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Friday, August 04, 2006

 

Letting the cat out of the bag

I disclosed something very personal and very frightening to two mothers in two separate conversations this last weekend at the BlogHer Conference. I admitted what it has taken nearly two years for me to muster the courage to share.

Well that’s not really true. I made the same admission to a good friend of mine once, while we were walking, about a year ago. She had just had a baby, and because of that, I thought she would understand. I blurted it out, and my words were met with a look of sheer horror. My friend’s mouth gaped open, and she promptly slapped a hand over it. I quickly brushed it off with a “But I’m fine now”, and kept right on walking. I decided then and there, that this was something I was better off keeping to myself.

This weekend, for some reason, I shared the same admission with two women in two separate conversations. Neither one of them looked one bit horrified. In fact, both of them nodded in recognition, and shared their own frightening and personal experiences with me in turn.

When my daughter was tiny and helpless and newborn, I was afraid to walk by the butcher block on the kitchen counter while I was holding her. I was afraid that my body would involuntarily pull a knife from the butcher block and use it to hurt her. And I was terrified. I didn’t know at the time where these wild thoughts came from, but I know now. I was suffering from postpartum depression.

PPD is terrifying. I don’t think I have ever been as afraid of my own mind as I was in the first few months of motherhood. All my life, I knew I wanted to have children. When I was pregnant, I fantasized about what my daughter would look like, and how I would talk to her and hold her, and how I would do everything in my power to keep her safe and help her grow. I loved her long before she was even born. With all my heart, I wanted to adapt to my new role as mother with aplomb and ease. I wanted to feel a connection with her, and I wanted to do right by her, because she deserved all the love the world could ever offer up in a million years. I wanted to be a good mother.

But my mind was uncooperative and stubborn. It just wouldn’t work right. I didn’t feel connected to my baby, or to anything for that matter.

I dreaded the sunset every night. The impending darkness stirred up the very worst of my anxiety and panic. Every night at dusk, claws of terror gripped me until I was nauseated and shivering with cold. I sat on the couch next to my husband and sobbed. I sputtered things through my tears like “she deserves a better mother than me! What if she gets cancer? What if she gets hurt and I can’t help her?” And I would look at my tiny baby girl and just cry. I was inconsolable.

The thought that anything bad might happen to my daughter shook me to the core. Yet there I was, afraid to walk by a maple butcher block full of the gourmet knives I loved to cook with. It was not the knives that scared me. It was ME that scared me. I felt crazy and disgraceful and ashamed for even conjuring up such a horrible image. I didn’t trust myself, and wondered “What kind of mother THINKS these things?”

My worst fear was confirmed. I was a horrible mother. I had no business caring for an infant, and I was mortified by my inadequacy. I sank deeper into isolation. I was afraid of being judged an unfit mother. Instead of seeking out help, I dug my heels in, and attempted to muddle through. I refused to fail.

I didn’t seek out medical help because deep down in my soul, I knew I was not capable of hurting her. Looking back, I think it was very unwise of me to ignore those frightening symptoms of post partum depression. But I did ignore them, because I didn’t want to be weak. I didn’t want to be weird.

At the time I really could not recognize what was happening. I thought that even if I had to fake it forever, she would at least have a decent parent in her father.

Depression is funny in that it’s very difficult to recognize when you are smack-dab in the midst of it. Two years distance has me looking back thinking to myself “knock-knock puddinghead! That was a CLASSIC case of Postpartum Depression, and you were taking an enormous risk, tackling that on your own.” But at the time it was terribly confusing and I kept thinking I just needed to walk it off.

It wasn’t until I started feeling better that I considered admitting there might be a problem. I have always been frighteningly good at faking it. Eventually, during a phone conversation with my mother, I managed to squeak out “I think I’m having a little bit of a hard time.” That statement alone seemed to set off a few alarm bells, and I started receiving daily phone calls from my mother and sisters just to check in to see how I was doing. As someone who has never liked giving any impression of weakness or neediness, it was really hard to accept that kindness and concern, but I will be eternally grateful for it.

