New Mom, New Anxiety: Dealing with PPA

Acknowledgement: Special thanks to Erica for sharing her experiences in this post. She writes for her own blog, Mom Jeans, but was kind enough to contribute here. I found this post difficult to write due to the sensitive subject matter. However, I think it is important to talk about and I appreciate her willingness to be open on the topic.

Here we are, one month and counting into parenthood.

Matt’s already blown off some steam about the sleep deprivation, frustrations, and difficulties returning to work. Not going to lie, this is tough business. However, we knew that going in. Thanks to my mother and mother-in-law, we’ve at least picked up the tools to do this on our own. All night crying sessions have given way to trial and error routines that end with her quiet and us relieved.

Even so, like Matt, I’m struggling. A lot of my struggling, though, isn’t directly associated with sleep deprivation or frustration. Sure, I’ve been experiencing those, but I’ve surprised myself and taken them better than I thought I would. I haven’t broken down from exhaustion yet. However, I have broken down and cried from weird thoughts and scenarios that involve death and dying.

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The first night we were home, I did the classic new parent move of standing over the crib to make sure Zelda was breathing. I was terrified that she would just spontaneously stop. What with warnings about SIDS and such going around with no clear explanation, my fuzzy sleep-deprived head would start revving up. Eventually sleep won out, but that was clearly the first instance I can remember fearing for Zelda’s life.

In the coming weeks, my head would crowd with more vivid and macabre pictures of Zelda dying: dropping her when taking her to the changing table and splitting her head open, slipping out of Matt’s grip during a bath and drowning, seeing her strangle on some spit up or vomit and choking, being in a wreck and the car seat failing, or the dog suddenly turning on her. Then they got weirder, like someone breaking into the house and shooting her, someone taking her from me at the metro and tossing her in front of a train, or going to the store and her catching meningitis. Then I started to get afraid of Matt or someone in my family dying. It was like the snowball that jus gets bigger as it rolls downhill.

All of them sounded phobic to me, some completely irrational. I cried a lot, but I did it when no one was looking. I didn’t talk about the weirdness going on because it sounded so irrational, even to me. I wondered if I was going crazy, or if this was some strange version of postpartum depression (PPD). I wanted to be strong for Matt and Zelda, so I swallowed that fear and put on a brave face. I think the only time it slipped was when I asked my mom to stop watching so much Law and Order: SVU. All the episodes with children dying seemed to confirm all the fears in my head.

One day I offhandedly googled “I’m afraid of my baby dying.” Sounds like a cocktail for disaster, right? We all know what happens when you google symptoms. Turns out that was a good move. All the first page hits had names like, “Postpartum Anxiety and the Incessant Fear of Losing Your Child” or “Anyone Else Constantly Worried Their Baby Might Die?” After reading blog posts and forums from other mothers who had the same weird, horrifying thoughts I had in my own head, I relaxed a bit. This is, to a degree, normal. I’m not crazy.

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After realizing that postpartum anxiety (PPA) is common, I opened up a little more. I told some close friends about it, including a mother who has a one and a half year old. She related her own experiences:

Due to a history of depression and knowing an entire boatload of hormones is released just after birth, I assumed PPD would hit me hard. However, I didn’t get depressed, I started to worry. I worried a lot. You know that scene in The Joy Luck Club where the mother drowns her baby? To me, that’s what PPD was. I didn’t have PPD, so what the hell was wrong with me? I loved my baby. Every time she cried, I didn’t hate her, I hated my inability to keep her happy. The horrible and isolating thoughts about her dying crept in slowly. Images of horrific and tragic accidents, me sleep deprived and slipping down the stairs with her in my arms, SIDS sneaking up and taking her away from me in the middle of the night, our cats killing her for no reason at all. I couldn’t watch the news because every story made me panic.

It wasn’t until 6-7 months I told my doctor. When she asked, “Are you sleeping?” I broke into tears; I hadn’t slept more than 2-3 hours at a time since she was born. My heart was constantly in my throat and I had no idea why. Turns out I was suffering from PPD and PPA. I ended up getting a mild antidepressant and therapy. My moods still come in waves but they’re gentle, friendlier. It doesn’t feel like a constant storm. I no longer worry about my baby leaving me. Being able to enjoy my daughter and motherhood is the best feeling in the world. I can’t imagine if I hadn’t gotten help how different my life could have been.

 My thoughts still stray from time to time, like my friend’s, but they’re not as bad as they were those first couple of weeks. I think it might have been a perfect storm of sleep deprivation and the uncertainty of being a new mother, mixed in with those boatloads of hormones. Once i opened up about it, the thoughts got way more manageable. What blows my mind is that no books about having children really cover this sort of thing. Yes, some mention PPD and to keep an eye out for symptoms, but I had no idea PPA existed until the night I did my google search.

