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.
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.