I recently got together with my “old” friend Sarah to catch up on life and discuss the possibility of writing a blog post for this series. It had been 12+ years since we’ve seen each other, although we have kept in contact and up-to-date on one another’s lives via Facebook. Needless to say, what my husband expected would be an hour out for a drink turned into over 4 hours of intense conversation (and some delicious beers!). That night brought me much happiness because it reminded me how far I have come during my journey into adulthood, and more specifically motherhood.
It is safe to say that I am one of those women who always knew I would be a mother. As an elementary and middle school music teacher, I have seen the various phases of childhood. Even the possibility of having a tantrum throwing preschooler or a bratty teenage girl of my own one day didn’t stop me from dreaming of pregnancy. My child would be different (hahaha). So, after 6 years of work, travel, and fun with my better half (two of them in marriage), we decided to try for a baby.
Remember when you were in high school health class and they tried to to convince you that if a penis was near you-not even inside, just next to you-that you could get pregnant? That’s bullshit. Seriously. Show me the woman who gets knocked up that way and gives birth to a healthy baby and I will slap her. And I know that there are women who will read this and think to themselves “girl, you have no idea”. As hard as our journey into parenthood was, I know of 100 other women (seriously, I know them now through my support groups) who had it way worse. I think that was a huge factor in my PPD. I felt like I was given such a beautiful gift and I was failing.
Before I go much further, let me explain the terms that have dominated my life since 2009. I joined a message board for women who were trying to get pregnant and I’ve maintained a close connection with many of them. When you join these online communities, you need to know the lingo:
PPD- Postpartum Depression
PPA- Postpartum Anxiety
TTC- Trying to Conceive
TTTC- Trouble Trying to Conceive
TTCAL- Trying to Conceive After a Loss
MC/PL- Miscarriage/ Pregnancy Loss
CP- Chemical Pregnancy
D&C- Dilation and curettage (removal of a missed or incomplete miscarriage)
BBT- Basal Body Temperature/Thermometer
FF- Fertility Friend.com (website to monitor fertility predictors)
BFN- Big Fat Negative (negative pregnancy test)
BFP- Big Fat Positive (positive pregnancy test)
BH- Braxton Hicks Contractions (non-productive contractions, sometimes referred to as fake ones)
BF- Breast Feeding
So, as I was saying, pregnancy is hard. I could write a novel about this experience and maybe one day I will, but for now, I will just say that it can be very hard. It took a few months of BFNs and then I had a CP, followed by another CP, finally followed a BFP. Hooray, I was KTFU!!!! The fact that I had already had two positive tests that didn’t work out barely phased me. I felt that this was it. At 11 weeks I had a MC that had to be removed by a D&C, in the hospital where my mother-in-law was being treated for lung cancer. I can’t explain that week. I don’t know if I could possibly express the sadness of finding out that the baby whose heartbeat I had seen only a few weeks earlier was gone. Or the feeling of hopelessness when I woke up from the procedure with an empty uterus. Or the defeat in telling my mother-in-law that she was never going to hold that baby. I thought that was the lowest I would ever feel. Unfortunately, I was very wrong.
My mother-in-law passed away two months later. I got my period the day after her funeral. I took it as a sign and began to chart- took my BBT every morning and logged onto FF to put in my temperature, listed my various fertility signs and waited to the computer to tell me that I was ovulating. Getting pregnant was THE goal and we were having sex for the purpose of making a baby. One afternoon I was sure I was ovulating and since we were going to visit friends, I said we had to have sex before we left. It’s pretty sad that I know my son was conceived during an afternoon quickie, after which my husband told me he felt like I had used him! I wish it was more romantic. I wish many things were different.
I thought getting pregnant was hard and staying pregnant was no walk in the park either. I spent the first trimester on progesterone supplements and on bed rest because of spotting and cramping. The second trimester was fairly uneventful although the cramping did continue. By the summer, I was in the midst of the third trimester and a pretty rough time. I was having lots of BH and was back on bed rest after two trips to the hospital for pre-term labor. I had to go on medication to stop the contractions. My friends and family came over to entertain me and help us prepare for the birth of our son. The day my prescription ran out was also the first day of school. I went in to hand over my lesson plans to my maternity replacement and went into labor at 37 weeks. Twenty-seven hours later, my dreams of an unmedicated natural birth resulted in an emergency c-section. The downward spiral had begun.
