Chapter 7: Checking, Checking, Checking

I recently published my memoir Adventures with Postpartum Depression. You can buy the ebook and paperback now on Amazon – woot woot! I’m sharing several chapters on my blog. In this chapter, I describe the development of my postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder.

Two in the morning. I was lying in bed, Nathan sound asleep to my left, Pippa sound asleep in her yellow cradle to my right. The ceiling fan whirred overhead. I was wearing my headphones, and my headphones were plugged into my iPhone, which was playing the sound of a rushing river. Circumstances were perfect for sleep.

Except my wrists were throbbing. Lying in bed, I reprimanded myself. I really needed to stop clutching my smartphone during Pippa’s nocturnal feedings. Except scrolling through blogs was the only thing that kept me awake. If I just watched Frazier reruns, I fell asleep, and if I fell asleep, I might drop Pippa or, worse, lean forward and suffocate her with my own body.

I tried to put my wrists out of my mind. Thinking about the wrists just made me think about the ultrasound. I had gotten the blood test, and the results had shown elevated enzyme levels in my liver. The nurse said this was probably due to weight gain during pregnancy (you think?), but my obstetrician still wanted me to get an ultrasound of my liver before I could get physical therapy for the wrists.

I flipped from my left side to my right. The blood test had been an ordeal. My parents had watched Pippa, and the entire time I was gone, my anxiety spiked as if I were in the middle of a natural disaster. This made no sense. Pippa was safe and happy with my parents. I had pumped a bottle of breast milk in case she got hungry. The lab was only a few miles from our house so if there was an actual natural disaster, I could still get home.

Nevertheless, I suffered. My heart pounded, my skin crawled as if I were covered by hundreds of bugs, and I generally felt as if the world were about to end. It was not. There was absolutely no reason for the way I felt. At least, there was no logical reason, but there was a biological one.

Postpartum depression.

Anxiety is a symptom of postpartum depression, a symptom I was experiencing with greater intensity and frequency. As I tried to get back to sleep, the thought of the ultrasound made my heart race. There were so many things that could go wrong. What if Nathan had to go to work and I had to bring Pippa to the appointment? What if I could not pump enough milk and Pippa got hungry? What if Nathan was annoyed that he had to go into work a little late because his fat wife needed an ultrasound?

These petty concerns were easier to ponder than the deeper fear: What if I had cancer? Rationally, I knew my doctor was being overly cautious. Just as she had wanted to rule out MS when I was constipated, now she wanted to rule out some serious liver condition when all I had were sore wrists. Yet I could not stop myself from worrying that I might have cancer and leave Pippa to grow up without a mother.

I flipped back to my left side. I could not get comfortable. At least Pippa seemed to be comfortable in her cradle.

Or was she?

I tiptoed over and leaned as close as I could to her face and listened for the sound of her breathing. Her chest moved up and down but the room was dark. Maybe my eyes had tricked me into thinking she was breathing but she was actually in distress.

I gently rested my hand on the soft spot on the top of her head where the skull had not fully closed. For a moment, I felt nothing. Trembling, I inched my hand to the left. My body relaxed as I found it: her pulse.

My baby was still alive.

I got back into bed and closed my eyes. My muscles relaxed, my breathing slowed, and the chatter in my brain faded—

Had I checked Pippa’s sleep sack?

At night, Pippa slept in a sleep sack, which was like a sleeping bag with armholes. The sleep sack kept her warm without the risk of smothering her the way a blanket might. Rationally, I knew she was safe and snug in her sleep sack and told myself to go to sleep.

What if I had inadvertently nudged the sleep sack out of place?

What if it was on top of Pippa’s mouth?

What if she was suffocating this very moment?

My eyes flew open.

I closed them and urged myself to go to sleep. I knew Pippa was fine. These fears were ridiculous. I needed to get some decent rest before Pippa wanted to breastfeed again.

Just as it seemed as if I could talk some sense into my anxiety, the guilt chimed in: Was I really placing my desire to sleep above my daughter’s safety? What sort of mother was I?

I got out of bed, crept toward Pippa, and examined the sleep sack’s position. It was several inches away from her mouth.

I went back to bed and closed my eyes. I took several deep breaths.

What if, while walking back to bed, I had caused a disturbance in the air that moved the sleep sack onto Pippa’s mouth?

It had not always been this way. In the maternity ward, whenever Pippa was swaddled and in her cradle, I knew she was safe. Or, more precisely, it never occurred to me to worry about her safety.

I do not remember exactly when I started checking Pippa during the night—those first weeks are such a blur—but I do know it was not our first night home from the hospital. That first night, I was too busy figuring out a way to get Pippa to sleep in a place other than my arms. She had slept easily in the hospital cradle but screamed every time we put her in the travel crib in the master bedroom.

Nathan and I took turns holding her. Around 1:00 a.m., out of desperation, I checked a baby book the pediatrician had recommended specifically for sleep issues. The book said newborns could sleep in a car seat. I eased Pippa into her car seat and slowly withdrew my hands. She slept. I rejoiced and went to sleep myself. I was too exhausted to think about her breathing.

But eventually, probably when Pippa was a few weeks old, I started to worry. According to my baby books, sudden infant death syndrome claimed the lives of 1,500 infants every year in the United States. That is not actually that big a number when you consider the fact that in 2013, the year Pippa was born, there were 3.93 million births in the United States. That means for every hundred babies born in 2013, less than 0.04 percent of those babies died of SIDS.

SIDS still terrified me.

It was as if the Grim Reaper were hovering nearby, waiting to snatch Pippa while I had the audacity to slumber. I followed all the advice I could find. We kept the cradle in our bedroom, ran a fan all night, used the sleep sack. Pippa still seemed to be in imminent danger. And so I checked to make sure she was breathing, as if by checking I could ward off evil spirits or, at the very least, reassure my frazzled nerves.

The reassurance, though, never lasted more than a few seconds.

I got out of bed again, the fifth time in as many minutes. This time, after checking Pippa’s pulse and watching the fall and rise of her chest, I tucked the sleep sack into her pajamas to make sure it would not get loose during the night.

Now I could sleep.

Except.

Tucking the sleep sack had created a big fabric bulge near Pippa’s neck. Could that interfere with her windpipe?

No, I told myself, she was fine. I had pulled the fabric bulge several inches away from her neck.

But. How could I be sure the fabric bulge would stay in place?

I had to know.

