By Jeremy Hornberger
Less than 24 hours after I returned home from giving birth, I found myself back in the ER. Where I am now, I never thought possible. I love Ella Ray more than anything and she is my reason for being. But it took me a longgggg time to get to this point and to feel this way. I’ve always struggled with anxiety and some depression. On and off meds and have seen the occasional therapist when I needed a tune up. When I found out I was pregnant I decided to wean off of my Zoloft. Even though they told me it was safe to continue during pregnancy, I wanted to keep my body free and clear of all meds. I hated being pregnant. I never felt the glow… I threw up every morning for 22 weeks. I was miserable. I faked happiness because that’s what I was “supposed” to feel. And I had friends struggling with infertility so how could I admit I hated pregnancy!? So fast forward, my doc suggested an induction… after some thought, anxiety, panic, and fear… we decided to go for it.
Friday, June 3rd. Child birth is no joke. I’ll spare the details, but I remember thinking I wished I could have gone back in time and not gotten pregnant. I wanted it to be over so badly. And then it was. And I was like phew, ok, I can feel the joy everyone kept telling me about. The best moment of my life! I waited. And waited. I tried to feel it, I pretended that I did. It never came. I was so deliriously tired I chalked it up to that. I hadn’t slept and quickly realized I wouldn’t while I was in the hospital. If it wasn’t time to breastfeed it was time to check my vitals. I faked smiles with the nurses and all of our visitors. I couldn’t feel anything. Other than excruciating pain and a panic slowly taking over every ounce of my being. I remember the day we were to be discharged. I asked how long we could stay. I didn’t want to go home. I started to panic. I cried to every nurse who came in my room. One told me it was my hormones and everyone feels this way and I’d be ok. I tried to believe it. That night I lay awake. My mind consumed with racing thoughts… the scariest thoughts came around 2am when I had been awake for hours, shaking uncontrollably. I was in a full blown panic attack for over two hours. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t swallow, I couldn’t make my arms stop shaking. I just kept thinking “I can’t do this. I don’t want to do this. There is no end in sight. I don’t want this baby. I don’t want this life.” At that moment I knew I needed help. My hyper sense of self awareness is a blessing and a curse. I woke Shane up and told him to go get my mom. I told them what I was experiencing. I said “I need help. I can’t do this. I need help. I don’t want to do this. I need help.” My mom found my discharge paperwork which instructed me to call my doctor if I felt this way. I called. The answering service kicked in. I told her what was going on and she responded, and I quote… “mental health is not an emergency you’ll have to call back tomorrow.” I hung up, sobbing, I thought this is it. I’m not going to make it to morning. I was not suicidal, but I had come to the conclusion that if I were to die, that would be ok. In fact that would be more than ok. I thought, if Ella dies, that’d be ok. I knew I needed help. This was not just baby blues. This was not just hormones. This was a shit storm of darkness.
The next day I posted in my mom’s group, they encouraged me to call my Dr. until I heard from her. That afternoon I finally got in touch and was instructed to go to the ER right away. I panicked. How will my baby get food!? I called her pediatrician who gave us formula samples and a feeding schedule. Thank god for my husband and my family. My mom, sister, and dad worked around the clock to make sure Ella’s needs were met, while Shane accompanied me to the ER. I knew I had to go, I wanted to go, but I felt terrible leaving my baby, taking both of her parents away from her when she was only 3 days old. After hours of waiting and a million nurses, doctors, blood draws, and psych evals, postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety were diagnosed. They gave me meds, a therapist rec, some other resources and sent me on my way. A lot of people have heard of postpartum depression, but most don’t know what it’s actually like. What it feels like. What it looks like. This is what it looked liked for me. Granted, no one will ever fully know or understand my struggle, the demons I battled daily, or just how hard I worked to overcome this.
PPD/A looks different for everyone. You never know what is hiding behind someone’s smile. The next three months are a blur. I don’t remember Ella. I don’t remember my time with her. Only in flashes. I was so numb. Yet, feeling everything. I was in such a fog. There were days I didn’t think I’d make it. I never thought I would love my daughter. I felt like the worst mom in the world. I felt so much guilt and shame. I only breastfed for three days. I hated it. I never felt that bond. I felt guilty for that. I felt guilty for wanting nothing to do with my daughter, while simultaneously feeling insanely jealous that everyone around me was filled with so much joy. Everyone kept saying “isn’t this the best!?” No. It’s the worst. I hate it. Having depression and anxiety simultaneously is a very unique version of hell. It’s wanting to be in control of every little thing, yet not having the strength to do anything. It’s needing to leave the house to feel some sense of normalcy, but sitting in the driveway crying for 20 minutes not able to pull away. It’s finally getting out to run errands to make sure your husband has a first father’s day gift, only to have a panic attack and cry in the middle of Walmart because you can’t find the perfect card. It’s wanting to be around your closest friends and family so you don’t feel alone, but instead sitting in a dark room because all you want is to be alone. I would lay in bed for hours in the morning just trying to convince myself to get up and face the day. I would just lay there, paralyzed with fear and sadness.
Night time was no better, I lay awake fearing the next time I heard Ella cry for food or to be changed. Some days I would go to bed, close my doors and just let everyone else take care of her. I wasn’t capable of doing so. I wasn’t capable of caring for my own daughter. My mom would remind me daily that this wasn’t me. This was the depression. This was the anxiety. This was all the postpartum crap. She reminded me every day that I made it through the day before I could do it again. One day, one hour, one moment at a time. I didn’t eat. It’s hard to eat when you feel like you have a softball size lump constantly in your throat. I lost all the baby weight and another 20 lbs in less than two months. I rarely showered or got dressed in anything other than pajamas. And when I did, it was like I had won an Olympic gold medal. I was met with applause and congrats. I felt like a child learning to do even the most basic tasks. I literally couldn’t function. I had panic attacks almost daily, sometimes more than once a day. The longest panic attack lasted five hours. I saw my therapist weekly and took my meds religiously, I practiced deep breathing, I tried to go for a walk daily and stretch/do yoga, I tried it all… Just as I was about to head back to work… 12 weeks postpartum, I was finally starting to feel like I was back to “my normal.”
I spent my maternity leave wishing the time away, wanting nothing more than to return to work. When that day came, I was finally feeling the love for my daughter, and a new wave of guilt swept over me. I wasted 12 weeks of my time with her, in my mind, I wasn’t there for her. I know I did what was best. I did what had to be done, a healthy mom is what Ella needed, but at the end of the day, that’s still a hard pill to swallow. I know I can’t get that time back, I wish I could, but I’m glad I sought help right away so that I didn’t lose any more time. And thank god (again) for my support system. Here’s the good news. I fought like hell and got out of the darkness. It wasn’t easy, it still isn’t. A few months ago I fell back into some of those old feelings, my meds needed to be increased. It’s a work in progress. But I am so proud of myself and the mom I’ve become. Ella Ray is everything to me.