Deleted Scene: Postpartum Anxiety Felt Like An Unwanted Appendage

I am getting closer and closer to publishing my memoir. (Insert happy dance right here.) In the meantime, I am sharing scenes that did not quite make the final cut right here on the blog. 

One weekday morning, I left the house to take Pippa on a walk about twenty minutes after Nathan embarked on his morning constitutional.  Our paths crossed, and I stopped him to say, “I’m sorry.  I’m so sorry that I’m anxious.”

Nathan hugged me.  “Babe, don’t worry about it.  You have nothing to worry about.  Everything is fine.” 

“I know,” I said.  (But I didn’t.  Nothing felt fine, and nothing was going to ever be fine again.) 

I tried to explain how I felt.  “It’s like I’m carrying around a backpack and it’s filled with anxiety.  And I want to put the backpack down but I don’t know how.  It’s welded to my back and I don’t know how to get rid of it.” 

I paused.  “But I’ll figure it out.  I promise.  I will find a way to put the backpack down.”

Nathan hugged me again and said some more reassuring things before walking home to shower and go to work.  I watched him walk down the block and felt a fresh surge of anxiety and guilt. 

I had just promised my husband that I would stop feeling so anxious, but I had no idea how I was going to manage that.    

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Deleted Scenes: If Only I Could Buy The Right Things

As I whip through revisions of my memoir about perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, I’m sharing deleted scenes. Even though these scenes do not make the final cut, I do believe that knowledge is power. Something from my story might relate to your story, and if this helps just one person, I want to share.

I thought everything would be fine if only I bought the right things.  Specifically, I needed a fabulous nursing wardrobe, a magical diaper bag, and The One True Sling.

I ached to leave the house but thought it was impossible unless I acquired clothes that would make breastfeeding in public a breeze.  There are nursing covers that you can drape over the baby.  I bought one.  It made me feel hot and sweaty, and I could not see what I was doing or make eye contact with Pippa.  I used it maybe three times. 

Probably less.

I needed a dress that I could tug down, just so, and then handily feed Pippa while eating sushi and chatting with my socialite friends.  (I do not have any socialite friends.)  I had a vision of myself in the perfect wrap dress: shapely calves, glossy hair, rosy cheeks, and a flat stomach.  The perfect wrap dress would vanquish all my extra pounds, help me sleep better, turn me into a productive cheerful whirlwind, make everything I said sound witty and smart, and give me a charmed life.  Above all, it would make breastfeeding easier than brushing my teeth.

I ordered several different dresses from several different online stores.  Each time I clicked the BUY button, I knew that this was the wrap dress that would make my life perfect. 

Then the dress would arrive and break my heart. 

One was made from cheap flimsy fabric that practically disintegrated when I tried it on.  Another had weird ties in the back.  The blue one made me look like a cow.  The red one made me look like a pregnant prostitute.

I put the dresses back in their boxes and stacked the boxes in the living room.  I would return them later.

My dream diaper bag also eluded me.  When I was pregnant, I did not buy a diaper bag because the whole idea seemed silly to me.  I was just going to use a large tote bag. 

Then postpartum depression rewired my brain AND MY LIFE WOULD END UNLESS I FOUND THE MAGICAL DIAPER BAG.

The magical diaper bag would turn me into an all-star mom.  I would be able to fit inside its pockets everything I might possibly need for an outing: pacifiers, plural, even though Pippa never used them; diapers and wipes; two changes of clothes in case of a vomit or poop attack; a light cardigan in case it was a little chilly; a heavier cardigan in case it was very chilly; a backup cardigan in case it was chilly and the vomit/poop attack damaged the cardigan; toys to amuse Pippa; a notepad and pen in case someone told me something important and I had to write it down; my phone and wallet; a large water bottle; two swaddling blankets; Purell; a special pad for diaper changes; bags for soiled diapers; and hand lotion to counteract the drying effects of too much Purell. 

The magical diaper bag needed to house all these items and still only weigh two pounds.

I spent hours reading descriptions of diaper bags and agonizing over The Optimal Pocket Situation.  This was not a mere numbers game.  There was also the question of size and placement.  Were there pockets on the outside of the bag?  Did they have zippers?   Was there a special pocket with a hook for my keys?  And another pocket to sequester the unused pacifiers that Pippa shunned at home but might decide to use as soon as we left the house? 