* * *

A few weeks later, once again during the middle of the night, I put my hand on the knob of the front door and turned as hard as I could, twisting back and forth until I was sure it was locked. Then, I turned away to go back to bed.

But. Was it really locked or did it just seem to be locked?

I unlocked the door, relocked it, and then rattled the knob back and forth to make sure it was really, really, really locked.

I felt calm.

I removed my hand from the doorknob.

My heart immediately started to thump as if I were on the verge of a heart attack.

Was the door really locked?!?

After testing the lock’s integrity a dozen more times, I pulled myself away, like a spaceship escaping a tractor beam. At last, I could go back to sleep. I had finished breastfeeding Pippa almost an hour ago, but if I fell asleep right away, I could probably get into a REM cycle before she was awake for the day.

I took a deep breath. Sleep, please, let me sleep.

Was the back door locked?

I had checked the back door just five minutes ago, but maybe something had happened to unlock it.

I chided myself. I was being ridiculous.

But if the door was unlocked, and a kidnapper was prowling the neighborhood . . .

The risk was too high.

After checking the back door, I could not resist the urge to revisit the front door again because you never know.

On my way back to bed, I walked through the kitchen.

When was the last time I checked the stovetop burner?

* * *

If you place a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will leap to safety.

It is said that if you place the same frog in a pot of room-temperature water and flick on a flame, it will not notice the change in temperature. (This is not actually true. Still, I like the metaphor.) Even when the water has started to boil, the  frog will stay in the pot, oblivious that it is being cooked alive.

I was the frog.

* * *

I staggered toward bed, half-assured that the doors were locked and stovetop burners lit.

What about the windows?

I started in the kitchen, yanking upward on each window. Then I moved to the living room. I could see with my eyes that the windows were in fact locked.

Or maybe they only looked that way.

I pulled as hard as I could on the first window. It did not budge.

I turned and considered the second. A huge thorny bougainvillea grew in front of that window. Not even Prince Charming could get through those tangles. The window was completely inaccessible.

Yet I could not resist. I had to check.

Next I went to the nursery and checked the windows by the changing table. Then it was time to survey the guest room.

But wait.

There was a window in the nursery closet. The old owners had sealed that window shut and it was impossible to open. Besides, it was no bigger than a shoe box. No one could climb through it . . .

I had to know.

I opened the closet door, leaned over diaper boxes, and strained at the window as if the house were on fire and this window were the only way out. Only then could I convince myself to move on and check the guest room windows.

At last. We were safe. I could go back to bed.

I turned and started walking back to bed.

What if an intruder had broken into the house during the day?

My heart beat faster.

What if he was hiding under one of the beds?

My breathing accelerated.

I marched back to the guest room. A small part of me protested. No one could be hiding beneath this bed. The frame was barely six inches off the ground and besides, I had crammed all sorts of junk down there.

What if there was a snake?

My heart started to pound even harder. I knelt down at the edge of the bed convinced that something terrible was hiding just behind the bed skirt. If I looked, it would surely kill me; but if I did not look, it might kill Pippa instead.

I took a deep breath and lifted the bed skirt.

No snakes, no fantastical creatures from horror movies.

I finally crawled back into bed, terrified of waking Pippa or Nathan. Neither stirred. Utterly exhausted, I fell asleep before my thoughts could rouse me out of bed.

* * *

Fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, oh no, seventeen.

There were seventeen steps.

Not sixteen, a beautiful number that could be divided into two halves of eight steps each or, bliss, four quarters of four steps each.

And not eighteen, which at least had the decency to be an even number.

But seventeen. Seventeen odd-numbered steps.

How could my parents have possibly thought this was a good place to live?

I was nineteen years old, home from college on spring break. My parents had bought a townhouse in a gated community. It was built on top of a hill, so the ground floor was also the top floor. A flight of stairs descended to the second floor, where my siblings and I would sleep.

A flight of stairs with seventeen impossibly odd steps that would torment me every time I needed to go to a different floor.

I experimented with ways to make the seventeen-step staircase feel like an even number. I tried skipping a step, but no matter what step I skipped, I knew the seventeenth step was there. Stepping on the same stair twice also felt wrong. I tried rushing down the stairs without counting, but not counting felt even worse than counting an odd number.

Counting stairs was one of my quirks. I had a few others—turning jumbles of letters on license plates into words, folding laundry in certain ways, counting how many cars I passed when I was in the faster-moving lane of traffic—but they were just innocuous mind games that made me smile. I freely told friends and family about my little games with a sense of pride. They were proof that I was unique and marching to my own beat.

It never occurred to me that these quirks were more than just games; that they were actually a way of exerting control over my world.

It never occurred to me that I was flirting with obsessive compulsive disorder. Or that my quirks could turn into something sinister if given the right circumstances.

* * *

“I’m going to bed.”

Nathan glanced up from his laptop. He likes to piddle with various sports-themed games while watching television. “Good night, sweetheart.”

It was not even nine o’clock, but at two and a half months postpartum, I felt like a shell of my former self. The sooner I got to bed, the better chance I had of getting a full night’s rest and feeling like an actual human being.

I tiptoed into the bedroom, careful not to disturb Pippa. I got into bed and closed my eyes.

Were the doors locked?

My eyes popped back open.

I listened. Nathan was still in the next room watching television and playing games on his computer. I had to check the locks, but he would think it was weird if I started locking and unlocking the doors.

I’d have to start with the front door, which was on the other side of the house. The television volume would drown out the sound effects.

It took me a few minutes to convince myself the front door was locked.

Now it was time for the back door.

I sauntered into the den. Nathan’s eyes were on the television. I sidled a few steps toward the back door. The back door was technically in the same room as the television, but thanks to the position of the couch, it felt like the back door was part of a separate little mud room. Nathan was not looking at me. I sidled closer and felt a thrill, as if I were riding a bike down a steep hill. I was there, close enough to touch the back door, and he had not noticed me.

I started to lock and relock the doors surreptitiously. Nathan kept watching television. My secret was safe.

Or so I thought.

Long after my postpartum depression was diagnosed and treated, Nathan and I talked about the way I locked and relocked the doors. He’d been aware of what I was doing, but he thought it was a result of normal new-mommy fears. Where he grew up, doors were often left unlocked. No one worried about burglars, and they would have thought you were bonkers if you’d inquired about local serial killers. But I was a city girl. In my world, doors needed to be locked.

