When I had my first daughter Elby almost four years ago I came down with the dreaded post partum depression. Like most women, I had no idea what happened to me. One day I was a serene, glowing hugely pregnant woman at her baby shower ripping the wrapping paper off her new Diaper Genie with more gusto than I would open a little blue box from Tiffany; a few weeks later I was a fat, constantly crying, new mother. For me, there was no rush of hormones to that made me feel swept up in love – I think I used them all up in my pregnancy. Instead there was just crushing anxiety and constant questioning inner monologue: “Is she breathing? Is she sleeping too much? Is she going to die of SIDS if I don’t watch her sleep every second? Why didn’t I take that fucking breast feeding class?” To be perfectly honest, I don’t recall any moment where I felt happy to have a baby and that made me feel even worse.
When I told my doctor what I was feeling he blew me off. “You just had a baby, it’s a big responsibility.” Eventually I stopped crying through eighteen boxes of Kleenex everyday and began adjusting to life with an infant but the anxiety remained. I was never really the poster child for mental health anyway – prone to obsessive thoughts, seasonal depression and raging self doubt, so feeling extra emotionally unhinged just became my new normal.
I wasn’t diagnosed with PPD until well over a year after having Elby. She’d been hospitalized and it just so happened that my husband was out of town and couldn’t be there to support me. It was an insanely stressful few days of ER visits and a two day stay in the PICU. She ended up being fine but though she immediately went back to her happy-go-lucky self, I was barely functioning which brought me to a shrink. I was immediately put on Zoloft and Clonopin and suddenly, okay not suddenly, but only a few weeks of dry mouth later, a crack appeared and the light started shining in to my world again. It’s almost impossible to explain to someone who hasn’t been through it but I started seeing my daughter – really seeing her - her gorgeous smile, her silliness, her total awesomeness. I stopped crying at every Lifetime Movie and started going to the gym.
But after awhile it hit me that I’d never felt this balanced before. It wasn’t that I had a brand spankin’ new personality - one who just loves to scrapbook and bake pumpkin bread from scratch – a mom who never ever runs out of Sunny-D! No I still had edge but I wasn’t feeling edgy all the time. That’s when I started wondering if I’d always been needlessly living with anxiety and it took having a baby and the ensuing PPD to make me get the help I needed. I don’t know the answer to that.
When I was pregnant with my twins, my new doctor suggested that I start back on Zoloft as soon as the babies are out. I followed her advice – even though I was worried at first about the Zoloft getting into my breast milk but the NICU nurses assured me that I was fine – especially since with all my pumping I wasn’t producing enough to sustain a hamster. Zoloft is not a miracle drug, I still had months of agony, due to hormones and sleep deprivation, my babies stay in the NICU and their subsequent colic. There were still crying bouts bad enough to worry my husband especially the was a day I literally couldn’t get out of bed, answer the phone or make direct eye contact with anyone. But this time I knew the culprit was PPD and I knew it would pass. And it did. But, knowing now that the floorboards of my emotional make-up have a few weak spots, a few unstable areas that could use some shoring up, I’m in absolutely no rush to stop the medication this time. I will take Zoloft as long as I need it. I don’t see needing medication as a weakness. If it helps me be a better mother, a better wife, friend and, if not a happier person (with three kids a book due and no free time it would take a few tabs of Ecstasy to make me a “happy” person) at least a stable person – I will take it until menopause – which really, by the looks of things, could happen at any time.
For now, I will actually take pleasure in my Mattie’s new tooth that just popped through and Sadie’s small but steady weight gains. Am I crazy or still suffering from PPD? I don’t know and frankly, I don’t care.