Everything had to be waterproof, urine-proof, poop-proof, and vomit-proof, and above all, the diaper bag had to scream “COURTNEY IS AWESOME.”    

I added multiple bags to my Amazon Wishlist and looked at them several times a day.  I spent more time debating which diaper bag I should buy than I had spent choosing a law school to attend. 

How was I supposed to carry my magical diaper bag?  Over my shoulder?  My back still hurt and a diaper bag would aggravate that injury.  I needed a diaper backpack!

I finally ordered a diaper backpack with a pink pattern.  I convinced myself it was practical and stylish. 

It was hideous, cumbersome, and all around awful.  But it was mine, and the idea of returning it was unbearable, so I convinced myself it was awesome and turned to my next quest.

Deleted Scenes: Even In The Darkness, There Were Good Moments

As I whirl through revisions and get my book about postpartum depression ready for publication, I am sharing scenes that are not making the final cut because hey, does anyone want to read an 800 page tome about my adventures with postpartum mood and anxiety disorders? I thought not.

I have told you about my anxiety and compulsions.  I have told you how I felt detached and numb and how I was overwhelmed by people, but that is not the entire story.

Even as the postpartum depression demons were haunting me, I still felt all sorts of good, wonderful feelings: contentment when Pippa nuzzled my neck; wonder and amazement when she kicked her feet or reached for a rattle; joy when she cooed and gooed during a diaper change.  I even laughed every night with Nathan while we binge-watched The Big Bang Theory.

I felt these good, glowing feelings every day. 

But I did not feel them as strongly as I could.  I could never completely enjoy the joy and contentment, the wonder and love, because my nerves were always in HOLY FUCKING SHIT mode, always crouching behind a rock, hiding from a vampire, waiting for the tsunami to crash and drown the world. 

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Deleted Scenes: My First Neighborhood Walk

I am getting closer and closer to sending my book back to my editor and then, hooray, publishing it. Hopefully by Fall 2017!  But in the meantime, here is a scene that is not making the final cut. This is what postpartum anxiety does to a simple stroll around the neighborhood.

Life was monotonous and claustrophobic. 

Nathan was at work most of the time.  My parents, thanks to the L.A. Traffic Gods, only visited during the brief window in between rush hours.  I had friends but my brain concocted dozens of excuses to avoid them: they might be sick; they were busy with work; they were not interested in babies; they probably did not like me now that I had a baby (assuming they had ever liked me at all). 

Pippa was adorable, sweet, cuddly and fun — but rarely awake.  When she was awake, she spent most of that time breastfeeding.  When she was done with her meal, I talked to her, changed her diaper, forced her to endure tummy time, and entertained her with rattles and picture books.  This was lovely, but I wanted to introduce Pippa to the world and maybe have a conversation with a person who could say something – anything – more complicated than “ah gooooo.”  

I had spent enough time letting my body heal.  By Jove, it was time to take Pippa on neighborhood walks. 

The first time I bravely ventured forth, I was chaperoned by my husband and father-in-law.  It took me at least fifteen minutes to push Pippa’s stroller a whopping two blocks but every minute was dazzling. 

Sunshine! 

Sky! 

Birds! 

A barking dog!

Holy shit, I had not heard a dog bark in almost a month and Pippa had never heard one during her entire month on earth.  She had heard muffled barks in utero, but never the sharp staccato of a terrier defending his turf.  How magical!  It was as if I myself was hearing a dog bark for the first time.  My body tingled with joy. 

Yet even as I reveled in the wonder of Pippa’s first neighborhood stroll, an undercurrent of anxiety contaminated my joy.  I could not keep myself from worrying.

Was my father-in-law bored?  He must be bored. 

Was I walking too slowly?  I was walking too slowly. 

Was Nathan annoyed with my insistence on taking a neighborhood stroll?  He must be annoyed. 

Was I pushing the stroller correctly? 

Was the sidewalk too bumpy? 

Was that jolt too much for Pippa’s head? 

Was she in danger of brain damage? 

We were using our brand new, pumpkin orange jogging stroller with rugged tires that glided over bumps, cracks and curbs.  My father-in-law said, “That is quite a stroller.”

Nathan said, “Yes, strollers these days have all the bells and whistles.”

