Since having my second child my world has changed in more ways than I could have imagined. As our triangle turned into a square (quite seamlessly in many ways, I should say), I have experienced love and joy that I had not yet known. And one positive thing that I have done has been starting 511, Ever After, as it has been a wonderful outlet for me, a return to something I’ve loved, and the discovery of a new passion. If you’ve emailed me privately I have shared that with you, but perhaps I have also shared something else.
I have always been someone with anxiety. I have written about it countless times on this very site, and that is because my original intention in starting Mommy, Ever After was to write honestly about things that people were not comfortable speaking of. Like how motherhood can be scary. And lonely. And boring. And weird. And yes, I wrote all about how being a mom is magical and enchanting, and I still feel that way completely–actually, probably more so than ever–but something happened to me the second time around that has changed my life forever.
In having my son, my sweet angel of a little boy whom I love with all of my heart, I experienced great depression. During my pregnancy, I suffered severe morning sickness. Let me put it to you this way; during the first go-round I was hesitant to take even a tylenol; during this pregnancy, I had to take a prescription anti-nausea medicine every 4 hours to keep my vomiting down to 10 times a day. That is not fun for anyone. Plus, the hormones. The crushing hormones that sneak up on you and embrace you in their anxiety-producing grasp. So I suffered what I now know is called prenatal depression. I felt down. Not all of the time, but some of the time. A lot of the time. I couldn’t focus on my family. I had scary thoughts. But I was OK. I was still myself.
And I saw doctors and they were all concerned for me for after the birth. I remember one saying “I am concerned about you having this baby and having a walloping case of postpartum depression.” And I didn’t quite understand it but I knew to fear it. I knew that postpartum depression involved feelings of wanting to hurt oneself, or, much worse, the child. I knew that I did not experience it the first time, despite some moments of blues or intense anxiety. But I also know that my two pregnancies were completely different.
I was talking to my friend Jordan over at Ramshackle Glam about these differences when she announced her second pregnancy. The first time, I felt like I was this enchanted, magical vessel of blooming life. I felt like every single part of those 10 months were filled with magic and wonder. And when I first got pregnant the second time around, I was excited. I peed on that stick, saw two clear lines appear, and I felt that magic again. We were going to be a family of four. I was even able to present it to my husband in a fun way, having my daughter hand him a box with the stick inside. I had my dad come over to “check out my new sconces” and had the stick on my mantle. It was all exciting. But I had anxiety. I had pretty crippling anxiety from the get-go. I felt a strong love for the growing baby instantaneously (perhaps because was already a mother and knew that kind of love) and therefore found myself protective of my midsection. I avoided hard hugs from my students, heavy lifting and anything else dangerous. I loved my baby that was the mere size of a cheerio.
And then, something happened to me that never happened during my first pregnancy; I started to spot at 6 weeks. At this point, I had yet to even see the baby on ultrasound, a different experience than the first. It was St. Patrick’s day. We were eating Chinese Food. And I saw a little bit of blood. We ended up in the ER and after ultrasounds and bloodwork we confirmed that my baby was in my uterus and with a beating heart and growing appropriately. It was an incredibly intense and scary night for me.
And after that night, I went numb.
It it very hard for me to write this; in fact, as I type this, as he sleeps on my bed next to me, I am listening to his breathing, in and out, in and out, and I have tears streaming down my face. I went numb to the baby inside of me. Clearly it was a defense mechanism. I know that spotting is a very normal occurrence in many healthy pregnancies, but it threw me overboard. So instead of caring more, I cared less. This was not a conscious thing, mind you; it is only something I can recognize in hindsight. But I stopped feeling for the baby.
This numbness only intensified at 12 weeks when the perinatal ultrasound tech told me that he saw a penis. This is very early to find out the baby’s sex (that typically happens at the 20 week anatomy scan. And I was in shock. Not only was I having another baby, not only was I puking all day, not only was I feeling very mixed emotions, if anything at all, but a boy? We are such a girl family.
And that feeling of incredulity continued.
I stopped being protective. I was responsible in my pregnancy, not eating deli meat or drinking excessively, but I also was not nearly as cautious or loving as I had been to my first. I didn’t sing to my belly every night or read it stories. I loved feeling my son kick and move (he was the biggest mover ever, and because he was transverse I felt EVERYTHING) but I wasn’t sure.
I wasn’t sure I could love another child.
I wasn’t sure I could love a boy.
I even asked my best friend if she would take him if I didn’t love him enough to be his mom.
And then, I went into labor. The baby was born. We sang to him in the OR. And I loved him immediately. And all of those feelings of insecurity and doubt washed away. But what I did not expect was that my C-Section would be complicated; I had a lot of scar tissue, the front of my uterus was very thin and I lost a lot of blood. I was very sick and ended up in the hospital for 5 days. But I was happy. Happier than I had been in months. I was also on Dilaudid, an opiate. But I was happy.
And that happiness actually lasted. It lasted a good two weeks, just about as long as my Dilaudid consumption. And then, something started to creep in. Anxiety. Fear. Doubt. Sadness.
And I remember a text from my husband from the first week in November. It said, “I want to make sure you’re OK. I see the light starting to go out in your eyes.”
And I sobbed. Because I was so loved. But because he was right. And I fought the demons. But he was right.
My Fall and Winter of 2013/2014 got very dark. If you know me, you know that I am a happy person. That I’m always smiling, that I love children and that I have dance parties every day. This is a different kind of story.
