Down the Rabbit Hole
(Also known as the longest post you'll ever read in your life. Ye have been warned. Thanks to Amanda who finally pushed me off my butt to write about this.)
I have always wanted to be a mom, maybe not necessarily the "staying-at-home" part that some feel is a woman's calling, and some feel that's where they want and should be, but the part where I got to experience the blessing of creating and raising a little person who looked like me. Growing up, I loved kids. They were cute and fun and precious. I loved their innocence and their tenderness. Their curiosity and their trust. Children have always occupied a special place in my heart. I knew that I was destined to spend my life working with children. And so I looked forward to the day, which I knew would someday come, when I would have children of my own. I knew I would love being a mom because how could I not? Everyone around me loved being a mom. They told stories about the blessing and benefits of being a mom. They occasionally would mention how hard it was but always reaffirmed how much they loved being a mom. I always thought I would be no different. A year after getting married, I nannied for Tyler and Cheryl during my last summer of college. Taking care of their three precious little boys, I felt I was ready to be a parent. A year later, I looked with nervousness, excitement, and disbelief at my positive pregnancy test.
I had a pretty good pregnancy. I wasn't too sick, I didn't throw up that frequently, I was able to work in comfort from home most of the time, and I didn't gain that much weight until the last two months. My pregnancy, compared to many others, was easy. I took childbirth preparation classes, and I read books. I was excited and prepared to give birth. I was looking forward to, not dreading, labor. Though my labor was longer and harder than I anticipated, I worked through it and birthed my baby. But as I mentioned in My Battle with Breastfeeding, I hadn't prepared for breastfeeding. My baby was taken away from me and everything that I had hoped being a mom was going to be like was gone. At first I thought it was the normal "baby blues" that most women go through. But it was more than that. It took me several months to realize that I was going through postpartum depression (PPD). And it kicked the crap out of me.
Some haven't been through PPD or know what it's like. Some can't understand the debilitating and crushing weight and destructive force PPD can be. Some say to "get over it." Some sympathize but don't understand. Part of the reason for not understanding is that people don't talk about it. People know that it happens. But it's not really talked about that openly. It's partially because when you go through, at least it was this way for me, it's hard to admit it's happening to you. I was ashamed of people thinking poorly of me. I was scared to death that maybe it wasn't PPD and I was just a really horrid mother and human being. Or that maybe all other women with children were made to be mothers but me. Or that I was a horribly selfish woman who didn't deserve her beautiful child. So I didn't talk about it much. And when I did talk about it, I didn't talk about it openly; I mentioned it in passing to friends and family. They knew I was depressed. But they didn't know what was going on in my head. So for those of you wondering what PPD is like, or rather what it was like for me, this is what went through my head during those rough 8-9 months: I didn't feel like "me" anymore. I felt like I had ceased to exist. I wanted to cease to exist. I wanted to run away, hide, get away. I had thoughts of jumping off the balcony or getting up in the middle in the night and leaving my family behind. I thought of (multiple) ways to kill myself. I was scared I might actually do it so I avoided anything that might tempt me to end my life. I thought the world, and Morgan, would be better off without me. I kept telling Austin to find someone else to be Morgan's mom. I kept telling myself I had made a huge mistake. I was never going to be good enough. I thought of giving Morgan up for adoption because he deserved a better mom. I hated Morgan. I loved Morgan. I hated Morgan. I hated myself. I hated myself. I thought something was seriously wrong with me. I thought that everyone was better than me. I felt massive guilt. I sobbed as sorrow and pain coursed through my body. I shook and trembled with the sobs and the pain. I cried. A lot. Mostly in the shower. I couldn't sleep. I had panic attacks, nightmares, and hallucinations. I dealt with paranoia and apathy. I hated and was envious of everyone around me who seemed to not be going through what I was. I wanted to be someone else. I wanted to die. I felt trapped, with no escape. If only I could just be anywhere but here. Just fade away.