At least, that was what he told himself. Maybe he was also in denial. It would have been much easier to think his wife was being a bit silly than to confront the possibility that she was swimming in dark psychological waters.

Besides, Nathan knew only that I was checking the doors before bed. He did not know I was checking Pippa’s breathing throughout the night; or that I checked the stovetop burners, windows, closets, under the beds, and sometimes even inside the washing machine; or that I rechecked the doors—and everything else—after every breastfeeding session. Those things happened only when he was fast asleep.

My anxiety sometimes seemed to have a mind of its own. Like, my anxiety knew that it had to be surreptitious and not arouse my husband’s suspicion. Otherwise he might have taken me to a doctor, and the doctor might have helped me, and my suffering might not have lasted as long as it did.

Chapter Four: Pregnancy, AKA A Fancy Word For “Hell”

My memoir Adventures with Postpartum Depression is now available on Amazon as a paperback and ebook. Here is Chapter Four. In this chapter, I describe my pregnancy, which in hindsight drained my zest for life and helped set the stage for postpartum depression.

I settled my feet on a stack of pillows and clicked on the nightstand light. “Okay, baby girl. It’s week twenty-eight. Let’s see what the third trimester has in store for us.”

I cracked open my favorite pregnancy book and started reading about Braxton Hicks contractions and delivery. I could not wait for this pregnancy to be over.

In the first trimester, I had discovered that morning sickness was not always limited to the morning and could in fact last all day. Once I got my arms around the fact that a man had probably coined the phrase “morning sickness” in order to get his wife back into the kitchen and making supper, I started counting the days to the second trimester, when the all-day sickness would end. The sickness, however, did not abate until several weeks into the second trimester. When it did, I was so relieved, Nathan and I planned a trip to Orlando to visit family and have some fun. The nausea returned with a vengeance as I was drinking a virgin strawberry daiquiri by the pool. (I’ll never drink another daiquiri.) I prayed my stomach would return to normal after the birth.

The constipation was even worse than the nausea.

Around week seven, I felt my bowels grind to a stop. I did everything I could to reboot the system. I guzzled prune juice, various pink and green potions that my obstetrician recommended, and walked around our block. The pain was so bad that if my bowels had felt inspired during one of those walks, I would have gladly squatted on a neighbor’s lawn.

Day three of the Great Constipation Ordeal, I could not pee. My bladder was ready to burst from all the prune juice I had been imbibing, but no matter how I squeezed or crouched above the toilet, only a few drops would trickle out. My obstetrician told me to go to the ER for a catheter.

A concerned doctor listened to my stomach with his stethoscope. “Well, I believe you when you say you’ve been drinking prune juice. I can hear a lot of activity in there.”

That sounded promising.

“But unfortunately, your plumbing is all blocked up and nothing is coming out until we deal with that.”

That sounded less than promising.

“Pregnancy can be so hard. I remember my wife had terrible constipation during her pregnancies. I could give you a catheter, but I think if we relieve the constipation, then your bladder will sort itself out.”

A kindly nurse arrived quickly and asked me to roll onto my side. This was my first experience with an enema, and I actually thought the nurse was going to squirt a liquid solution up my derriere. I was more than a little surprised to discover what an enema actually entailed.

The nurse patted my shoulder. “Try to lie here for ten minutes before using the bathroom.”

That would obviously not be a problem. After three days of constipation, I doubted the next ten minutes would bring any relief.

Three minutes later, I practically skidded into a wall as I made my way to the bathroom down the hall. The constipation crisis was over.

My humiliation, however, was just getting started.

By the time we left the ER, it was eleven o’clock on a Sunday night. The doctor had given me a prescription for a bladder infection (because if a pregnant lady shows up with constipation, I guess her urine needs to be tested as well). I wanted to fill the prescription immediately to keep our baby safe, but our local pharmacy was closed for the night. We had to drive to the next city to find a twenty-four-hour pharmacy and wait another hour to fill my prescription. Not only were we both exhausted, we were famished, having left for the ER before dinner.

As we waited and waited, I wandered the store. In the gastrointestinal aisle, I spotted a box of enemas. The warning on the box cautioned that pregnant women should not use the enema unless directed to do so by a physician, and my physician had told me to go to the ER, but I still blamed myself. I had been living off white bread, cheddar cheese, and more white bread to manage the nausea. I should have known that would make me constipated.

My cheeks burned. Was this all in my head? Was I being a hypochondriac? Since college, I had done my best to conceal the hypochondria, but I knew the truth. If I got a headache, I worried it was a tumor. When I got a cold, I fretted my immune system was collapsing. And though I knew in my rational brain that I was extra-sensitive to arachnids, I still suspected every spider bite was actually a flesh-eating virus.

Everyone – my husband, obstetrician, the nurses and doctor at the ER – must think I was so pathetic and weak for needing to go to the hospital for a little constipation. I should have been stronger and found a way to resolve the problem on my own. Hospitals were for severed limbs and deadly viruses. They were not for hypochondriacs who overreacted to something simple like constipation.

I resolved to do a better job of being the master of my body.

* * *

After the ER trip, I started eating double-fiber bread and apples to make sure my bowels stayed happy. This aggravated the nausea, but between puking and constipation, one must always, always choose vomit. A little before Thanksgiving, though, I got cocky. I was halfway through the pregnancy and sick of nausea. Surely I could mix some bland foods with the fiber.

Then again, maybe not.

This time, I ended up in my obstetrician’s office.

“I could do a catheter—”

“Last time, I just needed an enema. That relieved all the pressure and then I could urinate.”

My obstetrician winced. “I don’t have any enemas—”

“That’s okay, I brought one,” I said, pulling the box out of my purse. (I was a Girl Scout.)

My doctor inserted the enema, I waited as long as possible, and then . . .

Did you know enemas do not always work?

Enemas do not always work.

“I was afraid this might happen,” my doctor said. “I wonder if you have MS.”

“Multiple sclerosis?” I yelped.

Was I dying? Would my baby be okay? Would Nathan have to be a single dad? And for the love of all things holy and sacred, could we please do something about the constipation before we sorted through the possible neurological underpinnings?

Not to worry: that was next.

“Since the enema did not work, I’m afraid I will have to manually extract the excrement.”

I turned onto my right side, and the doctor lifted my paper gown. When she put her gloved hand up my rectum, it hurt, but the humiliation was far worse than the pain.

