A Mother’s Guide to Postpartum Depression

A Mother’s Guide to Postpartum Depression

Laura Howard
Spring 2019

Tell me, Lord, how I ended up here? How many women have gone through this before? Can you tell me if I am the only person who has been in this situation? Lord, you have helped me many times before, but I must say this is the lowest we have been. Do all women have this monstrous side and never utter their words? As I sit in this hallway, exposed to everyone, I think back to when this all began.

“I guess I should go change now. As soon as they send up the last bit of paperwork, we can go home.” Blake nodded as he held our newborn baby in his arms. Blake is the best husband; we have been best friends for the better part of six years. He knows me better than I know myself and takes pride in his knowledge of me. We were over the moon to be parents. We had only been married for two years and had not tried to get pregnant. I did not want the pressure of having a constraint such as that looming over us day in and day out. Oliver had come so easily, and it had been a perfect delivery. Twenty -one pushes in all, three sets of seven, 30 minutes total. I could deliver a hundred babies if it were as easy as this! Then why on earth was I feeling this way. I trudged into the bathroom, my body still ached, and I twinged with every step. I had not been brave enough yet to look in the mirror and for good reason. Have you ever seen someone who has just had a baby? It looks as if you’ve been hit by a truck and pieced back together by a careless seamstress. I peeled off my clothes and felt as if I were looking at a stranger. This could not be my body. Before pregnancy, I was not a model by any stretch of the imagination, but this, this was something wholly different. Tears poured down my cheeks. I was raw, naked, stitched, stretched, and empty. I had a perfectly healthy 8 lb. 13 oz. the baby boy who had consumed my entire life in a matter of 48 hours. This is not how I should be feeling. I tried to pull myself together. “Okay, you’ve got this.” I chanted my mantra over and over as I dressed. The tears would not stop coming. I made my way out of the bathroom and scrambled for my sunglasses. Pull yourself together, damnit. People will see you. My all too sweet husband was nothing but understanding. He marched over to me, took my hand, and led our new little family to the car. Blake kept asking me what was wrong, I had no answer. My inner monologue could not work these thoughts out into presentable words. One part of my brain was happy, but there was a darker part that could not see the light. The rain rolled down the car windows as fast as the tears on my cheeks.

When we pulled up to our house, there were people waiting to greet us. The new little family. Now, I asked myself why would people be waiting at your door step three seconds after my being released from the hospital. I still didn’t know. They were bringing gifts to meet their new nephew. Don’t get me wrong. I was pleased that everyone was kind enough to bring Oliver gifts, but timing is everything. Here I was stitched together like a patchwork quilt trying to make everything seem completely normal, having to host guests trying to figure out how to be a mom with an audience. I feel like this is parenting. You are try to figure out how to keep a human alive, and people judge you while you’re doing it. Nursing is a whole other thing entirely; herds of visitors were breezing through while I was learning how to breastfeed. That’s when I found my way out. I happily excused myself to go nurse about every 30 minutes. No one wanted to stay around during the hour it took me to feed, burp, and change Oliver. Blake was beyond helpful at night. I would nurse; he would burp. During the day I was greedy with Oliver, not accepting help from anyone. I noticed myself watching the clock when I would be able to escape again and find solitude.

Have you ever noticed how many people want to give their opinions when you are a new mother or father? This vexed me. Of course, now I understand that my anger was at a boiling point almost 24/7 and friends and family were just trying to be helpful. When I was suffering from, Postpartum Depression, I felt everyone was out to get me. My family would scoff and say, “You’re freaking out over nothing” or, my favorite, “He will be fine, you’re just a new mom”. I felt invalidated in everything I felt. No one understood. I was like I was speaking French and they only spoke English. Even Blake could not understand why I was so frantically worried all the time about the baby’s safety and health. All I wanted was validity for how I was feeling, and no one gave it. In the South, as women, we are taught to “hide your crazy.” This is something that had always been said to me, ALWAYS. I had no idea how much crazy could show.