I told my husband, about six weeks into it “If I don’t feel better in two weeks, I am going in to talk to the doctor”. Then it was one week. Then it was two days. By then I felt like maybe, just maybe, I was beginning to hit my stride and the oppressive force field I was trapped under was beginning to let up.

Things did get better. I gained confidence, and eventually I got to a point where I felt right, being her mother. One day I just knew with all my being that there was no one else in the world who was better equipped to take care of her than me. The love I have for that child knows no boundaries. It has seeped into every corner of my life. It has made me a more compassionate person. It has taught me to slow down and pay attention. It has helped me to be more forgiving, even to myself.

I am a great mother. I can acknowledge that now, with confidence. I didn’t always feel that way. I did not have a white-light moment in the delivery room. It took a little time for me to get to know my daughter, and to get my footing in my role as her mother. I know now what I didn’t know then. Once you fall in love with your own child, it’s impossible to un-do the power of that connection.

This is what babycenter says about post-partum depression:

Our society also makes it difficult to admit to having negative feelings about motherhood or the baby. When mothers do express feelings such as ambivalence, fear, or rage, they can frighten themselves and those close to them.

It was shame that kept me from seeking out help. Postpartum Depression is a physiological and psychological condition that deserves medical attention. I hope that sharing my story helps remove that shame from the equation for someone else. It was the courage of the two women who shared their stories with me that helped me muster up the courage to write about my own experience.

Postpartum depression can happen to anyone. Even the best mother in the Universe.

I would not allow things to get so bad a second time around. If I have another child, I will be much more aware, and much more careful. If that scenario plays itself out again, I will be on the phone to my doctor faster than you can say “anti-depressant” to get some help.

For anyone out there who might be struggling with Postpartum Depression, here are some links, and here are the symptoms, according to wellmother.com:

• Feelings of sadness or "down"-ness that don’t go away
• Inability to sleep, even when the baby is sleeping
• Changes in appetite – eating much more or much less
• Irritability, anger, worry, agitation, anxiety
• Inability to concentrate or make decisions
• Inability to enjoy things you used to; lack of interest in the baby; lack of interest in family
• Exhaustion; feeling "heavy"
• Uncontrollable crying
• Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
• Feelings of hopelessness or despair
• Fear of being a "bad" mother, or that others will think you are
• Fear that harm will come to the baby
• Thoughts of harming the baby or harming yourself
• Thoughts of death or suicide


Please don't let fear or shame prevent you from recongnizing and treating a very serious medical condition. Postpartum depression can and should be treated.

55 Comments:

Blogger DDM said...

You are helping more people than you will ever know, writing about this and posting links. I believe it is part of the illness of PPD that keeps us from realizing that we need help, much less admitting it out loud. Thank you for this.

1:52 PM  
Anonymous mothergoosemouse said...

Meghan, you have no idea how comforting this post was to me, and I've been handling PPD/anxiety for the past four-plus years.

For me, it was the balcony. I was scared shitless of our balcony.

3:13 PM  
Anonymous Kari said...

It is scary how many of us there are out there, and yet how little attention it gets (unless it is by vitamin-pusher Tom Cruise.)

I'm with MGM: it was the stair landing. How easy it would be to just drop the baby down the stairs. I held tight, too tighly, for fear of a single impulsive moment.

I am tired of the notion of PPD being a weakness that is shameful. Caring for a newborn is difficult enough without also worrying about the horrible feelings.

(And then you get the doctors who when diagnosing children with special needs ask the mother about PPD and her own diagnoses, nod condescendingly, and essentially make the mother feel as though she brought on the child's problems single-handedly.)

4:32 PM  
Blogger Andrew said...

What a scary feeling that must be, especially for those new moms who have no idea what they are going through. Good for you for being so honest and helping others understand.

To Love, Honor and Dismay

5:39 PM  
Anonymous Chase said...

What a beautiful post. I love it - and the fact you're now strong enough to share it.

5:52 PM  
Blogger Meghan said...

