Saturday, September 19, 2009


no one, nothing, can prepare you for the transition to motherhood. and when hormones catapult you into another world, someone else's head, even, the word "transition" is too tame.

this has been my reality.
only for a moment, years before eventual parenthood became a topic of conversation, did the term, "postpartum depression" enter my lexicon. my naturopath in seattle told me about studies linking ppd and low cholesterol. my cholesterol was low, so she added casually that if i were to ever become pregnant she'd monitor me closely. i mentioned this study to my midwife in san francisco when i first became pregnant, and then forgot about it. my pregnancy was beautiful, lovely; i grieved its demise when the 9th month appeared.

after some medical scares just days before delivery, and then the 30 hour labor that ensued, the shift to motherhood was exciting, new. i felt i was prepared and could travel the bumps and turns with a clear head. i knew it would be hard. at least i thought i did.

at around 2 weeks postpartum, i began to feel differently. it's so difficult to describe, but i knew i wasn't myself. i was sad. depressed. i stopped smiling. everything was overwhelming and anxiety-ridden and i couldn't think straight. words alluded me and hyperactive bursts of panic and crying became my coping mechanisms, although there was no coping. there was a fog--almost literally--clouding my head and at times, i knew it. at times, i could stand outside of myself and wonder, "what is going on with me? am i screwing up? can i really do this?" the answer to the last question was always a resounding, "no." my head was filled with desperate thoughts, of long days hampered by isolation. it not hyperbole to state that this was the hardest time of my life. being a mother was anything but blissful, and i couldn't imagine admitting that to anyone.

it wasn't until our pediatrician asked me to complete a survey assessing postpartum mental health that i realized i wasn't okay. i mean, i knew i wasn't okay, but i thought the reasons were of my own volition. never did i suspect i was suffering from ppd. at one point, i even told david, "i'm not depressed, it's not like i have postpartum depression." i thought i was just having a hard time of it, sometimes. i didn't admit that it was all of the time, every day. the pediatrician thanked me for taking the survey--at the time i thought that odd--and became very serious. she said that we needed to approach my condition as if i had an infection and needed to go on medication. it was scary. i cried in her office. a lot. she also hugged me and held me, and told me that this was a time in my life where i needed other people to take care of me, that there'd be plenty of time for me to take care of others. i was relieved to have a name for what i was experiencing. relieved that it wasn't my own doing, that i wasn't just failing as a mother.

[i want to remember this. i'm crying as i write. it's painful, but important for me to acknowledge the gravity of this experience as i recover.]

i would have never recovered if it hadn't been for david. he took on the role of chief caregiver for both me and our daughter. my days were peppered with, "go to sleep, sarah. i'll take care of her." the number one item on the doctor's list was "get 4-6 hours of continuous sleep." we learned that it takes periods of at least 4 hours of sleep for the brain to recover, and at that point, i may have slept for 2 hours at a time, but mostly i suffered from insomnia. recovery also included a village of family and friends. the arrival of my good friend hollis was a godsend. her presence helped me to remind who i was; i even smiled a few times. she swept in and became our assistant in all things--holding, cleaning, running errands. spending time with hollis allowed me to experience moments of relaxation. i could breathe deeply and smile. she even spent an hour doing body work on me so that i could reclaim my body and my mind. both she and david reported i looked more like myself after our session. she saved me, and i am forever grateful for her love and friendship.

my friend becky arrived immediately after hollis, and during her visit, she, david, and i organized an impromptu dance party that had all of us giggling and jumping for joy as we shaked our booties to Beirut in our living room. the laughter and exercise reminded me once again that i was capable of having fun.

my mom soon showed up on the scene. her arrival is when the real magic of recovery began to appear. mom became my confidant, encouraging me to spread my wings as a mother, that yes, it IS difficult, and that's okay. it was her admission: "you have a tough baby" that helped us realize that the challenges we faced as parents were not typical, and that our needing help was reasonable. mom was with us during some very dark moments, and she enveloped me with a sense of safety that i could be who i was without fear of judgement. we became closer and bonded as mother and daughter and as mothers. watching my daughter with her granny was amazing. such love. such family. she's lucky to have a granny like my mom. i'm lucky, too.

david's mom appeared the difficult day of my mom's departure. she too swept in and began the work of our third pair of hands. she was pragmatic in her approach: she received ample training from my mom and was eager to jump in. first on her list was our crib: we hired a handyman to assemble it correctly. putting her room in order was an enormous relief. i had told my mom that her room was a metaphor for my brain: put together on one side and a huge mess on the other. seeing it all come together was a symbol of progress, and i felt its significance. sandy had the luck to observe siena changing more stridently: cooing and smiling became more frequent and she began to show her personality and consistent signs of needs. sandy also helped me to stop eating so quickly. i had learned to cram food into my mouth in minutes; my anxiety around not having time was so intense. as with my mom, sandy left us with increased confidence and a greater respect for our mothers. our daughter is so blessed to have them in her life.

the arrival of auntie jewlee will always be precious. i caught her first glimpse of siena on film and smile each time i view it. there's so much to say and so few words to describe what it has been like having jewlee here. she has taught me to laugh about siena's scream fests, to make fun of her blowing out her diapers, to have fun with motherhood. her joy in aunthood has reminded me of all the fun i've had babysitting other kids. we are eager to begin our lives together, for jewlee is moving here to be nearer to us and to be our daughter's nanny. i can't underscore how lucky we are to have her in our lives and i can't wait for this period in our lives to begin. siena is charmed to have her auntie jewlee in her life.

david and i could never have achieved this place of recovery without the support of our friends and family. weeks ago i would not have believed that i could be a happy and smiling mother. i didn't think it possible that i might enjoy this time in my life. dread and despair are no longer the norm, and when i cry, it seems reasonable, not desperate. as david noted, "you're back, sarah."


Pattie said...

Very brave Sarah. The ability to reflect has got to be a good sign.

Pattie said...

Comments re: the pictures-
That is one incredible smile! Isn't it nice when the relationship becomes a bit reciprocal? Wow-Jewlee has a pool? You look happy! Isn't it great that Siena's meals are always there when you need them?!
Miss you and hope to talk soon!

bck said...

This is a beautiful post, Sarah, which made me get teared up at my desk. You are at a different place on this crazy journey and I'm benefiting so much from reading your words. Thank you for sharing them....

becky said...

I'm honored to be mentioned in your post as a member of your support team. I was SO happy to be there with you when I was and it was really therapeutic for me, who lives so far away from close friends, to be able to help when needed. Keep up the great work and remember, I'm always here. :)