Sunday, June 5, 2016

Week 12: Depression

So postpartum depression is a big thing. I first heard about it when the crew coach at my high school was murdered by his wife, and the reason offered was that she was depressed after giving birth to their chid. Every doctor I've ever been to talks about it, friends always suggest it when you are struggling after baby is born, so many of the mom blogs I read talk about it. It's a big thing, everyone knows it's a bad thing, people care.

I think Simcha Fisher writes pretty intelligently on the reasons why mothers feel like they are going crazy after their children are born. Something about having other people judge you when you're going through something they are not, something about people wanting to hurry up and get the childbearing phase of their life over with, something about people treating pregnancy like a disease to be preventing until one day they want it but then taking care of the child sort of feels like a disease and who wouldn't be ashamed of feeling that way about their own child?

I experienced some paranoia for about two weeks after my first son was born, which I had often been inclined to attribute to some kind of hormonally-induced postpartum psychosis. He was hospitalized for a week, during which time my 25th birthday occurred. The kind PICU nurses encouraged my husband to take me out on a date for my birthday, and I was in absolute terror about what might happen to him while we were gone. Remembering the feeling not only surprises me now when I think about it, but even at the time, part of what frightened me so much was exactly how unreasonably frightened I felt. I could tell, even at that time, that it was a very unreasonable fear. Eventually, the potency of the feeling gave way to a rather dull level of daily anxiety as I tried to adjust to caring for a new little person.

I was pretty happy after my second and third sons were born. No strange psychosis, just the normal aches and pains and anxieties. The fourth, however, was different. For about three or four months, he would cry every time I put him down. I felt completely incapable of caring for him. It wasn't that I didn't know what to do, as I had learned all that I could do with the first three. It was that I knew exactly what I would do if he were my first and I simply couldn't do it for him. I just couldn't physically manage to hold him, bounce up and down, and walk around the house for hours because of the care required for all the rest of us. At one point while trying to prepare dinner, hold the baby, and walk and bounce around the house, I looked at my husband and asked him, only half joking, "Are we going to make it?" He looked at me very seriously and said, only half joking, "No. We are all going to die." True enough, life on this earth doesn't last forever! But his response also spoke of the absolute blindness into which we were walking. How will we take care of what has been given to us to care for? Are we adequately prepared for this? The only thing certain, it seemed, was that death would come in the end.

For some reason, after my fourth was born, I never got over the question of whether I was capable of caring for all the children I have. It's like the joke that Jim Gaffigan makes, "If you want to know what it's like to have a fourth, just imagine you're drowning, and then someone hands you a baby!" He jokes about it, which I hope means there's peace to be attained with the terrible feeling. But my anxiety levels are still terribly high.

In truth, though, I think the seeds of this feeling were planted from the moment my first was born; possibly even from his conception. The positive pregnancy test terrified rather than delighted me. Lying on my hospital bed an hour after his birth, with nurses just a button-click away and my husband snoring peacefully on the couch beside me, I realized that I couldn't physically lift myself off the bed to pick my son up out of his bassinet. This made it a physical impossibility for me to feed him or change his diaper, as mothers are supposed to do. Then, when I left him in the care of very competent nurses for just a few hours to go out for dinner, the thought of what might happen in my absence made me frightened almost to the point of paranoia, as I mentioned above. My mother-in-law confirmed my absolute terror in the presence of my child when she told me, after we got home, that I needed to relax around him. I remember one time putting him down to let him cry when he was about three weeks old because I didn't know what else to do, and feeling so angry and helpless and sad. The power of the feelings frightened me, because I didn't know what to do. I called a friend to talk me through it at that moment, and I'm sure that I left out some of the resentment and anger I felt because it was just so embarrassing to feel that way towards a tiny little crying baby. So I think it has far less to do with the number of children I have - this feeling of inadequacy has truly been with me from the very beginning - but I am reminded of it more or less at different times in my life as a mother.

So I've been overwhelmed by caring for my children from my very first moment as a mother, and that feeling came out in my post about our illness a few short weeks ago. It's not really about the number of children we have, though others may attribute the feelings to that fact. My paranoia about caring for my first son was definitely not about the number of children we have, nor was it about the hormones. I think it's truly about the fact that I'm not an all-powerful and all-knowing being capable of hitherto unknown heights of safety-consciousness around water, fire, and sharp objects, nor the soothing of all pains and cries which my child may feel. Do people expect this of me? Most days I expect it of me.

The feeling has lingered potently over the last year or so. When my husband was finishing his dissertation, I was left alone more often. One time I became so sick and tried to put off a fever by consuming excessive amounts of ibuprofen around the clock. The ibuprofen made my stomach bleed and I ended up vomiting blood and begged my husband to take the day off to help me with the kids. When my husband took his new job, I was left alone during the week while he lived near the university to begin his teaching work. It was then that I finally started to talk to people about it, ask people about it, consider counseling. I expected the situation would improve after we moved, and after getting some counseling, but apparently the ruts of anxiety and worry have been dug so deeply now that it will take a bit more time to find my way out again.

In the meantime, we conceived. And while all pregnancies have left me with a bit of fear and trembling, this one has left me utterly despairing of my child's life. I hate to write those words, about despairing of my child's life, and I hope that if my child reads them some day, he recognizes that it comes from a place of shame and weakness about my own abilities, rather than resentment and hatred of his being. It is precisely because his life is so good that I fear I cannot adequately care for it. I wish for him to exist, but I wish he had a better mother to care for him. I fear that I am giving to him a life of pain and suffering, and that I cannot make that life anything else. Postpartum depression is a real thing that everyone recognizes as a problem and a few people have attempted a solution for, but I have never heard of prenatal depression. I'm quite sure that's what I have. 

So perhaps because of my postpartum epiphany and depression after my first child was born - that I am incapable of protecting him from every danger, and incapable of meeting every need - I am abundantly aware of what I am incapable of doing for this new child. This I can't seem to come to grips with. Prenatal depression is my intimate companion this pregnancy, and I can only pray that my fears of unique inadequacy for this task are untrue: that I will be able to care for him, that God will make me a better mother fit for the task, and that his life will be full of happiness in spite of my poverty. Lord, have mercy.

Oh, and because this is a blog about diabetes and pregnancy I will note that yes, I actually do tend towards despairing thoughts about my abilities and the consequences it will have on my child's life when my blood sugar is low. Hooray for the CGM sensor which helps me avoid the worst of it!

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