When you leave the hospital, they make you take a quiz to help figure out if you are experiencing PPD. I answered every question the “right way” in order to get out. Meanwhile, I was dying inside. My baby was small, the physical pain from hours of labor followed by surgery was unbearable, we were having problems with breast feeding and they wanted me to supplement, the doctors discovered he had a heart defect (a heart murmur that he will outgrow). It was too much. I told the nurse that my doctor wanted me to stay an extra day- he had not said that, but let he it slide. God bless that man. On the day I was supposed to leave I cried so hard they had to bring two nurses and a social worker to talk me down. I pulled it together and we left. That night I asked my husband if we could bring our son back to the hospital or put him up for adoption. I was serious. It hurts to admit that I ever said such a thing, but I was so scared. I spent hours everyday lying on the floor in tears. I didn’t shower. I wouldn’t be able eat during day, but would binge in the middle of the night. The biggest problem was my fear of putting my son down, so I held him all the time.
I became so fixed on my son’s safety that I really began to lose it. I would wake up in the middle of the night to nurse him, put him back to sleep, go downstairs and pump (he was losing weight and we had to supplement his feedings) and then try to fall asleep for a half hour or so before he got up again. In my sleep I would mold our comforter into a “baby” and wake up thinking I was holding my son only to find a pile of blankets. The terror I felt was indescribable. I was convinced he was going to die. Then I began to reason with myself that if that happened, he would be better off. The thoughts turned to my wellbeing, or lack-there-of, and I felt that maybe he would be better off without me. I started to plan how I would do it, never for a moment considering anything that would hurt my son. I wanted it to be in a way where he would be found safe and I wouldn’t be suffering anymore. I felt like a complete failure. I had wanted more than anything to be a mother and after all the loss, I couldn’t do it. Surely he and my husband deserved a better mother and wife. Someone who could hold it together, take care of her family, bond with her child and for goodness sakes, get back into shape. As I type this out, I can’t believe I’m writing about me. It seems so foreign, yet it took place in this very house.
When I seriously began to consider my plans for suicide, something clicked and I told my husband. He called my doctor immediately and I was put on Zoloft, which was safe for BF. I felt very strongly that I needed to continue nursing my son after all we had gone through. I began to see a therapist and soon added a psychiatrist to the mix to help monitor the medication. I was diagnosed with severe PPD and PPA. I started blogging about my experiences and made sure to post accomplishments of both myself and my son. No matter how small it seemed, I made sure to celebrate each step toward recovery.
My son will turn two in September but this all seems like a lifetime ago. I can’t say I’m “normal”, but I don’t think I have to. I have accepted that this experience is a part of my life and it shaped me into who I am and what kind of mother I have become. I am very open about my experience because I can’t stand the image of easy motherhood that we are bombarded with everyday. The magazine covers with the celebrities who are “back in bikini shape after only 7 weeks”, the TV shows with the perfectly quirky moms who keep their homes clean and cook healthy meals- even the Wall Street Journal with the story on the new Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and her plans for working during her maternity leave (in all honesty, I wish her the best and hope it works out). The expectations for mothers are unrealistic and I think it encourages many women to look at themselves as a failure if they have a hard time or make mistakes. I say make mistakes and make them often. That is the only way you learn to be a good parent! Also, ask for help if you need it. Find someone you trust who can guide you in the right direction and be a positive force in your life. You need someone to advocate for you and your wellbeing. In my case, my husband saved me. It’s something I will never be able to thank him for, but I don’t think he’s expecting a thank you either. I’ve learned to be kinder to myself and realized that my friends and family only want me to be happy and healthy and would do anything to help me get there. I am a lucky woman.
Thank you Sarah, for letting me share my story.