My heart cracks and crumbles a little more each time I read about a mother’s struggle with Postpartum Depression. Especially when I’ve come across another wave of articles lately about mothers who ultimately ended their own lives, leaving behind sweet babies and overwhelmed and likely confused/shocked husbands and family members.
Each of my pregnancies have encompassed varying levels of “crazy.” No, that’s not the PC way to describe it, but that is how it feels sometimes. Extreme mood swings. Spontaneous bouts of crying, sometimes right in the aisle of Albertson’s. Maximum exhaustion. Looking into the mirror and not recognizing myself. The list goes on and on.
As I write this I’m at about 32 weeks with my 5th baby. Having your entire body be taken over by a new little life inside your belly is no small feat. (I mean, there ARE small feet in there, but MINE are swollen and tired.) Everything feels different. For me there is a lot of bulging, hair growing where it normally doesn’t, and volcanic heartburn, just to name a few of my favorites.
My first pregnancy was seventeen years ago and I hid it from the world. I placed that baby for adoption, and you can read all about that here in my new book. It took me a few years to recognize the trauma I’d put myself through because the very thought of getting pregnant again was terrifying. I had been married to my husband for six and a half years before we had our first child. People had long since stopped asking when we were going to start our family, though I could still feel the pressure to deliver some babies.
That pregnancy was unpleasant due to the usual physical reasons listed above, along with some emotional challenges I was going through in my marriage, but I had chalked it up to having been married for “so long” that I forced myself to shrug off the feelings of isolation. I assumed everyone who’d been married a whopping half-decade was settled into complacency and focused on just doin’ their own thang from day to day. Still, by most counts it was a pretty uneventful pregnancy, meaning no huge complications, and my mental bounce-back after delivery was fairly smooth.
I waited a while longer to have another child. For a couple years I was pretty sure that just the one kid would be good for me, because I hated feeling like a huge, ugly, undesirable beast while I was pregnant, and going through that again was not something I was eager to do.
Eventually I gave in and got pregnant. After all, I DO want grand-kids, and I didn’t like the odds with only one child. Along came my daughter in October 2012. She was a chubby little cherub and I was so thrilled. Again, a fairly incident-free pregnancy and I even braved this delivery without pain meds (BECAUSE OF CRAPPY, WORTHLESS INSURANCE THAT DIDN’T COVER MOST OF HAVING A BABY– but that’s another topic all on its own.) I felt back to my usual self even quicker this time. Success!
Not too long after, my husband felt a prompting that we were to have another child, and he even had the name come to mind while we were doing some family history work with his side of the family.
Um. Ok? Here we go again! Who am I to question a spiritual prompting? I’d never actually seen my husband look that emotional and focused before, or since, the day he felt that was on our to-do list so I went with it.
Baby number three came a week late on January 17, 2014, just after the tail end of a pretty stressful project in my life. I do a lot of different comedy related projects, but Idaho Laugh Fest just about maxed me out during its 2nd annual event. (It’s a multi-day, multi-venue comedy festival featuring over 70 comics from all over the country…and it’s my brainchild and the cross I bear in effort to spread laughter throughout my community. You should check it out, and PLEASE, for heaven’s sake, buy a few tickets and join us each January in Boise Idaho.)
I’d been due to have the baby the SAME weekend as the festival. The dates had already been locked in by the time I knew I was pregnant so I did what I do best; just rolled with it. Then I rolled around the festival venues like Violet from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory after the fateful meal-gum-chewing incident.
The final few weeks of that pregnancy were emotionally draining for me. I felt lonely, discouraged, completely and disgustingly ugly, painfully tired, and I genuinely felt I had no worth to anyone in this world. There was a time when I was soaking in the tub, trying to relax, and I just could not stop crying. My heart was pounding and I was short of breath and all I could hear in my own mind was that I was a terrible mom, a failure of a wife, and that nothing I ever did in this life would be good enough.
It took a good thirty minutes to calm down. The water had gotten rather cool and I slunk down to submerge myself as much as I could. My face from the nose up and my knees were the only thing above the waterline. My breathing had slowed, though I could still hear my pulse in my own head.
I wondered…if I were to quietly dip below the line and just end it all, would my husband find me in time to get my body to the hospital to save the baby? I considered the strategy for a while. Wondered how painful it would be to hold my final breath. Couldn’t be so bad for just those few minutes, could it?
Then, miraculously, the thought popped into my head – “WHAT ARE YOU THINKING? What if Fletcher (my oldest) was the one to walk in and find me?” I couldn’t imagine causing that trauma to him. That was singular thought that got me out of the tub and into bed for the night.