My anxiety ticked up a notch. 

I asked my father-in-law, “What sort of stroller did you have when Nathan was a baby?”

He laughed and said, “I do not even remember owning a stroller.”

Guilt flooded my body.  Was our stroller too fancy?  Too expensive?  It was, it was, holy shit, it was.  What had I been thinking?  Why had I squandered our money on something fancier than a $10 drugstore umbrella? 

EVERYONE MUST HATE ME!!!

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Deleted Scene: Breastfeeding Boot Camp

I am getting closer and closer to publishing my memoir about postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, and postpartum OCD. Breastfeeding plays an important part in my book because breastfeeding aggravated — maybe even caused — my symptoms. But I can’t include all the scenes I have written about breastfeeding, so here is one that is not making the cut.

“As you can see, for the first six weeks, breastfeeding is more difficult than formula.  Formula is denser than breastmilk, so formula newborns feed less often.  And of course, anyone can give the baby a bottle, so mom does not have to get up so often during the night.”

The teacher, a lactation consultant and doula, clicked to the next slide.

“But in the long run, breastfeeding is easier than formula.  There’s no need to pack bulky bottles when you go out.  When the baby is hungry, you just sit down and start nursing.  You don’t have to waste a ton of time preparing the bottle.”   

The teacher clicked to the next slide.

“But after six weeks, breastfeeding gets easier.  Your baby’s stomach will get bigger, so she won’t have to nurse as often.  She’ll get better at nursing, so breastfeeding sessions will not take as long.”

I nodded vigorously, along with forty other expectant parents, and scribbled in my notebook, Gets easier in six weeks.

The teacher frowned as the next slide appeared.  “Unfortunately, most mothers give up and quit before reaching that six week mark.  They switch to formula because they don’t want to do the hard work of those first six weeks.”

Silence.  The implication hung heavy in the air: the mothers who switched from breastfeeding to formula were lazy and weak.

“But I know everyone who is here wants to give their children the very best possible start in life.  And as we saw earlier, breastfeeding is better than formula.  Those first six weeks are tough, but you are making an investment that will pay off in the long run.”

Right, I thought, it’s an investment.  I can do this.  I am strong enough.

By the time Pippa was six weeks old, breastfeeding was as time-consuming as it had been in the maternity ward.  She was insatiable and I felt tethered to the leather armchair where I did most of the breastfeeding.

I emailed a group of trusted friends who had breastfed their babies:

Hey guys!  Sorry I haven’t emailed recently, but I have another question. Pippa is six weeks old now.  I thought breastfeeding should be easier than now, but things are as demanding as ever.  Am I doing something wrong?

My friends responded individually but they each promised that the first three months of motherhood are hell but once I survived newborn boot camp, things would get easier.

The internet confirmed this hypothesis.

All right then, I thought, I just have to survive until the three month mark. 

If the pressure to breastfeed had not been so intense, would I have suffered for as long as I did?

Deleted Scene: The Pressure to Breastfeed

I am getting closer and closer to publishing my memoir about postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, and postpartum OCD. Breastfeeding plays an important part in my book because breastfeeding aggravated — maybe even caused — my symptoms. But I can’t include all the scenes I have written about breastfeeding, so here is one that is not making the cut.

About twenty minutes after she was born, my doctor finally let me take my feet out of the stirrups.

“Can I have her?”

“Of course,” Nathan said.  “She wants her mama,” and he placed her back on my chest.

Now was the moment of truth.  Throughout my pregnancy, I had been brainwashed into thinking that everything — everything — depended on breastfeeding.  If I breastfed, my daughter would glow with health and intelligence.  If not, she would be fat and sickly, and her IQ would probably drop ten or fifteen points.

So many people advocated the rewards of breastfeeding: my friends; the pregnancy books; the baby books; the literature at my obstetrician’s office; the pediatrician; bloggers; magazines articles; social media; the doula who taught my prenatal yoga class; the nurse who taught my labor and delivery class; the websites that sent weekly updates about the baby in my womb. 

They all repeated the same mantras: breast is best; breastmilk is liquid gold; you pass on so many immunities through breast milk; formula fed babies are obese; and breast milk increases IQ.

Out of an abundance of caution, I bought a container of formula.  It proclaimed, right on the container: Breast is Best.  Even the formula company thought I should breastfeed.

