I Don’t Have a Birth Story: A Journey Coping with PPD & PPA
June 5, 2017
**Today’s post, is obviously not the usual “Meatless Monday” fare. My dear friend, Megan wrote a raw account of her journey coping with PPD/PPA and I asked her if I could share it here. For more sensitive readers, a brief warning that this post contains some graphic imagery. I’ve been advised to issue a “trigger warning” here. If you or someone you know could be suffering from PPD or PPA, you can find help here.**
Hi! My name is Megan Helton and the year is 2017 and I hope this story helps someone some day.
2011: I don’t have much of a birth story. For some reason, during my first pregnancy, I didn’t think to educate myself beyond what my OBGYN was telling me. I assumed the hospital knew best. So I followed the system the whole way through, my water broke as a trickle, we went to the hospital several hours later, I got my epidural and subsequent pitocin, and I ended up with a C-Section because the baby was under stress. I didn’t really care because the baby was healthy and I felt fine and I didn’t really know how it would affect my next pregnancy. I received a ton of brightly colored papers from the hospital including the Post Partum Depression/ Baby Blues sheet with a number to call. I figured I had enough Jesus, husband, family, friends, and a healthy psychology to survive the new stress of having a baby at the house. I tucked them away in my giant take-home plastic hospital baggie filled with newborn shirts, cotton swabs and boogie-suckies. As soon as we got home three days later, I was surrounded by physical support. My parents stayed with us, friends brought meals, and my husband was at my side helping me with healing and the new baby.
And then it hit the first night home. I was so sad. I had ruined my life. No more life. My entire future looked like that moment of latching struggles, incredibly lop-sided boobs, walls caving in, my bloated body, night sweats, eye-shaking exhaustion, constant alertness and worry, desperation and endlessly scrambling through my disorganized boxes of bottle-cleaning supplies, vaseline and breast-pump parts. I was hopeless and grasping for a firm hold on something normal. My husband assured me that we would go on vacations again and that he didn’t regret marrying me. My friends assured me it would get easier. My parents said they would stay as long as we needed them to. But I couldn’t shake the deep deep heartache that had a tight grip on my core. I cried in the bed. I cried in the shower. I cried in the mirror. I cried when I would come out of the bedroom and see my parents loving faces. My usual fun-loving and social personality was gone and I couldn’t handle any visitors or even consider the thought of getting dressed and going in public with one large right boob and huge bloated thighs.
As I sobbed, I knew that it was bad. It was worse than just the baby blues. I couldn’t function beyond just keeping the baby alive and dressed. I was overwhelmed to even think about the next hour and completely panicked when anyone wanted to come see me or the baby. How could they even ask me to tell them a good time to come or ask me to answer the door? Didn’t they know how impossible that was? My parents and husband suggested I call the hospital to see if I could get some help. How could I find a good time or mind space to have a conversation on the phone about all this? Nobody on the other line would understand and they would try to talk me out of my feelings. I never made the call, not because I didn’t believe I needed it, but because I couldn’t do it.
I saw glimpses of myself from the outside. I saw all the guilt I was having about not being able to feed the baby well, not being able to keep up with the bottle washing, the laundry, or even get into the kitchen to make myself a plate of food that someone else had cooked. I saw the irrational perfection that I was demanding in my medication and pumping schedule and the baby’s feeding and sleeping. I saw the exhaustion and hormonal releases that were making me feel sick. I knew I didn’t love the baby or feel a bond. I told my parents after two weeks that I was ready to try to handle the baby myself out of stubborn hope that I could get a schedule going and push through. My mom showed me how good it was for me to sit outside in the sun and clear my head. That worked well. I liked to watch my husband take the baby on a walk so I could go inside and file my nails or do something small. It was fun to dress up the baby in his clean little baseball pajamas and rock him to sleep. Things were starting to feel slightly more manageable during the day and some of the sadness started to go away.
But when night fell, and the mechanical waves of the breast pump drowned out all other sounds, and exhaustion visited again, the babies dark eyes started to turn demonic. I looked away as I fed him so that I wouldn’t have to check if it was real. My nightmares would keep me awake even when the baby slept. I would envision the baby rolling off of a deck of a boat into dark waters. I would imagine the baby thudding on the floor after falling from the balcony. I would lose the baby in the sheets and feverishly dig for him even though he was really in the crib across the room. I don’t know what week it was when my worry for the baby’s safety turned into compulsive thoughts of me hurting him during the day. I would open the kitchen drawer and look at the butcher knife and imagine stabbing him. I would imagine putting him on the road. I would imagine dropping him in water. I would think about what it would take to smother him with a pillow. Could I do it? Would I do it? The thoughts consumed me and I couldn’t shake them.