The butcher block seemed so strange to me until I realized that we live in a rambler and we have no balcony thus, the freakiness manifested into the butcher block. I have now heard from 4 women who said that they were afraid of the stairs or the balcony because they were afraid they would toss the baby over the edge. Why don't people more people talk about this? I felt AWFUL about it for so long.

6:05 PM  
Anonymous ae (arse poetica) said...

Meghan, you've done a wonderful thing in sharing this terrifying experience. So many people will find this and it will give them solace. So glad to hear that you're well and happy.

6:57 PM  
Blogger DDM said...

OMG! Another epiphany!! Kari, I thought I was alone in the diagnosing my special needs child/condescending nod boat. I wish very much that I was alone there. That is such an awful feeling.

7:33 PM  
Anonymous roo said...

I know what you mean about not knowing you're depressed when you're in the middle of it. But I've never had to take care of someone else while it was happening. It must have been incredibly hard-- especially since up until recently people have generally represented young motherhood as though it were like entering a world of sunshine and rainbows and endless serenity. I'm so glad you made it through.

8:00 PM  
Blogger Missy said...

God I love this post. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I had a bout of PPD after my first son was born, and I was so ashamed... Thank you again. I'm linking to it.

7:39 AM  
Blogger Scattered Mom said...

My best friend had PPD. Thanks for writing about it, it helps those who want to support the Mom to understand a little more what they are going through.

9:57 AM  
Blogger Donna said...

Meghan - You have done everyone a great service in talking about this. PPD is more common than people assume, and while few go into Andrea Yates-style psychosis, it is very frightening and quite devastating, and it is only by talking about it and making it public that women won't feel ashamed about getting the help they need. You really are a wonderful, loving mother and a beautiful person, and I hope you never lose sight of that.

10:33 AM  
Anonymous TB said...

It makes me so sad to think of what you must have gone through with PPD. There are people I know who need to read this. I hope you are able to help someone through sharing this experience and I can't imagine what it must be like to relive it now.
You're right though. It's not something to be ashamed of and I applaud you for talking about it here.

6:23 PM  
Anonymous Binkytown said...

I found you through mothergoosemouse and just wanted to chime in to say you are sooo not alone and you articulated this perfectly. I too did the "two weeks" then "one week" then "5 days" kind of bargaining system, knowing something wasn't right but being ashamed to admit it. Months later I got it straightened out, but wish I had been strong enough to say I needed help sooner.

7:13 PM  
Anonymous kim said...

I found you through Mothergoosemouse. I have never experienced PPD and can not begin to imagine how awful this must have been for you. Ignorance and a lack of empathy have lead to so many woman hurting in silence. Your courage to share will help so many.

8:06 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

For me, it was the stroller near traffic. What if I just. let. go?

Thank you. For speaking it OUT LOUD.

8:27 PM  
Blogger Old Lush said...

You are strong to talk about this. So many take our diseases as an interpretation of our character....when in fact, they are so misinformed and ignorant. I know many women feel helpless with PPD because they feel they are "less than" if they don't meet up to the idealized view of what a mother "should be".

10:22 AM  
Blogger mrsmogul said...

Yes, I saw the tunnel but pulled away yesterday. there is no way I'm going to sink so low as to get that depressed. I keep looking at the baby and saying, he's innocent. But I admit, as I think all parents have..yelled at the baby and thought about throwing it across the room.

thanks for visiting and now I can read yours now:)

11:33 AM  
Blogger Lin said...

Big, blue English pram with innocent little baby tucked up inside and insane traffic. Uh oh, what if I forgot to put the brake on?

Deadly nightshade growing in garden. What if I let her eat it?

Those were my fears. closely linked to insane fatigue and the general whackiness of having a baby for the first time. So...

I did forget to put the brake on the pram, but caught it just as it was tipping over into the road, but no traffic was coming and my sleeping baby girl was strapped in per English law. Thank god for English law.