I’m sharing this information in hopes that someone comes across it and it eases his or her mind. You’re not alone. Talk to a friend, see your doctor, voice your concerns. It may be difficult for fear of stigma, or people judging your ability to be a mother. Speaking up is a brave thing to do, and the more women that come forward and talk about their experiences, the more other women may feel inclined to speak up.

Hang in there.

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We’ll Get There: Daddy Issues for Dad

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By Matt

It’s Friday. I am really tired. I forewent a shower this morning. I decided to take extra time to take a shit in silence and just wash my face and shave instead. I got to work at 5:30am and have been staring at a blank Adobe Illustrator document. In a few short hours, my bosses will come to me expecting that the Illustrator document will be filled with dazzling text and images. They will critique it and tell me to do it again, even if I think it’s perfect. That’s okay. That is work. My bleary eyes will undoubtedly help me through the day while I bounce from one meeting to another. I will act alert and nod in approval, even if I have no idea what my colleagues are talking about. Smile for the camera. Don’t ruin the shot.

I’ll get there. Not just because I want to, but because I have to.

At the end of the work day, I will go home and see my family. I will see my daughter. She is the reason I am so tired. I will kiss her forehead and tell her that I love her. I’ll call her silly names and bounce her on my knee. The tiredness will go away, because as much as she is the source of my aching body pains and constant headaches, she is undoubtedly the main reason it is more than worth it.

Life is going to keep throwing obstacles. Angela and I won’t get the dream house we want for many years. Shit, we won’t even be able to afford a starter house for many years. But we are blessed with beautiful friends and family, and are living where it’s safe and warm. That is all I can ask for. I feel selfish writing that.

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We aren’t the perfect family. Angela and I find ourselves short fused and arguing over the most mundane minutia of our lives. It comes in waves. I’ve broke down in tears more than Angela has. It makes me feel terrible because Angela referred to me once as her “emotional rock.” I fail at that all at the time. I often find myself spending the short hours of sleep I have before going back to work reflecting on my emotional and physical failings. Physically, I am not in good shape and know I could be better and look better, but the thought of getting out and exercising is nauseating. It’s a lot easier to stuff cheeseburgers down my face and feel content until the stomach cramps hit. Although I feel my share of responsibility is minuscule compared to hers, I struggle to do certain tasks with a smile on my face. I work twice as hard to maintain that smile for her, as we are a team that acknowledges we could use more batting practice and could improve on our short game. That’s okay. We have been blessed with our parents who are more than excellent coaches. I want to do good by them and show them they did “okay” with me. I hope they see that. I hope the feeling is mutual.

This is a process completely unknown to both of us. I’ve stared into darker holes before in my life. But those were all alone. I have a family now, which helps to make sure the darkness never envelops me. I have an overwhelming urge for Angela to have it all and feel ok about our situation and our life together. The daycare, the student loans, the bills – they continue to build stress in a body still recovering from Zelda’s birth.  know it’s going to get better and worse at the same time. I know I don’t make that easy sometimes. I wonder if she knows her brave face she puts on is far better than my own. But she is stronger than me. Zelda is stronger. I can’t be Atlas and carry my own weight of the world on my shoulders. Our little girl helps me understand that. She knows that I am trying. And even though she can’t speak she sees the undying love in my eyes. I love that connection. It brings every bit of my withering emotions not to break down and weep for that love. It’s pure and eternal and I love how it makes me feel. It’s the only drug that’s mattered in my life.

I’ll be a better husband. I’ll find a way to be stronger. Not just because I want to, but because I have to.

I wanted to write a witty post reflecting on Zelda’s 1+ month on earth. I failed at that. I have continued to stare at that blank page of that post for a week and a half now. I’ll casually sit down and tell Angela that I am “totally going to write something tonight” and soon get distracted or fall asleep on the couch with my hands in my pants snoring away. I want to do it all – I want the great lifestyle and the white picket fence. I look at the over-privelaged and affluent assholes walking their kids around DC and feel a twinge of jealousy from time to time.  I see them coming down their row houses in Capitol Hill and scoff at their lifestyle, only wishing it were mine. I hate myself for that sometimes. If we continue to work as a team, I know those realities (may) come true. It won’t be perfect, but it will feel perfect. In the meantime, I’ll go back to being tired, feeling small at times, and anxiously watch election news hoping for the best of all possible worlds for our growing girl. Candide indeed.

I guess a small yet significant part of my life is spent staring at a blank screen, waiting for my own mind to populate it. Zelda’s life is the same way. Her slate is clean, but our love for her is slowly filling in the corners of the page. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

We’ll get there. Not just because we want to, but because we have to.

