Postpartum Depression

Just Show Up: A Love Story

Below is a story of a woman who suffered from Postpartum Depression (PPD) after the birth of her child. I posted this story because when I read it I was deeply and intimately reminded of the first few months of my child’s life as I, too, suffered from PPD. I have read many accounts of woman with PPD but this story is the one that has resonated with me the most. I felt that same desire to run away. I lived the anxiety, the fear, the guilt, and the deep shame at not feeling the way I was “supposed” to feel. I placed the picture of me to the right of her because I was immediately reminded of the picture of me and my newborn when I looked at her picture. I remember feeling so lost, sad and empty and not knowing why. The thing I had wished for most had finally come true and yet I was at the lowest point in my life. I thank her for sharing her story.

Joy with her son shortly after he was born momma in me

http://www.parents.com/baby/health/postpartum-depression/just-show-up-a-love-story/

Just Show Up: A Love Story

For months, I felt no connection whatsoever to my newborn son. Then one day an idea took hold that changed everything.
By Joy Peskin from Parents Magazine
Trying to remember the exact moment I fell in love with my son, Nathaniel, is hard. It might have been when he appeared to be listening intently as I read him my favorite book from childhood, The Velveteen Rabbit. It might have been during the walk when he reached out from his baby carrier and grabbed my finger. But I know for sure that it wasn’t the first time I held my child — and the shock I felt at not experiencing the rush of love I had anticipated upon becoming a mother was staggering.Even though I had a cesarean section, I still expected to see Nathaniel right away. I imagined he’d be lifted over the curtain and placed onto my chest. He’d open his eyes, and we’d look at each other, and the collective wisdom of generations of mothers who had come before me would beam into my heart.Instead, my son and I had our first meeting in the recovery room at the hospital, hours after his birth. My parents and my husband were there. A nice nurse kept asking me where I was on the pain scale from one to ten. Someone handed the baby to me at some point, but the memory is elusive, just beyond my reach.

The last thing I recall clearly was being in the operating room. The baby had just been delivered, but he wasn’t crying yet; the nurses were still clearing out his mouth. I was shaking violently, either from fear or from all the drugs that had been pumped into my system. I begged the anesthesiologist to do something for my nausea. Before she added another drug to my IV, I heard a nurse asking my doctor the reason for the C-section, presumably for hospital paperwork. “It’s late and I wanted to go home,” he said. I suppose he was joking, but after 36 hours of labor, I wasn’t really in the mood to laugh.

In the blurry weeks that followed, I went over the events of that day in my mind like a crime-scene investigator, trying to figure out exactly when something had gone horribly wrong. Because something was clearly horribly wrong. When I held Nathaniel, I felt a pounding, all-consuming anxiety. One word thrummed through my head like a drumbeat: escape. I wanted to put Nathaniel in his crib, walk out the door, and never come back. When we took him for his first checkup, I sincerely hoped the doctor would see that I was not up for the challenge of motherhood and allow us to leave the baby there.

What kind of mother was I? What kind of person was I? You’re a monster, I told myself. A monster who doesn’t love her own child. It didn’t make sense. I had always thought of myself as the kind of woman who was born to be a mother. But here I was, desperately plotting my escape from the role I had craved most in life.

When my husband took pictures of me with the baby, I tried to force my face into a smile, but my eyes told the truth. They were flat and empty. My voice sounded like it was coming from down a long tunnel. I had no appetite. Food tasted wrong.

A few friends suggested that I might have postpartum depression, but I didn’t think so. That felt like a crutch, an excuse. Besides, I wasn’t crying all the time. I wasn’t crying at all. I was just sitting there, either numb or panicking, incapable of doing anything right. I wasn’t sick. I was useless.

I can’t do this. I won’t do this. These words ran through my mind day after day, hour after hour, minute after minute. Every time the phone rang, I hoped it was someone calling to rescue me. Friends came and visited, but they always left. “Take me with you,” I remember begging one of them. I tried to pretend I was joking, but I wasn’t.

