Postpartum Diaries

Postpartum Diaries: The Black Dog

NB: This is a post about my experience with postpartum depression and may be triggering for some. In my standing tradition of possibly-unpleasant posts, please enjoy this picture of my cat:

I am, by many measures, a fortunate person. I have a wonderful, supportive partner, a strong family and friend network, and a relatively easy baby. Despite the fact that I had what some might consider a difficult birth, I felt empowered, supported, and at peace with it. I have a wonderful, supportive husband who happily took on all the work of caring for all three of us (apart from breastfeeding) while I was recovering.

So why was I sitting in my bed in the middle of the night, cradling my sleeping child, wracked with sobs?

I felt weak. All I wanted to do was take care of my baby and give my husband the full night’s sleep he deserved after the nights he endlessly rocked the baby in the hospital while I slept. I had to be awake to feed him anyway, so why did we both have to be sleep-deprived, right? I’ve pulled all-nighters before. It’s not going to be forever. I’ll miss this when my baby grows up and doesn’t need me. I should be able to do this now.

What was wrong with me?

I felt like I was failing as a parent. Elliot deserved a better parent than I could be and Dan deserved a better spouse. Maybe I should just leave, so they can find someone better.

And then, while I was sitting there sobbing, Dan woke up and told me something was wrong, but it wasn’t something wrong with me.

I was dealing with postpartum depression.

*          *          *

May is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month, so I thought it would be a good time to write a little bit about my experiences with postpartum mental illness. I’ve dealt with anxiety and OCD throughout my life, so I knew I was likely to have some difficulty postpartum, but I felt like I was ready. I still was not.

Depression isn’t about what is or isn’t good or bad in your life. It’s about your brain and how it’s working. I knew this going into pregnancy and postpartum recovery. But I still find myself thinking that I’m so lucky, that I shouldn’t be depressed. And while I believe in talking about depression as a way to destigmatize it, I still feel odd whenever I talk about my depression, because I don’t have a reason to be depressed. As I tell people who say that same thing to me, “That’s not how depression works.”

Another reason I’m fortunate is because both my obstetrician and Elliot’s pediatrician are diligent about giving me regular assessments for postpartum depression. Apparently, the pediatrician keeps giving them for up to a year postpartum. And I’ve tried to be honest, even asking Dan to help me answer the questions, in case he’s noticing something I’m missing. So when I got a call from the pediatrician at home the day after an appointment, I had an inkling what it might be about. I was still surprised that they followed up so quickly and thoroughly. I talked with the nurse, got some resources, and then set about getting help. I set up an appointment with a local therapist, and made a note to ask my OB about medication at our next appointment. A couple weeks later, I was on Zoloft and doing well in therapy.

Happy ending, right? Not exactly.

You see, depression and anxiety also aren’t static, especially with the hormonal shifts postpartum, and “getting help” isn’t a single event. I continue to have good days and bad days. I have days where I realize the Zoloft helps a great deal, days where I feel like I could go off it with no effect, and days where it feels like it isn’t helping at all. I can be having a great week and then just suddenly melt down.

The important thing that I realized is that this doesn’t mean I’m failing as a parent or spouse. This doesn’t mean I’m weak. I’m not “resorting to meds” by taking Zoloft — I’m getting the medical help I need for a medical condition.

And, the big one: You can have postpartum depression (and anxiety) even if you have a strong support network. Yes, PPD is more of a risk for women with less support, but support doesn’t mean that you don’t have to worry about it. It’s important that your network knows about the possibility for PPD because they can help you recognize it. As one of my favorite bloggers likes to say, depression lies to you, and when you’re in the thick of it, it’s really easy to believe the lies. Having an outside observer say “hey, that’s depression lying to you” is invaluable.

So if you don’t have someone else to say this to you: You are not the problem. You are not failing as a parent.

You’re a member of a really big club and we’re here for you.

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baby, childbirth

My C-Section Recovery Essentials

So even though I had an unplanned c-section after almost 36 hours after the beginning of my induction, including 14 hours of pitocin, I probably had an easier time of recovery than a lot of unplanned c-sections because I never tried to push, so I had pretty much no perineal damage. That said, recovering from a c-section is never easy, and I thought I’d share a little bit about my recovery, and the things I found absolutely essential while recovering.