As the room filled with the smell of my poop, the doctor said, “I’m a little concerned. You say you can’t have a bowel movement, but your feces is actually quite soft. Based on your description, it should be hard.”

To my ears, it sounded as if the doctor did not believe me. She was probably just puzzled, but in my already humiliated state, I assumed she thought the constipation was a figment of my imagination.

Tears filled my eyes. I had tried to poop. Believe me, I had tried. Pregnancy hormones do crazy things. They make women weep, drool, fart, and even eat dirt. In my case, the hormones had made the business of bowel movements a little more difficult. Still, I blamed myself.

“I’d like you to see a gastroenterologist to rule out something more serious.”

Lovely. My obstetrician seemed to share my view that I was either a hypochondriac or dying of an obscure illness.

A month later, a gastroenterologist assured me the constipation was just a pregnancy symptom. “It’s severe but still on the normal spectrum.”

“So it’s not MS?”

“No, you don’t have MS.”

Relief flooded my body.

“You will most likely experience more constipation and hemorrhoids after childbirth.”

And there went the sense of relief.

“Is there anything I can do to prevent that?”

“I’m going to give you a list of things you can do while you are pregnant, but constipation after pregnancy is inevitable.”

Oh good, I thought as I left the office. Another opportunity for me to be utterly humiliated and act like a pathetic hypochondriac.

* * *

I thumbed through the third-trimester pages, noting topics of interest.

“Braxton Hicks contractions, that sounds sci-fi . . . oh, vaginal discharge, lovely . . . frequent urination. Even more frequent than it already is?  Well isn’t that exciting.”

There was an entire chapter devoted to breastfeeding. I had already bought several books about the lactation arts and registered for a breastfeeding class but made a note to read the chapter with a highlighter and pen. There were also several chapters devoted to labor and delivery. Those would require meticulous study.

My hand flew to my stomach. Pippa had started kicking. Even though my uterus registered every thump, it was still cool to feel the force of her foot banging against my fingers.

We had picked her name weeks before her first kick, a few days after the expensive blood test revealed we were having a girl. It was a Saturday in early September, and Nathan was watching college football while I flipped through some baby name books. After a couple hours of entertaining various names, we agreed that “Pippa” sounded right.

I frowned from my spot on the couch. “So do we have to name her ‘Philippa’?”

“Of course not. That was holding!” Nathan turned back to me. “We will just name her Pippa.”

“I like that. But since ‘Pippa’ is quirky, let’s give her a solid middle name, like Ann.”

Nathan paused the game. “You know I love the name ‘Ann.’”

“But it has to be ‘Anne’ with an E.”

We had not told anyone else, but ever since that Saturday, our baby’s name was Pippa Anne Novak. Of course, we said we were open to other names. We still had over two trimesters to discuss, but there never were any other contenders. Now, with just one trimester to go, she was most definitely Pippa Anne.

Pippa was still kicking. “Are you going to be a soccer player? Or a dancer? I’m so excited to see who you want to be.”

I spent a lot of time these days lying in bed, surrounded by pillows, and reading pregnancy books. The law firm I had been working for from home had recently hired some new attorneys. My services were no longer needed. I was going to be a stay-at-home mom and was ready to be done with the law, so the timing could not have been better.

A little before Christmas, I had finished the first draft of my novel. My sister had read it and given me a ton of ideas to make it better, and I had created an extensive checklist of revisions I wanted to make. Those, however, would have to wait until after the baby arrived. Revisions and nausea do not mix. But hey, at least newborns nap a lot. There would be time enough for writing once Pippa was here.

“Meconium? Poop that’s like tar? Gross. We’ll just let Daddy change those first diapers, okay?”

Pippa kicked. We were already coconspirators.

I flipped through the chapters about the first weeks with a newborn.

“Oh, here’s some ideas for the registry. I don’t think we need a diaper bag, do you? No, they are too frumpy. What about a baby carrier? Would you like me to carry you in a sling?”

Pippa stopped kicking. She was saving her strength for the midnight hour.

“The baby blues . . .” I skimmed a few paragraphs. “Pippa, this says 80 percent of new moms get the baby blues. Well, that is not going to happen to Mommy. You’ll see, Mommy hardly ever cries. I’ll be so happy to finally have you here in my arms, I won’t have time to be sad.”

I turned the page. A heading in bold immediately grabbed my attention: “Postpartum Depression.

For a moment, it seemed as if someone had hit the pause button on the universe. I stopped breathing, and everything became very, very quiet. I can’t explain why or how, but it was almost as if some part of me knew what was going to happen after Pippa was born.

I started to read—“extreme sadness, low energy, crying episodes”—but quickly turned to the next page. Sitting on my bed, twenty-eight weeks pregnant and reading up on the postpartum period, I was not about to pay attention to irrational premonitions or put any silly ideas into my head. It was bad enough that I had to worry about postpartum constipation. My inner hypochondriac would have a field day if I knew the symptoms for postpartum depression.

* * *

“How are you doing?” The obstetrician had just arrived to check on my progress.

“The contractions just started hurting again. I need the anesthesiologist to give me another refresher.”

I was in a private labor and delivery room at the hospital. The room was larger than any room at our house and had dark wood paneling on the walls. It felt more like a nice hotel room than a room for giving birth.

Nathan and I had been in this room, sleeping and watching movies, for the past eighteen hours. My water had broken the night before, a little after 11 p.m. I had been asleep and woke up to use the bathroom. After I finished peeing, a trickle of water kept coming out of me. My due date was eleven days away, so my first thought was that I had broken my bladder. It took me a minute to realize what had happened, and when I did, excited adrenalin flooded my body.

I would have run to wake Nathan if I had been capable of anything more than a waddle. He was out of bed before I could finish the sentence, “I think my water broke.”

My contractions had not yet started, but my obstetrician told me to head straight to the hospital. This did not surprise me. At the beginning of the pregnancy, I had tested positive for Group B Strep Infection, a bacteria that tons of healthy women have in their digestive tract. The bacteria can occasionally make a newborn sick, so my doctor had warned me multiple times that I would need to take antibiotics intravenously as soon as my water broke.

On our way to the hospital, Nathan played Europe’s The Final Countdown on his phone. Our baby was coming!

Before I was admitted to the labor and delivery ward, the nurses had to confirm that I was actually in labor. I had a queasy feeling I was going to be sent home with an admonition to stop pissing myself. A nurse, though, tested the liquid coming out of me and confirmed it was amniotic fluid. She hooked me up to a machine and said I was in fact having regular contractions. Every time the machine registered a contraction, more liquid whooshed out of me. Still, I felt nothing.

