I went out by myself today to do a little Christmas shopping, and in the car on the way there I could feel the hormonal heaviness of this month's cycle settling around my shoulders. It wasn't so bad; the world just seemed kinda gray and without taste. All day I've been trying to find something I wanted to eat but nothing appealed to me. I had a brief flashback in the car to the way I felt after E was born. It was really nothing like how I felt today; I was at peace, in general, today. But this afternoon's food blah-ness reminded me just a tad of those days. I am so frightened at the thought of ever feeling that way again.
I remember going to the doctor to get my incision checked when E was twelve days old. It was a Friday morning. We'd been home from the hospital seven days. My OB's nurse, who I'd always found abrasive and demeaning (I've since switched practices), fixed me with this look and asked me in so many words if I had post-partum depression. I said I had no idea, but that I loved my baby. For some reason I wanted her to know that I loved him. Looking back, I would say the love I was talking about was more of a fierce protectiveness, closely related to fear, but I didn't know that then, because I didn't have the love I feel now to compare it to. She told me that the amount of weight I'd lost since the birth--twenty-eight pounds--was a red flag. She asked if I was eating, and I hated having to say no. I couldn't eat, not without gagging. I knew I needed to eat, especially given the surgery and blood loss I was recovering from, not to mention the fact that I was desperately trying to breastfeed. But I could not for the life of me eat. To say I had no appetite would be an understatement. This was new to me. My dad called me the human garbage disposal growing up, and not much has changed in that regard. The nurse asked how I was doing emotionally, if I was crying a lot. Um, yes, I was crying a lot. A LOT. I didn't exactly tell her this, although I did admit to being emotional. I told her, feebly, that I'd read that baby blues could last up to two weeks, and I pointed out somewhat desperately that I wasn't quite to the end of those two weeks yet. She stared at me silently, straight through my skull, and I stared back, aware that my eyes weren't able to hide the fear and panic that had me in their grip. I was hardly breathing, trying to keep from crying or showing any sign that I might be about to cry. She told me how important it was to catch PPD early, and encouraged me to call back the following week if I wasn't feeling better. I thanked her in as cheerful a manner as I could fake, and made it halfway across the waiting room to TJ (and tiny E) before starting to sob.
To this day I can't say for sure if I had PPD. I suppose I didn't, technically, because things did start to turn around after the two-week mark passed, but I also feel certain that what I experienced was not just the baby blues. I believe I looked PPD in the eye and ultimately escaped it for various reasons. I'll never forget the way it felt, the way the hours and days stretched ahead of me like a death sentence. The way I couldn't sleep even though I was far, far past the point of total exhaustion. I've never felt so unlike myself, so incapable, so fearful. I remember telling TJ day after day that something was wrong with me, that I knew this was not normal, that I could not go on like this. I have such sympathy for anyone who's felt this way for months on end. I can't imagine. Those two weeks were an eternity.
I remember when I got myself back (however minimally). It was Monday; E was fifteen days old. Fifteen days: it sounds like nothing now. A blip of time. But it felt, and feels, so much more significant than that. Following a talk with my parents and TJ the night before, I realized the next day, Monday, that the dark, dark veil had been lifted from my eyes overnight, and some measure of equilibrium seemed to have been restored in the immediate world. I was still exhausted and weak and overwhelmed, but I didn't feel mentally ill. I could see the top of the mountain. I could see my perfect boy, and I was nursing him and he was finally starting to latch on, and I was saved.