As Pippa nuzzled my chest, she started to root around and strain towards my breast.  I worried.  Would she latch?  Would she breastfeed?  Would I do this right? 

Pippa squirmed towards my left breast.  I had done so much to prepare for this moment.  I had read three different books about breastfeeding; attended the hospital’s breastfeeding class; and studied the class handouts as if they held the secret to immortality.  Less than a week before my water broke, I visited the hospital’s breastfeeding support group and watched the mothers breastfeed their newborns. I had prepared for breastfeeding as if it was the final examination that would determine my success as a mother.  Would I pass?

I steered Pippa towards my breast.  The moms at the breastfeeding support group had made this look so easy, but I felt awkward and unnatural.  What was wrong with me? 

Pippa placed her mouth on my nipple.  Dread pressed against my chest.  What if she rejected me?  What if she was tongue tied?  What if she was allergic to my milk? 

Pippa latched on and started sucking.  A physical sensation of relief spread across my body.  I was breastfeeding my baby.  The anxiety and guilt dissipated.  I would be a good mother.

Episode 40: Sandy’s Story

This week, I talked to Sandy Celauro, author of the memoir Dancing on the Edge of Sanity, which she published under the pen name Ana Clare Roudes.

Sandy’s descent into the darkness of postpartum depression and anxiety was very, very quick. Within days of her son’s birth, she began to experience panic attacks, anxiety and obsessive thoughts. She sought help at her local emergency room, which was grossly unprepared to help a mom suffering from a maternal mental illness.

This week, Sandy and I talked about her ordeal – but we could not stop talking! So next week, in Part 2 of Sandy’s interview, we’ll delve into different issues concerning postpartum mood and anxiety disorders, especially the writing of such memoirs.

Thanks, Sandy, for sharing your story!

Deleted Scene: The Pill Makes Me Bat Shit Crazy

I am getting closer and closer to publishing my memoir about postpartum depression, anxiety and OCD. This scene is not making the final cut (I was getting too cerebral and philosophical, speculating about hormones), but I still think it covers an important issue. The birth control pill is not for everyone. 

“My periods have been much worse since I started the pill.”

“Well that shouldn’t be the case,” my gynecologist, an old man, said.

“I bleed more — a lot more — and my cramps are worse.”   

The gynecologist sighed.  “The literature and research clearly show that woman experience lighter periods when they take a birth control pill.”

I cringed.  My gynecologist was acting as if he knew my body better than I did.

“But,” he continued, “I can switch you to a different pill if you like.”

“Thank you,” I said, slipping the new prescription into my wallet.  I was years away from marriage and motherhood and did not relish the idea of an accidental pregnancy.

My next period was the worst I had ever had: heavier blood flow, stronger cramps, and swingier moods.  But my doctor had insisted my period would be lighter so I persevered.

For six months, I felt out of sorts.  Walking to lunch one day, I moaned about my period to a friend.

She laughed.  “Me too!  I hemmorage when I take the pill.  I’ve tried three different brands.  I can’t take the pill.”

Back at the office, I ran into another friend in the hallway outside the library.  “Courtney!  How are you?”

“Good,” I said.  Then, in a whisper, “I think the birth control pill is giving me mood swings.”

My friend shook her head and said, “The pill.  Makes me.  Bat.  Shit.  Crazy.”

For months, I had been an emotional rollercoaster, regularly waking Nathan up at dawn, already in tears, to discuss our non-existent relationship issues.  On a rational level, I knew my hormones were making me feel insecure and unloveable and I should take a walk or spend time alone with my journal when I felt a surge starting; but I could not stop myself.

After hearing stories from several more friends about feeling awful on the pill, I took my pink plastic circular case and threw it down the incinerator.  The next time my period came, it was as if I had never taken the pill: I ditched the uber-super-mega tampons; the premenstrual cramps went from “devastating” to “mild”; and the wild mood swings ended.

Deleted Scenes: Postpartum Anxiety, Or, Everything Is A Crisis

I am getting closer to publishing my memoir about postpartum depression (and postpartum anxiety) (and postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder) but in the meantime, here is a deleted scene. 

In early April, my iPhone gasped its last gasp.  It had been sputtering its way towards the Great Electronic Waste Dump for several months.  I knew I should have bought a new one when I was pregnant, but I like to run my electronics to the ground.

