The long road out of postpartum depression: you don’t need to be brave

Finn was born crying and didn’t stop for six weeks. I used to joke that if he was awake, he was crying. I spent six weeks shushing and swaying and swaddling and trying ANYTHING I could find to stop the crying. I remember taking him into a little boutique baby shop and the owner said, “Does he have colic?” I felt insulted. No, he didn’t have colic. He just cries a lot. Ugh.

And then one day, I eliminated soy and dairy from my diet (since I was breastfeeding) and all of a sudden he opened his eyes and said “a goo.”

It was like a dream.

The crying stopped and he was a happy baby. I felt like the sky opened up and the sun shone down on us.

Only I still felt in the dark.

I felt like I had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I was depressed, agitated, quick to startle.

My baby’s crying stopped, but mine was only beginning.

I woke up in the morning with my heart racing for no reason. I cried all day long. One day, we were lying on my bed– Finn was about 6 months and Charlie was almost 3 and I couldn’t hide the tears that were rolling down my face. Charlie, who has been an old soul since birth, asked, “Mommy, why are you crying?” I didn’t know. I couldn’t give him a reason. I just couldn’t stop.

I would park Charlie on the couch and Finn in the Bumbo in front of TV just so I could go in the other room and cry.

The boys were doing adorable infant and toddler things, but I couldn’t see them because I was staring off into space and crying.

The rational side of me could see that I was depressed, but the depressed side of me felt like the world was ending. There was nothing good. Only darkness. It was like a heavy suit of armor that kept me from feeling anything but sadness.

My sister called me every day and later told me she knew before she even said the words, “How are you today?” that I wasn’t good. She said it was an unmistakable tone, almost a shake, in my voice. She never wanted to hear my voice like that again. She convinced me to call my OB-GYN and ask for help.

I felt like I should be stronger than this. I felt ungrateful to be depressed. I had two amazing boys who were happy and healthy, a husband who loved and supported me– we had a great life. Why couldn’t I snap out of it? The pressure to force myself out of the depression was only making me feel more hopeless.

Reluctantly, but with every ounce of courage I had, I called my OB and told her that I thought I had postpartum depression. She said, “Honey, your baby is 7 months old. You can’t have postpartum depression.” She suggested I seek psychiatric help, which only confirmed my suspicion that I wasn’t depressed but actually crazy. I didn’t even listen to the rest of what she said. I fell into a puddle on the floor and hung up the phone. My OB wouldn’t help me and didn’t even believe I had postpartum depression.

I felt like that was my one lifeline– my life preserver before I drowned– and she didn’t believe me.

Here’s the tricky thing about PPD. It’s not just the depression. It’s the paranoia. I was scared to admit that I was depressed because I thought someone was going to come take my babies from me. Deep down, I was unraveled. Unnerved. Shaken to my core. And that made me unfit to care for these two souls. I could barely care for my own.   Looking back, it seems ridiculous, but at the time, I was convinced it was true: I was crazy. I felt like the most pathetic person in the world. I thought that everyone hated me– even my closest family and my husband. I didn’t think I was worth saving.

Despite “all I had to be happy about.” I couldn’t find the happiness. Despite breastfeeding and getting an abundance of the (so-called) happy chemical oxytocin. I was drowning in sadness.

I was inconsolable.

I called my sister and told her my OB didn’t believe me– that she made me feel crazy and told me to go to a psychiatrist.  My sister said, “Who is your primary care doctor? I’m calling him. I’ll call you right back.”

She saved my life that day.

I cried on the floor of my bathroom while the kids banged on the door outside.

My sister talked to a nurse at my doctor and told her my story. The nurse said, “I’m so sorry that happened. We are going to get your sister help.”

The doctor called me a few hours later and he said, “I’m going to take care of you now. Can you come in tomorrow?”

The next day, I sat on the chair in the doctor’s office. Charlie climbed on my back and I nursed Finn while I sobbed to the doctor that I didn’t want to stop breastfeeding to take an antidepressant. He explained that my health came first, but he would find me a drug that was ok to breastfeed with.

I agreed and I started taking Paxil the next day.

It was a long road to recovery.

My doctor checked in with me every three months and made me promise to stay on the Paxil for at least a year. I hated that drug, but it saved my life.

Three months after I started taking antidepressants, I started seeing the fog lift. I didn’t feel like myself again, but I was getting glimpses of her. At 6 months, I told the doctor I was feeling better, but I still felt hopeless. He told me that was usually the last symptom to go. I was just happy to not feel crazy anymore.

I kept taking the Paxil and putting one foot in front of the other. Eventually the hopelessness went away. I started enjoying things again. I started seeing myself as loved and worthy of love again.

