“Just remember Tracy, you aren’t alone and thousands of women go through this every day. It will be okay!”
These are the words my gynecologist told me two days after I had my panic attack when my blubbering, disheveled mess of a self was sitting in his office. He’s also a coworker of mine so we have a very laid-back relationship. He came in and asked “Tracy, what’s wrong?” and I just started bawling. I did the same thing at Urgent Care two days before and also all day every day while I was on the phone with everyone under the sun I could think of who could possibly help me. My eyelids were half swollen shut from crying and I didn’t want to be seen in public, but I knew I needed help. Was a suicidal or homicidal? No, thank God. Many women do get this way and I can’t imagine how scary it is. Well then, what was the problem? I don’t know how to be a mom and I don’t know what to do with my baby during the day. He intimidates me. I don’t know why, can’t begin to even fathom why, but’s it’s how I felt and it was very visceral and real. For seven weeks or so before this when he was a newborn I was doing okay, and then just WHAM! I was hit with this bullshit. That’s how I felt about it too, that it was all bullshit. It wasn’t fair. I should be able to just snap out of it. What the hell is wrong with me? Why don’t I have control over my own mind?
During the first few weeks after the major panic attack I had (technically the onset of my PPA), I kept wishing, hoping, praying that there was some way to fix myself overnight. It’s discouraging because antidepressants take a while to fully set in, then if one doesn’t work you have to try another one, etc. When you’re in the middle of it, it truly feels as if there is no end in sight. The major problem with my anxiety is that I live in a “what if” world, not the present. If I could stay in the here and now (which is my primary focus and what I struggle to do every day), I wouldn’t have some of the issues I do. Logically I know I can take care of myself, because I still do it! Logically I know that my husband and son aren’t better off without me. Logically I know that things will get better. Throw the logic out the window, anxiety doesn’t care. The anti-anxiety medications were helping me tremendously with the intrusive thoughts I was having and the other physical symptoms, but there were still nights I couldn’t sleep. If a miraculous cure-all existed (which it doesn’t), I desperately wanted it. I wanted to be myself again. I wanted to find my “new normal”. What I have come to realize over the past few months is that having people to talk to is probably the number one contributor to my recovery thus far. I’m not even talking about therapy per se, just getting it out and telling other people what I’m going through, whether they share it, understand it or not, it doesn’t matter. Just the vocalization and opening up has helped so much. Ergo, one of the reasons I started this blog.
I don’t believe that PPA ever just “goes away”, but it ebbs and flows. Some days are worse than others, some weeks worse than others. Some nights I will be trying to feed Brock a bottle while he screams like a banshee because he doesn’t want to sleep and I text my husband saying, “I never should have become a mother, I am not cut out for this shit. Never again!”. I know this isn’t true, it’s just a moment in passing and getting through those moments is becoming easier simply because I am getting used to it and I know that I will have moments like this long after Brock reaches his teenage years. All parents fuck their kids up, just “do it brilliantly” as my doula says. It’s just part of motherhood. What isn’t and shouldn’t be part of motherhood is letting a “moment” drag me down deep into the pit I’ve been struggling so hard to climb out of.
The week before last, I had somewhat of a relapse; the third one I’ve had. By relapse I mean going through about a week or two of how I felt initially when this all started. I was doing better when my parents got home and then it was time to go back to the office to work, so a couple of nights before the looming Monday (5/13), I started feeling disassociated again and was having a hard time sleeping. This time I was able to recognize the problem and it wasn’t a meltdown like I’d had before, but I had 2-3 days of crying spells and also got a new therapist. The second relapse I had was when Brock started fighting me with going to bed. He had a bad teething weekend and he was just screaming at the top of his lungs but I had already given him everything – Tylenol, whiskey (don’t judge me!), Orajel, and he also wears his amber necklace to sleep. After ten minutes of him crying — no, screaming — I started crying. I frantically texted a bunch of crazy shit to my husband and then called my doula. She didn’t answer so I called my mom. My mom said I had to go soothe him but I had tried everything. Holding him, rocking him, swaying, standing up, sitting down, laying him down… nothing was stopping it. He finally did end up going to sleep and the next day after much research and talking with the doctor, I realized that he wasn’t in pain. He just didn’t want to go to bed. The next night I knew what to expect and sure enough, he had a great day at my parents’ house and then it came time to sleep and he started screaming again. Thus, the sleep training began and things are getting better now. One little blip in my routine or change to what I know acts like a monkey wrench. Sure, part of it is I am a first time mom but the large part of it is the PPA. Realizing these things is half the battle.