Once I finally went into labor, we struggled with getting pain meds to work. Baby was turned sunny-side up and things weren’t looking pretty. My husband spoke with my doctor as they hovered over my lower-half and he mentioned how he used to help deliver baby cows and sheep on the farm he grew up on. I lay there listening and grunting through contractions. I felt like a goddess!
Doc then took matters into her own hands, not unlike the farm story I’d heard mere moments before, and went in to her elbow to roll that behemoth over. My son finally dislodged and made his appearance in all of his 10lb 11oz glory. They hoisted this enormous man-baby onto me and within minutes he was nursing from one end and pooping/peeing all over me from the other end. Guess he was done cookin’, guys.
This is when my world as I’d known it went upside down. I felt decent-ish in the hospital, but upon arriving at home I was in complete mental disarray and my body was never going to be the same. I felt convinced, after a three-peat performance as “pregnant wife,” that my husband had no interest in me. I felt like a demon cloud was hovering over my head most of the day, every day, for several months.
Then it got much, much worse. We’re talking absolute paranoia. I felt like the entire world was going to end, and actually, that sounded like a better option than raising all these kids in such an evil world!
My germaphobia was off the charts so I didn’t want to leave the house, although everything IN my house felt like it was crawling with some kind of plague. I looked around my home and everything appeared to be a hazard. I could hardly remove myself from the couch most of the time, and I eyeballed everything with suspicion. Book cases looked poised and ready to fall onto my kids. Doors were waiting to slam on their hands. I worried they would suffocate in their sleep. Toys looked like weapons of war. I watched in terror, their every move, waiting and gasping at the thought of them tripping and clocking their head on the mantle, or falling down the stairs, or drowning in the tub.
On top of my overactive imagination, my body was not doing well. For the better part of a year I had various infections and felt awful. I was in and out of the doctor’s office every 6-8 weeks where I kept being told that they couldn’t tell what was wrong. They flung various prescriptions to my local Walgreen’s for pick-up, but no relief would come.
I cried most days, and most nights. I cried as quietly as possible so I wouldn’t bother anyone or worry my kids. My heart was heavy and my brain felt swollen with outrageous thoughts of what I’ve done wrong in my life. Sometimes I could hear myself screaming at the top of my lungs, but inside my mind, never out loud. I couldn’t see a future. At least, not one with any amount of joy in it.
I avoided looking in the mirror. I avoided people when possible. I didn’t want anyone to think I was weak or foolish or faking it. I could tell that the way I was feeling wasn’t “normal,” but I didn’t know what to do about it.
Thankfully, it gradually subsided and there were tiny spurts of calm moments. Times where it felt like I might pull through this. I spent as much time as I could with my kids and noted the miracle of THEIR lives. Their perfect little happy worlds. The hugs and kisses they gave me, and still give me, saved me.
Additionally, my husband and I finally started unpacking some heavy issues that have plagued our lives for the duration of our marriage, and in some cases, well before we met. I got a counselor. So did he. I told some family and a few friends what I was dealing with so they could check in on me. I realized that they didn’t think I was weak, or a failure. They made me feel loved and accepted and OK. Bit by bit I pushed to navigate through the madness.
I know others aren’t so lucky. So, now, being pregnant again (and no, this one was not my plan either,) I have been very cautious. I feel myself slipping into the dumps fairly cyclically. I try to balance my work load with times that are just for me to be with girlfriends or family so that I can feel connected to who I am as MEGAN, not as giant-engorged-baggy eyed-parade balloon-pregnant-taken-over-by-enormobabies-Megan.
I jokingly called it “Prepartum Depression” a couple of months ago because I could feel the teasers of what I’d just barely recovered from with my last child. And, as a comedian, I want to try and find the humor in the things I deal with in life as a form of self-therapy and to connect with others who are dealing with the same crap. But truly, it isn’t a joke.
When you are living it, and breathing in panic only to exhale anxiety, it is not a joke. It is terrifying and lonely.
I hate to think of others getting swamped in the feelings and physical symptoms that accompany Postpartum Depression, but I know it is all too common. I want to take that pain away and send it straight to hell where it belongs. But I can’t.
What I can do is talk about it. For me, talking about it helped.
The door to my life was flung wide open with the release of my book, Not My Plan, in June of this year, so at this point I realize that there is a good chance I’ll just keep spilling my guts on various issues, and leaving them strewn about the internet for whomever wants to take the time to read them. It’s my humble effort to help spur conversations that might help even one person. And yeah, I know that one person might be ME, and I’m cool with that.
Here’s hoping that things are less taxing this time around, but feel free to check in with me after delivery just to be sure. And by check in with me, I mean I accept invites for girl-talks over pedicures.