I stand here today lucky to have people in my life who would fight for me. People in my life who knew that wasn’t who I am. People who knew I was worth fighting for even if I couldn’t see it.

I even had the bravery to get pregnant two more times after that. And we have our beautiful twins as a result.

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about the depths of that depression and how my mind got away from me. I hope and pray that everyone out there who is suffering can find their way back.

There is no shame in asking for help. And sometimes we need others to ask for us.

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Happiness came once again. It was a hard road, but I am better for it.

If you are a mom who thinks she is experiencing postpartum depression, get help! Don’t give up on yourself! This isn’t your fault. There are resources to help you, but many of them don’t speak of how long PPD symptoms can last. In my case, it was well past the first 6 months. And that is ok. Check out this amazing website run by a mom who has been through it: postpartumprogress.com  That link will take you to the “Symptoms of PPD” post. Read it. It’s in language you will understand. You will not be made to feel broken or ashamed.

There is also a lesser talked about kind of postpartum depression that Dads experience called paternal postpartum depression (PPPD). It’s real and it’s just as scary. Twenty Six percent of new dads experience it and there’s no shame in admitting it. Check out these resources: postpartummen.com,  “Sad Dads” on parents.com, “Depression in Men…” on postpartum progress.com. 

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The one about elevator anxiety

The boys have been begging us to go to Central Park for months. I’m not sure what inspired their wanderlust, but we happily obliged.

Finn loves architecture. He could look at different kinds of buildings all day. And Charlie’s just always up for an adventure!

Of course, I was apprehensive about the trip for a myriad of reasons. First, I don’t really like New York City. I know! Before you attack me with all the reasons why “it’s the greatest city in the world” (Joe argues with me all the time!), I will say this trip has me warming up to the place. I am just not really a city girl. Or so I thought…

The more I am outside of our little corner of the universe,  the more I am comforted by the diversity of other places. Not just from an ethnicity standpoint, although it is nice to expose the kids to all different nationalities. (Both boys marveled at all the different languages being spoken by the passersby. They loved trying to figure out what country they were from!) But I was looking at the diversity more from a disability standpoint.

As we walked the streets, we saw all sorts of disabilities. People in wheel chairs and walking braces. Blind people. Deaf people. And then, while I was waiting to catch the hotel elevator (which TT so adorably called the “alligator,”) there was a little girl with a nasal canula and an oxygen cart. She was waiting for the elevator with her mother and smiling sweetly at the twins in their stroller. While we waited, a crowd started forming behind us. (The building was older and there were only 2, rather slow moving, elevators). Once the elevator finally arrived, the mother, in a broken English said, “I don’t think there will be room on the elevator for your stroller.” I said, “Oh, no worries, we’ll fit.” She said, “No. Um. My daughter. She gets nervous when there’s a lot of people on the elevator.” I said, “Oh, gosh! Of course! No problem! Go ahead, I’ll catch the next one.”

I stood there with the other ten people now waiting for the next elevator and, of course, thought of Finn. Finn HATES elevators. He thinks the doors are going to close too fast and we are going to get separated without each other on the elevator. So when we get on, he makes quite a ruckus until the doors are finally shut. Joe usually stands there and holds the door and quickly jumps on at the last second, so Finn is satiated. All the while, I am reminding Finn, “It’s ok, Finn. We’re all here. It’s ok, Finn.” It’s the kind of thing that looks (and is) really stressful for all involved.

It’s the kind of thing I wish I could say to anyone waiting or attempting to get on an elevator with us, “Um, my son, he gets nervous when there’s a lot of people on an elevator, so can you just wait for the next one?”

Now. I know I am perfectly entitled to say that. And as Finn’s advocate I am OK with saying that to an impending elevator crowd if I had to, but I find that it starts an autism conversation I don’t feel like having at every turn. And not because I am not willing to spread a little autism awareness where ever we go (and believe me, we do), but because I don’t want to have to give Finn’s diagnosis to EVERY stranger we meet.

If Finn had an oxygen tank trailing behind him, or some other form of universally recognized physical disability, people wouldn’t bat an eyelash. But because Finn is standing there looking “perfectly normal,” it makes for a tough sell. (Except when we got on the elevator the first time during the trip. After Finn’s extreme physical discomfort, his “eh, eh, eh,” Daddy’s shuffling everybody on the elevator, and my verbal quelling, Finn says to the other riders, “We are all going to die.” They didn’t seem amused. I probably could have sold them on riding another elevator!)

