Monday, July 6, 2015

Drowning in a puddle

I'll never forget the feelings I experienced after my son was born. It was this overwhelming mixture of love and awe and pride. I couldn't believe that in my arms (after he got through a scary, difficult transition) was this incredible little life that I had brought into the world. And yes, I know my husband had a hand in things, but I carried him for nine months and I gave birth to him and I could go into everything that those two things entail, but we all know it's just not the same. I didn't sleep a wink that first night after he was born, totally wired from what I'd been through that day and now instantly hypersensitive to every sound the little bundle of snorts made.

The first couple weeks at home weren't much different. I was completely sleep deprived, making it through those early days on sheer bliss alone. But as the days progressed and the pure need of a newborn began to take its toll that euphoria started to fade, and something much sinister started creeping in in its place. I started a gradual downward spiral that became less and less something I had any control over. By the time my son was two months old I knew it was time to get some help, that this was more than just the baby blues, that it wasn't something I could just snap myself out of. I think that was the day my husband came home from work to find me rocking the baby with, as he put it, a thousand yard stare on my face.

I had slipped into a whopping case of postpartum depression and anxiety. I'd find myself swinging between the two with brief passes through, for lack of a better term, my normal self. The depression was centered around my inability to let go of my old life. I mourned my freedom. I grieved for it. I could no longer go for a run whenever I wanted. I couldn't nest on the couch all Sunday afternoon with the cats and a book. I couldn't even go out to get the mail. I had this little being who needed me all the time. He needed to be fed every two hours, his diapers changed regularly, and though he was always a pretty good sleeper at night he would only nap in my arms. I had sworn up and down I wouldn't be one of those mothers who never put her baby down, but he wouldn't have it any other way. All newborns are are reflex and need. And that need is a 24 hour job. And the days were so long. He was born in January and all winter long I was cooped up in a small condo. I longed for spring so we could at least get outside. But inside, I could feel my identity slipping away. I was a mom now. I kept telling myself my life was about him now. I needed to let go of who I had become over the 38 years before he was born. But it was so hard. When things started to get really bad my husband told me that he missed the person he'd married and he wanted her back. But I knew she didn't exist anymore. She was gone forever. I was a mom now. I kept telling myself that I needed to snap out of my funk. And I tried. I truly did. But it didn't work and there were times when all I wanted to do was curl up under the covers and shut the world away.

And then there was the anxiety. I just could not understand how I was supposed to do it all. Take care of the baby, keep the condo clean, get dinner on the table, go back to work, eventually start running again. Everything else. I knew there were moms out there who did it all the time, but it all seemed so insurmountable to me. I would obsess over smaller things, like getting him out of the Rock n Play and into his crib, getting him on a good schedule, and his torticollis, which I blamed myself for even though our pediatrician said it wasn't my fault. I stressed about breastfeeding, which was rarely easy or relaxing for either me or the baby. To be completely honest, I hated it. When I finally chose to call it quits (after agonizing over the decision) I then stressed about the amount of fluoride in our water. It was always something and I envisioned a lifetime full of somethings stacked up one after the other in my future. The anxiety was eating me alive.

The depression and anxiety were exacerbated by a whole host of things. Crazy hormones, sleep deprivation. There were times I had a really difficult time not resenting my husband. He got to leave every day and go to work. He got to run. It always seemed that when he was home and had the baby I was either washing dishes or cooking dinner or doing laundry whereas if I had the baby he was on the internet or reading or watching TV. His life had hardly changed at all, or so it seemed to me at the time. He was always willing to help with the baby and never questioned anything I asked him to do, even getting up in the middle of the night. But I always had to ask and that started to get to me. He's lucky I didn't take his head off the day he was playing with the baby after getting home from work and made the comment, "This parenting stuff isn't so tough." I would get jealous of my sister (whose youngest is 14) if she mentioned she slept in one morning. I envied my mom for being able to go to a movie with friends.

I began to think I had made a huge mistake, that I had ruined my life. And of course that added intense feelings of guilt and hypocrisy to the pile weighing me down. After all, we'd tried for over a year and a half to get pregnant. We'd been told our chances weren't good. I'd cried over negative pregnancy tests, hysterically balled my eyes out when my sister-in-law got pregnant pretty much on their first try (or so I heard). I deactivated my Facebook account in order to avoid pregnancy announcements. And now here I was, with this beautiful miracle baby that I was having a hard time not regretting having.  

At one point my mom told me she wished she'd taken a picture of my face after he was born, so she could remind me of the joy I had felt. And that was the worst part of it all. She didn't need to remind me, with a picture or otherwise. I remembered. I remembered it all. The joy, the awe, the pride. I remembered and it was killing me that I'd lost it. Because of course everything I was feeling was effecting how I felt about him. There were times I would look at him and see my little guy, the beautiful little boy I'd wanted so much, that I'd created out of love and hope with my husband and brought into this world and named after my father. But other times it was like a fog descended between us and all I could see was a baby. A baby who needed to be fed again. Or was wet again. Or crying again.

My mom told me I hadn't lost those feelings of love and awe, that they were still there, just buried underneath all of the sadness and fear that had spun so wildly out of my control. Indeed, I felt as if I was in completely over my head, struggling to stay afloat, barely able to come up for air.