Thank the Lord they did not start me to the bed of put me in a straight jacket as you see in the movies, not that I didn’t deserve to be in one, but this treatment was a bit extreme in my opinion. The scrub wearing henchmen kept eyeing me like I was a ticking time bomb about to detonate. I was already past thinking I had gone insane, I knew I had. The overreacting staff had confiscated all of my things. My clothes, phone, bobby pins, purse, cash, shoes, and my freaking bra. They took my bra, for crying out loud! If I had wanted to kill myself I would have driven off the bridge on the way over here, not garrote myself with my underwire. They did, however, let me hold on to a small piece of my pride by letting me keep my panties. Panties, my last shred of pride. Oliver was at daycare. Blake was still at work. I had convinced the nurses to let me call Blake and at least tell him where I was. I knew he would be frantic. I told him I was at Tennova, and they were taking my phone and all my things, He’d have to call the front desk for more information. The nurse stuck her hand out motioning for my phone and I whispered a hurried I love you before the call was disconnected.

Oliver’s first birthday was approaching at a rapid pace. The church was rented, the cake was ordered, invitations sent out, I had even made Mickey Mouse’s head into Rice Crispy treats. The past six months had been leaps and bounds easier. I had given up nursing when he was about 6 months old, this little freedom had helped tremendously. I was able to get out of the house, but that also took away my excuse of sneaking off when I got too overwhelmed, which was more often than I cared to admit. I knew his birthday would be a turning point. The SIDS risk was almost gone, he could use most medicines now, he was beginning to so for himself, and he was the most precious child to be around. Oliver’s smile and wit always lit up the room even when he was little. His Gerber baby smile had an effect on everyone. Even when the darkness crept in, he always stayed by a bright spot. Sarah, My best friend from nine hours away, was able to come in for the party. We chatted all afternoon, and I made snide comments about her not coming to see Oliver until his first birthday. Sarah replied, “Katie, I came to see him several times after you got home.” “You did,” I said. “I don’t remember even talking to you till just a few months ago about the party.” How had I completely forgotten that? How much more had I blocked out? Later, Blake and I were on the way home, our car loaded down like Santa’s sleigh, and I asked him about the conversation I had with Sarah. “Blake, Sarah said she came over after Oliver was born a couple of times and I just don’t remember that.” I stumbled over my words, still unsure. “Well, honey, you were out of it for months after we had Oliver, I am not surprised”. “What do you mean?” I asked. His answer was worse than I had imagined. He was reluctant to say anything, I could tell. “Katie, there were nights Oliver would be crying, and I couldn’t wake you up. You couldn’t help if you were so tired and weak. I feel like you’ve been just focusing on keeping your head above water for the past year. I couldn’t bear to tell you.” How could I have been so despondent? I had to do something to make this right. I could never get back the time I had lost. I was just sure it would be over soon.

The leader of the scrub wearing henchmen was quizzing me now. “Do you have any allies, Mrs. Murphy?” I, of course, said the first thing that came to my mind. I really do have a sick sense of humor. “They call me Tater Salad” was my reply. Why on earth at this moment would I choose to pull out my Ron White humor? If you are ever in a situation such as this, that is the last thing you should say. Apparently, in the Psych-Ward, the Nurses do not have much of a sense of humor. She, of course, did not smile at my ill-timed joke. She walked away without a smile as another Nurse approached. “Mrs. Murphy, it is time for the MRI now,” the nurse spoke to me gently. I was mortified as they wheeled me up through the hospital. What if someone saw me? What would they think? I forced my self to stay calm by making nervous conversation with the nurse who brought me up. I am intensely claustrophobic, My chest started to tighten, my breathing increased, and my palms started to sweat. I was not looking forward to being forced into an enclosed space. I knew I had to keep calm. I couldn’t have a panic attack while I was in there. My goal was to get out. I did not need to give them any more ammunition than they already had to keep me. I had never spent the night away from Oliver. I needed him, he needed me, we needed each other. Somehow I kept cool during the MRI. The kind nursed walked me back downstairs. After she dropped me off I felt bad. I had never asked her name. I was too consumed in my own thoughts to think to ask the one person who had been kind to me her name. After I had settled into my palace suite of a hallway bed complete with a thin blue curtain. Dr. Hopkins, the good doctor, came introduced herself to me. She was a tall, medium built woman, with a no-nonsense type of attitude. I immediately liked her. She went on to tell me that she had sent me up for an MRI to check and see if I had a brain tumor. I could see in her eyes she was trying to find a reason I was having these egregious thoughts. She didn’t think I was crazy. ” A brain tumor?” I asked. The words echoed around my head. Oliver would never remember his mother, and he wasn’t even three yet. All of this raced through my mind I did not catch the words she said. “You do not have a brain tumor, Katie. Did you hear me? Your face just went white as a sheet.” She said to sit with a smile. ” I am speaking with a few other doctors to get this worked out. We will get everything worked out,” she said. This afternoon I was not in the same place I was this morning. Oliver needed a mother and a good one. I had to be there for him and Blake no matter how difficult it was going to be. The doctors would get it worked out. They had to.

