Monday, September 15, 2008

Heal Thyself

Evan is six weeks old today. I should be attending my post-partum check-up this week but that won't happen for awhile, on account of my belated request for an appointment (apparently my OB has other patients). Funny how different things are the second time around.

Take my mental health, for example. Last time, around this time, I found myself sobbing in the midwife's office, a dreadfully dramatic response to an innocuous and routine question. "How is everything going?" she'd asked, and I'd broken down, confessing the nearly constant crying, the panic attacks, my dread and uncertainty, the nearly crippling anxiety and sorrow I had assumed just came with the new-mommy territory. The sweet woman listened, nodded, and sat back. "Do you think you might be depressed?" she asked.

The question was rhetorical, of course, though I actually considered my response before answering in the affirmative. Yes, I supposed that I was. What had been staring me in the face for 6 excruciating weeks yet had remained maddeningly obscured suddenly became clear: I had something resembling post-partum depression. It wasn't debilitating but it was damned near coming close, and when I returned to my mother's house later that day with a vial of Lexapro I only paused for a moment, tablet in hand, considering my options. What effect would this have on my baby, my milk supply, my sense of self? I made a deal with myself before swallowing the tiny white pill: I would give it a shot, keep an eye on the baby for signs of distress or behavioral changes, would monitor my own behavior to try and gauge the effects, if any, of the medication. If I noticed anything different--like, different in a bad way--I would stop taking the medication. Simple as that.

The funny thing is, I never once considered that the medication might actually help, which it did, and almost immediately. Within days I felt tremendously better, no longer crazed with a sorrow I couldn't name, a terror that wasn't grounded in reality. Sydney went about her happy business of growing fatter and we all lived happily ever after, even when I stopped taking the Lexapro six months later.

I discussed this with my current OB before Evan was born, when she took my history during one of our first appointments. She was smart enough to bring it up occasionally throughout my pregnancy, in a way that didn't feel intrusive or judgmental, but responsible and attentive. In the hospital after Evan was born, on the morning I was discharged, she brought it up again, reminding me to monitor myself and to remind Cade to monitor my behavior for signs of depression. Amazingly enough, despite my training and experience, I sort of brushed her off, thinking that my situation last time was so terribly different--what with that silly Storm and all--that depression wouldn't be an issue this time. I mean, I had my house to go home to, my family waiting in the wings, all the creature comforts anyone could ask for--how could I possibly become depressed?

And yet.

I called the doctor when Evan was 8 days old. The symptoms were returning--the crying, the anxiety and fear, the despair and guilt. Only this time, the stakes were higher: I had an older child to attend to, someone who relies on me to provide safety and stability. And dammit, I knew better. I had experience with this and a tried and true way to alleviate my own suffering. What kind of asshole would deprive herself of that?

This time around, I didn't have to wait 6 weeks to feel better. This time around, I am enjoying every moment of my baby's new life, and I am a better mother to my older child, who needs me now more than ever. This time around, I'm not ashamed to admit that the medication helps, that it is the right choice for me, for my children, for our family.


Emmy said...

I'm happy that Evan's first months have been so healthy for your whole family. I can totally relate to the first-time-mom-blues. I think I was depressed for a month or so there, and never did anything about it, or talked to anyone.

I hate the way we as mothers set ourselves up for failure by assuming certain things come with the "good mama package:" natural birth, breast feeding, homemade solid baby foods, and cloth diapers. There's that special judgement that comes to the infertile, the elective c-section, the mom who can't nurse or doesn't want to, the land-fill contributor (that would be me) with a closet full of diapers...

We are so hard on each other, and ourselves. I'm grateful for the ability to trust my intution as a mom. Once I put away the milestone charts of what my kids "should be doing" and just listened to them and my own voice, I became a much more happy and confident mom. It sounds like you have too.

Leigh C. said...

Bless you for trusting yourself and doing what is right for all of you. My own PPD has really ingrained that fear in me of "what if this occurs again if I have another child?" Your dealing with this head-on gives me some hope.

Thank you.

Kelly said...

I know I said this a while back when I first started reading your posts, but it bears repeating.

THANK YOU for sharing.