HOW MY POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION BEGAN TO MANIFEST
During my first pregnancy, I received two pieces of advice that I will never forget. Firstly, “If you ever feel your baby stop moving for more than an hour or two, call the doctor or come in right away”. And secondly, “If you feel a sense of sadness for more than two weeks after your baby is born, seek help because you may be experiencing postpartum depression”. If I hadn’t received these little nuggets of wisdom, I know that my life would be drastically different today.
The Saturday that my daughter was born began like any other. It was two days prior to my due date and my husband, Andrew, and I were showing his parents around our new neighborhood. We dined at our favorite Mexican restaurant, my mother-in-law and I got pedicures, and we took a walk by the beach.
But by the time we got home and my in-laws left, something didn’t feel right. I hadn’t felt our increasingly active baby move in over an hour. Andrew and I both felt that I was overreacting but after feeling my tummy for several minutes to no avail, we called the hospital birthing center. We asked to speak with the OBG-YN on-call. She instructed me to drink ice water and to monitor the baby for movement for another half hour before coming in. Still, our baby girl wasn’t moving.
We drove to the hospital and everything that happened afterward is a blur. A 30-minute sonograph was performed to check for activity. Still, our daughter wasn’t moving. But she had a heartbeat, albeit a constricted one. When the doctor came in and explained to me what was going on, and that she would need to perform an emergency c-section, I cried like I’ve never cried in my entire life. It was a deep guttural sound, full of fear and anguish. I didn’t know if the baby inside my womb who I’d come to love so much was going to survive.
We were rushed to the operation room, which was filled with nurses, doctors, and a single anesthesiologist. The entire operation took less than half an hour, but at the time each moment felt like an eternity. At long last, I heard a cry and Andrew whispered to me that our baby girl, Stella Louisa, had made it out safely. Never have I felt such immense relief as I did in that moment. Privately, a male OBG-YN told my husband that we were so lucky to have come to the hospital when we did because if not, it would have been too late.
Forty-five minutes after stitching me back up and whisking Stella away for testing, I got to hold my baby girl skin-to-skin. It was the best feeling in the entire world. She was healthy and she was alive. All night long, I stayed awake watching her and making sure that she was breathing.
Forty-eight hours later we were allowed to leave the hospital. I imagine that most new parents can relate to our first night at home with a newborn. I didn’t sleep at all, my husband slept little, and we hardly put our baby down. But the next day, we received some bad news. We got a phone call from a pediatric neurologist who said we needed to bring Stella in for EKG testing. Apparently, one of the pediatricians that visited us in the hospital was concerned about her eyes rolling up into her head.
We took her to the EKG appointment and she did not pass the test. Again, we experienced anxiety and fear that our precious baby wasn’t going to be alright. That she made it into the world only to experience a lifetime of sickness. She was transferred to the Pediatric Neuroscience Unit at Swedish First Hill where they decided to keep us for forty-eight hours to give her another EKG and monitor her for seizures. Seeing her with all of the electrodes attached to her head again was awful. It also made breastfeeding (which we were already struggling with) even more challenging. The whole time we were there, I prayed over and over that Stella was healthy and that everything would turn out alright.
God must have heard my prayers. Twenty-four hours after arriving at the hospital, the neurosurgeon came to tell us that she hadn’t seen any sign of a seizure. She went on to say that she was confidant that Stella was healthy and that we were free to go home. Again, we felt immense relief. But also sadness, for the children who spend their entire lives in the hospital. For the parents who have to keep on going, despite having children who are never able to come home. The whole experience was heart-wrenching and unforgettable. Yet, somehow, the three of us got to go home together as a family. It was not lost on us that we were incredibly fortunate. In fact, I will never stop thanking God for blessing us with a healthy child.
But, at the time, what should have been cause for celebration quickly turned into something sinister. I was unable to sleep when my baby slept, and Andrew went back to work immediately. To make matters worse, I began to have terrifying, unwanted thoughts of harm coming to my daughter. I would cry hysterically and call Andrew at work, begging him for help even though I knew there was only so much that he could do. (He had just started a new job and we’d only been living in Seattle for three weeks). All of our close relatives worked full-time and lived over an hour away. These circumstances led me to feel utterly alone in the world when my husband was at work.
It was incomprehensible that I could feel such an overwhelming sense of despair and foreboding for no apparent reason. Yet, I was blessed with a healthy child and a doting husband . Something was wrong and I had to figure out how to get help. I was experiencing a severe case of postpartum depression.