As mentioned in previous posts, we are starting a blog series aimed at removing the stigma surrounding postpartum mood adjustment disorders. I have always intended to share my story first. I started writing months ago, but have only found the strength to make it through the preface so far.
I know, firsthand, how hard it is for parents to admit they're suffering. I made it through and I can barely talk about it almost a year later. So I'm forcing my own hand (or fingers, rather). This month is National Mental Health Awareness Month and I am determined to get my story out in the hopes of helping another parent recognize their symptoms and seek help earlier.
Below is Part One. Stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3 (or who knows how many since I haven't written them yet). I have never felt so vulnerable as I do standing on the precipice of this blog series. Thank you for reading.
I distinctly remember how I felt sitting on my couch that day, the sun shining in on my arm, watching my mother as she prepared a baked-from-scratch pot pie. The peace was palpable, the day of Magnolia’s birth. I smiled at no one, breathing in my family around me: my dad playing on the floor with my toddler and rowdy dogs, my husband sitting next to me smiling over the final minutes of a 6-0 Bengals win, and an hours-old baby nursing contentedly at my breast. I felt happy.
Not the watered down version of the word.
Real, true, all-encompassing happiness. Pharrell level Happy.
The next week went wonderfully. Jay [my husband] had gone back to work a half day on Monday (much to the surprise and wonderment of his coworkers), we visited the pediatrician, my Granny, and even took the girls to a pumpkin patch (Maggie and I stayed in the car, of course). I had some nipple soreness, and Maggie had developed an aversion to my right breast. I knew she had a lip tie, at the very minimum, and, thanks to circles I’m in professionally, what the implications could be if left “unclipped.”
I had made up my mind she needed revision before I reached out for lactation help. I purposefully avoided calling the IBCLC who had helped me with my first. I knew she would recommend deepening the latch, position changes, anything and everything before cutting my baby’s mouth. Instead, I reached out to a very vocal proponent of lip and tongue tie revision, even proactive revision, done, ideally, as soon as an appointment could be made.
The night she came, she brought with her such a calming presence. She marvelled over my sweet baby, inhaling her newness. She held my baby in the air and commented that there was tightness here, and there, lightly pressing into spots on her head and shoulders. Maggie seemed drunk with pleasure.
I thought she was a baby whisperer.
She sat next to me as I, sweating through my shirt, attempted and re-attempted to latch Maggie on my right side. She pointed out that she couldn’t see Maggie’s tongue in the corners of her mouth while nursing. She looked at my all-of-the-sudden-bashful 22-month-old from across the room and declared that her tie was responsible for her gapped front teeth and turned in lower teeth. She showed me pictures of the difference in a baby’s mouth when revision was done earlier. We laughed about how much money I could save on braces.
Revision wasn’t a new idea for me. I’d had a frenectomy performed myself when I was 9 or 10 in the hopes that my teeth would move together and eliminate the need for orthodontia. It didn’t work for me. The Baby Whisperer assured me that because Maggie was so young, it would work for her. She assured me that my baby would feel no pain during the procedure, “the laser cauterizes as it goes,” she said. She told me my baby would nurse in the little room at the dentist’s office as soon as the procedure was over. She told me about her recent revision, and her infant son’s. She gave me the names and phone numbers of the dentists she recommended. I promised I’d call first thing in the morning.
The night before the procedure, I felt an overwhelming surge of panic. I watched videos of the postoperative stretches I’d have to do and sobbed. I reasoned that babies don’t like diaper changes or vaccinations, but I still do them. My symptoms were lessening. Maggie had taken to the right breast again and my soreness was starting to get better. But what about what could happen? I reasoned that I had support from my mom, dad and Jay now, so I should do it now. And what about those pictures The Baby Whisperer showed me? I recalled the nothing-but-positive stories I’d read on social media. How could this go wrong?
At 5am Tuesday morning, I nursed my nine-day-old baby before strapping her in her car seat and making the trip to Dayton for her 7:30am appointment. I sat in the backseat, stroking her hands, shoving the overwhelming feelings of panic and anxiety to the side. I was doing what was best. I posted on Facebook and received many comments of positive stories and encouragement.
We pulled into the parking lot as snow flurries began falling. My gut was screaming at me to turn around. The asphalt felt like quicksand. Why am I doing this?
Go home. Go home. Turn around. Go home.
We kept trudging through. I signed the release that warned of breastfeeding cessation. I laughed and made small talk. I held my baby down and through tears snapped a cute picture of her in her goggles.
And just like that, my baby was swollen, in horrific pain, and refusing to nurse. I sat in the fancy room “for as long as I needed.” I sang. I sweat through another shirt. I sobbed. I said to my husband, “I never should have done this.” We sped home, as fast as we could, save for a quick stop for food and the “crunchy mama approved” arnica tablets and numbing medicine to help ease her pain. I sang Patsy Cline. Her sad songs never seemed more appropriate.
On October 27th, 2015, I made a choice that set into motion a downward spiral of postpartum depression and obsessive compulsive disorder that threatened to destroy my marriage, my career and my relationship with my baby.