Oh, and the deadly nightshade. I THOUGHT she had eaten some due to berry juice on her hands and had to rush her to the hospital where they sent probes down her throat into her belly, but she must have spat it out.

Jane is now 37 and assures me she can't remember any of that stuff.

2:51 PM  
Blogger Lin said...

and P.S...super post Meghan. Your honesty is true goodness.

2:52 PM  
Blogger radioactive girl said...

Holy crap! I had no idea others were afraid of these things! The stairs, for me it was the stairs because we have wide open stairs with a balcony type part above that I was terrified that I would accidentally drop him from. Yikes, you brought back some scary times for me! Thankfully that is all over now!

7:48 PM  
Anonymous Izzy said...

Thank you for writing this. You will most certainly help someone out there with your story.

I struggled with terrible PPD for almost a year with my first and thankfully just a couple weeks of the baby blues with my second.

But I was terrified that it might happen with my second child so I was prepared to ask for meds if necessary. People need to realize this is a medical condition and that it is treatable.

7:56 AM  
Blogger Mindy said...

Oh, God, I just finished rewriting this for my book when I came over and read your post.

Like I said, (as one of two who was gagging to tell you that you were NOT alone) PPD is a bitch. I didn't get treated until Round Four, so you look like a genius next to me.

I came this --><-- close to losing it.

I'm so glad you were there last weekend. Not only did you not run away in horror, I believe you actually got down on one knee and proposed later in the evening. (Was that you? And did Jenn do the same? The Divorce Drink is clouding my memory.)

3:45 PM  
Blogger Muriel said...

Well written. I only wish all this blogging goodness had been around when I was dealing with the same PPD with my little guy. Oh how things could have been different. I won't have more children, but I do take extra care to keep tabs on my friends with little ones, just becuase I know how bad it can get, and hope that I can help them in some way.

3:57 PM  
Anonymous dorothy said...

I think an important thing to add is that it can happen way after your child is a newborn. I became very depressed when my daughter was 18 months old and started waking up two or three times at night. I didn't want to admit that I was angry with her all the time because I felt like she was doing it on purpose to make me crazy. I had fantasies of running away. I did get help, and I can't believe what a difference it's made. It was very hard for me to admit that this anxiety might not be normal, though.

9:32 AM  
Anonymous chris said...

Ah Megan, how very brave of you to write this. I already shared with you that for me it was the landing on the top of the stairs. I was terrified that I would toss him over, or that I would trip and fall and he would fly out of my arms over the railing.

It is scary, because even though you know deep down inside that you would never do it, the unwanted thought keeps popping into your head.

1:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow Meghan, you are one brave momma, and you have just enlightened me. I have clearly been clueless about PPD -- your blog has given me insight. Thank you for that. btw, I have been gone for a while but Looooove your new page look! pjindy

4:20 PM  
Anonymous Meredith said...

I used to hold my son so tight when I walked because I was afraid I would throw him around like a rag doll. I used to cry all the time. Paxil helped (but was a bitch to get off of). Thank you for sharing, it is nice to know we are not alone!

8:08 PM  
Blogger Mary Tsao said...

I wanted to throw Thomas out the window during those long nights when nothing would pacify him.

In some ways, I think all moms have PPD. There's just so much to do and to do alone when you have a newborn. It's a lonely job.

For the record, you did *not* tell me this story at BlogHer, but if you would have, I would not have given you the fish eye.

8:42 PM  
Blogger The Daring One said...

What a great post on this topic. Thank you so much for sharing. So many of us have gone through it and many don't even know what they're dealing with.

9:00 PM  
Blogger GraceD said...

Brilliant, Meghan. Your vulnerability makes you invulnerable. Your eloquence in word is matched by your bravery in deed. Sharing your story is a public service, and I'm certain this post will serve more women than you'll ever know to evaluate her situation and seek help.

If I can be of service to you for anything, please do not hesitate to call on me. I would be honored to assist you where I can.

With pride in our friendship,
Grace

1:03 AM  
Anonymous Katie Kat said...