I was a goddess. Contractions could not hurt me!

Ten hours later, the contractions were so bad, I wanted to die. My sister called. We had talked several times since my water broke. During the first several calls, I sounded cheerful and upbeat. About ten hours into labor, though, I sounded as if I had been possessed by a demon. At least, so my sister says. I myself have no memory of that conversation.

All I remember from that stage of labor was the delivery nurse’s suggestion I wait a little longer for an epidural. I was only four centimeters dilated, and she thought I should wait until I was at least five centimeters. My obstetrician, however, had told me to get the epidural as soon as I wanted. I was not going to be a hero and wait for the five centimeter mark. The anesthesiologist had applauded my aversion to pain as he administered the epidural.

Now it was 9 p.m. Approximately twenty-two hours had passed since my water broke, the pain was back, and I wanted it to go away. My obstetrician, though, thought otherwise.

“You are ten centimeters dilated.” She was standing at the head of my hospital bed. “It is time to push. It will be a lot easier if you can feel the contractions.”

“But I want another epidural.”

“Honey,” the nurse said, “you will be able to push better if you can feel the contractions.”

I looked at my doctor. “So it’s better to feel the pain?”

“I think so.”

“Okay.”

And that is how I, a woman fully committed to having an epidural, entered the final stage of labor sans pain medication.

Chapter One: The Girl With Hypochondria

My memoir Adventures with Postpartum Depression is now available as an ebook and paperback on Amazon. Here is Chapter One. In this chapter, I discuss my history with anxiety before I got pregnant.

“You have a cold,” the doctor said.

“That’s it?”

“That’s it. But.”

The doctor flipped through my file. I waited for the death sentence. Cancer? A tumor? Something too exotic to diagnose?

“You seem to come here for a lot of minor complaints. Colds. Headaches. Food poisoning. A spider bite.”

It had been an impressive spider bite. A circle of skin on my left calf had turned pink and warm to the touch and swelled up to a diameter of at least two inches. My skin had never reacted so violently to a bug bite. I’d had to show the bite to a doctor just in case.

The doctor snapped my file shut. “I think you should see a therapist. Your student insurance covers ten visits.”

Therapy? Me? What if my friends found out?

Therapy was for bored housewives and people who could not get their shit together. I did not fall into either category. I was an Ivy League student, writing a senior thesis about the publication of Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography and headed to law school next year. I barely ever cried.

Clearly, though, I was doing something wrong if this doctor thought I needed to talk to a therapist. “Okay,” I said as he handed me a sheet of paper with information about the college’s mental health services. I felt like I should say something more to convince him that I was a normal, successful student who rose above her emotions, but the words got stuck in my throat.

Maybe I could use therapy to learn the right way to act so no one would ever again think my feelings were getting the better of me.

* * *

My new therapist ushered me into his office. He seemed old—in his early thirties, at the very least—and was wearing glasses, a white lab coat, and grey slacks. The blinds were drawn.

I sat down on a chair on the other side of the room and took note of the large box of tissues on a nearby table. Hopefully I would never need them.

“So why are you here?”

“One of the doctors suggested it. He said I’ve been coming to the student medical center too often.”

“Do you think you’ve been coming too often?”

“All my friends think I’m a hypochondriac, so maybe.”

“What do you hope to accomplish in therapy?”

“I want to stop acting like a hypochondriac.”

“Why?”

“Because hypochondriacs are weak and pathetic. People laugh at them.”

What I meant was that I thought hypochondriacs were weak and pathetic. I thought feelings were silly and degrading.

I have tried to understand where and how this aversion to feelings started.

Maybe I learned it from the movies. I watched a lot of Star Wars and Indiana Jones growing up. The heroes almost never took a moment to linger on unpleasant feelings. If someone important died, they got sad for 2.3 seconds before throwing back their shoulders and facing the next attack from Darth Vader or Nazis.

Maybe I gleaned it from books. I favored big fantasy adventures like The Lord of the Rings and just like the movies, those stories did not dwell on messy feelings like sorrow and loneliness. Even if a character cried, I only had to flip through a couple of pages to get back to the adventure. The message I internalized about life was that emotions deserved very little attention from a heroic character.

Then again, maybe my overdeveloped sense of independence contributed to the way I avoided crying. From an early age, I wanted to be able to do things all by myself. In preschool, I learned how to read. In kindergarten, my mom gave me Ramona and Her Father, a book with chapters and almost no pictures. We sat down on the couch and started to read the book together, but after a few paragraphs, I pulled the book away, insisting I was going to read it by myself. The girl who wanted to read by herself would have loathed asking her parents to help her navigate messy feelings. I had to handle my emotions alone.

Except I did not like the way I felt when I was sad, lonely, embarrassed, or rejected. I learned to shove those feelings away. It was better to listen to some cheerful music and do my homework than to let myself cry when I was dumped two days after my first kiss or when I found out my friends had dressed up in their fanciest clothes and had “prom” at a diner without me.

Whatever the reason, by the time I was in the office of my first therapist, I was determined to be strong and rise above any ugly feelings that might try to ruin my day. Even if that meant acting like everything was fine when my eldest cousin died.

* * *

After several sessions, the therapist observed that my medical complaints had started during the spring of my freshman year.

“I guess so.”

“Did anything happen before the spring that might have triggered your fear of dying?”

“Um,” I thought out loud. “I don’t think so.”

The therapist waited.

“My cousin Kim died.”

“Tell me about that.”

I took a deep breath. I had barely spoken of Kim’s death since it had happened. “It was January. I was a freshman. I saw Kim for the last time ever on Christmas Eve . . .”

On my dad’s side of the family, I was the fifth of sixteen grandchildren. Three of my cousins lived in Michigan, but the rest of us were born and raised in Los Angeles. Family gatherings, from barbeques to baptisms, were frequent and crowded with cousins. Christmas Eve was the most important. Since before I was born, everyone had always celebrated Christmas Eve at my Uncle Phil and Aunt Berta’s house. Aunt Berta made lasagna, there was this amazing pink Cool Whip “casserole,” and the house was crowded with about thirty cousins, aunts, uncles and family friends.

“Kim was sick. But not sick like she was going to die. More like sick because she had had the flu for a week.”

