking that he and my husband would be better off without me. I felt like I wasn’t coping and my husband seemed to be better at taking care of him. I remember thinking that several times. The thought wasn’t strong enough to make me act on it, thankfully, but it was strong enough to make it’s presence known in my mind. I am thankful that the good Lord decided my time on this Earth wasn’t to end then.
I took up running again. The hour or so that I was running was the only time I could quiet my mind. I could be in the present and think of nothing but my feet hitting the pavement and concentrating on my stride (I HATE YOU SHIN SPLINTS!!). It was also the only time I felt confident again. I felt like my old self. But for some excuse or another, I stopped. Then my fog and irrational thoughts returned.
When I did start running again, for some reason the fog didn’t lift as much as it did before. I remember thinking why isn’t this exercise working? Then slowly new irrational thoughts and doubts invaded. I’d compare myself to others, again, and get discouraged. Only this time it was about running and not breastfeeding.
One day the Hubs mentioned postpartum depression to me. I don’t recall how he broached the subject, but I vaguely remember lashing out at his observation. I have always prided myself on my mental strength and stubbornness. I don’t think mental illness is taboo, but it’s different when it’s you. Hearing about someone you know who’s friend has a mental illness is one thing, but when it’s yourself it’s something you don’t want to hear.
However, 2.5 years later, I am now coming to the realization that I’ve been dealing with PPD. I felt overwhelmed and I felt like I had to do it all by myself. In turn, that made me feel helpless. I didn’t know what to do and I felt like I had no one to ask for help. I felt guilty because I wasn’t turning out to be a good mother that I had pictured. I resented my husband because he got to get out of the house (even if it was work). At times I actually thought I was getting early-onset Alzheimer’s because I couldn’t remember things and I couldn’t think of the words I wanted to say. I think at one point I couldn’t remember who the President was! After I came to terms with it, amazingly I felt a huge weight lift off me. It’s almost as if a ton of bricks have been physically lifted off my chest. I feel physically lighter!
I love my son. I feel I have bonded with him and he and my husband are bringing me out of my fog, but that fog still has a grip on me. It might not totally encase me as before, but it’s still holding onto my ankle. It still takes a tremendous amount of energy and effort for me to get out and socialize with people. Sometimes I think because I was a shut-in that I’ve forgotten how to socialize. I also believe that some of my friendships have suffered during my time deep in the fog.
I do feel I am getting better. I am trying to socialize more. Sometimes I go back to my hobbit hole and just can’t muster the energy or desire to go out. I love bonding with my son. He’s a good-natured boy who gives honest-to-goodness belly laughs. He loves dressing up in hats and shoes. He LOVES any equipment that has to do with construction and trains. I am the one he comes to first if he gets hurt and when he says “I love you Mommy” my heart flutters. I feel like I’m able to communicate better, I don’t resent my husband, I don’t compare myself to others anymore, I’ve stopped feeling guilty about my misadventures in breastfeeding, the irrational thoughts have been silenced, and I fully believe my family (my husband and my child) need me here with them. I am slowly learning it’s ok to not be ok and I am not alone.
To those I have hurt, disappointed, or lashed out at I am truly sorry. After fighting this invisible battle by myself for so long, I am finally seeking help.
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3 thoughts on “My Invisible Battle

  1. Thanks for writing this vivid, raw description of your experience. I had many of the same feelings and experiences, especially with breastfeeding. I also lacked a will to do anything, found myself overcome with rage, and wanted nothing but to lay in a dark room by myself much of the time. I’m glad you are finally seeking help. Being a new mom is tough. It sounds like you have done very well caring for your little one, and it’s great you are now taking care of yourself!

    Like

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