“While we live here at Gran’s, we will be able to save more money and pay everything off. We will be able to get a bigger house and start over.” Blake tried to reassure me as we unpacked our things into my childhood bedroom. The walls were still the Caribbean blue with the beach posters hanging on the walls. Everything was the same as I had picked out at age thirteen. We had lived with my grandmother before for a few weeks when we bought our first house, so it wouldn’t be bad. Plus, it would give Oliver more time with my grandmother. Blake and I had just sold our first house earlier that morning. I had been feeling pretty good, good days and bad days. No one’s life was perfect. We still couldn’t go to church, the movies, or any other crowded event without my planning an exit strategy and losing a couple of nights sleep beforehand. Blake was always so patient with me. I knew he didn’t understand. How could he? He never got angry with me, though, no matter how often he had to calm me down. I wanted to get better, I just wasn’t sure how. I remember vividly when I first noticed the panic when I felt true terror. I was walking by the TV when an A&E commercial for a new documentary came on. My feet stuck like glue to the floor. I couldn’t move. Why did this woman kill her two sons? She was obviously unhinged but what could cause her to commit such an unforgivable act? Could this happen to me? She was a mother, had a husband, job, and house. What made her any different from me? I was petrified. What if I went to sleep and is something horrible, unconsciously, in my sleep? I would never consciously hurt Blake or Oliver, I love both of them passionately. Could some kind of monster come over me and make me hurt the two things that mean the most to me? I would never do anything knowingly, so the only answer was to never make myself unaware. I would just evade sleep. If I did not sleep, then there was no chance of losing control.

Why do they keep hospitals so cold? I had at least three blankets covering me, and I was still cold. You would hear everyone going on, the click of each key pressed on the keyboard, the phone ringing constantly, the clip-clop of each footfall as they trapped down the hallways, and you could hear all of the voices. “Why did you give him plastic? That room is strictly prohibited from having any products like that.” The nurse walked quickly away muttering rudely under her breath. Thank heavens, Dr. Hopkins, the good doctor, had saved me from the scrub wearing henchmen. I had no idea how many men were in there, and I had no intention of finding out. Even though in the hallway was a bad place to be, there were worse places, especially sans bra. I was dressed in an ill-fitting scrub ensemble provided by the Henchmen. I felt afraid, naked, and completely ripped apart. The clock was ticking closer to seven by every mocking tick and tock. I could not spend the night in here, I needed Blake and Oliver. How long could they keep me? Dr. Hopkins interrupted my reverie by pulling back the curtain. “There is someone here to see you. We are all going to meet and talk together to see what we can work out” she said. She trusted me, she had too; otherwise, she would never have allowed me to meet anyone. My savior was here. I knew it. He had to be, my unwavering constant companion. I have only a few people that I can trust in the world, but he is unique. He knows the words etched on my soul, no matter what he will always be there. The room was dimly lit, one of those rooms the surgeon takes you to tell you your loved one has died. ” I am sorry, Mrs. So and so, but Mr. So and so didn’t make it through the surgery.” That’s exactly what was going through my mind when I saw him: Blake. He was sitting in a chair too small for him with tear brimmed eyes. We were petrified, but it was nice to know I wasn’t alone. “Give her a hug; she’s been through a lot today,” Dr. Hopkins said to Blake. This happens every time we hug: the world falls away if I let it. We held each other for what seemed like an eternity. When we finally sat down, we were both wiping our eyes. This meeting had remnants of our pre-marital counseling sessions. Except I looked like an escaped convict. I am by no stretch a beauty or a troll, I am somewhere in the middle, but sitting in my psych-ward mandated scrubs I felt pretty close to the latter. Blake had seen me in all types of conditions, but I could see the inmate look did not benefit me at all. Dr. Hopkins started by dressing me “Katie, I have spoken to Blake and we have discussed a brief synopsis of why you are here. Now, I want you to tell Blake what has been going on.” See, this is what I did not want to so. I wanted the doctors to give me a pill and say “Oh, you’re fine we will see you in six months.” That is not what happened.

