When I brought my daughter home from the NICU in late December 2015, I was terrified. I was terrified that we would drop her. I was scared that she’d die of SIDS. I was scared that she’d die in her sleep and I wouldn’t know because she was no longer attached to machines. I could hardly believe that she’d grow older – I was certain that something would happen to her. I was scared of being completely responsible for bottle feeding my daughter around the clock. My daughter had been attached to machines so when we would bottle feed it would alarm (or she would brady) if she was beginning to choke on the milk. How would I know if she was choking??? I had a staff of amazing nurses that would help around the clock and help feed her (literally around the clock, 8, 11, 2, and 5). She couldn’t nurse because she was too small so I was pumping constantly. At her first pediatrician appointment the doctor said he didn’t want her going out until after flu season….so I didn’t leave my house for almost five months! I went from 11 weeks bed rest in the hospital (in trendelenburg no less), a little over a month in the NICU, then house arrest for several months!
Just before my daughter was discharged from the NICU I went to a psychiatrist and I explained to her that I felt like I was “jumping out of my skin.” She put me on Zoloft and we gradually increased my dosage until I could reach 50 mg. I started taking it in January and I couldn’t function. There were two whole days where my husband had to care for our daughter because I couldn’t get out of bed. I couldn’t sleep, eat, I couldn’t even smile or laugh. I felt that I was breathing, but I wasn’t alive. I was terrified to be alone. My husband went back to work, but I would get dressed in the morning before he left and make sure I had shoes on in case anything happened.
I would have my husband make me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich before he left for work every morning so I could have something to eat as I couldn’t bring myself to cook anything. I am a die-hard foodie and passionate cook, but I felt my skills had been extinguished. When I tried to eat I felt nauseous and I’d have to stop. I felt that my freedom was stolen from me and I’d never get it back. Would I ever drive again? Go to a restaurant? Go anywhere?
For the first few months my parents would visit a couple days a week and I had a friend that would stay with me for about one day a week. It just wasn’t enough. I called the UT Health Thrive program to see if there was anything they could do to help. They sent a social worker to my home and she began coming over regularly. I looked forward to our visits and I would explain to her that I was stranded in the middle of the ocean, and I could see my former self – an island – in the distance, but I couldn’t get there. I missed me. I missed my old life. She gave me the tools and comfort to gradually get back to myself and we are now great friends.
My mother in law is (ironically) a labor and delivery nurse. She arranged a contract position in Houston and moved in with us when my daughter was four months old. She lived with us for a little over a year. She was able to help me eat,get out of the house, clean, and create a routine that would help occupy my time – and my thoughts. The best part was she helped me stop pumping and begin breastfeeding!! My daughter took to nursing like a champ and we didn’t wean until she was over a year old! My mother in law no longer lives with us, but I’m grateful for her help.
When my daughter was a few months old I started visiting Austin regularly. For a while my dad would drive to my house from Driftwood, pick up my daughter and I and take us to his house while my husband worked. I was too scared to make the drive. After a few months I was able to gradually work up the courage to drive my daughter to her doctor’s appointments, then we went to playgroups, and finally I began making the drive to Austin.
These days I feel pretty good. I’ve lost almost 30 pounds and my daughter is thriving. I get enough sleep, I’m back to cooking regularly, I’ve branched out to other moms in my community, and I take regular trips to Austin. I still take Zoloft and I recently consulted with my psychiatrist about weaning. I feel there’s always room for improvement, and I’d love to incorporate more meditative activities into my life, whether it’s daily, weekly, or monthly. I feel like I’ve fought such a difficult battle and I’m proud of how far I’ve come. I’m worried that if I get pregnant again that it’ll be more suffering – or will it?
If anything brings me comfort, it’s reaching out to other moms who experienced post-partum anxiety and depression. It’s comforting to know I’m not alone, that there are other moms with similar experiences, and more importantly – there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.