Anyway, I digress. My third relapse occurred when my aunt stopped helping me with Brock on the weekends and I was thrown cold turkey into taking care of him all day long, which up until this point had been my biggest fear. I can definitely say now that when someone in your support system betrays your trust, or makes you feel strange, or is becoming a hindrance in ANY WAY, it’s time to cut him/her loose. I’ve seen many women experience this especially with spouses or in-laws which is very unfortunate. In my situation it happened to be my aunt. She is a recovering addict and I am not going to disclose too much here since my blog is public, but I couldn’t have made it through the month that my parents were gone without her. I will be forever grateful to her for the help she gave me when I needed it most. She stayed with us five days a week while I worked from home and even took care of Brock at night so both Rob and I could sleep. It was a blessing and I felt like I got to know her very well. I hadn’t communicated much with her in the past and it turned out we had similar senses of humor and our personalities just meshed. It was awesome! I knew to not get too attached because of previous family members’ experiences but my mom (who is her older sister) thought things had changed with her for the better. About two weeks ago we had a total falling out and it was one of those instances where you know damn well you did nothing wrong, but the other person involved either conceives something in her mind that isn’t really true just so she can cope with whatever is truly going on, or the relationship needed to end and there wasn’t an easy way for her to do it. With my situation it was a bit of both. I was ready to start “weaning” myself off of the support in a sense and was getting to the point where I was going to tell her to only stay on Friday nights and Saturdays, but it never got there. I haven’t heard from her now in over a week and I doubt I will for a while.
Not all women have family to support them. Even some of my friends have gotten weird on me now that I have a little one. A few of them haven’t even seen him yet and he’s almost five months old. My sister who lives in town is so busy with her social life that she doesn’t see him very often. My other sister with kids of her own doesn’t live here but she has her own problems and that’s an entire can of worms by itself. The point is, it doesn’t matter who your support is. I stumbled upon the Postpartum Anxiety Support Group on Facebook during one of my random midnight Internet searches to help me find anything that could help me. The ladies on the board all have their own experiences, vastly different from one another, but there is common ground there. It feels good just to be able to post and know someone else is reading it, someone else relates to me, I AM NOT ALONE.
My bonding with my son is getting much better. This is the second weekend I have had him by myself after my husband goes to work and my confidence is building. I am proud of myself for conquering my fear of this. I still have my moments and hours where I am wondering what to do with him, because not every day is a good day for him. Those are the days when I still wonder why I had a child. It helps me to wonder what I would be doing if I didn’t have him. I’d be sitting at home by myself with my dog and cat, reading or watching TV. I’d be going out to eat with friends or going to a movie. I would feel the missing piece that wasn’t yet there – my son. I can still enjoy my hobbies and do all the things I want to do, it just requires more planning and perhaps I am not able to indulge as often. But it’s all worth it in the end.
My number one cheerleader and rock star has been my husband. Many men do not understand postpartum issues but he is my rock. I remember quite a few mornings when I got up with the baby and had to go upstairs and wake Rob up two hours later because I couldn’t stop crying. He held me and told me it would be okay, that everything is all right. He stepped up to the plate and shouldered a lot of burdens those first couple months and I will never forget that. He kept believing in me and never blamed me for anything.
Some of my other family members have helped tremendously (including in-laws), whether it be having lunch with me to take my mind off things, meeting me at a doctor’s appointment, or just talking on the phone about how my day was. They’ll never truly know how much they’ve helped me.
I will also never forget my doula Erica Delmore and all that she has done for me. She will be my doula again if I have another child. My doctors, coworkers, therapists, family members, husband, neighbors, friends — even my dog and cat — have all helped me to some extent or another and I will always be grateful for it. Reaching out can be hard for some people, but for me it was the first thing I did and I still do it.
I guess I will end on the note that people are transient in our lives sometimes and serve one purpose or many. I learned that with my aunt. Everything happens for a reason and I believe that. I also believe that anyone who is negative or brings me down does not belong in my life, and it’s important to cut those people off as much as you can when going through PPA or just life in general, really. My old boss called negative people like that “dump trucks”, because all they do is dump on you. In addition to having a support system, it’s important to dump the dump trucks in your life.