Postpartum depression: "My brain is sick, but I tell myself this is just what parenthood is"

When you're pregnant, you read about what postpartum depression might look like. In this raw memoir excerpt, a new mom shares what PPD feels like.

Photo: iStockphoto

Day Eight: It’s been more than a week since I slept for any real amount of time. I remember that during my pregnancy someone mentioned breastfeeding support through a free service called La Leche League. I wrote down somewhere that they would be a great place to go if I ever felt stuck on the breastfeeding front. It occurs to me that they might help me through this fog. Surely someone will help me.

Calling their support line also allows me to avoid bothering Rose again, who must be tiring of all the attention I need. What I’m looking for now is someone who will tell me pumping is okay. I’ve read all the blog posts about attachment parenting and breastfeeding and the problems early pumping can cause for breast engorgement. If I pump, I’ll be going against the advice of the natural parenting industry.

But I’m under breast arrest here. All I do is wait for the next feed.

I wish someone would call me back. I cannot solve this pumping problem on my own. Yesterday I felt all right, after the polluted walk for a onesie. Today I’m longing for sleep. I’m longing for my old self back. Everything is bad again. I’m losing my mind. Sleep eludes me. There is a new version of me I don’t recognize. An unidentifiable self.

Sitting on the couch waiting for the phone to ring feels worse than sitting around waiting for the baby to flip in utero out of breech position. All I do is wait. I get up and roam aimlessly around the house. I find Gordon standing in our home office, staring out the back window overlooking our garden. He turns around to face me, and the dark circles under his eyes are so caved in they look painted on. I burst into tears when I see his frazzled state.

“There’s never a plateau, is there?” I say as I lift my hand to touch the circles. I want to see if I can rub them off his face. “It’s up and down, yeah,” he says. “But don’t worry about how I am. I wish you could sleep. I can watch the baby for the rest of the day. Why don’t you try to lie down and focus on rest?” His voice is strained. But he doesn’t seem to have the worries about the baby’s safety that I do. I wonder what makes him so confident that she will survive?
 All day yesterday I thought about creating a “one week old!” photo album to share on social media. But every time I tried to collect some photos on my phone I’d begin to cry. I’ve already wasted a week of her life, I kept thinking. I don’t want to celebrate this milestone; I want to mourn it. For days now I’ve been constantly checking the clock, never wanting to mess up the breastfeeding routine. If I catch 9:11 a.m. or 9:11 p.m., my mind begins to scream: 9-1-1! 9-1-1! 9-1-1! Someone sound the alarm. Save me. This is an emergency. It’s a hint that she’s going to die. I decided that sharing a milestone photo album on social media could be embarrassing, when later I have to take down all the photos of my child who’s died. Why am I thinking about her dying? Is my body trying to warn my brain of impending doom? That sounds so cliché. I don’t deserve the safety of a cliché. I should stay awake. Someone needs to watch the baby at all times. But can I control my own actions in a sleep-deprived state? They’d better not leave me alone with her. This feeding cycle is so claustrophobic. I hate the nipple shield. I don’t want to use the stupid tubing supplies. I can’t be free of it. How does anyone sleep and feed their tiny human? Part of me knows that my brain is sick, but I tell myself that this is just what parenthood is. I start to wonder if the reason I can’t sleep is so that I don’t suffocate the baby.

Mid adult mom has a concerned expression on her face while talking with her baby's doctor Why are our healthcare systems failing postpartum moms?A gentle-sounding woman phones me back. I move to hand the baby to Gordon, who is dozing beside me on the couch. I begin to speak but start to cry. Before I can give her any background on my situation I say, “I’m so tired. Please tell me how to pump. And if I do pump, how do I feed her? How do I hold the bottle? Will she choke? Do I give her cold breastmilk or warm? Should we try formula again instead? What will happen to my milk? What did you do when you had your child?”

“Oh dear,” she replies. “You just need to sleep. If you stop breastfeeding, your milk could dry up. Has anyone shown you how to feed lying down so you can sleep and feed?”

“No, it seems like the baby could suffocate that way. She’s so very little.”

“I understand that, but it’s not true. And you definitely need to get some rest. It’s true that if you pump you could have an oversupply of milk. But you also need to rest. I get it. It’s so hard.”

“Yes,” I whimper. “I’m just so tired. I’m so tired. Please tell me what to do. I’m so tired. I’ve never been this tired in my whole life.”

“I don’t think you should pump. Wait until baby is one month old, even six weeks if you can.”

“Are you crazy?” I say in desperation. “A month is so long. I can’t go that long without sleep like this, I’ll never make it. I feel like I’m dying.”

“You’re not dying. You’re tired. There’s a change at three weeks that stabilizes baby. Then again at six weeks. You will sleep again. It will get better. This is the hardest time. Get someone to show you how to feed lying down, it will help you.”

“Ok, I understand, thank you.”

I hang up and sob. She’s too little to feed lying down; that’s an impossible recommendation. The proper latch only works with this baby if I’m sitting up straight and holding her, with the plastic shield between us. My back aches, and my stitches are still sore. I don’t know the last time I ate anything at all and I’m not hungry. I need to wait at least three more weeks, maybe more, until I can sleep again.

The odds are I won’t make it, I tell myself. I’ll die of sleep deprivation, or I’ll throw myself off a building. Death is lingering above me. I see it now. I’m not going to sleep for weeks, but before that I’ll trip and drop the baby. Or she’ll suffocate in the couch. Or I’ll forget her outside in the backyard. If she dies, I’ll kill myself. I couldn’t live without her. I’m a mother now. I’m a mother forever. If I’m no longer a mother, I can no longer live.

Amanda was diagnosed with postpartum depression nine days after her daughter’s birth and involuntarily committed to a Toronto psychiatric ward, where she stayed for 18 days. Sleep deprivation was cited as the main cause of her sudden and severe mental illness. After her recovery in 2015, she returned to work in Toronto’s tech scene, eventually moving on to launch her own parent-friendly coworking space, The Workaround. Today, her focus is on supporting women in the workplace while continuing to be a fierce advocate for universal childcare.

Excerpted from Day Nine: A Postpartum Depression Memoir, by Amanda Munday. © 2019. All rights reserved. Published by Dundurn Press. 

 

Read more:
I had postpartum depression and swore I’d never have more kids. Now I’m pregnant
Why isn’t anyone talking about maternal suicide?

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