Hope Is What We Come Looking For — Part II

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Even though it was 18 years ago, my memory of postpartum depression and anxiety feel as fresh as if it were last week. There was a nurse in the hospital, Mardi, who cared for me in the days after Alec was born. She sensed something was wrong and checked on me at home with a phone call. When she asked how I was, I tried to answer but my voice choked with tears. “I’ll be there in twenty minutes,” she said. I hung up the phone, and let the emotion I’d been holding back, flow. I was filled with such a degree of sadness, that I could only clutch my chest, and cry. I didn’t understand why. I loved my baby, but this feeling of immense melancholy pushed him into the background. The tears streamed down my cheeks as I stood at the window and watched for Mardi. All I had to do was make it twenty minutes, just hang on until Mardi got there. My life had become one of surviving life small blocks at a time. Finally, this nurse, who was intuitive enough to see what no one else could see, rushed up to my front door. When she saw me, she pressed my head into her chest, and in the loudest voice possible without screaming, she spoke into my ear, “I promise you, you will get better.”

I wanted that promise of “better” and I was desperate to believe her. But my thoughts, my fears of the worst, held me back. I knew something was very wrong, and I was scared enough to be worried. In the pitch black of the night, my  heart raced, I prayed over the pounding in my chest that I would be normal again. But what if I would always feel this way? Panic would rise into my throat, as I thought, what if I never get better? What was I going to believe? Was it her promise that was my hope? The part of me, too terrified to believe, scared that I wouldn’t get better shouted back no– you won’t be one of the lucky ones. You’re just too far gone. I was afraid to believe in case she was wrong. But I had to. I had a baby now and I had to do something for him. My days blurred into nights and sleep deprived, every moment felt like I was standing on a cliff, looking out over my life and the world whirred on with me lost in the middle of it. Thoughts roared in my head, Just Give Up. Run away, he’d be better off without you. I imagined myself leaving my baby in the better care of my husband, and I wondered if Alec would know that I left, for love of him. But through all this, Mardi’s voice was louder, and I heard it. She was telling me I would get better, that she had seen people like me get better, and that it would happen. But I knew it was me that had to decide –  either I would believe and try, or I wouldn’t make it. I couldn’t leave things to chance, I loved my son so much.

I remember that moment of decision with Mardi. She was sitting next to me on the sofa, I had Alec in my arms. I sat with my baby, holding him so close I could smell his breath. While my tears fell on his little face, I tried to talk but I could only sob. She understood what I couldn’t say. I heard her voice, firm and determined, break through the deafening defeat in my mind. The word “promise,” again. And then, somehow through the darkness, something in my heart lifted. A resolution, and my soul took on the fight for me and my baby. I decided to believe what she was telling me. What I felt was more than optimism, it was far more powerful than positive thought or statistical probability.

What I felt was real HOPE. With Mardi there, I called my doctor and went in to see her. Within a few minutes of talking to me, she got on the phone and called a mental health specialist. I had an appointment for that afternoon. I was started on a prescription medication that was safe while breastfeeding and had therapy sessions three times a week

I write here today, having been fortunate enough to have held hope in my arms at a time when I can say it is the only way I survived. It’s the personal experience I’ve had with hope that makes me know hope is not on a continuum, that it’s not measured in degrees or a dash marker on a spectrum. It is that complete hope, the desperate belief in something when you have nothing else. My postpartum depression and anxiety remain the blackest period of my life, and I survived.

Eighteen years ago, when I became a mother for the first time, I needed that kind of hope, more than words here can describe. I had to believe that Mardi was right. I would get better. I had to take that HOPE into my terrified heart and make it mine. From that moment on, I knew I had to wake up every morning and claim that hope for me and my son. I believed Mardi, that living spark of knowing that I saw in her eyes. I still feel that white hot commitment to hope that lit up my soul. That seed took root, and I gave it no time limit or ultimatum for when. I accepted hope on its terms and believed in its promise.