I am so proud of you for admitting this and I don't even know you! I struggled with PPD for months also, and I am only NOW (10 months later) beginning to actually think I might like being a mom. The awful depression, the regret, the shame for feeling that I had made a huge mistake, the days and months of wishing I'd never had my baby made me feel empty, sad, inadequate and lost. I got help too, but probably not enough. I tend to isolate, so it's hard to keep support around. But, every story I read like yours makes me feel stronger and more capable of continuing on the journey to wellness.

Thank you so very very much. You are helping COUNTLESS women with your honesty.

2:59 PM  
Blogger Kylei said...

I just posted about my own problems yesterday - I too keep putting off seeing the Dr. She is 4 months old now - I do no tthink of hurting her but I'm afrid of everything. I know I am not myself but am afride of what other will think if I eplain tot hem exactly whats wrong- not that I can pin point exactly whats bothering me. Anyway thank you for your post.

4:15 PM  
Anonymous Anne-Marie, A Readable Feast said...

I wish someone had shared this with me when I was going through PPD six years ago with Nathan. I had no idea what was going on and my mom friends were of no help. So now I make it a point to share my experiences with pregnant and new moms I know, and to offer unconditional suppport to them.

But it's still the staircase landing thing for me and Lucie's 3.

4:50 PM  
Blogger Jenny said...

Thank you, Meghan. You have no idea how admired you are.

5:00 PM  
Anonymous Nancy said...

Meghan -- what a bravely and honestly written post. PPD has affected so many mothers, and yet there's such a stigma about it. I was like you and would feel absolutely hopeless at sunset every night, terrified of being alone with my baby girl. I finally got the medication I needed to make it through, but I still struggle with the effects of the depression even though my youngest is almost two.

Thank you, thank you.

5:25 PM  
Anonymous Mother said...

The numbers of women that kill themselves from PPD is staggering. I remember Brooke Shields talking about it and thinking - Tom Cruise is a freaking IDIOT who deserves things that I will not say.

And I know that your post touches many people, including me. I didn't have PPD - but what I had was close enough. I think all women have PPD in varying levels.

And while I thought it was typical to be weepy, I know many nights I cried myself to sleep asking myself why I had done this.

One of the impetuses (is that right?) for my blog was to get the dirty stuff out in the open as a means to reach out to moms who thought they were freaks for feeling overwhelmed and weepy and stressed and depressed (etc). And perhaps I can help.

That's what you did with this.

Kudos.

7:22 PM  
Blogger Shannon said...

Wow, thank you. You are incredibly brave. I know this touched many women.

Shannon

12:33 AM  
Blogger Léonie said...

I am not a mother, so I have no knowledge of PPD, but I have struggled with depression, and cannot imagine what it must be like to have that fear of being in charge of someone else on top of all of it.

I think this is an incredibly brave post, it is amazing that so many people feel so alone in this. How wonderful that, finally, women are beginning to share their experiences. Maybe if there is not such secrecy and stigma surrounding PPD women will be less ashamed and be able to seek help for it.

3:25 AM  
Anonymous V said...

I was afraid I would shake him - I wanted to shake him. Anything to stop the crying. Thank goodness I had read about it, knew the dangers, and somehow resisted.

There were times, though, when I wondered, "If he died, would that be worse than this?"

It is so important for new mothers to hear these stories so they know they're not alone, and for everyone else to hear them so they know they need to give support.

5:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I needed this more than ever today. Thank you for your strength, you've managed to pass some along to me.

7:34 AM  
Anonymous Colleen said...

This is a fantastic post. Thanks so much for sharing it with us.

10:43 AM  
Anonymous melissa b. said...

"thinking to myself “knock-knock puddinghead! That was a CLASSIC case of Postpartum Depression, and you were taking an enormous risk, tackling that on your own.” But at the time it was terribly confusing and I kept thinking I just needed to walk it off."

That's exactly how I was twelve years ago. Exactly. Thank you.

11:33 AM  
Blogger Cindy said...

Thank you.

1:45 PM  
Blogger Dawn said...