In the beginning of November, I started to experience Postpartum Depression. Thank the lord, none of my depressed feelings ever had to do with my children; I was never overwhelmed by having two, I was never resentful at them, and I certainly never wanted to do anything but love them. I did not wish to hurt them in any way, which, as crazy as it may sounds, happens to mothers. And some other very crazy things did happen to me, so that’s why I feel the need to be so clear and forthcoming.
I decided that in order to be the best mother I could be, I would begin to seek therapy for my depressed symptoms. They were classic; I was tired, grumpy, sad and weepy, could no longer find joy in the things that once made me happy…and then there were worse things. I thought about my life a lot and why it was worth living. I knew that it was, but it was hard to feel it.
So I found a wonderful therapist, someone who did not judge me, but took me seriously, and was willing to work with me and my family in order to get me out of my funk. At that point, it was a funk. She prescribed medicine for me, which was a first. I have never before experienced any kind of depression, but she put me on an antidepressant that was safe for breastfeeding. I was still very committed to nursing my son, as I nursed my daughter for 18 months. It was something that I was not only consciously proud of, but something that I felt had defined me as a mother. I was a nursing mother. My daughter never once had a bottle. And so it was not an option for me to give that up with my son.
And then I started to face some resistance. My symptoms were getting worse. My bad moments were getting more frequent than my good ones, and stronger medicines were encouraged. But that would mean giving up breastfeeding. I heard the expression “It is better for your son to have a mom without a boob than a boob without a mom” but it was still hard for me. So I kept on nursing and kept on going down a spiral of deep, deep devastation.
People started to notice around Thanksgiving. It was a holiday I have always adored and even written about. This Thanksgiving I spent in the corner of my aunt’s living room, speaking to no one, falling asleep in a the chair at one point, and keeping my month old son in his carseat next to me. It seems surreal.
I was withdrawing from my friends. I was quiet in my online presence. I was slipping away.
And then things got worse. A lot worse.
The feelings that I had been having about my life and it’s meaning started to take over me like a demonic plague. I couldn’t think rationally. I couldn’t feel happiness or love. All that I could feel was pain. So in order to keep me safe, my family members had to stay with me at all times, taking shifts. I was never left alone. The therapist reached out to my husband. She told him I needed to be hospitalized and found a program at Brown in Providence, Rhode Island. She feared for my safety. So did my parents and best friend.
So I made an appointment to check in to a Postpartum treatment center, one in which I could keep my son with me, keep nursing and try to recover before it got worse. This was a very hard decision to come to and I was feeling everything from ashamed to terrified, but I said I would do it. So my husband and I went out to the movies. We saw American Hustle, the day before I was supposed to leave my life and daughter and admit to needing to be admitted. And during the movie, we were in and out of the theatre, taking calls from my therapist and the coordinators at Brown. It was all happening so fast.
And I got home from the movie and kissed my son. And he was hot.
I took his temperature. 100.4. The magic number for a baby 3 days shy of 2 months. We had to go to the hospital.
So at my darkest moment, I had a sick baby to take care of. I thought it could not get any worse.
Life works in amazing ways.
This is hardest part of the hardest post.
My baby had a fever and we had to take him to the Emergency Room. There, they had to do a full septic work up, including drawing blood, catheterizing him and, worst of all, giving him a spinal tap. He was diagnosed with RSV, which presented itself in my daughter as a cold earlier in the week. While in the ER, out of sheer malnourishment and stress, I passed out. I had to be admitted as well. So my son and I spent a cold night in December in adjoining rooms of the Emergency Room, each hooked up to tubes and tests, each fighting.
My son needed Oxygen, and spent 4 days in the hospital. I needed help.
And that meant weaning my son and giving him formula. So in the hospital that night I gave him his first bottle. And I began to take the medicine I needed. And it began to work.
I am about to type the hardest thing that I have ever typed.
After my complicated C-Section, I was told that it is not safe for me to have any more kids. I can no longer have children. I am just shy of 29 years old.
Perhaps this was a catalyst for the deep depression that would consume me this winter. And perhaps it was a combination of things. But it breaks my heart.
I look at the time after having a baby as the most magical in existence…and I will never again experience that.
And I should be clear: I am so freakin’ lucky. I have two healthy children. I have a boy and a girl. I narrowly avoided a blood transfusion. My son got to come home from the hospital. I was fertile and was able to nurse two babies, one for 18 months, one for ten weeks.
But it is still something very painful for me, to be told that I am not in control of my own future, my own plans, my own body.
I am happy to say that while my story is not yet over, things are looking up. I no longer cringe when I see the container of formula. I look at my strong, moose of a baby and am thankful that he is fed and that we have the resources to feed him. I no longer look at life as hopeless. I have hope.
My days aren’t yet easy, but they are also not so bleak.
And I have seen who my real support system is, my incredibly family and the friends who have become that.
And I love my children. I am able to enjoy them again. There is some light back in my eyes. And I am working, clawing my way back to happy.
A good friend recently told me that his mother always told him that “This too shall pass”. And in my darkest days, I did not, could not believe that. But I believe it. I believe that I can laugh with my friends again. And snuggle my kids and feel that feeling of home and right once more.
So, though I don’t know what the future holds, I do know that, as my friend said,
This too shall pass.
And I am thankful for each day.