One day the neighbors hired a tree crew. I watched the wood chipper for hours like a psychopath. I saw the baby going through the wood chipper over and over all day long. I joked about selling him to friends. I joked about it because I didn’t know how to cope with my strange feelings while the other moms doted on their little toddlers, covering them in sunscreen and feeding them home-made avocado and banana souflee. When it came time in the parenting book to put the baby upstairs in his own room, we did it and I used a baby monitor to check on him. I heard and saw demons in the monitor and was convinced that they were upstairs every night waiting on me and my child. I was paralyzed in fear for days. I finally went to my pastor with my husband. He helped a lot with my fear of demons, and comforted me as I laid out all of the horrible thoughts I was having. He told me that I needed help from a medical professional and I wasn’t alone because of how many women come through his doors with the same problems.
So at the next OBGYN appointment, I told her about my problems. Her face became alert and serious and she said “I’m not allowed to let you leave without seeing our psychiatrist. Is there anyone that can come help you with the baby right now?” and that was the start of the best thing that could have ever happened to me and my family. They started treating me with medication for postpartum depression and anxiety that day. I eventually learned that it was not my fault, not a weakness, and not true feelings, but a chemical and hormonal illness. I started functioning well and learning to how to spot, name, and manage my compulsive thoughts and triggers. The medications worked.
2013: I went on to have a second baby, this time fully ready to try an Ina-May-documentary-fueled VBAC, but eventually having a 2nd C-section after 26 hours of labor. It felt a little defeating but the baby was fine and I was fine and Post Partum depression never returned. But the Post Partum Anxiety came back in full force. Because I was already under the care of a psychiatrist, I was able and willing to tell her immediately when I had an almost robotic episode of holding my new 5 month old baby on the balcony of a beach condo and unable to hold myself back from the enormous urge to toss him off. I handed him to my husband and let him know we were in trouble. They upped my meds to the maximum amount and there it stayed. It knocked out everything completely and I was able to care for both of my boys well. Albeit unfortunate that I was an unemotional zombie for most of their diaper years (side effect of medication), I developed a healthy care for them both, had energy to play with them and keep them safe and active, and returned to nurturing my own friendships.
2015: When we became pregnant with the third baby, I was on 250mg of Zoloft (thats a lot) and very confident in my ability as a mom. The doctor told us at about 6 weeks that it was not a viable pregnancy and offered us an evacuation pill to help the miscarriage have a more predictable timeline and be more smooth. We declined (I cried a little but not enough because my meds were strong) and I decided to go to the beach to let it happen naturally. Well, long story short, the baby fooled everyone and kept growing and living. Weeks later I started suffering partial placental abruptions (this is where you bleed a lot and its possible your placenta is coming off the uterine wall I think) and spent 124 days on bedrest. She was born a few weeks early by C-Section, my third C-Section, and we decided that I should no longer have anymore pregnancies and took out my tubes in the same operation. The baby had two holes in her heart and she fought hard and we made it home without any extra days spent in the hospital. I loved her hard and that love spilled over to my other children. Bonding started happening all around. The medication did its job completely and I had no post-partum anxiety ever again. Under the care of the psychiatrist, we slowly started weaning off the Zoloft after she was a year old, when breastfeeding finished and my period returned.
2017:Now, over two years later, Im completely free of all medication and free of post-partum illness. I function well (in an ADHD sort of “well”) and I’m happy. I cry under too much stress like most other moms and I hover frantically over the kids in busy parking lots and around the pool deck (where they bump around like pinballs into each others puddle jumpers making it even more awesome). Life is chaotic and my van is disgusting, but the demons are gone and I’m super glad to be out on the other side with all the feels and a happy ending. My boys are now 5 years old and 4 years old, and my baby girl is 2.5 years old. They are all pretty dadgum adorable. I only want the very best for them all. When I see old news stories about a mom driving her vehicle full of kids into the waves in Florida, or a mom drowning all her kids in the bathtub in Texas, I shake my head and say “I know.” Mental Illness is not your fault and I hope this story can help you.