I was hanging out with my cousins Emily and Julie on a couch near the Christmas tree. As kids, we had played tag in the backyard with our brothers. When we felt too old for tag, we played poker with pennies and nickels. Now that we were in college, we just liked to sit and gossip. Emily, Julie, and I had gone to the same all-girls Catholic high school and our classmates were always up to something amusing.

Kim came into the living room. She was thirty-one, and I was not quite nineteen. Despite all the family gatherings, I did not know her very well. I had been the sort of kid who wanted to hang out with other kids. I was not interested in grownup lives, and with our age difference, Kim always seemed like an adult to me. I assumed I would get to know her better when I was older myself and we had boring grownup stuff, like mortgages and grocery lists, in common.

Kim was helping her mom get dinner ready. We chatted while she snapped open a tablecloth and smoothed it over a folding table.

“How are the college girls doing? Anyone have a boyfriend?”

We bantered, and Kim coughed into her arm.

I winced sympathetically. “I heard you had the flu.”

“Had?” Kim laughed. “Try the present tense. This has been the longest flu of my life.”

“Christmas Eve with the flu must be fun.”

“Oh, it’s fantastic.” Kim smiled. “But it’s worth it. This is the first year that Timmy kind of understands what is going on.”

At two and a half, Kim’s son was the baby of the family.

“Then what happened?” My therapist dragged me back to the present day.

“That was the last time I ever talked to her. A couple of days later, she was hospitalized. I wanted to visit but my parents vetoed that idea. But the doctors discharged her and said she was doing better. I came back to Dartmouth for the winter quarter. I forgot about Kim being sick…”

I started to cry and reached for the tissues. I had rarely cried in front of anyone. Hell, I had barely ever cried in solitude.

My parents had called my dorm room on a Sunday morning, waking me up. Kim was gone, they said, she had died the day before, in her sleep. I remember crumpling forward into an origami position of shock—elbows on knees, head in hands, legs numb.

“But the doctors said she was fine. They discharged her from the hospital.”

“I know.” In the background, I thought I could hear my dad crying. He had been only thirteen years old when Kim was born and made him an uncle.

I sobbed so hard, my chest hurt. My roommate got out of bed and hugged me from behind.

“Can I come home for the funeral?”

“Of course. Dad already called the airline. There’s a flight that leaves Boston this afternoon. Can you get packed in time to catch the eleven o’clock mini coach?”

I disentangled myself from my roommate’s hug and forced myself to stop crying as I talked travel logistics with my parents. Then I got in the shower and sobbed alone. I was in brand-new emotional territory. My great-grandmother had died when I was seven; my childhood dog had been put to sleep shortly before my senior year of high school; and that was it. I was not prepared to deal with death, not when I was in New Hampshire, far from my home in Los Angeles, in front of friends I had known for less than four months. Especially not with my lifelong aversion to crappy feelings.

I did not cry for Kim again—not even during the funeral. But now, in my therapist’s office, I found I was crying and in need of the box of tissues. For a moment, my chest felt lighter, as if a darkness were leaving my body, but then my brain got involved and resisted the rush of emotions.

I sniffled and pulled myself back together.

“Sorry about that.”

The therapist shrugged. “That’s fine.”

I was horrified with myself. If I had to be a person who did therapy, at least I could be the sort of person who smiled and acted fine during said therapy.

* * *

By our next appointment, I had everything figured out and explained it all to my therapist. “I’ve been acting like a hypochondriac because Kim died suddenly and unexpectedly.”

“Oh?”

“She had been taking diet pills that damaged her heart. Fen-phen.” Kim died in January 1997. Less than a year later, the Food and Drug Administration pulled fen-phen off the market. “But at the time she died, we had no idea why she had been sick, so I became anxious that I too might collapse and die without warning. That’s why I’ve been running to the student center for every medical symptom.”

The therapist nodded and tapped his pen against a clipboard. I remember how smug I felt, coming to that conclusion about my anxiety. My conclusion, however, was just a rushed and amateurish attempt at concocting a psychological explanation to put a bandage on the emotional equivalent of a severed limb.

“The next time I get stressed about a medical symptom, I just need to remind myself that I’m being a hypochondriac. Then I can talk myself off the ledge.”

The therapist tapped his pen even faster against the clipboard.

“So I don’t need any more therapy. I’ve resolved my issues. I’m cured.”

With a completely neutral tone of voice, the therapist said, “You think you have resolved all your issues?”

“Yes. Now that I know what is happening, I can control it.”

If I had known the problems my hypochondria would create after I had my first child, I might have been willing to invest a little more time in therapy. Then again, I would never have believed how badly my efforts to conceal my hypochondria would backfire.

Prologue

My memoir Adventures with Postpartum Depression is now available as an ebook and paperback on Amazon. Here is the Prologue. This was incredibly difficult but cathartic to write.

If I raised my arms in the air and threw Pippa as hard as I could against the hardwood floor, her skull would crack open and her brains would splatter all over the floor.

I gasped and held Pippa closer to me, as if the very thought of throwing her could rip her from my arms. Why did this keep happening? I loved my daughter.

Didn’t I?

What a silly question. Of course I loved Pippa. I had loved her since the moment I learned I was pregnant.

Then why did I keep thinking about throwing her against the floor with all my strength? Why did I keep seeing images of her brains splattered across the room? And why was it getting harder and harder to push the dark thoughts away?

I collapsed on the pink glider in the nursery and patted Pippa’s back. “It’s okay. It’s okay, baby girl, it’s okay.”

Pippa continued wailing. Though it did no good, I kept patting. Maybe she just had an epic burp stuck in her little tummy. I could never tell when she was cranky and when she was just gassy. All her cries sounded the same: loud.

Maybe it wasn’t a burp. What if one of my hairs was wrapped around one of Pippa’s tiny toes and cutting off circulation? I had seen an article about that on Facebook. A baby cried and cried and her mother had no idea that one of her hairs had gotten tangled around a toe and by the time she noticed, it was too late. The toe had to be amputated.

I put Pippa on the changing table and bent over her hands. She was shrieking now, but I had to act quickly before it was too late. I checked her fingers and toes. No errant hairs. I checked them again. Still none. Pippa was wailing, but I could not stop. I checked her thighs, her forearms, her neck. Part of me felt like I was losing my mind, but the other part of me did not care.

I had to know.

I thought I was being extra-vigilant. My baby was only four months old. Anything could hurt her. Anything could kill her. Surely all new mothers took these sorts of precautions.