Hope gave me determination and became that tangible thing I held on to when my sanity was disappearing. The early weeks of new motherhood cracked my world in half. I needed a life saver, and I needed to never let it go. Hope is that thing that told me to look at my child with a smile on my face — always. Hope led me to the library to find CDs of Broadway show tunes so I could learn songs to sing loudly, happily, earthily, to my baby.

One morning, as I held Alec, singing ”Oklahoma!” to him off-key but with my whole heart, he looked up at me and smiled. He was ten weeks old, and my heart bounded out of my chest with JOY. This was his first smile and he had it for me. I saw how beautiful, indescribable, and true, hope is. In the days to come, hope kept showing me its face with flashes of the gift that life is. And would be like.

It is this gift of hope that is flesh and blood real to me now. When I speak to new mothers’ groups, I talk honestly about my slow, struggling climb out of the depths of my early days as a new mother, about the pain of hopelessness. I tell them, in a voice that still breaks from the fierceness of the memory, my true unprettied up story from the past with the hope that they’ll believe this seemingly put-together woman standing now in front of them when she confesses about the days she thought she’d never feel normal again. That once, I was right where they are.

When I look out, teary-eyed, into the faces of the women sitting in front of me, I see them listening — and there is always that one there. The face I instantly recognize. I know what she’s come looking for. Her desperation for belief in my words so visible, so clear in her eyes, in the same way I wanted my nurse’s promise of hope for me to be real — like it’s the only thing we have.

In the loudest voice I can without screaming, I look into her eyes, and just like Mardi did for me 18 years ago, I beg her, never give up. Never give up HOPE.   


*This is Part II of an original series written for Postpartum Progress. Part I was published January 14, 2013.


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Hope is What We Come Looking For

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When I was pregnant with my first child, there wasn’t a room that could contain my joy. I had been waiting my entire life to have a baby and after I saw the two pink lines on the pregnancy test stick, I walked on air.  I went to bed in the same way I woke up, with a smile on my face. I couldn’t wait to have this baby and the first time I heard the swoosh of his heartbeat on my 8-week exam, I laughed out loud from happiness.

People told me I looked radiant, and I felt it. I had an energy and excitement for this new baby and I wanted to do everything right. I took my prenatal vitamins, got enough water, ate the right foods, and went for long walks. I never shorted myself on sleep and I counted the days until our baby’s arrival.

All was going along as picture perfect as my pregnancy calendar predicted, until at 31-and-a-half weeks of pregnancy, when I awoke with excruciating lower back pain and swollen hands, feet and face. I went to work, but sitting was impossible. The shoes I had to wear that day were my loosest slip-on loafers, and my feet were pushing against the seams. A nurse walked past my desk that day and saw me with my legs elevated on a waste can. She asked how I was and when I told her how my back hurt and that my fingers were too puffy for rings, she insisted I call my OB/GYN. I had an appointment the next week and didn’t think I had to, but she refused to walk away until I made the call. To my alarm, when I called my doctor’s office and told her of my symptoms, she asked me to come in right away. I didn’t feel that I needed to be seen, but I was scared enough by my doctor’s concern to go in. On the drive there, I felt one of the worst headaches I’ve had in years.

When I arrived at the doctor’s office, they immediately measured me and told me I was measuring four weeks larger in size for being 31 weeks. Then they took my blood pressure. I saw the exchange of glances between the nurse and the doctor. My OB then took the blood pressure herself. She put the instrument down, and placed her hands on my knees. I felt dizzy with an anxiousness I had never felt before. “We’re going to have to admit you. Your blood pressure is through the roof and we’ll try to get your numbers down, but you’re entering pre-term labor.”

This couldn’t be. I told her, “But I’m only 31 weeks! And my husband’s in Australia!” She made a tense moment lighter by joking, “Well, the baby doesn’t care about that. He’s on his way if we don’t do something about it.”

And so ended an idyllic pregnancy. I wept because of all the things that weren’t going according to my dreams: I hadn’t had my baby shower, I hadn’t celebrated my last day at work, I was alone at home, and my baby might be born early! I wasn’t ready for this pregnancy to end and there were beautiful maternity dresses I had yet to wear! I was being yanked out of life as I knew it and things felt out of control. The tears came as they admitted me to the hospital and the soonest my husband could get back to the United States was three days. I was alone, and so overwhelmed. [Read more...]

