I Have Postpartum Depression

Let's set the scene. 3 weeks after Forrest was born. I sat in the reclining chair in my living room, holding this bundle of blanket and very small human. There were nipple pads shoved into my bra. My back hurt. I'd been up all night, pumping and feeding. Forrest cried, and cried, and cried. I sang to him. I sang every song I could think of. I hadn't left the house in over a week. Most days, the only time I moved was to get more coffee, grab a snack, or pump--otherwise, I sat on the couch, or in the chair, with Forrest. I started to cry and I couldn't stop. I wanted to be anywhere but there.

I loved Forrest with an intensity that bordered on obsessive: I worried about every little thing and recorded it, carefully, in an app that cost $5. But that love wasn't enough. The depths of my misery reached further into me. I wanted to both take care of him 24/7 and have someone else just offer to help me. I wasn't sleeping, period; at my 4 week appointment, my doctor would go through the calendar with me and count hours I had slept since the day I was induced. The number would be staggeringly low. So low, that when people tell me about "not sleeping" now, I want to dare them to wander into the danger zone of "so little sleep, you may actually die." 

Here's the lucky part of the story: because of Forrest's low birth weight and my preeclampsia, we went to the doctor near constantly. Forrest's pediatrician gave me these tests called "Edinburgh tests" that measured my likelihood of postpartum depression. My own OB was also monitoring me for PPD: women who give birth early, are unable to breastfeed, and have low birthweight babies are more likely, than other group, to develop PPD due to both hormonal and environmental factors. 

By our appointments at 4 weeks, I was diagnosed with PPD and started treatment. 

It's hard to describe now, because I feel like a completely different person. The circumstances around Forrest's birth, my sadness at not being able to breastfeed him, my severe sleep deprivation... it all added up to PPD.

I want to say that the minute I started treatment, I was a different person. But that's just not true. It took a lot of things to get me "feeling normal" again. It took treatment, which was hard and expensive and in many ways, unpleasant; it took letting go of breastfeeding and supplementing with formula, because it was the best thing for my mental health; it took going back to work, giving myself time away from Forrest and not feeling guilty about it. 

I started to feel better, more like my pre-labor & delivery self around 8 months postpartum. 8 months. It took almost 7 months of treatment and self-care to start feeling better, to stop snapping at Danny, to start cleaning my house again.

Sometimes, I will wander across an article about the rates of postpartum depression: who gets it and who doesn't. Sometimes, the comments, and the mom groups that post such articles, like to draw lines: bad moms get PPD and good moms don't. But postpartum depression doesn't pick sides in the mommy wars. 

One statistic that always sticks out to me is that moms who formula feed are at a higher risk of PPD. Horrible, judgmental women use this as evidence that "choosing to formula feed" means that you develop less of a connection to your baby and therefore, are a "bad mom." The truth is, a significant number of women who formula feed do so because they are unable to breastfeed--and being unable to breastfeed, or having to exclusively pump, increases your chances of PPD by almost 70%. (Another statistic that's often thrown around by breastfeeding activists is that "only 5% of women truly don't make enough milk," but 5% of the number of women who give birth is still a significant number. That's still thousands of women.) 

When I talk about PPD, it always goes back to my failure to breastfeed. And despite how PPD makes me feel, I logically know that I didn't do anything "bad" to "deserve" not being able to breastfeed or develop PPD--and that those two facts are related when it comes to my improving. 

If anyone reading this is struggling with postpartum depression, or suspects they may have postpartum depression, this is all I can say: it is ok to reach out for help (from your baby's pediatrician, from your doctor, from anyone); it does not make you a bad mom to admit you are depressed; and it does get better, things can improve, you don't have to feel like this. 

NaNoWriMo: That Pesky, Persistent Editor

Current word count: 12,031

Current word count: 12,031

Last year at this time, I think I was a terrifying 3 days behind on NaNoWriMo. I distinctly remember one weekend spending every free moment frantically writing -- that's when the "word vomit" happens, the divergence from plot or the random additions of subplots that don't make sense. I think I went a whole week without working on NaNoWrimo. But I valiantly struck back and kept with it and wrote potentially the worst novel on the face of the planet as a result. 

This year, it's like everything has flip-flopped: I'm at 12,031 words, which is about two days ahead of schedule. Two days. I could not write for two days and not fall behind, not feel like I'm trying to scrabble up on a mountain made of virtual text. 

In the past five days, I've written the beginning of a novel that, ok, might not win any awards, but it's something I might read (if it was $0.99 on my Kindle). What's the difference here? 

Last year, I was in a very different state emotionally. I was incredibly critical about myself and I believe I let my inner editor get the best of me. The best, and weirdest, part of NaNoWriMo is that you really just have to hide your inner editor away for an entire month. I mean, 30 days without listening to the voice in your head that says, "This sentence is bad" or "you should think of a better metaphor." Maybe it's good advice, Inner Editor, but I have 50,000 words to write and I don't have time. Shutting that little voice up is the only way to survive and make it through.

Last year, I wrote and struggled the entire time, because that inner editor wasn't just talking about my horrible novel (and it was bad, guys, have I mentioned?) -- it was talking about me. "That's a horrible sentence" turned into "you're a horrible writer." Who wants to listen to that everyday? Eventually, I stuffed it down, but it was always there, poisoning my writing, poisoning my thoughts and behavior. 

This year, I'm mentally and emotionally in a better place. Suffice to say, I don't hate my life and while my inner editor still assaults me with useless feedback ("you're legs look like stuffed sausages in those boots!"), I'm more able to ignore it and move on with my life.

Writing is easier too. I worried that my day job as a writer would make writing difficult -- writing 6-8 hours a day and then writing more sounds pretty exhausting. But I've found the opposite. After 6-8 hours of writing blogs and copy and more, I actually find I'm energized to work on NaNoWriMo just because it's different. Now that I'm not miserable all the time, having energy to write additionally in the evening is just kind of how it is.

As I continue on NaNoWriMo, I'm sure I'll have more observations on what makes it easier or more difficult. Fighting down the urge to edit, to change, to start over and be "perfect" is a big step towards actually completing NaNoWriMo -- and ultimately, a step towards completing a novel that ends up being at least decent.