I was wrong, though. I was not being extra-vigilant to keep my baby safe. Of course, I wanted her to be safe and healthy, but that was not the reason I was checking for anything that might pose a threat to her safety.

I was checking to make myself feel better.

Most of the time, I vibrated and buzzed with anxiety. A ticker tape of worries constantly ran through my mind. My shoulders ached as if I were carrying around extra weight. My stomach twisted and groaned. The blood in my body seemed to be rushing faster than usual through my arteries and veins.

Except when I was checking. When I was examining Pippa’s body for stray hairs, or crouching down to check that the stovetop burners were lit, or unlocking and relocking the front door a dozen times in a row, I calmed down. For those brief moments that I was checking something, my body felt still and calm. I felt like myself.

Finally satisfied that a hair was not cutting off circulation to one of Pippa’s fingers or toes, I picked her up and tried to soothe her again. Her screams got louder. She was going to scream and scream forever and ever and nothing would make it stop unless I threw her as hard as I could—

No no no!  I pushed the image out of my mind but too late. I had already glimpsed the horror of Pippa’s skull cracked open and felt the relief of imaginary silence.

I was a monster.

I blinked away tears and patted Pippa’s back, counting to one hundred and then back down to zero.

It must be the insomnia. The insomnia had started a month ago. I could sleep only three hours at night. The rest of the night, I lay awake in bed, my skin crawling from the constant buzzing of nerves, my mind refusing to slow down. I wanted so desperately to sleep, but my body seemed to have lost the ability to perform that most basic of functions.

If I could stay strong for just a few more days, surely the insomnia would end and I would become the mom Pippa deserved.

Who was I kidding? The insomnia was never going to end. I had given birth to a beautiful, healthy baby girl but now my body was broken, shattered into a thousand pieces. No one could ever put me back together.

Thank God, I was wrong about that too.

* * *

A few days later, I finally made an appointment with my doctor. She told me that the dark thoughts, the compulsive checking and the sleepless nights was not something that all new mothers experienced. She gave me a diagnosis – postpartum depression – and asked me to admit myself to the hospital for psychiatric care. I agreed and in less than seventy-two hours, I felt like a new person, a phoenix risen from the ashes.

After four days in the hospital, I was ready to reclaim my life. I worked with a cognitive behavioral psychologist to dismantle my anxiety and confront the traumatic parts of my illness. Within a few months of my hospitalization, my psychologist and I decided I had made a full recovery from postpartum depression.

But I was not done.

For almost my entire life, I had forced myself to live within narrow parameters that I thought would make me successful, like studying hard, going to law school, and working at big law firms, but the things that were supposed to make me feel happy made me miserable. Looking back, I know now that my sensitivity to hormonal fluctuations all but guaranteed that I would experience postpartum depression. The way I had been living my life, however, turned an illness into a crisis.

During my recovery, I did some intensive soul-searching and discovered new ways to feel like my most authentic self. I stopped worrying about what everyone else thought and started listening to my intuition. I filled my life with joy, meaning and fulfillment.

This is the story of how postpartum depression was the best thing that ever happened to me.

Episode 70: Stephanie M.’s Story

This week, Stephanie M. shares her postpartum story on the show. Stephanie is a 26 year old mother of a eight year old girl and a nine month old boy. She experienced mild postpartum depression after the birth of her daughter but her second round of postpartum depression has been much more difficult.

 

 

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Stephanie and her children

During her second pregnancy, Stephanie had crazy dreams that involved bright red blood and her baby being ripped out of her stomach. By the end of her pregnancy, she was convinced that something bad was going to happen and told her boyfriend if the doctors could only save on life, she wanted them to save her baby.

Late in her pregnancy, Stephanie felt intense abdominal pain that was not a contraction. She went to the ER multiple times but an unsympathetic doctor kept sending her home. During her last trip to the hospital, she felt a gush and assumed her water had broken, but when she looked down, she saw bright red blood, just as in her nightmares.

The baby’s blood pressure dropped and Stephanie needed an emergency c-section. She started hemorrhaging, nearly died, and needed an emergency hysterectomy. She woke up two days later in the ICU.

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Finally meeting her son Kai for the first time

Stephanie is currently dealing with postpartum depression, anxiety and PTSD from the traumatic birth of her son. At first, her doctor put her on Zoloft but that did not help. Lexapro, however, has reduced the severity of her symptoms. Now that her son is nine months old, she is starting to feel better but she has not fully recovered from her ordeal.

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Stephanie and her family

Thank you, Stephanie, so much for sharing your journey.

Episode 69: Thoughts on Mother’s Day

This Sunday is Mother’s Day in the United States, and I felt inspired to share some thoughts and rants on the holiday.

When I recorded this episode two days ago, Nathan was scheduled to spend the weekend in Las Vegas with his best friend. A few people were horrified that I would let him “abandon me” on Mother’s Day, but I did not feel that way for many reasons.

  1. Nathan supports me throughout the year. He makes sure I get plenty of Me Time on the weekend so I can write and get massages. I take a spa day at least every other month (but really, it’s becoming more of a monthly tradition.)
  2. I don’t think Mother’s Day is the sort of holiday that needs to be confined to a single day. Last weekend, I got a pedicure and massage. Sometime later this month, I’ll take some more relaxation time. The spirit of Mother’s Day will be honored.
  3. I don’t need cards or expensive bouquets. I’d much rather buy myself a house plant and get cute handmade gifts from preschool.
  4. I’m playing the long game. Nathan and I take turns taking mini-vacations. He went to Vegas last summer. I went to Manhattan with my sister two weeks ago. Once Nathan goes to Vegas, I’ll have credit to take another trip in 2018. I don’t know what I’m going to do, but just the prospect energizes me.

But since recording the episode, things have changed. Pippa has pneumonia. So far, she has been a trooper. But yeah, as much as I want Nathan to get the chance to recharge his batteries in Vegas, I’m not comfortable with him taking that trip while our daughter has pneumonia.

Pippa’s pneumonia guarantees that Mother’s Day will not be about me. I’m not rushing off to a spa while my 5 year old has pneumonia. And I’m okay with that. Instead of wallowing in negatives – “woe is me, pneumonia on Mother’s Day!” – I’m focusing on the positives. Pippa had a mystery fever for several days. Of all the possible diagnoses in the world, pneumonia is not so bad. It’s 2018, we live in Pasadena, and have access to excellent medical care. She’s taking antibiotics and will make a full recovery. That is what matters.

