“Have you been depressed or thought of suicide?”
The question rolled off the doctor’s tongue, and I smiled and shook my head on cue. I had heard it about seven times over six weeks after having my baby girl—from NICU nurses, our pediatrician, my lactation consultant, and now from my OB at my 6-week checkup.
They all rattled the question off, and I always smiled and said no. Depression has never been much of a friend of mine, and after having my first child, I was on the other end of that spectrum. I was so happy I felt a constant sense of bliss and euphoria. Between the postpartum and breastfeeding hormones flooding my system with oxytocin and soaking in the concept that I did this—I had a baby, my life’s goal complete—there was no depression. None.
But there was anxiety. No one ever asked me about that.
I never even asked myself. It’s very difficult, for me at least, to reflect upon my emotional or mental state while I’m in the middle of experiencing it. I can see it in retrospect, and I wasn’t OK.
I had a traumatic birth and a similarly traumatic recovery and NICU stay. I’m not here to write about that experience because really I can’t. I suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and that means flashbacks. They come back when I tell my stories so I have learned not to.
But in those days and weeks and months postpartum, they came back every time I lay my head down on my pillow.
Insomnia plagued me, and that’s not a great mix when you have an infant who wakes to feed multiple times. Sleep was not part of my life even after our baby began to sleep longer stretches and then through the night.
I was awake and reliving what I had endured. I didn’t sleep longer stretches.
It is really strange because again, I was perfectly happy. I was living my dream, and I enjoyed every moment with my baby and as our new family of three.
But I definitely had postpartum anxiety, too. And no single medical professional ever asked me about it. I did not even know it existed.
I sometimes wonder how things might have been if someone had asked.
If I had known about PPA, would I have recognized the symptoms in myself?
What kind of help might I have accepted if my doctor had recognized the signs? Perhaps, I would have refused medication and nothing would have changed. I don’t know.
I just think if I were outside my body and looking in at me, eyes wide open in the dead of the night, I would want to help that girl.