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Latina Mom Was “Banshee Mommy” During Postpartum Depression

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anger, rage, postpartum depressionI love this story from Elma Placeres Dieppa about her experience with postpartum depression (PPD). There is certainly a strong stigma against acknowledging and treating mental illness in the Latin community, so I really appreciate her bravery in sharing her story at the blog Latino Amerigringa. I also really appreciate how much she talked about having uncontainable anger as one of her symptoms.

Elma shares a lot about her anger during PPD:

“I know my temper was off the charts, which with an infant and a toddler is a scary place to be … I was mad! I was furious! Nothing the kids did was cute, or fun, or interesting. I just wanted to be left alone … Slowly, I became more active, but the anger stayed with me, and there was no, no…verve. I have a great life, but I couldn’t really appreciate it, which of course made me feel worse. I’ve always been a believer of natural remedies, so I went to my naturopath and got some help, or better yet I sought help. And things changed slightly, but not the rage.” She calls herself “banshee mommy” during that period.

Rage. It’s one of the surprising symptoms of postpartum depression, one that many websites don’t even list, but one that is still quite common and that I wish more women knew might be a sign of PPD.

Eventually Elma sought the help of a physician and found a treatment plan that worked for her. To read her entire story, click here.

For more stories on anger and rage during PPD, try:

The Rage of Postpartum Depression

Uncontrollable Anger Can Be Part Of PPD

Photo credit: © Paul Hakimata – Fotolia.com 

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Why You Shouldn’t Lie About Your Postpartum Depression Symptoms

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postpartum depression symptomsOne of the things I’ve always told moms with postpartum depression who are headed to see their doc or therapist is this: Tell them EVERYTHING. Don’t hold back. Don’t lie about or leave out any of your postpartum depression symptoms.

Are you sleeping? How much? If not, is it that you can’t fall asleep, or you can fall asleep but you wake up later and can’t fall asleep after that?

Are you eating? Really eating?

How do you feel about yourself right now? Doing okay or wanting to crawl under a rock or run away? Have you thought about hurting yourself? Have you hurt yourself in any way?

What about your head, what’s going on in there? Are you having thoughts that scare the crap out of you? What-if thoughts that make you wonder whether you’re some kind of monster?

Are you getting support? Are you able to ask for support, or are you turning away the people trying to help?

Are you concerned about even being in this doctor’s office? Do you distrust him or her, or are you afraid of telling the truth, or are you afraid of certain types of treatment?

Say it. Say it all. Lay bare each and every one of your postpartum depression symptoms. If this person has any kind of experience treating moms with postpartum depression or anxiety or PTSD or antenatal depression then they’ve heard it all before. What’s happening to you or what you are feeling is not going to make them fall off the couch, or run screaming out of the room, or hit you over the head with the nearest blunt object. It’s not, because they know you have an illness and they know the kind of things that can happen with an illness like yours, and if they know exactly what’s going on with you then they’ll be able to help you SO MUCH MORE EFFECTIVELY.

And if, for whatever reason, they really aren’t good at this stuff and they make you feel uncomfortable, or they’re not willing to give you explanations and descriptions and side effects and considerations, then you can always get up and walk out and go elsewhere.

I’m thinking of all of this because of Karen Kleiman’s great Psychology Today piece about lying in therapy. People don’t lie outright, she says, as much as they just leave things out. Don’t mention certain postpartum depression symptoms or new unhealthy coping mechanism. “Forgot” to mention your intrusive thoughts? Cutting? Increased alcohol usage? Current abusive relationship? She lists several reasons why people lie in therapy, and then explains, “Lies of omission will either drastically postpone valuable therapeutic work or it can totally derail the process. You are wasting your time and your money if you lie to your therapist.”

It’s true. It really is. Don’t lie mamas. Lay it out there.

Photo credit: © creative soul – Fotolia.com

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