Light at the End of the Tunnel

You've just given birth to your first, second, maybe third child. You have a beautiful, healthy baby. You are elated! Day by day, that perfect world fades. No longer is this the most joyous time in your life - it seems the hardest. Who do I tell? Will anyone understand the feelings I'm having? Why me? YOU ARE NOT ALONE!!

My first experience with PPD was with the birth of my second daughter in 1995. We moved to a new farm that summer and at 8 months pregnant I was trying to organize a new house. I guess in my mind I was hoping it would be a boy to round out our family. I was also very excited about trying a VBAC as my first daughter was ceserean section (breech and "big"). I was in labor for 8 hours, having 2 shots of morphine and pushing for 1 1/4 hours until finally having an episiotomy. I was home from the hospital 19 hours after giving birth, and the first few days were great. My mother-in-law stayed with us for the first week, and immediately after she left, the blues began. I was already tired from the move, my oldest daughter had an abundance of energy, my episiotomy was painful, and the fear and anxiety set in. My fear of being alone was more than I could bare. I spent the majority of the day crying and wishing I had never decided to have a second child. I had no energy, no desire to leave the confines of my home and NO IDEA what I was going through.

I am so blessed that I have such a great support system with my family and they would help me whenever possible. It wasn't until I had gone for groceries one day and caught myself staring at the soups in Superstore that I knew something was really wrong. I have no idea how long I had been standing there, but it was like it wasn't me - someone else was standing there in my place. This wasn't me! The only way I could explain it was that someone else was taking over my body and mind, and I had no control over it. About 2 days later my husband gave me a break and took our oldest daughter for the afternoon. The baby slept for 4 hours and I couldn't sleep a wink. Everytime I laid down I felt like there was a thousand pounds of weight resting on my body, and the harder I tried, the worse it got. I finally made a doctors (family doctor) appointment about 3 weeks post partum and found out then that I had PPD. He sat with me for at least a half hour and asked me all kinds of questions, one being had I had thoughts of hurting my baby. Thankfully for me, I had not felt that way at all. I wanted an anti-depressant that was non-addictive and was prescribed Paxil as well as a sleeping pill. He also asked if it would be possible for my family to come stay with me. I felt guilty disturbing their lives, and he took it upon himself to phone them after I left. He explained the situation to them and said if I couldn't have help at home, he would advise hospitalizing me. They were packed up and on the road to my place within an hour. It took about 2 weeks for the effects from the Paxil, and another month until I felt well enough to stay by myself.

Between my sister, and my mother and father, they stayed with our family for 7 weeks. They would take the baby at night and let me sleep and I would look after her during the day. I was only able to breastfeed until I started the anti-depressant, as I knew if I continued to breastfeed I would not get the rest at night that I needed. I could not be alone. As long as someone was here with me, I knew I was safe. I worried excessively over trivial things - was the baby eating enough, was she sleeping enough, was my house clean enough, did I spend enough time with my oldest daughter? The list went on and on. On average, I cried at least 4 times a day. I could not keep a conversation going for more than 5 minutes without losing concentration. I could also not sit still - I had to be busy even when I was so exhausted I couldn't think. And the panick attacks hit regularly - with no rhyme or reason. The support of my family helped and they were my comfort zone. Even if they didn't understand, it eased my mind knowing they were there.

It was hard on the relationship with my husband. He didn't understand why this was happening. We already had one daughter and I made out fine with her - why now? We had very little time to ourselves as even the simplest thing like making supper I could not do on my own. There was always someone here with us and that made it tough to try and be a family. I had always been a very outgoing person, with a zest for life, and I'm sure at times my husband wondered where his wife had gone. There was times he would get angry when I cried, and it was hard for him to understand that sometimes just a simple hug was all I needed. Luckily, by about the time our baby was 3 months, I was well on my way to recovery and only needed the anti-depressants for 1 month.