I did an interview yesterday about my PPD experience and one of the things I said to the researcher was
"I thought about how to kill my baby. I thought about how to have a car accident so she would be killed and it wouldn't seem like it was my fault. I thought about how to drop her from a balcony so it would seem like and accident. Or drop her into the lake so I could sleep."

It is so much more than the "baby blues" that the happy motherhood books tell you to "look out" for.

Women need to tell other women the truth - all of it, even the ugly stuff.

And you know I love you, m.

2:57 PM  
Anonymous Elizabeth said...

Meghan, I admire you for writing this post, and letting women know that there is a name for how they feel.

I had many of the symptoms you listed, and also the irrational fear. For me, it was the car. What if I swerved into oncoming traffic? What if that other car jumped the light and smashed into our car? What if Kaitlyn were killed? I dreamed up scenarios where I had a nervous breakdown and had to go to a special hospital where I wouldn't speak to anyone for months.

I knew when I met you at BlogHer that you were an amazing woman, and this just clinches it.

6:57 PM  
Blogger Melissa said...

Yes, this is why I write about it. I had PPD with my first son undiagnosed for 6 years. And if my parents hadn't stepped in, I do think I would have hurt him. But I mentioned it to my preacher and she told me to pray it away. I prayed, and it didn't go away, it got bigger.

My youngest son is 13 months old. I worried every day I would suffer like I did the first time. And thankfully I didn't, but I knew where to get help if I did.

Thank you for sharing your story with such candidness. It takes bravery, even on a blog where I don't "know" you. You are brave.

8:26 PM  
Anonymous Dacia :-) said...

Amalah sent this link to me via email and I cried when I read it. I just had twin boys and everything you wrote was exactly how I was feeling. I am on Zoloft now and have been for a couple of weeks and am feeling much better. I made the decision to go back to work so in other words, to appreciate them more. It is so sad that society doesn't prepare us for maternal guilt and motherhood what it really is. You are an inspiration to me. Thank you for posting this!

5:54 AM  
Blogger Suburban Turmoil said...

This is amazing and revelatory to read! I had the exact same kinds of thoughts right after my baby was born and I thought I was some kind of monster. I knew in my heart that I loved her with everything in me and that I could never, ever harm her, but these horrible thoughts would come to my head unbidden for the first month or so of her life and even though I desperately wanted to tell someone, I knew I never, ever could.

Until now.

Thank you so much. I'm pregnant again and am promising myself that I'll recognize any signs of PPD as soon as they happen and call my doctor.

It's strange because when you're in it, you think it's not that bad, but a year later you look back and think, Oh my gosh, I was absolutely not myself then.

6:11 AM  
Blogger Belinda said...

This is a stunningly brave and honest post, and can only do good by shining a light.

My husband and I BOTH wrote mental-illness awareness posts on our blogs this week (without knowing what the other was doing), and I happen to have read at least a couple of others since then...I wonder if it was the phase of the moon, or something, that had so many of us deciding to bring this "thing" out of the darkness, and stigma be danged?

Wow--just think what we could do with a COORDINATED effort. Could we start a "bringing mental health out of the closet" blogging week or month, even, every year? Think of the possibilities.

3:06 PM  
Blogger Marie said...

I admire you for having the courage to post this and sharing your experience with so many other women. You've helped so many women by sharing your story...

7:18 AM  
Blogger Suburban Turmoil said...

Hi Meghan,

I posted about this entry today over at www.dot-moms.com. Just wanted you to know. :)

7:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this. It was the staircase for me, too.

9:09 AM  
Blogger R said...

Just thank you.

5:58 PM  
Anonymous FishyGirl said...

For me, it was, and still is, concrete, especially stairs. I always had this image in my mind of their heads going splat on the sidewalk because I tripped and dropped them. I am pregnant with #4 and had a brief whisp of this float by when holding my week old godson, so DH and I plan to be extra vigilant this time. Thank you so much for posting about this "thing" that we aren't supposed to talk about, but need to.

4:55 PM  

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