Some people like to think my PPD was caused by the difficulty I had nursing. A few people in my life even suggested I stop nursing and switch completely to formula because it would make things easier and make me happier. I can now say that no, it didn't and it wouldn't. The more formula Morgan received, the more depressed I got (in the beginning). I was angry and I was mourning and grieving. I was in desperate need of support. I wanted so very badly to nurse my son. I was told that it was okay to not nurse, that it didn't make me a bad mom. I knew this then and I know this now. It did not change the feelings inside. And so I struggled and fought to nurse not only so Morgan could receive breast milk but because it was THAT important to me, my identity as a mother, to my self-esteem, and to my sense of accomplishment. Nobody seemed to understand what I was going through. My struggles made me feel like less of a woman. I felt like my body was failing me. I felt I was failing. IT'S NOT FAIR! I wanted to scream. (And did scream--many, many times.)
I am so grateful I did not stop nursing. I feel the amount of nursing I did get to do saved me. For one thing, studies have shown that mothers who wean early undergo physiological processes that mimic the death of a child, meaning early weaning mothers go through a hormonal process similar to mothers who have biologically lost a child. Breastfeeding has also been shown to help prevent PPD itself, or at least lessen its severity. So I very strongly believe had I stopped nursing altogether, I would've gotten worse. Maybe it would've pushed me over the edge that I was precariously hanging over. Nursing was the ONLY thing that helped me bond with Morgan.
By the way, once the PPD got better, I was able to accept the fact that nursing wasn't going to go the way I wanted it to and make do with what I could do instead of what I couldn't. I stopped feeling resentment every time I or someone else gave Morgan a bottle. I instead began cherishing my successes. As I said in my previous post, I don't feel any guilt or pain about giving Morgan bottles. I am still angry about many things, but I know I will do things differently in the future. Things will be different in the future. Because if there is one thing I know about myself it's this: if I set my mind to something, I WILL accomplish it. I nursed all the way to 12 months (and am still nursing) despite every.single.obstacle in the book. No, it wasn't exclusive and there was a lot of formula and bottles involved, but I am still a success. I am not a failure. And next time, it will be different. (Disclaimer: Only talking about myself here. No judgment applied to any other mothers who are not me and have different circumstances.)
While I was going through my depression, I attempted to write about it a few times. But they were depressing and I realized I wasn't ready to talk about it. I'm ready to talk about it now. Now that I'm finally through the dark times, I'm going to share what it felt like as I was going through it, what I thought, and how I overcame it. The things I wrote were true and painful. But I want to talk about them and let them go so I'm including excerpts from the entries I previously wrote.
Written in October 2009 (almost one year ago)
I'm currently terribly unhappy. I pretty much hate my life right now. My life is screwed up in pretty much every way.
At the moment, I'm in the middle of another gallbladder attack. An hour ago I wanted to die, but after throwing up I still want to die, just not as much. I had hoped I was better. It had been over a month since my last attack. Great considering the fact that I was having them weekly or more before. I feel like my life is out of control. I'm sleep deprived, I'm depressed, I never feel good, I'm frequently in pain, motherhood isn't what I'd thought it'd be, breastfeeding is a constant neverending struggle, my baby won't sleep, he won't eat properly, and he frequently screams at me.
Written in November
It is 3:40 in the morning. I can't make myself go to bed. I need to sleep. But I don't want to go to bed.
I pretty much hate myself right now. I hate my life. I can't honestly say I wish I were dead, but I can say that I wish I didn't exist.
Too many times lately I've thought of ending my life. The temptation is high. It would be so easy. The stress, the pain, it would all go away.
I don't want to be a mom. I don't want to live. I don't want to exist. I'm so messed up I can't even begin to start listing everything.
I'm a terrible mother. I want to kill my son sometimes. I want to run away.
I want to give up. Just give up everything. No more responsibilities. I want OUT. Out of this house. Out of this body. Out of this life.
I'm just not good enough. I want to die.
Written in December
I haven't been doing so great. It could probably be worse, but I'm just not in the best place.
