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Surviving Postpartum Depression
I distinctly remember opening my eyes upon hearing the cry of my newborn son. It was 3:30 in the morning and I should have jumped up, eager to attend to his cries, but instead I lay there, lethargic and emotionless. I had just given birth a week earlier and since everything about my pregnancy had gone so smoothly, I figured that I’d just pop out the kid and get back to my regular life. How wrong I was and I found out just how wrong once we brought my son home.
My son, Matthew, was basically the perfect baby. He was sleeping through the night at about eight weeks old, he smiled all the time and people always commented on how handsome and cute he was but did any of those compliments register in my brain? No, instead I felt sorry for myself and wondered how in the world I would be able to bring up this child feeing the way that I did.
As the sun poured through the gaps in the window shades each morning, I would get this feeing of utter anxiety in the pit of my stomach and it would last into the evening. Instead of feeling the expected contentment of being a new mother, I felt like I wanted to run away where no one could find me. My husband did not know how to help me and at the time, I basically wanted to retreat into myself and not talk to him at all. I even tried the medication Paxil because it was touted as the “cure-all” for all your woes. All it did was numb my soul, taking the very life out of me.
According to the ads, you would supposedly turn into the happiest person on the planet within days of taking this drug Instead, it took all my anxieties and multiplied then a hundredfold until I felt like I didn’t even know myself anymore. I knew that I would have to find another solution because medication was definitely not the answer.
After a week, I decided to try and get through this crisis on my own and I began reading everything about postpartum depression that I could get my hands on. Panic attacks had reared their ugly head in my life a few years earlier, but I thought I had worked my way through the crisis and felt confident that I had the tools to ensure that I would never feel that way again. Unfortunately, my body betrayed me and I was pushed into the “fight-or-flight” mode once again upon returning home from the hospital.
The first indication was on my second night home when my husband, my mother-in-law and I were deciding what to have for dinner. We ordered out from a local Italian restaurant and when my husband brought the food home, I started eating and then I remember looking at the reflection in the sliding glass door. The person I saw staring at me looked bruised and beaten and definitely not like myself; I suddenly felt like at any moment I could pass out and felt a white-hot heat go through me. I had to get out of that room and told my husband I had to go to the bathroom. I couldn’t get out of his presence fast enough because what would happen if I blacked out and let my anxiety be known? I would look like such an idiot! I hid my feelings that best that I could, but I knew the bad feelings were back because I took small things and blew them way out of proportion. If I looked at something and the object didn’t focus clearly enough, I would think that I was going blind and had a brain tumor. If my heart started beating faster than normal, it meant that I was having a heart attack. Tingling on the left side of my body meant that a stroke was imminent. I was so into myself and my bodily symptoms that I almost forgot about my son and even my husband. To this day, it is difficult for me to remember certain aspects about my son’s first six months on this planet and for that, I feel an enormous amount of guilt.
Postpartum depression is an evil monster that can take over your life and has no problem sucking the life out of you. The only way that I emerged intact was by talking with loved ones, reading about the disease and exercise. Yes, I said exercise. Surprisingly, all those endorphins rushing through your body can be put to good use through taking walks, jogging, yoga and anything else that will get your mind off of your problems. Medication, though I know it works for others, is not for me and only served to mask the real problem. Dealing with the depression head-on, rather than retreating in fear, has been a much better solution in my case and has made me feel more in control of my life.
Having a child can be not only a welcome experience, but a life-altering one, as well. It can be compared to a journey down a long, dark tunnel where you do not know what is on the other side, but slowly you will learn to adapt. The depression itself can be very scary and something that I would not wish on any new mother, but unfortunately many women will go through this and not know where to turn. The best advice I can give, as a mother who has gone through it and has gone on to have another child, is to educate yourself before you have your baby so that you will recognize the symptoms. And if you happen to end up as one of the unfortunate sufferers of this disease, then you will be able to recognize it early on and to seek out the help you need. The realization that you are not alone in your despair, along with the love of your family, will surely pull you through.