Something had to be wrong with me. I had tears rolling down my face as I was working. Thank God my client had her eyes closed; doing eyelash extensions sometimes had its perks. I hadn’t slept in days, just mere minutes of dozing off every now and then. Because I couldn’t keep my weary eyes open. I dried my tears, untaped her eyes, finally got her out the door, and then I began to melt. There comes a point when you can no longer hold it in and apparently two years and ten months was my breaking point. One of my co-workers, Rachel, had heard me crying and tried to settle me down the best she could. She said that she had had the same problem after her second child had come. Since we went to the same OBGYN, I should just call, make an appointment, and they would get me set up. I canceled my clients for the day, wandered to my car, and made the call. The phone nurse asked all the boring questions about name, birthday, social, then the last one: “What is your appointment regarding?” I answered as calmly as I could: “I cannot sleep, I am scared all the time, I think I might need to go on medication.” Verbatim what Rachel tells me to say, right? Wrong! Something went horribly wrong! Maybe I put too much emotion into my response; maybe I sounded hysterical. Then she asked… “Have you had thoughts of hurting yourself or others?” I wanted to say no. Everything told me to say no, but I couldn’t. I did not want to hurt Oliver or Blake, but I kept fearing I’d be out of control. I answered simply, “Yes.” She told me to come right on in, and she would have the Nurse Practitioner see me immediately. I hung up the phone. I called Blake right away, crying of course. Why could I not stop the effing waterworks? This overwhelming sense of grief was getting on my nerves, and I imagine everyone else. “Hey Babe, I’m on my way to the Doctor, they are going to see if they can put me on some sort of medication so my emotions will get better.” He answered me, “Okay, just text me when you get there. The doctors will get it all figured out. Try and calm down. I love you.” Up until this moment, I had only told him the minimum. The last thing I wanted was to worry him. The Nurse Practitioner was nice as she tried to assess the problem: “So can you tell me explicitly what you’ve thought about using to hurt people?” I was trying to keep my emotions under control as I answered. “Yes, ma’am. Everything. We don’t own any guns so I don’t have to worry about that but everything else. I check everything at least twice before I go to bed to make sure I don’t have easy access to any harmful object. I am just so exhausted and scared. If I could just sleep without fear for a couple of hours…” I trailed off. Her face was kind and understanding, but I could see the worry etched in the lines by her eyes. She had no idea what to do with me. Rachel had painted a different picture for me. I had gotten lost somewhere in her directions, then had taken a wrong turn. She replied as kindly as she could with the face of a vet delivering euthanasia to a family pet. “I’m going to send you downstairs for an evaluation. I think it could be a Schizophrenia or Bipolar Disorder, but we can get you the best care. I will be back with someone to take you downstairs.” She closed the door softly behind her.

I knew it, I had finally cracked. Twenty-four, that’s how many years it took me to completely lose it. I don’t know if most people in their mid to late twenties go through this, if it is just mothers in their mid to late twenties, it is just mothers in general, or maybe just me. I had lost all control. I could not control my emotions, actions, words, or anything. I didn’t know where I was supposed to fit in the world anymore. I knew I was supposed to be a good mom, good wife, good worker, and a good friend. As of late, I had been none of the above. How long had it been since I had seen any of my friends? I wasn’t even sure that I still had friends. One of my best friends lived nine hours away and the other had kids of her own she was consumed with. I had lost my identity. Now they had just informed me that I had a mental disorder.

I finally decided to tell him. At this point I had nothing left to lose. ” I just feel scared all the time. What if I went to sleep and became some monster and hurt you or Oliver? I couldn’t bear that thought. I don’t want to hurt anyone. I am just so terrified of what could happen.” Dr. Hopkins and Blake both nodded, neither of them seeming frightened. Dr. Hopkins then addressed Blake, “Are you scared of Katie, Blake?” He chuckled as he replied, “No.” She turned and looked at me with a slight smile on her lips. “I do not think you have a Schizophrenic or Bipolar Disorder. I have spoken to a Psychiatrist, Dr. Stevens, and he agrees with me. We are in agreement that you have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder coupled with severe Separation Anxiety. I am going to release you as long as you promise that if you have any thoughts that you actually want to hurt someone or yourself, you will run screaming from the house and call me directly.” I heard all of the things she said but I had just one question, “Dr. Hopkins, How is this Obsessive Compulsive Disorder? I don’t touch things a certain number of times. I am not like “Monk” or anything. I just can’t control my thoughts.” “Of course not,” She replied. ” Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is just like any other disorder; it can manifest itself in different ways in different people, yours just happens to be thought fixation.”

