Saturday, July 13, 2024

I Thought I Could Control My Postpartum Depression, Until I Was Diagnosed Again

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I was sitting on my therapist's brown leather loveseat, working through some unrelated issues, when I started talking about welcoming my oldest son, Gabriel, three years earlier. "It sounds like you were dealing with some untreated postpartum depression," she told me. That was the first time anyone diagnosed me with PPD.

Gabriel was unplanned. My now-husband and I had only been dating a short time when we found out I was pregnant. When he came into this world, he suffered from colic, crying inconsolably from midnight through the early hours of the morning. I thought that my inability to gather my thoughts and the veil of sadness that followed me each day during the first year and a half of Gabriel's life were situational.

If I'd have been more prepared, more "ready" to be a mother, things would have been different, I told myself. I was so sad all the time because I was mourning the childless life I wasn't ready to give up, I thought. If Gabriel had slept through the night earlier (he didn't do so until he was nearly 2 years old), then my brain surely wouldn't have been so foggy.

I stopped reaching out to family and friends. I felt a suffocating loneliness and I was crying daily. Still, I thought it was all normal because my life had changed so drastically. I thought I was dealing with the baby blues. "The baby blues don't last for almost two years," my therapist assured me.

I was lucky though. My first round of PPD eventually subsided on its own, which isn't always the case. But, for years after that, my husband asked about adding a second child to our family, and I recoiled every time. I wanted to finish college and get settled into a career. I also didn’t want to go through PPD again.

Nine years later, he sat me down on our living room couch after Gabriel had gone to bed. "It's kind of now or never," he said. He was right, and I knew it. I was in a good place in my career, we'd bought a home, and we were happy overall. I finally felt ready to have another baby.

Three months later, I was pregnant and excited, but it didn't last. As my stomach grew, so did the fear that I'd experience PPD again. This time, I started preparing friends and family.

I sat across from a friend at a local diner, a Mediterranean omelet in front of me. In between bites of egg and feta, I explained the symptoms to her. "If I just fall off the face of the earth, check in on me because I might not be able to reach out," I said, while also trying to convince myself I wouldn’t go through it again. If I told myself things would be different this time, maybe they would be. I was more prepared to be a mom after all.

Ashton came 10 days before his due date via emergency C-section. Aside from a recovery I didn't anticipate, I felt good. At 6 pounds and 13 ounces, Ashton's tiny body fit perfectly against my chest, and I couldn't get enough of holding him. I reveled in this feeling because I'd missed out on it with Gabriel. But that didn't last either.

At around 10 weeks postpartum, my husband started noticing my symptoms. He grabbed my hand and said, "I think you need to go back to the doctor, Nicole. It seems like you're going through some of the stuff you went through the first time around."

I picked at the edge of the blanket in my lap, hot tears filling my eyes. The next morning, I called my OB-GYN and told the receptionist what was going on. Understanding the urgency, she made me an appointment for the same day. As I explained my feelings to my doctor, she placed a hand on my shoulder and squeezed lightly. I cried. "We're going to get you some help," she said. This time, "help” meant medication and therapy.

My PPD was so different from what I felt the first time around. I didn't pull away from Ashton like I did with Gabriel. Rather, I was fiercely attached to Ashton, constantly checking on him to make sure he was OK. I cried and felt overwhelmed with responsibility.

Symptoms also took hold later than they did the first time, but they were more powerful, seeping into every facet of my life and making it impossible for me to complete simple tasks like folding a single load of laundry in one sitting. It even stole my favorite pastime from me: reading. I was unable to read more than a few words at a time without getting frustrated or confused.

But it was also suffering from PPD a second time that made me realize nothing I could have done would have made a difference the first time. I may not have been entirely ready for Gabriel, but that didn't mean that PPD was my fault. Suffering with this debilitating depression a second time showed me that circumstances and willpower have no bearing on whether or not mental illness strikes. I wasn't weak or ill-prepared either time. I suffered from a condition that I had no control over and realizing that gave me freedom.

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