As is probably obvious to all, I'm suffering from postpartum depression. It pretty much sucks. I just haven't been happy in a really really long time. I thought I'd love being a mom but as it turns out, I don't.
I don't know if it's just the sleep deprivation or the depression talking but I just don't find motherhood rewarding or enjoyable. Maybe it's the stress. Maybe it's the fact that I'm still attempting to work full-time. Maybe it's the fact that my husband is gone all the time. Maybe it's the fact that I'm inactive. Maybe it's the fact that I hate myself. Maybe it's the fact that I wish I were dead. Or at least that I were someone else.
I've tried censoring myself a bit because I don't want people to REALLY know how hard this is for me. I know many people with babies right now. I look at them and ask myself "What's wrong with me?" Maybe it's just my perception but they seem to be having an easier time than me. Everything is hard. I'm tired and worn out.
I want my old me back. I don't even know who I am anymore. My house is constantly a mess. I can't muster the energy or willpower to clean it. Really, I CAN'T. It's more than just a matter of being lazy. I can't. I feel overwhelmed by it all. I can't do this. I don't want to. I just want to leave everything behind. Call me selfish. Call me irresponsible. Call me lazy. You'd probably be right. I guess I was less suited to be a mother than I thought.
I'm not looking for pity. I guess I was just tired of keeping quiet. I felt trapped by keeping it inside.
I know I shouldn't be feeling this way. I know I should probably be saying how much I LOVE being a mom like everyone else. I'm not normal. Don't get me wrong, I love Morgan. I just don't want to be his mom.
This was really hard to write. I'm tired of lying. I'm tired of keeping things to myself. If I don't have an outlet for my feelings, I might just go crazy. I already feel halfway there.
In December, I (and Austin and my mom and my sister...) decided that something needed to be done. I made an appointment with my midwife who gave me a survey and went "yep, you're depressed. Here's a prescription for Zoloft." Though I must mention that she did highly recommend counseling as well. I mean, what else did I expect her to do for me? So I went home and didn't fill my prescription. I'm grateful for "modern medicine" and the great benefits it can have. But I also think that drugs are not the answer for everything, nor the solution to all of life's problems. There are too many people in the world who turn to drugs (legal or otherwise) to fix things. (For the record, I don't think that all people who take antidepressants or other drugs are "taking the easy way out" or any of that nonsense. For some people, antidepressants have made the world of difference and I'm glad that they exist to help those people.)
So anyway, I knew that for me, drugs were NOT the answer. (I'm not fond of dealing with potential side effects of things. And I know that antidepressants have a load of potential side effects and some people can become dependent on them. I feared becoming dependent on them more than many things at that time.) So instead, I searched for alternatives. Going to therapy would probably have been very beneficial to me. But when? where? how? I could barely make myself take a shower, there was no way I could drive somewhere to talk with someone I didn't know. Plus, the work of finding a counselor and paying money. Plus, I was kind of skeptical of it helping.
And then my sister HayLee told me to come visit her. She was seeing this person who did alternative healing. (Sorry if people think you're weird now Hay.) I made an appointment with this person and drove out to stay the weekend with Hay. At the appointment, Evelyn (the...well, I don't even know what to call her, naturopath? reflexologist?) "scanned me." She had me place my palm on a hand-shaped gold-plated pins sticking out of a plastic like board. It was connected to a computer. She then "scanned" my palm. Afterward an image appeared on the computer. It was basically an outline of the human body. There were colors surrounding the parts of the body. She then explained to me what the colors ("chakras") meant. (Basically the palm correlates to different parts of the body which is why you scan the palm.) The main things she mentioned that were "out of alignment" (that I remember the name of as this was 9 months ago) were my thyroid, my digestive system, and my hormones. I hadn't told her I was suffering from PPD or gallstones. She then suggested several homeopathic treatments ( that I could take to help. So I ordered them, desperate to try anything other than antidepressants or surgery to take out my gallbladder. I ordered a "Female Hormone Stimulant," adrenal something or the other, a digestive supplement, a cerebrum supplement, and I think something else. Sorry I don't really remember. It was a long time ago. I read up about homeopathic supplements online when I got home. And they sounded like a bunch of crap. (It's basically water, alcohol, and an extreme dilution of various herbs. They're placed in a bottle with a dropper bottle and you put a few drops in water everyday and drink it.) So, I was pretty skeptical.