The head nurse was surprised when Dr. Hopkins announced that she could draw up my release forms. Of course, she was. Look where I was. She had no idea how I had gotten there or why. People look at you differently once they know your weakness. I had exposed my weakness. I had given someone else power over me. I had to reverse that way of thinking, to not be so protective and feral in my feelings. I am who I am; no one can use my weaknesses against me if I don’t allow them. Everyone has one issue or another. Mine was not going to control me. I was released after that. I was still scared to go to sleep, but hopefully, the medicine would help and I had an appointment with the Psychiatrist, Dr. Stevens, in a few days. It was all going to get better from here, but that dark part of my mind that always crept in said, “You’ve said that before.
Dr. Stevens, the psychiatrist, helped to shed some light on my feelings. Walking into his office was overwhelming. Someone could see my car parked outside. Shame is an emotion that comes along with many disorders. Mine is no exception. My worst fear was admitting to someone that I did not have it all together. Dr. Stevens office building is in an urban part of town, next to some questionable apartments. The building was run down brick with a door that needed a few squirts of WD-40. His office was much more suited toward his personality. Books lined the shelves along with a worn Red’s hat. A beautiful painting of colonial Georgetown was on the wall directly behind his chair, the focal point of the room. Dr. Stevens, a tall gentleman around his sixties, had a grandfatherly look about him. He asked me all sorts of questions that I never would have thought pertained to my situation. Dr. Stevens asked about my whole life, asking about my parents and how I was as a child. I answered, “My parents divorced when I was eleven after that my mom and I had a rocky relationship. I moved in with my dad and grandparents.” Dr. Stevens asked, “Did you struggle with their divorce?” I replied, “Yes, I did. I remember calling my dad every day from school just to make sure he was okay. He came and checked me out a lot so I could be with him and not have to worry all day. I knew he was worried about me. I just constantly thought he would be in a car accident and I wouldn’t have anyone left.” “Do you remember having separation anxiety before that time when your parents got divorced?” Dr. Stevens asked. ” Yes, as long as I can remember. Kindergarten was tough for me. I cried behind a bookshelf every day. I constantly worried about my mom and me being separated forever. My parents tried to help and came to get me from school early on Friday’s. They spent extra time with me. We were a very close family. Many of my friends’ parents were going through divorces, and I would ask my parents if they were going to get a divorce. After the divorce, I pretty much lost touch with my moms’ side of the family and my brother and sister for a few years. My mom, siblings, and I have a great relationship now.” Dr. Stevens nodded while taking notes. “Katie, I am going to prescribe you Fluvoxamine, it’s an OCD medication, and I think it will help you to sleep. You and your husband have got to talk to one another. This is nothing to be ashamed of. I want you to check into cognitive therapy. I can give you recommendations of a therapist. I suggest then you can check with your insurance to see which ones are covered. I want you to come back and see me in six weeks, and if you have any problems between now and then, you can give me a call.” When I walked out to my car, I realized I had left the car running. Thank the Lord for remote start cars. I had my keys in my pocket, and just a bit of gas used up. I had all the tools I needed to get better. I knew I could not hold in my emotions any longer. I had to speak up. Blake and I had to have open lines of communication from now on. Socially, it is unacceptable to admit there is something wrong. We must change this misconception. There is nothing wrong with needing help. Some may not understand. Some may be judgmental. You do not need these people. Pruning is sometimes necessary to keep your garden growing. A word of caution to all that struggle in Postpartum Depression. Regardless of the symptoms you are experiencing, if you do not feel right, do not wait to talk with someone. This is a silent killer that creeps in like the tendrils of fog. I encourage you to go get help. No one should have to live in fear alone.

Today my days look the same and different simultaneously. Fear. That’s the emotion that grips me on the bad days, a fear that I cannot leave the house or something dreadful will happen. A fear that I will never be able to go into a movie and not worry about getting shot. A fear that my husband and son will not be in peril every time they cross the threshold. Fear is everywhere for me. I fight it every day. Blake holds me till I stop sobbing on the bad days. Those only come every now and then. I hope the time never returns where I have to hold my head between my knees just to see something besides the terror. When it does come again, I hope I can handle it better now and with more grace than before.