Those words excited me and scared the living daylights out of me back in September 2001. I think I walked around all weekend thinking, 'Oh my god, oh my god, this is real, and I am a true adult now.' As the months went on, pregnancy was not too bad. All day sickness set in at about seven weeks along but other than that it was pretty uneventful. My 30th birthday was a different story.
March 29, 2001, was when it changed. I began to bleed, heavily. We lived in New Hampshire at the time and nothing scared me more than hearing a helicopter coming to the hospital and realizing it was for me. I was airlifted to Dartmouth Medical Center and treated there for placental abruption (when the placenta begins to detach fro the uterus too early). I was on bed rest there for 14 ½ days and was sent home, where I also was ordered on bed rest.
Being confined to a bed was not an easy thing for me to deal with. I am very independent and when I had to have my husband bring me things and make only one trip up the stairs and one trip down per day...well, you can imagine what that was like.
Meghan Elizabeth Piorek came into the world at 12:27 a.m. on April 23, 2002, five-and-a-half weeks before her due date. She was very healthy at six pounds, 11 ounces and only had to be in a few extra days due to jaundice. I was relieved, happy it was over and overwhelmed.
I couldn’t breastfeed but got pressure from the nurse there to try. I ended up pumping it and giving it to my daughter through a bottle. It was the best I could do. I thought I would do OK and handle this new mom thing pretty easily. I mean, I am a teacher, I can handle classrooms of children, how hard could one be?
OK, so sleep deprivation is not a fun thing; it really plays with your emotions and mind. At least, that’s what I kept telling myself along with things like, 'this will pass.' I remember crying one morning in the shower thinking this is so unfair, I am so tired and so miserable. I remember another time where I was upset with my husband thinking he has no idea, his life hasn’t changed a bit. He still gets up and goes to work at the same time, whereas I gave up my career, my body and my life. Again, this too will pass. Well, it didn’t.
I was miserable for seven weeks. For 49 days, I secretly hid these feelings of sadness, loneliness and exhaustion. During that time I never asked for help because I thought I would look weak or not be a good mom. So I ate my way through the feelings of depression.
I felt terrible for not being “in love” with my daughter from day one. What kind of mother doesn’t see glowing lights and angels around their new baby? I sure didn’t. It wasn’t until I went to my doctor that I finally confessed to someone how I was feeling. I told him I love my baby, but there were days when I just didn't want to be near and I didn't know why. I longed for my old life back. But, ironically, I wouldn’t change her for the world.
The doctor talked to me about postpartum depression. As soon as I heard that phrase, I instantly backed off; I thought there was no way I could have that. I would never dream of harming my baby, and I wasn't one of those mothers who cries all day. But the doctor explained it isn’t like that. He reminded me that it’s not a character flaw; it’s not a weakness. It’s your body and it is fixable. Like a headache is curable, so is this. I was still very skeptical.
As discussed by the Mayo Clinic, it is listed as a complication of birth. The site states: Postpartum depression may appear to be the baby blues at first — but the signs and symptoms are more intense and longer lasting, eventually interfering with your ability to care for your baby and handle other daily tasks. Postpartum depression symptoms may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Intense irritability and anger
- Overwhelming fatigue
- Loss of interest in sex
- Lack of joy in life
- Feelings of shame, guilt or inadequacy
- Severe mood swing
- Difficulty bonding with the baby
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Thoughts of harming yourself or the baby
Untreated, postpartum depression may last for a year or more.
I had some of these feelings, but what was I to do? I should I rid myself of these feelings? How did I get over the fact that this was hindering my true enjoyment of new mommy hood? This was hard for me to come to grips with.
I was always the kind of person who could battle through anything. I could go out for a walk, attend yoga, talk to friends, write about it or simply shake it off. Still, nothing prepared me for the way I felt.
My doctor explained that due to my complications from the placental abruption and the premature birth, I never really had a moment to prepare mentally and grasp the idea of motherhood; I never had the build up. I celebrated my 30th birthday in a helicopter ride. I never had a baby shower because I was in the hospital. I almost felt gypped.
The mommy guilt over these things and so much more made me feel worse, so it was a vicious cycle. I wanted out. I wanted to feel better. I wanted to enjoy Meghan the way I dreamed of motherhood.
I began weekly therapy sessions and reluctantly filled that prescription for antidepressants. Thankfully, within one session and 10 days of the medication, I was a new person. Surprisingly, so was Meghan!
She wasn’t crying as much. She was happier. We settled into a healthy routine now. And the best part, I really really enjoyed being with her. We did everything together; she became my little buddy.
Thankfully, I was only on the medication until Meghan was a year old. I felt good and made it through that trying time in my life. I really felt like I had accomplished something major in my life. Her first birthday was not just a celebration for her, but inside, it was my personal celebration of finding happiness.
With my second daughter, things were different. I feel blessed that I enjoyed her infancy. To be honest, yes, I waited for the sadness or overwhelming feelings to creep up but they didn’t this time. I felt almost "normal" (whatever that means today).
I don’t know why or understand the reasons postpartum depression happens to some women and not others. I don’t know why it happened with one child and not the other. I don’t know why I felt ashamed to finally ask for help seven weeks later. What I do know is that we need to stop looking at postpartum depression as a stigma in our society. It doesn’t make one weaker; it doesn’t make one crazy; it doesn’t mean we are incapable of motherhood. It is a treatable condition. If you have a headache, you treat it. If you have a sore throat, you see a doctor. Well, postpartum depression should be viewed in the same light. If you're having trouble coping with postpartum depression, talk with your physician or a therapist. The sooner you get help, the sooner you'll be fully equipped to help your partner, yourself and to truly enjoy your new baby.
There are many resources for women who have feelings of postpartum depression. The following are a few resources I used:
- The Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/postpartum-depression/DS00546
- "Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression" by Brooke Shields
- "The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World is Still the Least Valued" by Ann Crittenden