I was feeling worse after a few weeks, so I called a psychopharmacologist I had seen a few years back. She was straightforward and told me that with the right medication, I would feel just like my old self. I didn’t believe her. My old self was gone — I was sure of that.

I went back to a therapist I had seen before my marriage, but she had become, over time, more a friend than a counselor. I was ashamed for her to see me in my current state. I went once and didn’t return.

Next I tried an old-school psychoanalyst. Dr. Freud, as my husband called him, was warm and reassuring, but he wanted to talk about my childhood and I wanted to focus on the present. By this point, Nathaniel was more than 2 months old. I feared that if I didn’t get better soon, I’d never bond with him. Also, my maternity leave was coming to an end. I needed to take a more aggressive approach.

A friend had given me the phone number of a postpartum-depression hotline, and I carried it with me for weeks before I got up the nerve to call. When I finally did, a kind woman assured me that I did have PPD, and that it was surmountable. The other doctors I had seen told me that too, but she was the first one I really believed. She told me she heard women say exactly what I was saying all the time. I had felt so alone in my dark, ugly thoughts, but she had personally talked to other women who had gone through exactly what I was going through. They had gotten better, and I would get better too.

The woman from the hotline suggested a therapist specializing in PPD. When I called her, she told me that the fact that I experienced guilt over my negative feelings about motherhood was a good sign. It meant I didn’t want to feel that way. And she told me she had also had PPD, and she had gotten over it and had gone on to have a second child. On my first visit, she gave me her personal copy of Brooke Shields’s book about postpartum depression, Down Came the Rain. After reading the book and with the therapist’s counseling, I started to feel better. I went back on the antidepressant I’d been taking before I got pregnant, which made a big difference.

And something else helped me too: a line from an article I read about Rosanne Cash. When describing her work ethic, she said, “Just show up. Just do it. Even if you feel like s— and you think you’re terrible and you’ll never get better and it will never go anywhere, just show up and do it. And, eventually, something happens.” That spoke to me. I felt like a terrible mother and I didn’t know what I was doing. I couldn’t figure out which cry meant “I’m hungry” and which meant “I’m tired.” I couldn’t get the baby wrap to work. I didn’t know how often to bathe him, or when to put him down for a nap, or whether to put him in pajamas or to let him sleep in a diaper. I was sure that if left alone in my care, he would die. But when my mind started with its refrain of I can’t do this, I won’t do this, I thought of that quote from Rosanne Cash. Just show up, I told myself instead. Just do it. So I did. And she was right: Something happened. I started to get the hang of it.

I turned a corner when Nathaniel was 3 months old and I returned to work. I love my job, so going back to it — and going back to my pre-baby routine — made me happy. Ultimately, I rediscovered my confidence, which had felt as if it had been put into a car, driven into the middle of the desert, and set on fire.

It took me a while to come to terms with what happened during the earliest days of my child’s life. More than once, I’ve found myself wishing I had known him when he was first born. And of course that’s foolish, because I was right there. But also, I wasn’t. To see us together these days, you’d never know. When he smiles my heart bursts, like fireworks, into a thousand tiny stars. I love nothing more than snuggling with him or reading to him. And I guess I’ll never understand exactly what went wrong, whether I was traumatized by the C-section, or if I experienced some sort of hormonal crash, or if people with my type A personality — those of us who like to do things perfectly on the first try, who like to be in control — are just destined for a certain degree of panic when we become mothers and lose control of absolutely everything. I thought I would fall in love with my baby the first time he was in my arms. But that didn’t happen. It couldn’t happen until the thing that broke in me when he came into the world was fixed. But I love him now, boundlessly and without reservation. And maybe in the end what matters most isn’t the moment we fall in love, but what we do with that love once it takes hold.

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Bringing new mothers’ pain out of the shadows

More needs to be done to raise awareness about the devastation of postpartum depression among the public and medical community and to make effective treatment widely available.

Kimberly Wong

Public defender Kimberly Wong, who suffered severe postpartum depression, founded the Los Angeles County Perinatal Mental Health Task Force to raise awareness about the illness. (Christina House, For The Times / July 29, 2012)

By Kurt StreeterJuly 29, 2012 

Just like for so many others, including my wife, Kimberly Wong didn’t see the darkness coming, and nobody warned her that it could.