While I was also there, I decided to have an "energy healing." This was to help put my chakras back in alignment. Yes, I know this sounds like a bunch of new age nonsense. But see, I do believe that our bodies radiate energy though. I think it's part of the soul. The part that was created before our bodies were created. I laid on a table similar to a massage table but without the hole for the head. And I laid on my back instead of my stomach. I closed my eyes. Evelyn then lightly touched a few parts of my body, like my ankles. I closed my eyes so I could relax so I really don't know what else she was doing. And I kid you not, I felt something besides the pressure points she was touching. (which really she barely touched. I could sense her moving around me but she only rarely touched me.) I felt warmth...and tingling. And a sense of lightness. Like floating. I also started to see colors. (And now everyone thinks Tracie has completely lost any and all credibility.) Do I realize this sounds crazy? Yes. But it's true. I stood up when she was done feeling better than I had in months.
A week later I got my "drops" and I started taking them. I started feeling better. And my gallbladder attacks stopped, just like Evelyn said they would. Everyone I know who has had gallbladder attacks has had their gallbladder out. Some were just fine, some still suffer from side effects of the surgery. I did not end up having surgery. And the gallbladder attacks are gone. Zero attacks since taking the drops.
Starting at 2 weeks postpartum, I had severe and frequent gallbladder attacks for several months. They lasted anywhere from an hour to 12 hours. They were horrific. The worst pain I've ever felt in my life. Drop to my knees, curl up in a ball, somebody shoot me pain. So much pain that stabbing me would probably feel like a relief. (This coming from someone who went through 32 hours of painful unmedicated labor.) This was much, much different than labor pain. Sure, labor was extremely difficult and extremely painful. But it was pain with a purpose. I definitely felt the pain (oh yes I did) but I could cope with it. I worked through it. Wave after wave. Ebbing and flowing. Breathing and relaxing. Pushing and pulling. I did not suffer. It was just something I experienced, something my body was made to experience. And though it was painful and extremely hard work and I got tired and cried and complained in my labor and I said, "I don't want to do this anymore" multiple times...It was still NO comparison. Gallbladder attacks were pure suffering. Nothing helped. Nothing worked. I was in so much pain I vomited over and over and over. They always happened at night and so I would be up all night. Vomiting and pacing and crying. Pleading with God to please make it stop. (Let's just say that this didn't help PPD.) I really, really did not want to have surgery, which I read what was usually done in my case of severe and frequent gallbladder attacks.
(Complications of surgery: "A minority of the population, from 5% to 40%, develop a condition called postcholecystectomy syndrome, or PCS. Symptoms can include gastrointestinal distress and persistent pain in the upper right abdomen. As many as 20% of patients develop chronic diarrhea.") Cholecystectomy (removal of the gallbladder) is one of the most common surgeries performed, with 2/3 of them women. About 500,000 people get them out every year in the U.S. Its commonality did not make me more eager to get it removed. Instead, it made me question why is it so necessary to have them removed? It's really hard for me to believe that every single person who has had their gallbladder removed it was necessary. Particularly since many people get it removed after just one attack where studies show that a large percentage of people who have one attack will never have one again. Anyway, I'll save my soapbox on this for another day. (One more disclaimer: Those who have chosen to have their gallbladders removed, please don't think I am judging you or whatever for your decisions. Obviously you have made a choice that worked for you and that you're hopefully happy with. I'm just sharing the results of my experiences and studies.)
