It was a few days after my birthday (November 26th), and we were sitting on the couch at the end of an especially trying day. At least, I thought it was especially trying. Looking back, it was probably just an ordinary day. The way I was responding to each day was anything but ordinary, though. After watching me turn into a shell of myself for nearly a month, Philip finally had the courage to ask that night,
"Honey, do you think you might have post-partum depression?"
Instead of immediately jumping into defense mode or attacking him, I sat quietly. I probably sat silent for ten seconds before I said, "Honestly? I don't know. You know more about it than I do. Pretend I'm a patient, and ask me the questions."
"Okay, I'll rattle off the symptoms, and you tell me 'yes' or 'no.'"
"Are you anxious?"
"Have poor or increased appetite?"
"Is it easy to make you cry?"
"Do you feel depressed?"
"Honey, I think you have post-partum depression."
I knew he was right. I was nursing Harry, and I started sobbing. I told Philip I thought he was right. We spent the next hour talking about what our next move would be. I said that going to just any doctor made me nervous. I'm not anti-medicine. Heck, I married a doctor! I just wanted to make sure I was going to see someone that would treat whatever underlying condition was going on rather than immediately place me on an anti-depressant.
Then, I had an idea. I remembered when we were learning about the Creighton Model at Pope Paul VI Institute during our engagement that they treated post-partum depression with hormone therapy. I knew I needed to have a yearly physical anyway, so I suggested that I could see someone at a local Catholic medical practice called Sancta Familia. I knew at least one of their nurse practitioners received her training through Pope Paul VI Institute and would first try working with my body to see if there was something happening with my hormones that was throwing me out of whack. Then, if the hormone therapy didn't work, we could look into the possibility of a chemical imbalance and pursue antidepressant treatment. I just didn't want antidepressants to be my first step in case it was something else. Using the Creighton Model in our marriage taught me what a significant impact our hormones place on our day-to-day living.
We talked about how life couldn't continue as it had, but I still wasn't sold that I had post-partum depression. Harry was 4 months old. I thought, "Doesn't post-partum depression only happen during a short window after delivery? Maybe this is just straight-up depression."
We talked more about how I was feeling and what my days were like. The other main reason I didn't think it could be post-partum depression was that I wasn't weepy. I assumed I had to be weepy, not wanting to have anything to do with my baby, and not wanting to get out of bed. That wasn't me at all. If anything, I bonded with Harry much faster than I did with Jane and Walt. Since I didn't nurse Jane or Walt more than a few weeks, breastfeeding helped to cement my bond with Harry quickly.
|How could I be depressed? Look at that face! My life is so blessed!|
Instead of being weepy or wanting to stay in bed, my biggest symptom was extreme anger. Although I never feared that I would harm the kids or myself, I couldn't believe how quickly I could go from 0-60. The tiniest things would set me off. I could be making lunch and hear Jane knock over a tower that Walt had built. I would lose it. I would clap my hands together, yell, and physically carry her to a timeout. I felt like I could punch a hole through the dry wall with all of the anger and frustration. I felt like I was watching myself raise the children. In those moments, I would hear myself yelling while I thought, "Why are you doing this? Why are you yelling at the children? You're a monster!" I knew something was terribly wrong when Jane added to the end of our prayer before lunch, "God, please help Mommy not to be so angry. Amen."
I wasn't engaged with anything we were doing. It had to be more than new mom exhaustion. Even though it's a wild job taking care of three kiddos three and under and being married to a pediatric resident, the day-to-day shouldn't have been bringing me to where I was--the depths of despair. I woke up every morning and thought, "How am I going to do this? God, help me. Just help me to make it to the end of the day." Harry is a fantastic sleeper, so lack of sleep couldn't explain the extreme exhaustion I felt. I felt like I was drowning. I felt like no matter how much I did each day, it was never enough, and I never felt like what I did was good enough.
When it came to my relationship with Philip, I was sick of our routine of fighting at the end of each day. When Philip asked me if I thought I had post-partum depression, I realized why things had been so bad between us. I spent all of my energy trying to keep it all together for the kids during the day, and by the time he got home, I had nothing left to give. I interpreted every comment he made as a criticism. I nit-picked every helpful thing I saw him doing. When he asked me how my day was, I either responded with a laundry list of every thing that went wrong or a one word, "awful." I resisted or brushed off his attempts to be affectionate. In turn, the combination of all of my behaviors made Philip cold and distant, always walking on eggshells to avoid a blowup. It became a vicious cycle, each of us mirroring the other's behavior, continuing to fuel each other's frustration.
Fortunately, Philip was brave enough to ask the tough question.
That night on the couch, I told Philip between sobs, "I hate who I am. I want to be me again. I'm sorry for being a bad wife. I'm sorry for being a bad mother. Let's make the appointment tomorrow."
Philip assured me that I was a great wife and mother and that he would do everything he could to help us get back to normal. After we hugged, I said, "I am so relieved. I didn't want to admit that something was wrong because I was so afraid that this was just the new normal. I felt so guilty because our life is so blessed. We have a great marriage, this beautiful home, our beautiful children, our family, our health, but I still feel like none of it matters. Hearing you say that what's been going on could be because of a medical condition is actually a relief. I am ready to get on with life and start enjoying it again."
A few days later, I was pulling up to Sancta Familia to say, "I think I might have post-partum depression."
* * *
I'll pick up next time with my appointment at Sancta Familila. I'll talk about my treatment plan, the ups and downs, and what things are looking like lately. In the meantime, all of your prayers and support are greatly appreciated.