It made me think a lot about the “handicapped accessible” world we live in. Because that little girl had an oxygen tank, it seemed perfectly suitable that she would be nervous that other people ride on the elevator with her (someone could trip on it and accidentally disconnect it) or maybe she just had elevator anxiety. Either way, who was I to challenge her? But here is Finn, with autism and a bevy of anxieties, but no oxygen cart, and I’m at a loss for a quick way to get people to not ride the elevator with us! Don’t get me wrong, I don’t wish a physical disability on Finn, but sometimes the invisible ones are so much harder to take care of!

I guess the next best thing I can do is ask you to ask others to be understanding to kids who seem nervous or “disrespectful” in social situations. That kid might be Finn. Or someone just like him. Not all kids wear their disabilities where everyone can see them.

Exhausted after a grueling, but fun, day in Central Park!

Exhausted after a grueling, but fun, day in Central Park!

The toilet seat fiasco

We are getting ready to have a yard sale this weekend. We live down the shore and lots of shoobies, I mean out-of-town-visitors, come down on Memorial Day weekend, so we thought it would be a good time to unload some of our stuff. I’ve also been holding onto a lot of my parents’ stuff for them, so they can sell too.

But here’s the thing.

Yard sales suck for Finn.

I can’t even tell him we are having a yard sale. I know it probably sounds ridiculous, but he cannot handle the thought of something he once loved or kinda liked or touched or even looked at being given away. Even if we sell it for money to buy more Legos or Wii games or IPad apps or whatever. He just can’t handle it. (He used to not be able to handle throwing anything away, like a used Band-aid, so I definitely think we are making progress!)

I’ve been secretly boxing things and tagging them while the boys are at school. I don’t dare try and sell any of his stuff, but as you are about to find out, that doesn’t really matter. I still have to have him sleep at my Mom’s the night before the yard sale and then stay there the entire day. By the time he returns, it has to look like nothing ever happened.

And here’s why…

My mom had this decorative toilet seat that she forgot she had, but really liked. It was clear with dolphins on it and she wanted to put it on one of their new toilets at the new house. But my dad refused. He already bought all new toilet seats and didn’t want to switch them out. So, my mom offered the toilet seat to us. The boys loved it and wanted it for their bathroom, so I agreed and we took it home.

That night, I started to take it out of the box while the kids were in the tub and Finn said, “What are you doing?” I said, “Switching out the toilet seat, remember? You wanted this dolphin toilet seat from Mom Mom.” He said, “Can we keep the old toilet seat in the attic?” (Which, by the way, the existing toilet seat is a hideous yellow. I never changed it out when we moved in because the toilet itself is a hideous yellow. Replacing the matching yellow seat with a white seat would make the toilet look like a Creamsicle. I keep wishing HGTV is going to show up and do a surprise renovation to my 1970s bathrooms and kitchen. Until then, I’m still rockin’ the retro!) So anyway, Finn is apparently attached to this yellow toilet seat and was starting to get visibly nervous about the thought of its departure. He said he thought that the new toilet seat would make his butt cold and we just had to keep the old seat. I said, “Finn, we are not keeping an old, disgusting toilet seat! You wanted this dolphin seat.”

Well, he breaks into hysterics.

Here it is! The toilet that will forever be in my house. I can't believe I'm even showing it to you. I should be writing away to some "Pimp my Bathroom" kind of show so that they will take pity on me, but alas I am sharing my commode with you! Apparently, Finn loves it.

Here it is! The toilet that will forever be in my house. I can’t believe I’m even showing it to you. I should be writing away to some “Pimp my Bathroom” kind of show so that they will take pity on me, but alas I am sharing my commode with you! Apparently, Finn loves it.

I was trying to put the twins down for bed while all this was going on, so I left the bathroom because I could feel my patience waning. Joe tried to talk Finn off the ledge to no avail and then comes into the twins’ room and says, “Shan, can’t we just leave the toilet seat?” It seems really ridiculous looking back on it, but it’s not like I was forcing the dolphin seat on him. He said he wanted it!

He was in a full wail when I went in and repacked up the dolphin seat. I told him we didn’t have to change the toilet seat. He began to calm down and he sniffled, “Thanks, Mommy.”

I don’t know how I could ever begin to think that we would ever move from my tribute to disco that we call a house. Finn can’t even have a new toilet seat! And THAT, my friends, is why Finn will not be coming to our yard sale!

On a positive note, Charlie and his cousins will be selling lemonade at the yard sale. They will be splitting the profits and donating a portion to FACES 4 Autism. You gotta love an entrepreneur with a giving heart! That’s my Charlie!

I love this picture of my boys!

I love this picture of my boys!