When my daughter was born a lot of people offered to help, but the truth was I didn't really know what I needed and I just wanted to be alone with my new baby.
My mother-in-law came to stay nearby for a couple weeks, but I felt badly asking her to do things like wash dishes, throw in laundry, vacuum, scrub the tub etc. So I took it upon myself to do the work and let her hold the baby.
All of that work exhausted me, and unbeknownst to me, I had severe postpartum anxiety that went untreated. I was up every half hour checking my baby to make sure she was still breathing and every 2 hours nursing her around the clock. I had a miscarriage previously and I was terrified that my daughter would die.
I was so sleep deprived that I could barely stand, but I also couldn't stand having my kitchen in disarray, my floors dirty, my SELF dirty, etc. To me, tidiness and cleanliness are soothing. So, during time that I should have been resting I was taking care of my apartment and guests.
Things got very out of hand and my postpartum bleeding got worse and worse until I finally called my OB who told me to "take it easy". I told her I wasn't sleeping and she said I was "at risk" for postpartum depression.
Hello! I was already in the full throes of PPD/PPA and nobody around me acknowledged it. Not even me.
I tried to help myself but I just didn’t know what to do. I cried every single day and imposed a rigorous pumping schedule on myself in the hopes that I would be able to sleep through one feeding a night (never happened BTW). During the day I obsessed over rearranging and cleaning the apartment, even though it never seemed clean or in order.
I felt like I was drowning.
One afternoon, I was attempting to put myself to bed for a nap, but on my way to the bedroom I saw that there were PILES of dishes and cookware from breakfast. The breakfast we ate 6 hours prior. I saw my mother-in-law sitting with the baby and my husband enjoying a cup of coffee at the dining room table. The tears starting flowing and I started scrubbing dishes. My mother-in-law, not knowing what was going on, asked me to bring her a glass of water.
Annnnd...I lost it completely. I screamed and cursed at her, telling her to get out of my house. I told my husband that the kitchen mess was unacceptable and I want my baby right now! “GIVE ME MY BABY RIGHT NOW!”
After talking it over with my in-laws, and trying to explain the best that I could about my emotional state and apologizing profusely, we all decided that it would be best if they went home.
I could finally enjoy time with my baby without feeling like I had to let other people hold her and change her. I was so happy to be alone with the baby, when my husband went to work the next day.
But that didn't change things. I basically starved while he was gone. I sat stressed and staring at all of the laundry piling up and obsessing over the dirty floors. It was the dead of winter so the baby and I couldn't even really go out for a walk.
I went on neglecting my own care, ordering take-out and prepared foods and letting my apartment be gross. But eventually all the time I spent in bed and on the couch with my daughter started to make me feel better. As my hormones balanced and I became more confident in my abilities to parent and I bonded strongly with her, my symptoms, even though untreated, eventually and fortunately, subsided.
NONE OF THIS HAD TO BE THIS WAY. I could have insisted that my doctor help me. I could have called a warm line/ hot line. I could have done a lot of things, but I didn’t even know how bad things were, and neither did those around me; even though all of the evidence was there.
When I found out that I was pregnant again I cried. I was so scared about how everything was going to work out financially, but I was even more worried about having a repeat of that horrible postpartum experience, this time with my daughter as a witness.
I vowed that I would prepare myself as much as possible for total healing and bonding. THIS time, I want my family to have a few days alone, just the four of us, getting to know each other. We have scheduled a postpartum doula to come daily for 2 weeks to help make sure that I get a daily bath or shower, that the family is fed, that my diaper and breastfeeding stations have everything they need, that my house doesn't fall into total chaos and most importantly, that I sleep!
I want my only responsibilities for the first two weeks to be caring for my newborn, my daughter and myself. When the doula's time with us is over and I need to resume the household maintenance, I will still have my freezer full of good food ready to go. My freezer is packed with four months of nutritious meals, snacks and breads. All I will have to do is make a salad to go with dinner. There won't be pots and pans to scrub, there won't be blocks of time that have to be cleared so I can be in the kitchen... there won't be a worry about "what am I going to feed us?".
I’ve done more to prepare as well. I plan to hire a cleaning lady to come in every two weeks to scrub down the apartment; a friend is going to stop by twice a week to throw the laundry in for me; I have the number of a mobile massage service posted on my fridge; my pantry is stocked with nourishing home blended herbal teas for the weeks postpartum; I also made 10 bath sachets with healing and calming herbs; but most importantly I’ve hired a new OB!
My obstetrician this time is very aware of my past and current anxiety, I’m currently managing everything through the use of a workbook, relaxation techniques and cognitive behavioral therapy. If I need medication my very experienced OB is just a call away and since she knows me well enough that she can call something in for me right away. All of the preparation in the world won’t help without evidence-based professional support.
Contributed by the Fabulous Doula Tzipi Sutin. Tzipi can be contacted at email@example.com
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