I look back now, only four months later, and I can see that I was drowning in a puddle.

The day of the thousand yard stare I handed the baby to my husband, drove over to my parents' house a few miles away and cried my eyes out. I knew I needed help. I needed to be healthy and completely present for my little boy and my husband. Two days later my mom, husband, baby and I all trooped into my doctor's office and I laid it all out. We walked out with a prescription for an anti-depressant and the mindset that I was going to beat this. I could not have asked for a stronger support system. My mom basically shut down her life to be with me every day for two weeks, until Leo got home from work, while I tried to adjust to a medication that was completely wrong for me until I took the steps to get it changed (that hellish two weeks is a sidebar I'll share on another day). My sister and dad were there for me. Leo's parents were there to help in any way they could. And Leo? Leo was incredible. He was incredibly patient and supportive and I know that couldn't have been easy for him. After all, I was going through something he not only couldn't possibly understand in anything but the vaguest sense, but it was also scaring the crap out of him. I never told him this, and at the time I certainly didn't recognize it, but looking back I've never felt as loved by him as I did in those few weeks. He stood by me through it all. He just wanted me to get better.

And I did. I got on the right medication, which of course helped, but my recovery stemmed from so much more than chemistry. By this time the snow was melting and the days were getting nicer. We were able to get out for walks. I eventually started running again, which was huge for me. But the biggest factor in my recovery was the little one himself. The fog lifted just in time for him to start laughing. I could see his smiles for the incredible gifts they were. I was back to looking at him, seeing my little guy, and melting into a pile of goo. The love and awe and pride were back, this time joined by confidence and strength and joy, and they all continue to grow stronger every day.

I said above that when I look back, it's as if I was drowning in a puddle. Why? All that ALL I was so stressed out about? Well, guess what, I'm doing it. I'm taking care of the baby (and loving every minute of it). I'm working. I'm training. I'm cooking dinner. I'm keeping the condo clean. I'm even getting ready to move (we found a house!). Granted I might not get a run in every day, I'm only working three half days a week, I might let the bathrooms go a little longer between cleanings, and, yes, Leo and I still sometimes have cereal for dinner. But for the most part, shit gets done! Those smaller stresses? He's been sleeping in his crib since he was 11 weeks old (HERE). That schedule I agonized about getting him on he basically just fell into himself, and my once nap-resistant baby now naps like a pro. In his crib. He's in physical therapy for his torticollis and it's slowly but surely getting better.

I stopped missing the life I had before the little peanut and started living the life I have now. And before I knew it I was getting pieces of myself back, and little freedoms began to return. First it was getting a run in here and there. Now for the first time I had to schedule a day off today because I've run 8 days in a row, including a race, and I'm still trying to come back slowly. There's time now to watch a TV show or movie if Leo and I feel like it, which we rarely do, though that has more to do with wanting an early bedtime ourselves. I don't get jealous anymore when I hear of other people sleeping in. Some mornings I'm even up BEFORE the little slugabed. I'm not blowing through two books a week anymore, but I'm getting plenty of time to read before I go to bed myself. Or during the little snoozer's naps when I'm not doing other things like packing or blogging or cleaning (and I certainly didn't write this post in one sitting). I no longer see the little scamp as taking away from my life but for what he adds to it. The things that were important to me to have back in my life, I've gotten back in my life. Other things I've let go of for the time being. There might be time for those things later on, but for now I don't miss them. Now I get to fill my time with things like making the little guy laugh, bath time, playtime, soothing him when he's upset, and trying new foods (we start Stage 2 this week!). I've watched him master rolling over and sitting on his own. Crawling, walking and talking are all still to come, along with so much more. I can't wait for the first time he lunges into my arms.

Any resentment I had for Leo faded away as we settled back into a routine. And it means the world to me that he has never thrown what I went through back in my face. He's an incredible husband and father and I'm thankful for him every day.

I knew I would one day want to write about my struggle with postpartum depression and anxiety but I didn't particularly enjoy revisiting that dark time. It's hard to think about it and not get angry at myself for letting it happen, even though I know it wasn't anything I had any control over. It's hard not to beat myself up for the time that I lost, even if it was just a matter of weeks that the little stinker will  never remember anyway. I will remember. I won't ever forget that time. I wish I hadn't had to go through it. I wish I hadn't scared my husband and family like that. But, as cliche as this sounds, I'm probably a better and stronger mother now for having gone through it.

When things were bad I once asked Leo if he thought we'd made a mistake. He said absolutely not, that the little guy was the best thing we'd ever done. He was right. He is the best thing we've ever done. The best thing I've ever done. The world is an infinitely better place with him in it and I can no longer imagine my life without him. I don't want to.

We're terrible at selfies. 


  1. Thank you for sharing this part of your journey. I was touched by your honesty and I cried for you. :: huge hugs :: I was thrilled beyond words when I saw you that you were racing again. James is lucky to have you as his mother.

  2. Hi, Leah! We met in Houston a few years ago (marathon). I've been a longtime reader of your blog (and former FB friend). I'm also getting back to "life" since my babe was born. While I never experienced depression as you did, I had a VERY hard time returning to work and balancing life. Just wanted to tell you that you aren't alone. I'm so glad you are feeling better and enjoying motherhood. Your son is perfect.