The Mud Pit: A Testimony of Struggling with PPD
By Anna Rooda, Contributing Writer
The mud is thick, coating every inch of skin and hair; every pore is filled. It’s hard to know where the mud begins and ends, and where you begin and end. It’s more than just murky--it’s just plain muddy, so not only can you not see in it but you can barely swim. It’s easier to just flop around than to try to move forward with any sort of organized movement or speed. It is easier to just not move at all, to just lay in the mud, and wish for a way out.
Perhaps others with Postpartum Depression or Anxiety would have a different way of describing this unique experience, but this has been mine. According to a 2008 study from the CDC, an estimated 10-15% of women suffer from PPD. Ten years have passed since that study, and I can’t help but wonder if those numbers have increased over time, or if the percentage of cases is actually even higher because so many women may feel ashamed to talk about this condition, myself included.
When you’re pregnant, you seem to hear the same things over and over from people, such as: “How far along are you?,” “When are you due?,” “What are you having?,” and the postpartum period is no different. But instead of asking questions, well-meaning friends and family often make blanket statements like, “Sleep when the baby sleeps,” “The days are long but the years are short,” and “Enjoy every moment. It all goes by SO fast!”
When my son, Isaac, was born in May 2017, I heard these phrases over and over again. They made what I was feeling so much worse. Not only was my son not sleeping well, but I wasn’t sleeping either. Not only was I not enjoying every moment, but I also didn’t feel like time was passing by quickly at all. Not only was motherhood so much harder than I imagined, but it appeared that I was the only one who felt it was this hard. One comment, made by my grandma, that actually comforted me a little bit was, “The first month is the pits, but after that it gets easier.” At least she said it. Everyone else was too busy telling me “how fast it all goes by” to tell me that mothering wasn’t easy.
It was hard to tell if my insomnia was brought on by my depression or if it was a symptom of it, but the two exacerbated the other. The days felt long and endless-painfully breastfeeding my son, trying to get him to sleep and stop crying. When he finally was napping, I would lie down, and my mind would just race and race. Sometimes if I controlled my breathing, then I could almost fall asleep. But then, of course, Isaac would wake up. When night rolled around and I finally got Isaac to sleep, anxiety would rush in and ask, “What if I will not be able to sleep tonight? I better go to bed extra early just in case.” I would hurry to put on my pajamas and take my contacts out at 7PM, trying to get my mind and body relaxed and thinking about sleep. I’d commit to reading on the couch until I got tired, fearing setting foot into the bedroom because it represented the portal where I would just toss and turn all night. But sleep took a long time to come, and sometimes I’d be on the couch until after midnight, still anxious about going to bed. My mind raced and raced: I feared my son waking up, I feared how to get him back to sleep, I feared every night for the thousands of worries and pains it brought. Most of all, I feared each new day, in which I would feel just as tired and zombie-like as the next.
I was on a roller coaster, only for months, and it never came to a stop. Sleep became my biggest obsession-my sleep, and my son’s. At the encouragement of my husband, I went on Zoloft when Isaac was two months old and within a month or two, I was actually sleeping again. But I was still so anxious. Nothing makes sense in this state. I cried for hours every day, usually while nursing my son on the couch, or talking to my husband in the morning about how many times he was up in the night.
I started thinking I was getting better when my son was six months old, but then one night I had a panic attack on the couch when my husband was at work. I didn’t know what to do but text my husband and call my mom. It was 11PM. I felt dizzy and all I could talk to her about was my son’s nap schedule, and how I felt like all of this was my fault, and how much I wanted to fix it. “I feel like I’m messing this up,” I blubbered to her over the phone. I felt out of control. She coached me through it, softly telling me to get the teapot boiling on the stove for tea, and find a healthy snack to eat, to take some deep breaths. A little after 1AM, I finally fell asleep on the couch, just as my husband came through the door and dropped to his knees beside me. “I was so worried about you,” he murmured against my hair. I was worried about me too, honestly. At that point I remember thinking all I wanted was to be admitted to the hospital and given NyQuil through an IV.
Isaac turned seven months old in December 2017, and I noticed I was beginning to feel a little bit more like myself, which at first felt very strange. I wanted to exercise more frequently, read more books from my book list, make elaborate recipes in the kitchen. I did those things before that point, but at seven months was when I really ‘felt’ them; I felt them deep within myself and I felt like my ‘old’ self while doing them. And most of all? I felt like I was enjoying my son and our relationship, rather than bemoaning everything I had lost when I became a parent. This meant my real, true self, baby or not, was coming back. I was climbing out of the mud pit.
A lot of factors contributed to my ‘recovery' and the first was the constant support and patience from my husband, even when I was being irrational and nonsensical, when I felt, looked, sounded, and acted at my absolute worst. Sleep was another factor that, obviously, helped. Zoloft helped, though it certainly didn’t work overnight, or even after two weeks. Consistent, daily exercise helped, which for me is running, but also included yoga and daily walks with my son in the stroller and my two dogs pulling at the leashes around my wrist. I could have really benefited from more contact with others during this time, as part of my problem was the isolation I felt as a stay-at-home mom. I didn’t have many friends or family who lived close by to lean on. I did take the leap to visit a counselor several times and was very glad I did. She helped me work through the pain I was experiencing and gave me new ways of channeling that into gratefulness and joy.
Lastly, my faith helped me, but not in the way that most people would say tritely during hard times, “Just rely on God; He’s all you need." I could say that a million times and pray prayer after prayer, but none of that helped me to be able to get rid of at least some of the anxiety following my son’s birth. But I can say that I did have a belief, a faith the size of a mustard seed, or on some days, just a grain of salt, and I often would pray for help. I felt, at my darkest points that I didn’t even know what to pray for, and in these moments, I would just cry, “God! God!” There never was a clear revelation. But over time, I began to be able to add words to my prayers, and then eventually I felt able to write them down in a journal before retiring to bed, a process which helped me unwind at the end of the day.
This was just one experience, my experience, with something that so many women face after giving birth. I wish more women would speak openly about Postpartum Depression and Anxiety since it is so common, but now I understand from having lived it why some women don’t share. Maybe it’s so hard to talk about because it can be so difficult to find the words to capture the pain, and ache, and turmoil that you feel. And I know this, because I am only now starting to be able to find the words to say something.
I’m here. I survived. I made it out of the mud. I’m pregnant again and due in September 2018, and still on Zoloft. I sometimes fear a return trip to ‘the pit’ after this next pregnancy and birth, but who am I to know the future? Perhaps it will be different this time. Hopefully so, but there are no guarantees in this life. At least having walked through it all once I will know that the mud doesn’t last forever.