So back to those drops....I took them faithfully every day. And I got better and better and better. I honestly don't know if it was a coincidence or placebo effect or what. All I know is I had severe PPD and gallbladder problems before taking them and I got better after taking them. Take from that what you will. I went from what I wrote above to this, written 3 weeks after doing the energy healing starting the drops:
Written in January (7 months after Morgan's birth)
I'm actually honestly doing much better. (Note: I didn't say I'm "over it." I don't know if I'll ever be over it and it'll be awhile until I'm healed.) I'm still EXTREMELY sleep-deprived and I know that isn't helping, but in a lot of ways I'm starting to feel more like "me" again. Basically, I'm not there yet, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, which I didn't think would happen.
It's been weird dealing with PPD. I haven't been mentioning it because I guess I felt a bit ashamed. And I also didn't want people to pity me. I wanted and needed support but I didn't want people to see me as a failure I guess. I also felt like no one could really understand anyway. I think people sometimes have a hard time understanding someone struggling with something that comes easy to them. For instance, will power. Since I've had the baby, I've had almost no will power to do the things I need to do. Of course, this directly relates to my depression. When you're depressed, you can't or won't do the things you need to do. And it's all a vicious cycle. You're too depressed to eat (or make yourself STOP eating) or sleep or clean your house or exercise or do anything really but then again NOT doing those things just makes you even MORE depressed.
I knew being a mom would mean a lot of sacrifices, but what I didn't realize is how HARD the sacrifices would be. Or how much I would resent it. Or the fact that I struggle with getting used to it. It makes me think sometimes that maybe I wasn't ready to be a mom after all. Because someone ready to be a mom would have no problem changing her entire life to be at the disposal of her baby. It's been hard for me. Though the depression is better and I no longer entertain thoughts of hurtling myself through the nearest window, I still haven't completely found myself. How can I be me and still be a mom? Do I have to completely let go of everything I was prebaby? Is there someway to find a compromise? How can you find peace and contentment in motherhood without losing yourself in the process? Or is that the answer? You can't be you anymore. You have to become "Mom" and say goodbye to the past. I sometimes feel like I'm in mourning. Grieving for the way things used to be: my relationship with my husband, my ability to keep a clean and organized house, my ability to sleep, eat, shower when I want to. I grieve for me. Me used to mean a BYU graduate who loves her job and is great at it. Me was someone who was occasionally lazy but could pull it all together and get things done when they needed to be. Me was someone who loved to read, cook, write, and laugh. I don't feel like there's enough time in the day anymore. I don't have time to get it all done. I feel like I'm being pulled in 18 thousand directions. And because of this, I don't know what to do, how to start. I stay in the middle, shut down, unable to accomplish anything. It's incredibly frustrating.
The above is obviously not me healed. But it's a remarkable change, I think, from the month just previous to it. I only continued to improve. The last year has been the hardest year of my life without a doubt. In the last year and a half, the following has happened: I bought a house, gave birth after a long unmedicated labor, had my baby put in special care and later develop jaundice and lose weight, had trouble nursing, moved to a new city, developed PPD, had trouble healing physically, developed gallstones, had gallbladder attacks for several months, went back to work full-time, had my husband gone until late every night with school and work, dealt with heartbreaking pain resulting from a friendship (from which though sadness remains, I feel at peace and have hope for the future), watched my husband suffer in pain and then have major surgery, took care of my husband and baby and worked all at the same time for 2 months, had a cherished friend move, and dealt (and still dealing) with a crisis of faith.
It's been an interesting journey down this rabbit hole. I'm still in wonderland and I'm not sure if or when I'll ever get back. I do feel I have recovered fully now from my PPD. I still have depressive episodes but it's not like it was before. I wish I could've and would've talked about more of this openly. I'm sure it would've only helped me recover. And I probably would've discovered I'm not as alone as I thought. And maybe I would've opened someone's eyes a little bit about what it's like and how to help those going through it. But maybe I still can. I've overcome PPD but I have not won the other battles of my life. There's still a war going on within me. I really don't know where life will take me. I can only take days as they come: one at a time.