She sat in the darkness of the parking garage, in the back seat of the Jeep, shaking and huddled over her 3 week old baby girl -tears streaming down her face. She looked into those beautiful blueberry eyes, rocking the infant, saying over and over again, “We’re gonna be OK, you and me. Yes we are. I love you so much. Don’t you worry.” Christmas shoppers buzzed by the car, carrying packages and beaming with holiday cheer. Christmas shopping was not going to happen for her. She had tried, and found herself barely able to focus, dizzy with fear and short of breath at the sight of the crowds. Fifteen minutes earlier she was sitting in a small cafe with her baby in the car seat next to her because if she had stood for one minute longer, she just might have passed out.
Her miscarriage had occurred in November of the previous year, 2 days before Thanksgiving. After the ultrasound confirmed that the tiny heart had stopped beating, she was taken to the OR where the fetus was removed, and then transported to the postpartum floor where she would stay for a few hours. She could hear the cries of newborn babies from her room; the laughter and palpable joy of new moms, dads, and grandparents.
She never fully grieved the loss of that fetus. She had been sad, but ‘kept going’ for her 2-year-old son. Finding out 3 months later that she was pregnant again was good news, but also marked the beginning of the scariest time in her life.
The pregnancy was filled with anxiety. She became convinced that her baby would never take a breath. She hardly ever left the house, but occasionally would look out of her bedroom window and see her pregnant neighbor. She watched enviously as her radiant friend worked in the yard and tended to her flowers – happy to be alive. “Why can’t that be me?” She would say, her heart heavy with sadness, her body burdened with physical pain and completely isolated. Feelings like this grew so strong that thoughts of suicide entered her mind. “Something is wrong with me. I am not healthy.” she pleaded over and over. “My family is better off without me. I am a burden. They will be OK.” The doctors she saw told her she was a healthy, pregnant 29-year-old woman with a little anxiety. In her mind, however, her baby girl’s strong kicks were the only thing keeping her alive.
She delivered an 8 pound baby girl almost exactly one year after her miscarriage. She’s “perfect!” the doctor said. Forcing a smile, trying to ignore the pressure in her chest, she felt a twinge of happiness that her baby did indeed breathe. Filled with fear, and barely able to carry on a conversation with visitors, she survived the next few days at home. Three days after she came home her mother found her hunched over in the stairwell, crying and grasping onto one of her old nursing books, desperately searching for an answer to her pain. Anxiety had progressed to paralysis, and she was afraid to be left alone with her children. Overcome with guilt at her inability to take care of her 2-year-old son, she would cry, and he would tell her, “Mumma, it’s OK.”
Maybe you wonder, but maybe you’ve figured it out. SHE was ME. Me during and after the pregnancy of my second child, Hope. My father and I had chosen the name for her before she was born.
I was taken to the ER that night my mother found me, and referred to a doctor who labeled my suffering. You have “generalized anxiety disorder” and most likely postpartum depression. “OK,” I said, all the while the voice in my head saying, “you don’t get it either…I’m dying.” I was in a black hole, a deep black hole, and there was no way out.
Enter Dr. Ruta Nonacs. I refer to her as the woman who saved my life. At my first visit, I sat comatose in a chair as she asked me questions and patiently waited for responses. Severe Clinical Postpartum Depression. That’s what I had. The question of medications was a difficult one for me. I thought, “If this stuff works on my brain, am I even the same person anymore?” I chose not to take the medication; to do just counseling sessions. One week later I found myself in the parking garage mentioned above. At that moment, I decided that this had to end, and I paged Dr. Nonacs. “I’ll take the medication.” I said.
After saying ‘yes’ to medicine, I would count the hours from Wednesday to Wednesday (my doctor visit day), and woke myself in the middle of the night to take pills. After weeks on medicine, coupled with weekly counseling, I noticed something the tiniest bit different about the world. A glimmer of possibility that things may not be as bad as they seemed. People often ask me how I knew the medication was working and the only way I can describe it is to say that I started seeing things differently. Ever so gradually, my life was not about surviving. It began to be about living, and my family became a part of it again.
It will be 15 years in November 2012 since that night in the parking garage. Postpartum depression is more openly talked about today, and a much greater awareness of this illness exists. During my last pregnancy 8 years ago, I was happy to see signs in the clinic asking questions that I should have been asked during my pregnancy with Hope. This is such a good thing. The acceptance of all types of depression is a necessity. The mind is a wonderful, powerful thing for sure, but it can also be one enemy that you do not want to have.
That’s my story. Thank you for reading it.
For anyone suffering with Depression, or questions about Depression, I know this wonderful author of a great book…
A Deeper Shade of Blue: A Woman’s Guide to Recognizing and Treating Depression in Her Childbearing Years, by Ruta Nonacs, MD, Ph.D
Photography by Ingrid. Wellesley, MA