On my first Mother’s Day as a mama five years ago, I was in the darkness of postpartum depression. If Pippa had had a cold, I would have been overwhelmed. Now, I’m able to look at pneumonia as a blessing! I’m so grateful that I made my mental health a priority and got myself to this place.

Episode 68: Lauren’s Story

Lauren Patterson shared the story of pregnancy and postpartum adventures for Episode 68. Lauren is a stay-at-home mom. She resides in Louisville with her supportive husband, domesticated dog, and two feral daughters whom she loves with every fiber of her being.

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Lauren spends her time negotiating with a toddler, rewashing the same load of laundry three times, feeding two small humans (one of whom literally sucks life out of her), cleaning the kitchen 9x a day, figuring out what she wants to be when she grows up, teaching her children how to speak and read and be functional humans, disposing of both human and canine poo, and checking her phone constantly for a human connection. Her hobbies include Pinterest fails, coordinating outfits based on breastfeeding accessibility, running (to the nearest liquor store), and using humor to deescalate the chaos in her postpartum brain.

Lauren can’t wait for the day that it gets “easier.”

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But on a more serious note (though, quite seriously, I love that Lauren has managed to keep her sense of humor even while she is still in the postpartum darkness), Lauren came on the show to talk about her recent experiences with antenatal (aka pregnancy) and postpartum depression. She had these experiences after the birth of her second daughter who is now ten months old.

Though Lauren is still a little in the postpartum forest, she is finally beginning to feel more like herself, or at least what her “new” self looks like.
Her adventures began the day she peed on a stick and saw the double pink lines, just three months after a miscarriage. She suffered antenatal anxiety and depression thanks to a traumatic pregnancy complicated by hyperemesis, biliary colic, pancreatitis, cholysticitis, and gallbladder attacks. (That’s fancy medical talk for “excruciating and never-ending shit show.”)
Lauren then had a semi-traumatic birth. Actually, “semi-traumatic” is what she told me in an email. But after hearing her story, I’d dare say it qualifies as “fully effing traumatic.” Lauren’s blood pressure bottomed out while pushing; she lost consciousness; the cord was double wrapped around baby’s neck; and she does not remember her daughter being born.
Lauren’s postpartum journey was even darker than her pregnancy. She experienced severe postpartum depression, PTSD from her pregnancy, intrusive thoughts, panic attacks, disassociation, and suicidal ideation.
Lauren went through this Hellscape of Terrors That Just Wouldn’t End despite having an incredibly support system. She had an amazing therapist from the first day of her pregnancy, an awesome doctor, a mother who’s a saint and who lives 5 minutes away, a husband who took charge of her health when she could not, and so many wonderful friends and family members who wanted to help, and yet she STILL suffered tremendously.
Lauren writes, “I am lucky. Had I not had them, I cannot honestly say I would be here today. Which is why postpartum mental health NEEDS to be a priority, and NEEDS to be taken seriously by healthcare professionals.”
AMEN.
Lauren has also written some personal essays for Scary Mommy. If you are interested in reading more snapshots of her journey, there is one HERE and another is right HERE. (These were written before the shit really hit the fan during her pregnancy but I think they are fantastic.)
Lauren’s first daughter is three years old. That pregnancy was textbook, labor and delivery was superb, and her postpartum journey was “rainbows and unicorn farts.” (Lauren, I love you!) The 16 months Lauren spent in a barren wasteland of despair after the birth of Daughter #2 was quite shocking.
Thanks, Lauren, for coming on the show! I can’t wait to have you back to hear about your further postpartum adventures.

Girl Tries Life

This week, I am so honored to be on the podcast Girl Tries Life. The host, Victoria Smith, was a guest on Adventures with Postpartum Depression way back on Episode 33. Since being on my podcast, Victoria has launched a show of her own that investigates different ways to go about the art of being a woman in the 21st century.

Check out the shownotes or listen to the episode now on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher and Pod Bean.

Pod Bean. How adorable is that? Now I’m wishing I had used Pod Bean to host my podcast just so I would have more opportunities to write Pod Bean. It sounds like the name of a lovely picture book.

Even if you are not interested in hearing me talk some more, I still recommend Girl Tries Life. It’s an interesting and vibrant podcast and I love listening to the episodes as I drive around Pasadena.

Thanks, Victoria! I loved being on your show.

 

Write Your Postpartum Story!

Writing my memoir was so cathartic, I would like to help other parents write their postpartum stories. My brain, the eternal perfectionist, wants me to spend months and months outlining a series of helpful blog posts before I share a single thought with you. My gut, however, says it’s time to start.

And so this is the first in a series of blog posts that will hopefully inspire you to write your postpartum story. I don’t know how many posts there will be, but I do know there will be a lot, because writing is awesome and I want to help any moms or dads struggling with writer’s block. So let’s get started!

My first tip for writing your postpartum story….

[insert drum roll]

Start journaling.

That’s it. You don’t have to commit to writing your memoir or a formal series of blog posts. Don’t get me wrong: publication is incredibly healing and cathartic. But I suggest you start small so that you don’t get intimidated and come up with a thousand lame excuses to procrastinate. If you are meant to write a memoir, don’t worry. The journal entries will (eventually) become the memoir. But if you are overwhelmed with parenthood, don’t think about writing a book. Just contemplate a singlejournal entry. Start with that. That’s enough.

I started with journal entries. I worked with a cognitive behavioral psychologist after I was diagnosed with postpartum depression, and he encouraged me to write. In fact, he gave me homework assignments, e.g. “Stop checking the locks at night and write about how that makes you feel.” The homework assignments motivated me to journal daily, and eventually, the journaling turned into an 80,000 word memoir.

But the 80,000 word memoir started with a single journal entry.

My first postpartum journal entry wasn’t very good. It was just me babbling the thoughts pinging around in my head. But damn, it felt good to get those words on to paper.

If you feel any inclination towards writing about your postpartum experiences, I think you should give it a try. Start small. Start with a single journal entry. It does not have to be very long. In fact, I’m giving you my permission to just write a single sentence and call it a journal entry. If you want to, write another. Or don’t. Maybe write one sentence today, two sentences tomorrow. Like a baby learning to walk, step by step, you can build a writing practice, sentence by sentence. There is no right way to write your first journal entry.

But I promise: I’m going to do my damnest to help you loosen up and hone your writing muscles and write your postpartum story.