Ferreting out the root causes of my PPD has helped me immensely in dealing with the thoughts and feelings that I’ve had. I got the idea from Brooke Shields of all people. I read most of her biography, Down Came the Rain, and despite not being a model, Princeton grad or Hollywood actress myself, I found that Brooke and I have a lot in common: we both suffered through infertility, miscarriage and PPD. So, I found her book very helpful, particularly the process that she went through to identify the root causes of her PPD.
I’ve thought long and hard about what caused my PPD, particularly in the middle of the night while rocking Rex back to sleep and being half asleep myself. Here is what I have discovered. Some of it will sound very familiar, other parts not so much.
1) The Mother of All Hormone Hangovers: I vaguely remember hearing in Childbirth 101 class about the sudden drop in the hormone cocktail once you give birth, and frankly I think I was actually relieved because I was pretty tired of the hormones at that point. They wreaked havoc on my joints, my head, my GI tract, and my emotions. I was one cranky lady toward the end, and lot of it had to do with those wonderful hormones.
So, how is it that I could still feel like crap after they had gone? How is that fair?
2) Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes: Nature abhors a vacuum. I abhor change. Both are constants. And, what does having a baby do to one’s life in literally an instant? Change it. Big time. Like every conceivable (ha!) facet of said life. Intellectually, I knew this. Emotionally, I really thought that people were making it sound a lot more awful than it really was. They were right.
Here I was with an 8lb ball of Change and I was struggling mightily against his current. I wanted something – anything – of my old life back because this new one was completely alien to me. At one point, I wasn’t even sure I was in my own home – everything looked the same, but it was completely unfamiliar. Being the geek that I am, I also couldn’t help but feel like I was in that episode of Star Trek where Kirk is in an alternate universe and they are all bad – including fabulous Evil Spock! I was waiting for Mr. X to sprout a goatee overnight. He didn’t shave for a few days, but there were no goatees.
While I hate big life changes with every fiber of my being, I do eventually grow to accept them. With this one, it was a matter of just plodding through each day and recognizing that I was still there, this was still happening and I had better get used to it. Who knows, maybe I would even begin to enjoy it. The shock of the change has worn off and there is enough now of my old life interspersed with this new one that I no longer feel like a stranger in my home.
3) What Does this Nipple Do Again?: One of the quickest ways for me to get really upset is to be put in a situation where I have to accomplish something and I have no freaking clue about how to do it. Add screaming infant who depends upon you for his very life and the pressure is really, really high. We took Baby 101, and practiced swaddling and changing the diaper – on a plastic, non-moving, non-screaming baby. In the hospital, all of a sudden we were expected to do this on a squirming, screaming, red-faced little infant who did not care that you had no prior experience.
That was just the tip of the iceberg. We didn’t know how much he should eat or how often he should poop or even how much he should sleep. We were clueless to the highest degree possible. We overstimulated that child for a week easily before someone explained to us that babies get overstimulated super quick and once they do, you have an easier time getting an active volcano to stop than a screaming overstimulated, tired baby.
What is amazing is that I am usually extremely well informed about just about every major thing in my life. I research and read anything I can get my hands on, but up until we brought Rex home you would not find a single tome about parenting in my house. Why? My infertility. I refused to allow myself to even look at parenting books let alone read one lest something terrible happen and we have no baby. So of course, when it came time to deal with the real thing, I didn’t know which end was up (well, almost. I could tell one end from the other, even though liquids came out of both ends sometimes). Mr. X was equally clueless. I was shocked that they let us take Rex home from the hospital. Didn’t my look of utter panic give them any clue?
4) The Power Struggle: I hesitate to add this one, but I know that it played a part. Since both Mr. X and I were clueless, it meant that we had to learn the quick and dirty way with on-the job training and boot camp. I assumed that we would be doing this equally. It became pretty clear rather quickly that Mr. X was very uncomfortable with holding, handling and doing pretty much anything with Rex. It was not for lack of desire – it was because he had never done this kind of thing before and didn’t know what to do. My inclination in those situations is to just do it and see what happens. His inclination is to opt out. Unfortunately, with an infant, you can’t opt out (much as you’d like to sometimes). So, I would ask if he could do some task just because I really needed a break and he would get this look of combined panic, pain and general discomfort which would make me feel even worse.
This became a real problem when he went back to work and I stayed home with Rex. I was of the opinion that if I had to be home with an infant who demanded constant attention, the least I could expect would be a break when Mr. X got home. He didn’t really see it that way, mainly because he was still rather clueless when it came to infant care and had spent the whole day at work. A whole day at work then sounded like a day at the beach to me – no infant to be constantly on the watch for, no mind-numbing television, and no stealing food on the sly before said infant wakes up. I would have killed to be at work. But, the balance of power for getting a break was not in my favor since I could sleep during the day (rather difficult when you are on pins and needles waiting for the baby to wake up and you have no idea what you are going to do in that situation) and was not expected to be conversant with adults on complex topics in a work environment.
We both underestimated what the other was doing and this contributed to the feeling on both sides that the other was not fully appreciating what each had gone through. All he wanted when he got home was a break and all I wanted when he got home was a break. Unfortunately, we couldn’t both have our way at the same time.
In the end, we both gave a little – he became more comfortable with Rex, I wasn’t as on edge at the end of the day (thanks to Grandma who would come over for a few hours each day). Rex, for his part, also helped by getting a little more predictable and helpful in letting us know what he needed and when. But, I was disappointed by him and that really saddened me and added more to my overall difficulties.
Knowing now what I do, I can see that it was a perfect storm a-brewing when we brought Rex home that would cause me to have PPD. I’m just so glad that others saw it, talked about it and helped me through it. I’ll still have little moments, but they are just that – moments. And, every day, I have more moments snuggling with Rex where my heart swells with love and I want to just breathe him in for as long as possible.