Of course everyone is different and every recovery is different. It’s my hope to help other women facing c-section see that it’s not the end of the world, and while recovery may be rough, it’s not impossible. If a c-section is what your body and baby need, you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. And remember that you just went through surgery; it’s okay to need help. This was particularly difficult for me because I was so active before and throughout my pregnancy. To just be able to lay on the couch all day and not do anything more strenuous than nurse my baby was a big shift, both physically and mentally.

One thing that helped immensely was some perspective from my husband. About a week after we went home from the hospital, I woke up in the middle of the night with terrible abdominal cramping. Worried that something was wrong, I went in to the doctor to get checked out. She said that I’d strained a muscle. Strained a muscle? I thought. How, exactly did I do that when I’d been doing nothing but lying in bed? Well, from the location of the strain, I realized I’d probably strained it twisting over to the side to pick up Elliot from his bassinet to feed him. Which was disheartening to say the least. Until Dan reminded me that most people who have abdominal surgery are told not to lift anything, rather than “nothing heavier than the baby,” so it made sense that even lifting the baby could cause problems.

Which brings me to my list of essentials:

1. A Supportive Partner

My number one c-section recovery essential is a supportive partner. In my case, I was lucky that my husband was not only able to take off work for a month, but willing to stay away from his job for that long. I would say, at the very least, you should plan on someone being around to help you all the time for the first two weeks, until you know how your body is going to heal. I spent all my time laying in bed or on the couch, so I needed Dan to do pretty much everything else. I fed Elliot, but Dan fed the two adults. He did all the laundry. He kept me hydrated. He rocked, burped, and changed Elliot. Heck, when Elliot was still on formula supplements, Dan fed him most of his formula supplements. He made sure that all I had to think about was breastfeeding and recovering.

2. A Good Robe

One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t buy this robe (which I’m wearing in the picture above) sooner. It’s not cheap, but it’s fantastic. It’s soft, thick, comfortable, and the belt is attached so you can’t lose it in the wash. I came home from the hospital with a belly the size it was at five months pregnant, and an incredibly sensitive lower abdomen. Wearing real clothes was out of the question for a while, and breastfeeding meant I needed frequent easy access in the front. This robe over a nursing bra, and some thick socks was my uniform for at least a week.

3. Maxi Dresses

The first few weeks of my recovery, I couldn’t stand wearing anything with a waistband. Wearing underwear was bad enough, but even leggings or a jersey skirt was out for everyday wear. While my robe was perfect for at home, I had to leave the house occasionally for doctors appointments. When that happened, I turned to my maternity maxi dresses. I have this dress in three colors and it’s basically all I wore out of the house, or when people visited, for weeks. It’s soft and comfortable, looks like real clothes even though it feels like a nightgown, and it’s cut ideally for easy breastfeeding access.

4. Cold Packs

My doctor clued me in that the perineal cold packs that were in my postpartum recovery bag at the hospital are also great for soothing an angry incision. When I got home and ran through the extras that the nurse gave me to take home, I found these, for a reusable option. They stay in the freezer and I wrap one in a dishtowel to prevent frostbite. Cold on the incision is key.

5. Postpartum undies

One thing for which I was completely unprepared was how much I would hate my normal underwear when I got home. I used hospital disposable undies for a while, but eventually, I wanted to feel like a normal, underwear-washing person again. I got these from Kindred Bravely, which are fantastic, if a bit delicate (some stitching is already coming undone on a few pairs), and when I went to order more, I tried these, which probably wouldn’t have worked for the early recovery days, but are great now that most of my immediate soreness is done. Seriously, wearing the wrong underwear caused a lot of my worst pain days after the initial healing period.

Now that I’m past the initial healing period, I’m still not wearing most of my normal clothes. I stick to soft-waisted bottoms, like yoga pants, wide-waistband leggings, and jersey skirts. I can’t imagine when I’ll ever want to wear jeans again, and I’m pretty sure I’ll keep my maternity skirt in rotation when I go back to work. But just shy of six weeks from the surgery, I woke up one morning and realized that I didn’t hurt at all. And since somehow pregnancy has made me sickeningly optimistic, I will say that the bright side of the c-section was that Dan was able to bond immediately with Elliot and I think it makes it easier for him to soothe El when he’s fussy.

I spent a lot of time preparing for the possible things that could happen during delivery, but the one thing I never planned for was a c-section. If I had it to do over, I would know to make sure I had the above things on hand (if I didn’t already have them), as a relatively simple way to make sure I was prepared for everything. And, seriously, that robe is awesome and I still wear it to and from the shower every morning!