Now I felt like an idiot-asshole.  Why had I allowed such a catastrophe to unfold?  I needed a functioning iPhone.  How else could I take photographs and videos of Pippa?  And if I did not share photos every day, everyone would think I was a monster who did not care about her daughter’s precious first days.  Or worse, what if there was an emergency and I needed to call 9-1-1?  We had disconnected our landline ages ago.  I had to get a new phone IMMEDIATELY or terrible things would happen.

On the day my phone died, my father-in-law was visiting and Nathan was home from work. I would not have to schlep to the Verizon store with Pippa.  I would not have to expose her to the cesspool of humanity that would surely be lurking there.  While I got my new iPhone (stupid, stupid, stupid), Nathan and his dad would happily watch Pippa and complain about the Huskers football team.  I should have been relieved that my iPhone chose such an opportune day to perish.

I was not.

Or, to be more accurate, I did feel a tiny pebble of relief but that relief was quickly buried beneath an avalanche of guilt and anxiety.  I felt guilty that I had to inconvenience my husband who surely did not want to be stuck at home with a newborn and anxious about what my father-in-law must think of me.

But despite all my shitty feelings, I still needed a new iPhone; so I breastfed Pippa and as soon as she finished her last suckle,  rushed to the Verizon store.  I did not even take the time to stick a book in my purse and I am the sort of person who always has a book in her purse.  No time for such luxuries!  I had to be back in time for Pippa’s next feeding.  She often needed to feed every two hours, and feedings could last an hour, leaving only an hour to complete my mission.

Of course, we were still giving Pippa supplemental formula, but I wanted to wean her off the formula.  She needed to breastfeed exclusively.  I was not the sort of mother who contaminated her darling’s stomach with formula.  According to the breastfeeding experts, she might as well be drinking laundry detergent.

This was my first solo excursion since Pippa’s birth.  I should have relished the free time.  Instead, I silently willed the salesperson to work faster whiles waves of adrenaline crashed against me.

What if Pippa was hungry?

What if she refused the bottle?

What if she cried the entire time I was gone and Nathan hated me for leaving him alone with a screaming baby?

What if my father-in-law thought I was a terrible mother for leaving her to do something as selfish as buying a new iPhone?

What if the Verizon store did not have any new iPhones in stock?  What if it was crowded?

What if my breasts started to leak milk everywhere?

What if there was an earthquake and a chasm opened up between my home and the Verizon store?

What if what if what if?

After what felt like an eternity but was actually only forty-five minutes, I raced home to discover … a happy, quiet baby.

But what if she had cried?

What if she had been hungry and refused her bottle?

What if Nathan secretly hated me for leaving him alone with the baby?

My adrenaline did not settle down for several hours.

Deleted Scenes: The Postpartum Hermit

I am getting closer and closer to publishing my memoir about postpartum depression, but in the meantime, here is a deleted scene that will not be making the final cut. 

“Courtney,” my mom said.

My entire body tensed as I cradled the phone against my ear.

“What.”  Not a question but an accusation.

“Grandma is going back home next week and she would love to see Pippa as much as possible before she leaves so can she come with your dad and sister on Saturday?”

My body tensed even more.

“Fine,” I said, “but that’s it.  We are having too many visitors.  It’s too overwhelming for Pippa. ”

The weekend before, EVERYONE had visited — my dad, mom, sister and grandma — and it had been too much, as if they were sucking up precious oxygen.

When I was pregnant and taking walks (waddles) around the neighborhood, I daydreamed about introducing Pippa to friends and family.  Thanks to my never-ending nausea, I decided to skip the baby shower; but I wanted to have a Sip and See (basically a baby shower after the baby is born).  But now, the thought of hosting three visitors — three healthy visitors who would bring bags of groceries and do the laundry — was overwhelming.  Never mind the fact that we lived in a 1,700 square foot house and could have easily accommodated fifty more.

Postpartum depression was turning me into a hermit but I did not realize I was changing.  I assumed all mothers want to wrap themselves in a cocoon with their newborns and shut out the stampedes of visitors.  I could not see that I was living in a new state of constant anxiety and that the presence of just a few visitors bumped my anxiety to intolerable levels.