Postpartum kerflooey and kerplunkPublished 6:11am Sunday, September 9, 2012
Column: Pass the Hot Dish
I pulled an envelope from the mailbox. It was a coupon for a shoe store and on it were the words “Happiness Inside.”
I sat down on the curb and cried. I was desperately searching for happiness, but somehow I didn’t think I was going to find it in a 20 percent off pair of strappy sandals.
The “Hot Dish” has been on ice for the past several months, and, now, after the birth of my beautiful daughters, Gertie and Clara, I’m back. The girls are 11 weeks old today.
Friends, I wanted to return to print by regaling you with entertaining anecdotes about new parenthood, but it would have been disingenuous. I’ve always been honest with you, and if I said, “They lived happily ever after,” I’d have felt like a big old phony.
I knew something was wrong about two weeks after the babies were born. I was sitting in a chair folding laundry when I began to weep. I looked up at my sister, Barb, and cried, “I don’t think I’ll ever say anything funny again.”
To which she replied, “Well, that right there was kind of hilarious.” That was the last time I remember laughing until about a week ago.
Postpartum depression (PPD) is not caused by exhaustion or lack of a support group or the isolation that often comes with new motherhood, although all of those things often exacerbate it. In technical medical jargon, PPD happens when a woman’s body chemistry goes all kerflooey after childbirth and her hormones go kerplunk.
I was kerflooing and kerplunking hard, and I couldn’t believe it. I’d gone through years of infertility treatments and four miscarriages. Being depressed after finally succeeding to have children in such a grand fashion, for my daughters are miracle babies and the most extraordinary creatures I’ve ever seen, made me feel like during the last nine months I’d gained 53 pounds of irony.
According to Postpartum Support International, about 15 to 20 percent of women suffer some kind of depression after childbirth. A report from the National Institutes of Health, states that women who have children by means of assisted reproductive technology are five times more likely to suffer postpartum depression than other women. That was me all over.
A few years ago I wrote a blog entry titled, “Play Until the Whistle Blows,” about my experiences with infertility and miscarriage.
I wrote about getting up and going forward every time life sacked me and knocked me to the ground. I wrote about persevering during the bad times with courage and tenacity. Then the good times came, and I fell. I felt the ball slipping through my hands, and my body hit the turf. I looked toward the end zone. It was too far away, so I laid my head down and stayed there.
I didn’t understand why my usual pep talks weren’t working. Rub some dirt on it and get back out there, I’d tell myself. Play through the pain. Fake it till you make it. Not even my dad’s favorite, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, had any effect on me. I’ve never seen boots with straps, but I always imagined Charles Ingalls wore them, and nothing kept him down for long.
I was stuck. It didn’t help to hear, “You’re a failure.” “You don’t deserve to be a mother.” “You should be ashamed of yourself.” “You’re weak.”
The voice was my own, and it shattered my eardrums and my heart. Thank God, the only other voice I could hear said the words that saved me. It was my husband, Graham, saying, “We’re going to get you the help you need.”
Immediately I started antidepressants and therapy. The first meeting with my therapist consisted of me crying and mumbling, “I fumbled the ball.”
“Yes, but you’ll get that hole-in-one,” she replied.
Through sobs I said, “How could I have fumbled the ball?”
Calmly she countered, “But, Ali, you can still knock it out of the park.”
I looked up from the mountain of Kleenex in my hand, “You’re not much for sports, are you.”
Fortunately, we learned to unmix our metaphors, and with time and medication things have gotten a little better. The darkness still creeps in, but there is at least some light in every day.
I didn’t have to write this column. I could have skipped straight to the good stuff, and I will next week, but if there’s one woman out there who’s feeling like I did, I want you to stop reading, pick up the phone and call your doctor. You can also call 800-944-4PPD (4773), Postpartum Support International or www.postpartum.net. Getting help as soon as possible is the key to overcoming postpartum depression.
Happiness is out there for you. For me it’s not in a shoe store, but in three sets of blue eyes named, Gertie, Clara and Paul Graham, and, sometimes, when I stand at the mirror, I even see it in myself.
Woodbury resident Alexandra Kloster appears each Sunday. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and her blog is at alexandrakloster.com.