Here’s to the blank page and the joy of life that helps to fill it. I’ve filled up a page on a word document and feel better already.

5 Things I Didn’t Know About Breastfeeding

DISCLAIMER: I do not intend this post to be controversial. As always, this blog is a reflection of our experiences and thoughts. My goal is to keep those experiences and thoughts as uncensored as possible. I understand that breastfeeding is a highly sensitive matter; as a result, I am not advocating any one point of view, just sharing my own encounters and feelings as I work through it. I believe that choosing to breastfeed or not is an extremely personal choice, and I do not pass judgment on any mother who decides what is best for her and her child.

Breastfeeding was always shrouded in mystery for me. Like pregnancy and childbirth, I guessed it was always one of those things you had to experience before you could really understand it. Since I grew up in a household with a labor and delivery nurse, there was no question that I’d breastfeed once I had kids. Hell, I never had that view challenged until I was in my late teens—a classic case of opening my big mouth and not knowing it was so controversial. I’m a little older and wiser now (or so I’d like to think), so I’ve got a bit more of an understanding of how complicated a topic it is.

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Now that I’ve actually embarked on the breastfeeding journey, I also understand how infinitely challenging and frustrating it can be. Here’s some things that really surprised me.

  1. Breastfeeding takes practice. A lot of practice.

I don’t know about you, but for me breastfeeding was always touted as this natural act. I even remember reading articles that professed the infant to naturally climb up your chest and start breastfeeding in less than an hour after birth. Well, turns out they seek the nipple naturally and have this innate suck reflex, but breastfeeding itself is an art. I was subjected to lots of advice from the nurses about technique and handling. I was given a laundry list of what to do and what not to do. Even now, I find myself going through a trial and error process, trying to get my positioning right, getting Zelda to latch right, and making sure she gets enough to eat. It’s times like these I remember playing old NES games and trying, over and over again, to get a technique right so I could pass a level or boss. Who says video games don’t teach you anything?

2. You drink gallons of water.

When I was pregnant, I drank gallons of milk. Now that I’m breastfeeding, I drink water. All.the.time. I went through a 24 pack of spring water in a couple of days, and now I’m working through my third. I was told it was crucial to drink a lot of water as it helps keep milk supply up, but I had no idea it would actually make me want to drink so much water. The one day I didn’t drink any, I had nothing to breastfeed with that day. Learned my lesson.

3. Breastfeeding can be painful.

pumpingThe first couple of days, I was doing ok with the feedings. Zelda was doing her thing and I seemed to get the hang of handling her. Then the pain started in my right breast. At first I didn’t think much of it, but it began to get worse. By the time I was home and feeding her at night, the pain was so bad I was in tears. It wasn’t until one day when I was pumping and the milk came out bright red that I finally understood what was wrong: a massive crack was in the nipple, probably caused by improper technique. I pumped exclusively from that side for a few days and it eventually healed up, but I don’t think I’ll be forgetting that pain any time soon. There was also some terrible cramping at first, which I was told was my uterus shrinking back to size. Figures: it hurts stretching out, now it hurts shrinking back. I’ve also dealt with engorgement, which kind of felt like someone had done a boxing match with my chest. Luckily pumping was an easy fix. And pumps? Yikes, that took some getting used to. I shudder to think what it will be like when her teeth come in.

 

4. There won’t be waterfalls.

I’m not even sure why I expected there to be tons and tons of milk when it finally came in. Maybe it was the stories I’d heard about leaking through clothes. Maybe it was the fact my breasts got gargantuan. It might have had to do with this book of cop stories I swiped from my brother and read through. One testimony was about a guy trying to arrest a woman, and her response was to yank her shirt up and chase him around while spraying milk from her breasts. At any rate, I realized quickly that there would be no waterfalls, just an occasional leak or two. No disappointments there.

5. Breastfeeding can be exhausting.

Not going to lie, I have found breastfeeding to be an exhausting endeavor. The first couple of weeks I felt like I was just constantly putting the baby to my breast without any reprieve. Sometimes I still feel like that, though it seems to have stretched to four hours on demand as opposed to two. Then the pumping and storing. Some days it seems like a giant Sisyphean task. Then the exhaustion leads to frustration. I never realized you could actually get grumpy from the thought of feeding your child. To be fair, I’m only three and a half weeks in. I hear it gets better. Here’s hoping.

None of these are meant to dissuade anyone from breastfeeding if they are thinking of doing it. This post is meant to share some things that caught me off-guard about the practice, and it took some work to overcome them. Hell, I’m still battling the exhaustion one, and I’m constantly at odds with the trial and error aspect. Despite the challenges, I’m working through them and grateful I am succeeding.

Now please excuse me. I’m due for the next feeding.

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