When it's Not Postpartum Depression
It’s not postpartum depression.
After the birth of my first child, I felt like I had been run over by a truck. A hard pregnancy followed by an even harder C-section left me exhausted and in pain, but completely and totally in love with this new little person who was all mine. At the 2 week postpartum checkup, and again during the 6 week, I was honestly able to answer all the questions on the Postpartum Depression pamphlet they gave me with a hearty “NO”. According to them, I was fine. I wasn’t sad, I didn’t want to hurt myself or my baby. My doctor pronounced me healed and I was cleared for everything and anything.
The problem was, I wasn’t okay. I wasn’t okay by a long shot. I wasn’t sleeping. I was worried. All new moms worry right? Am I doing this right? Is he sleeping? But my worries were….not normal, though not having been through this before I didn’t know, I had no gauge to measure it against.
My baby loved perpetual motion and was happiest in the swing. He didn’t sleep much, and the ridiculous and oft-repeated motto “sleep when the baby sleeps” was an impossibility. I would lay in bed for the few moments he did sleep and try to breathe. Tell myself he would wake me when he needed me, I would repeat all sorts of phrases to try to calm myself. This is normal. We are fine. But I never slept. I was terrified every single moment of every single day. And it was worse at night. I couldn’t sleep so I stayed awake hyper-vigilant, thinking “If he dies, at least I’ll be here. He will open his eyes and know he will know I love him before he dies.
All new moms worry, right?
This seemed like a rational thought to me. We had been warned every step of the way throughout pregnancy about SIDS and now that he was here on the outside this fear consumed me, well, it consumed me when other thoughts weren’t.
I remember quite clearly suddenly and out of nowhere feeling certain that my son was strapped in his stroller, which had rolled down a hill and into a lake which was near our home, one I walked around pushing the stroller regularly just to get out of the house. My son wasn’t in his stroller, in fact, he was wiggling quite contentedly on a playmat and giggling at his warped reflection in a non-breakable mirror with a monkey on it. He’s fine, I told myself. But my body- every nerve and muscle- was screaming to get the baby out of the water.
We continued like this until I had a yearly checkup with my general doctor. I am not sure what it was, but she took my hand and held it for a moment. Not taking my pulse, just holding my hand, kindly. She looked right into my eyes and said softly, “Are you okay? “
It poured out of me, how scared I was all the time, the thoughts that wouldn’t leave my mind no matter how many times I reassured myself the baby was fine. I told her how I never slept, how I watched his breathing, the breathing of this child who was now eighteen months old. I had been living like this for a year and a half. But it was normal. All new moms worried.
Her brow furrowed and she said, “This isn’t normal.”
This isn’t normal. I remember feeling like those words ricocheted about the exam room. I wasn’t normal to be this terrified, do you know what a relief that was to hear? She asked me if my OB had gone over the checklist for postpartum and I reassured her that I showed no signs of postpartum depression. She informed me there were several other disorders including the one she was diagnosing me with, postpartum anxiety with intrusive thoughts. I recognized myself in her description of the symptoms and I left that day with a prescription for Zoloft and an appointment with a postpartum disorder specialist.
As I healed I began to sleep when the baby, toddler now, slept. I began to enjoy and I now have happy memories of his toddlerhood whereas my memories of his babyhood are few and primarily of my being terrified he was trapped somewhere. When his brother was born almost three years later, I knew the very moment I was snuggling him and yet feeling strongly someone had put him in the oven that it was happening again and I got help immediately.
Because I knew. If I had known with my first, perhaps I wouldn’t have suffered for so long.
Depression isn’t the only postpartum mood disorder. If you feel overly worried, sad or nervous please contact your doctor.