Today I had my two-week follow-up with the birth center, which is basically just a screening for post-partum depression. They have you fill out a little questionnaire, which then scores you for PPD risk.
And I basically failed — or “scored a little high,” as they so kindly put it.
Which was not a surprise to me. The questions include things like, “Do you feel sad or miserable [never, a little more than I used to, much more than I used to, all the time]?” and “Do you feel so sad that you find yourself crying [never, a little more than I used to, much more than I used to, all the time]?” and so on.
Given my history with depression, I knew I’d have to be on the look-out for the symptoms. Mine so far have included:
- Increasingly frequent crying fits for the past two weeks
- Lessened interest in most activities
- Feeling directionless
- Loss of appetite
Basically everything I dealt with before, though luckily not as severe and usually not all day. It sucks, because Pip is, so far, a pretty easy baby. He eats well (now that we’re pumping exclusively) and sleeps well — which means we get the chance to sleep pretty well, too, if in chunks rather than in 8-hour stretches (which I never really did anyway). Whatever it is that tends to trigger my descents doesn’t seem to be related to any behavior of his, which is a relief.
Except that also means it’s harder to pinpoint. Some days it’s me worrying about T getting to do the things he wants to do or being rested enough for work, etc. Some days it’s fearing we won’t get to do the things we love to do, like travel or write or go on regular dates. Other days, it’s guilt over not having written anything in ages — not because I don’t have the time (pumping forces me into 30 minutes of downtime several times a day) but because I just haven’t had any motivation or drive to do so. It’s something I was already dealing with while pregnant, and it finally came to the surface again yesterday.
Sometimes I feel bad because I feel like T is either dealing with a crying baby or a crying me, but he continues to be a rockstar. I honestly don’t know what I would do without him. Yesterday, in the midst of me sobbing into his neck, he took my hand, put it on my mouse, and forced me to open a document. He set a timer for 10 minutes and made me write whatever came out of my brain.
He also texted my mom to ask her if she could babysit while I went for a run. Those two things combined helped the fog lift for the remainder of the night.
This morning, I was tired, which always makes my weepiness worse, but I actually felt a little better after my appointment. I left with a plan, which always helps. Here’s what’s on the docket for me:
- Continuing to get exercise
- Getting sunlight, preferably at least 30 minutes a day
- 6000 mg Vitamin D
- Vitamin B Complex
There’s also some research that suggests caffeine can reduce the instance of depression in women, so, while I want to limit the amount because I’m pumping breastmilk, I think I’ll start adding that in during or right around my first pumping session of the day to keep most of it out of kiddo’s food. It has the added bonus of being a nice little treat for me.
If I’m still struggling in a couple of weeks, the next step will be to cut out gluten for a while, which is what I did back in 2011. I’m hoping it doesn’t come to that, because I sure do enjoy gluten-containing foods, but I enjoy actually being able to enjoy stuff more.
I’m also trying to get back into one of my old scripts. At this point, it’s just reading through and taking stock of what’s there, what’s working and what’s not, but that’s the first step to the next draft. And it feels good to be doing that. And thanks to T, I’m also going to try to get back to writing some short stories in the meantime.
I’m lucky because I have an amazing support system. My parents are only a few minutes away, and my mom is always thrilled to babysit. T is my rock, my encourager, my comforter.
A lot of women don’t have such a solid support system. So this is the call to action. If you know a woman who just had a baby, reach out to her in those first few weeks and beyond. If she needs a shoulder to cry on for a while, offer it. If she needs a nap or to get out and just be herself instead of “mom” for a bit, watch the baby for an hour or two. If she needs someone to deliver a cup of coffee and a brownie, make that happen.
Above all, let her be honest. Let her say that being a new mom is hard and that maybe it’s not all it’s cracked up to be at first. Let her say that she wants more out of life than to stare at her infant in awe for 24 hours a day. Let her say that, while she loves her baby, she’s not entirely comfortable with the role of “mother” yet — and doesn’t know when she will be. Let her say that she misses the way her life used to be, and that she’s afraid it will never be what she hoped it might.
In the end, people keep having kids, they all keep telling us it’s worth it, so I think most of us new mothers believe (or at least hope) that these feelings will pass. And for most mothers, they do seem to. But knowing that doesn’t always help right now. What might help is releasing the guilt of having those feelings. We are complex, amazing beings, and we can wonder if we’ve made a huge mistake while still loving our children with infinite devotion. It’s that complexity that makes us human, and that’s something to be embraced and celebrated. Honesty and compassion is a good start toward that.