Bringing Home Baby And Postpartum Depression

by Cassie Havel Morgenstern
Originally Published: 

I’ve done this before. The second time around will be quicker, easier. I know what lies ahead. I’ve done the sleepless newborn nights, the around the clock cluster feeds, the million and one diaper changes.

I’ve got this.

In the last weeks of my second pregnancy, a wave of calm washed over me. My body had already proved it remembered how to be pregnant again. From the moment the pee stick dried, a soft pooch protruding under my shirt gave me away. I looked as pregnant at 9 weeks with my daughter as I did at 20 weeks with my son. Family members would give me knowing nods as I tried to hide my ever expanding belly beneath billowy tunics. My breasts again began leaking colostrum weeks before my due date. Like an old friend, my body readily accepted this pregnancy. It just knew what to do.

I’ve got this.

My confidence as a mother had grown exponentially in the past three years. I was extremely proud of meeting my goal of breastfeeding for 18 months. I could deftly change a diaper in the middle of the night, half asleep while nursing at the same time. I was Super Mom with a capital S on my peanut-butter-smeared yoga pants. I found myself as a mom. I found my place. I still had insecurities, of course—insecure about my new body and my changing relationships. But in motherhood, I was empowered.

I’ve got this.

Labor began, and I felt in control of my body. I breathed through the contractions and gave birth naturally in under three hours to a beautiful, healthy baby girl. She latched on immediately and nursed happily. Everything was going as planned.

Until it didn’t.

Four hours after giving birth, I sat in the hospital bed surrounded by my family. A soft hum of adoration rose in the room as coos drifted over my newborn daughter, but then suddenly I felt a warm liquid pool beneath me.

I remember telling my mom I couldn’t breathe. It felt as if invisible fingers were wrapping around my neck, slowly cutting off oxygen to my brain. I remember seeing red—all that red—and realizing that it was blood, my blood, covering every inch of the floor and walls. Then…nothing.

Moments later I was pulled from the bathroom unconscious, barely breathing, bleeding, crashing.

Time passed, but I couldn’t tell you if it was five minutes, or 55. I awoke to a swarm of doctors and nurses hovering over me, and the wide-eyed horror of my husband, and the frantic cries of my baby girl. Only was it then I felt the bolts of pain shooting through my body. I had zero control over my body.

I didn’t have this.

A postpartum hemorrhage wasn’t in my birth plan. I didn’t plan for the soul-crushing weakness and exhaustion during my recovery. I couldn’t stand without getting nauseated and dizzy. I couldn’t get up to go to the bathroom. I couldn’t hold my head up, much less hold my baby. Blood transfusions, Methergine, hypovolemic shock, traumatic, and yet beautiful, angelic, miraculous, precious. How can feelings and words used to describe the day of my daughter’s birth be so irreconcilable?

Because of the hemorrhage, my milk was slow to come in. A week passed, and I was still only producing a few milliliters. My already sleepy newborn was struggling to nurse effectively. She’d tire quickly and fall asleep again. It became a vicious cycle, and my baby dropped a full pound below her birth weight within days. I didn’t plan for not being able to breastfeed my baby.

The first days at home were long. I was overwhelmed with caring for myself and two children. Between pumping, supplementing and feeding every two hours, I barely had time to choke down my iron supplements and throw together a sandwich for my 3-year-old.

The nights were even longer. Intrusive thoughts found their way in between the sleepless hours. Frightening unwanted thoughts about the birth and my baby, like scenes from a horror movie, played on repeat in my head. I didn’t want to be alone with my children. Anxiety rattled my core. Doubts of my ability to care for my children crept in, cracking my foundation and splintering my confidence. A dark fog entered my brain. I struggled to feel connected to my husband and my children. I stumbled through the day as if on autopilot.

I smiled weakly at my son’s new goofy song he made up just for me, but I didn’t feel joy. I caressed the top of my 1-week-old’s tiny head, but could only feel dread of the impending night—the night when I was alone with a crying baby and my own thoughts.

Worst of all, I felt this was how I was going to feel for the rest of my life. I saw no way out of this dark hole. I couldn’t imagine having to live the rest of my life like this. And so, as if this were all a cruel joke, my anxiety grew.

In the weeks prior to the birth, I couldn’t fathom not enjoying being a mom, but in those days after I couldn’t find it. As much as I tried to fake it, it only made the guilt and sadness even more pronounced. The small parts of my day that once flooded my heart with love only brought anxiety and fear. Sitting in my son’s bedroom reading a bedtime book, something I had done every single night for three years, was torturous. I wanted out of there. The bedroom walls felt constricting. The weight of acting silly and joyful in front of my son was suffocating.

I wondered what I had done by getting pregnant again. Had I made a mistake? I looked down at my tiny baby, who looked so much like me it hurt, snuggling deeper down on my chest. The guilt I felt in that one thought was overpowering.

I wept. I grieved for my old self. My husband took over my duties in our home. He cared for our children. He made sure we were fed. He packed preschool snacks. He sent me off to brunch with a friend. He cleaned our house. He did bath time and bedtime. He held me when I cried.

He called my doctor when he knew something was desperately wrong. He drove me to my appointment. He told me everything was going to be OK. I didn’t believe him, but all I had left was hope it could be someday.

My doctor was gentle, professional and sympathetic. She immediately diagnosed me with postpartum depression and postpartum OCD. I hesitated taking medication that would affect my already dwindling supply of breast milk. Breastfeeding was the only way I was feeling any normalcy and connection as a mother. I held on to it like a life raft. I had to keep breastfeeding. It was the only thing keeping me from drowning.

I agreed to be on a low dose of a medication that was compatible with breastfeeding. After a few weeks, the fog began to lift. The anxiety faded. I could better control the intrusive thoughts. And best of all, when I laughed at my son’s new silly song, it was real—a laugh that starts in the bottom of your belly and ends with you having to grab your giggling preschooler in a bear hug so your heart won’t fly out of your chest. The first toothless grins from my 2-month-old healed my soul.

Those days were the scariest, most difficult time of my life. I still feel anxiety creeping in. I still grieve my birth experience. But as with any negative experience, you hope to grow and learn from what you’ve been through. I have a new appreciation for my children and a renewed trust in my husband. I have empathy for those struggling with postpartum depression and mental health disorders. I discovered a passion to help new mothers, and a strength within myself I never imagined I possessed.

I’ve got this.

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