I always wanted to try for a son, but myself and my husband were worried that PPD may strike again. When our second daughter was 5, we decided we would try again, with the hopes that because our daughters were older that I would get adequate rest and not have another toddler to be chasing after. I remember we were on holidays and I was feeling "off". I told my girlfriend how I felt and she said "I'll bet you're pregnant - that's how I felt with my first one!", That night I slipped away to Safeway and purchased a home pregnancy test. It was all I could do to get through supper before I retreated to the washroom and took the test. As soon as the stick turned blue, I cried. For 10 minutes I sat there and cried. Was I ready for this? Oh please Lord, don't let me have PPD again. The whole pregnancy I tried not to worry about it - but it was always in the back of my mind. In April, 2001 I gave birth to our son. It was a much easier delivery lasting half the time of my previous. No drugs, only laughing gas to take the edge off, and only 15 minutes of pushing. I was elated that our family was now complete. After giving birth, I showered, was up walking around and feeling so ecstatic that we had our son and that I felt so good. But, the second day in the hospital, I was feeling weepy. I did not want to be left alone, I was second guessing my judgement, and all around feeling very blue. I tried to fight the feelings and talk myself out of it - but they were there. WHY ME AGAIN? Stop it Joanne - he's a good baby - you're looking after him fine - this will pass!! Every nurse shift change I would get another opinion on what I should or shouldn't be doing - how often I should be feeding, etc. By day 3 I was more than ready to go home and get into routine.

My mom offered to come and stay for the first week and help out, so when we arrived home the house had been cleaned and supper was made. Our son was up the first 2 nights until 3:00 in the morning crying and the 3rd morning, I was panicking. He finally slept and I didn't and I lost it. My sister bundled me up and took me into the doctor. He had throughout my pregnancy been talking with me about PPD, and said at any signs to come in and we would "get ahold of it quickly". I again was put on Paxil and also and anti-anxiety pill along with sleeping pills. This time I went straight to the store and bought bottles and formula, knowing that I needed rest and help. That very night our baby slept 6 and a half hours. and has never looked back. I was disappointed about not being able to breastfeed, but it was more important that I get healthy at this point. Once again I went through all the symptoms of crying, panick, feeling of unworthiness and guilt. Some days all I wanted to do was shut the door on my life and feel peace again. I would dream that when I woke in the morning my life would be back to normal. I felt like a bad "Mom" for being so sick when I had 3 children to care for. My family stayed with me again for a couple weeks and saw me feeling better so decided they would give me a try on my own. It lasted all of 3 days and I was right back in my rut again. They came back for another 2 weeks and on and off from then when I needed them. I found myself having thoughts about my baby dying from SID's, and often had thoughts about accidentally dropping him when I was carrying him. I have to admit that some days I thought there wasn't any way I could take another day of anxiety - but I would wake up each morning and carry on.

This time around, my husband was a great support. He knew what to expect and look for and knew that what I needed was his love and support, no matter if he understood it or not. When I cried, he would hug me. When I was uptight, he would give me a shoulder rub. Everyone still questioned why I was worrying or what was upsetting me, but the majority of the time I did not have an answer. I would feel 100% one minute and the next feel like I was completely overwhelmed. Mostly they just let me cry, or go for a walk and didn't pressure me to answer questions they undoubtedly had.

This time my PPD lasted almost 6 months. I was scared to go off my anti-depressants for fear it would get worse. At around 4 months I mistakingly quit my meds cold turkey and had a bad withdrawal from it. With my daughter, I had only taken the Paxil for 1 month and quit cold turkey with no side effects. Problem was, even after a month, the Paxil hadn't really had enough time in my system. I never even stopped to think about this because I had asked for a non-addictive anti-depressant. Maybe I truly was not ready or recovered enough from my PPD. I immediately went back on them and began the weaning process which took about 2 1/2 months. I guess what made me decide to do this was I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I was going to beat this thing come hell or high water and when it decided to rear it's ugly head, it would have to take me down kicking and screaming, because I wasn't going down without a fight. Maybe this attitude, or being so stubborn, made the process easier - whatever the case it seemed to work for me. I started with 20mg of Paxil, cut back to 10mg per day and then the last 3 weeks went to 5mg per day. I am now almost 9 months post partum and doing well. The ocassional day I will find myself getting weepy, but it is usually from lack of sleep. When looking back now, I may have suffered PPD with my first daughter and not realized it. She had hip displacement when she was born which required a brace for 3 months, and also had a hernia operation at 7 weeks. I remember being weepy with her, but attributed that to all the problems she had.

To all of you suffering, or wondering if you have PPD, I hope this will help you. I know even finding a Post Partum Support Forum through the internet helped me. I could see that I was not alone in this and that many, many others had "been there". It is a hard illness to diagnose, and the sooner you seek help the sooner you will recover. Seek help from family and friends, support groups - whatever it takes - and be open about the thoughts you are having. You will find when you open up, it does take some of the pressure off. Good luck to you in this battle, and from personal experience, it does and will get better. There is a light at the end of the tunnel - AND YOU ARE NOT ALONE! I found that light - and you will too.

Sincerely, Joanne M.

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