Allie Artz, a young woman suffering with severe postpartum depression, has graciously given me permission to share her blog about her ongoing experience managing this condition since the birth of her son. I have only included a few paragraphs of her narrative but encourage you to click on the following link to read more about it in vivid detail. To those who have not experienced this horrifying state of mind and to clinicians who are unfamiliar with the thought processes that accompany this mental terror, I urge you to read the entire piece. In order not to judge or criticize the women who must endure this emotional turmoil, it is best to be educated and understanding about how a journey through this affliction is real, terrifying, and ultimately manageable with support, medication, understanding, and patience.
Unfortunately this is not my birth announcement. This is not a post where I make my typical joke or sarcastic comment to introduce the new addition to the world. That proud introduction will come when I’m ready. Right now, I’m not, but I am ready to share why I’m not ready.
I thought that after going through so much trauma in my life, I could tackle pretty much anything, and to be honest, I can. I cry at a sentimental Buick commercial and jump if there’s ever a loud noise, but I have learned to laugh it off. Depression and anxiety are inflictions I have experienced for as long as I remember. I don’t want to say I had grown used to it, because I don’t believe anyone can ever become used to these mental predators that can attack your whole body and mind, oftentimes with no warning. I can say that it did become my normal though. I had accepted these as my flaws and learned to embrace them with a nonjudgmental openness. I learned to find ways to get through it. I learned to let go of the shame and laugh at my bouts of inexplicable sadness and anxiety. I learned to wear my Zoloft prescription with pride. I learned to just live. I learned that this is just what makes me me. After 30 years of constructing walls and boundaries—defenses—I felt safe and comfortable with myself. Then, a few weeks ago, I had my second child and it broke down all these defenses, broke down all my physical and emotional walls—it broke me.
The trauma of looking at a screaming baby and not only thinking, but voicing, that he is not mine, that he is a demon, that he should be adopted, is something that broke every part of my psyche and heart. To not want to hold him, feed him, care for him, induced a guilt that is in a word, crippling. To look at him and not even acknowledge he has a gender or a name even though I carried him for 9 very hard months, brought my own rationality into question and threw me into a world where reality is now a gray area. To judge myself for resenting him for taking away so much from me—my bonding time with my daughter, my time to build my own mom community, my physical and mental state. This self-judgment pits your stomach and no love, comfort, support can fill it. To watch women love and take care of my children while I lay in bed weeping, with no desire to leave to even get a glimpse of my newborn, is crushing. To wake up each day to no improvement only breeds the hopelessness that keeps me up with body and mind altering anxiety and panic at night and crying myself to sleep during the day. I think we all have a barometer for our lives’ traumas. I thought I had maxed mine out years ago. I was wrong. Nothing compares to this. To the loss of complete control over not only my emotional and rational mind, but to lose any control of this family I worked so hard to create.
Postpartum depression was something I actually planned for. I was aware of my personal, medical and life history and knew I was at a higher risk. In recent years it has become a much less taboo topic and I was grateful for literature I was able to study in case it should happen after the birth of my first child, my daughter Dylan. However, even if you prepare to cross the street by looking both ways, nothing can prepare you for being hit by a bus. And that’s what happened to me. I had familiarized myself with the “symptoms” and “recovery” and felt completely prepared should the bus hit.
I still am suffering. I still am not me. I take a little less Valium and more Zoloft and Buspirone, but I still can’t officially name my son. And while I can write “my son,” it is still not a phrase I can use in my everyday vernacular. It took me four weeks of constant therapy to use the phrase “our baby” instead of “the baby.” There are days I wrap him to me for a limited time and can write, or clean, or organize, or do any activity that distracts me from not only the anxiety but those cyclical thoughts of regret, judgment, guilt. Other days I walk in the door from therapy and avert my eyes from the bassinet and go straight to my bedroom. I am not just ignoring him, I am pretending he doesn’t exist. And a lot of times I’m not pretending. My rational mind knows he exists, he is mine, but the irrational tells me I already had a baby, my daughter, and that’s my child. I don’t know who this interloper, this intruder is, and why he’s in my house screaming around the clock. I will see our nanny hold him and think, he must be her baby, rationally knowing this woman was by my side helping with my daughter with my entire pregnancy. Unfortunately the irrational mind is a lot stronger and more convincing than the rational when we are drowning in our own depression and anxiety.
I also share this because it has been the most isolating experience of my life, both mentally and physically. In spite of the research I did before I had my first child, in spite of it becoming a much more talked about phenomenon, in my mind I feel like no one has ever felt this. And maybe no one has experienced exactly what I am feeling. I am learning postpartum depression is a textbook catch-all and all mothers have their own unique experience. There isn’t one singular experience, one singular cure. And for that reason a moment doesn’t go by without questioning what is wrong with me, and why I am going through it, am I broken, and if so, is it forever? It’s an experience I don’t wish on anyone in the world. And I say that with complete authenticity. I know that because I had moment in the shower where I asked myself, but wait, would I wish this on Trump? The fact that I had to ask myself that question opened my eyes to how deep and terrifying my suffering is.
To read the piece in full, please click here.
Photo in the public domain courtesy of Free-Photos.