Here’s what happened. After years of trying, Wong got pregnant and at first everything went perfectly. The lead-up, the birth, the first week with the new baby, a cute little girl she and her husband named Marley.

Then out of nowhere this tough-minded public defender crumbled. Wong’s skin felt like it was being zapped by a cattle prod. Her resting heart rate was often 100. She could barely eat, sleep, slow down or think cogent thoughts.

Her doctor told her she was simply a high-strung lawyer who needed to relax. So she blamed herself, which made matters worse.

It didn’t help that the doctor’s advice made no sense. Wong had something relaxation can’t cure. She’d been hit by postpartum depression, brought on by, more than anything else, whipsaw hormonal changes that come with giving birth.

This isn’t something we can afford to keep sweeping into the shadows.

Experts say 10% to 20% of new mothers experience it: a steep drop in mood that’s far more devastating and lasts far longer than two or three weeks of the so-called baby blues.

Wong had the worst type. She penned a suicide note. By luck, her husband walked in on her. He took her to a Mid-City mental hospital so she wouldn’t harm herself. Nobody at the hospital had much expertise in what she was battling.

That’s when Wong realized how few options there are for women who need psychological help related specifically to motherhood. She had to drive 50 miles to find a doctor and a support group that really understood.

You should know that time has passed, about eight years since the height of it, and Wong and her family have bounced back. In fact, she has turned her struggles into something good.

“I’m trying to make sure other moms don’t go through what I did,” she says.

When she’s not working at the public defender’s office, she focuses on the nonprofit she started: the Los Angeles County Perinatal Mental Health Task Force. Sure, clunky name, but can there be a more important cause?

Experts say that in L.A. County alone, about 22,000 new mothers suffer from this awful malady every year.That’s 22,000 women — as well as their babies and partners — who need special support and too often aren’t getting it.

The task force — bare bones, operating largely on the energy of volunteers — aims to push us out of the shadows: moms and families who need help but are too embarrassed or just don’t know where to turn; doctors and social workers who are either ill-informed on the nuances of this illness or just don’t look hard enough for the warning signs.

Wong’s doctors didn’t really talk about the possibility she could grow terribly depressed after giving birth, she said. They should have.

She’d suffered childhood trauma: Her mother died when Wong was 11. There was a history of mental illness in her family, and she’d struggled to conceive. Those three facts put her at risk, but no doctors warned her, nobody came up with a plan that could have shielded her from near-fatal darkness.

“There’s just so much stigma that needs to be shattered,” Wong says. “I want people to talk about this like they talk about diabetes or having a bad heart. Not enough has changed since this happened and when it did happen I could barely get help.

“I’m a professional from West L.A. and it was hard enough for me,” she adds. “So think about women in poor communities with little access to good healthcare. Add it up and so many are suffering and the long-term effects for families can be devastating. Yeah, we need to talk.”

I know.

After the birth of our son in 2010, my wife battled postpartum depression. It wasn’t anywhere nearly as serious as what Wong went through and that’s important to know: This malady shows up in different strengths.

My wife’s was a more typical case. She wasn’t close to hurting herself or being put in a hospital. She did everything anyone could ask for our son. But for long, long months she lived in a world of sharp, shattering emotion that could have been avoided if we’d known more or had more aggressive help.

It could have broken my wife. What if she hadn’t had a partner to help? What if she had been poor? We’re insured, and even then it took a while for her doctors to understand how serious this was. But eventually she found a therapist who could talk her through the trouble.

Part of the problem is we live in a world swaddled in golden-hued mythology about parenthood. It’s supposed to be full of nothing but joy. If it isn’t, then moms are told to get more sleep and toughen up. That’s not helpful when depression sinks in its claws.

“A lot of us hide from this issue,” says Wong. “That has to change.”

She’s talking. So am I. So is my wife, who pushed me to write about her ordeal. If you care about mothers and children and families, well, you should be talking too.

kurt.streeter@latimes.com

Copyright © 2012, Los Angeles Times