Post-Partum is a dreadful phrase. It strikes fear in the heart of every expectant mother and father who learns of its unpleasant possibilities. Post-partum depression, for the few who are unaware, is a general feeling of depression with symptoms such as overwhelming tiredness, withdrawal from family and friends, constant crying, and feelings of guilt or inadequacy, just to name a few. This is the middle child to the friendly and socially acceptable baby blues and the horrifying and stigma-ridden post-partum psychosis. It is tough enough to give birth and the fact that one of the three is bound to follow is a real kick in the head to a woman when she’s already down. However, it’s nearly devastating to learn you brought the condition on by your own irresponsible behavior. This was my story.
Baby number one left me with the watered down version of post-partum called the baby blues. It was weird and left me awe-struck, but it was manageable. The BBs left me with uncontrollably, yes. I can recall preparing a beautiful dinner for two of our friends one evening. As I stirred the gorgonzola sauce I began weeping uncontrollably. My female friend looked on with sympathy. Even though she has yet to enter the adventure of motherhood she could sympathize with hormonal changes. I mean we are all a little irrational when we get our periods. The male friend was doing everything he could to avoid eye contact and looked frightened and nervous. I could see it all clearly. He was thinking, “Dear Lord, is this the shit I am going to have to put up with in the future?” Meanwhile the dialogue in her head sounded a bit like, “There is no friggin way I am having sex tonight! Did I take my birth-control?” Yes, crazy even affects our friends. Phobias were my new best friend. I had the desire to keep my baby all to myself avoiding all others germs and strange, negative energy. There were night sweats that found me waking at 2 am in a puddle of perspiration simply adding to the dampness by crying tears, of “I cannot believe how much I la-la-love this little being.” There was the unimaginable fatigue which can only be associated with a newborn’s presence in your life. It was all normal the dr. would assure me, painfully normal.
Baby number two was a different story entirely. Of course the first eight weeks were a blur of sweating, nursing, crying (me and the baby), fatigue and doubt but then something else happened. I decided eight weeks after delivering baby number two that I was tired of being fat, and I was going to change it immediately. This kind of irrational thinking is only possible when something traumatic like childbirth has just occurred. Any right minded person would realize that the body I inhabited was fine as it was and would return to normal within a reasonable time frame. However, I wasn’t interested in logical time frames. I wanted to be Heidi Klum. I wanted to prance around in my underwear on a cat-walk eight weeks after giving birth. Well not really but I did want to be viewed by my husband as one of the most beautiful creatures in the world. I wanted wind in my hair and body glitter. Well not really but I did want to look like my pre-pregnancy self while sipping pina coladas in Antigua. I was not well. I needed help. Instead I devised a plan.
“Let’s start by working out,” I said to myself. It’s seemed innocent enough. I’d join a class that started at 5:30 in the morning. Who cares that it’s a 20 minute drive, and I’ve been up all night? I wanted a tight rear end. The class fulfilled my expectations. The rear grew tighter and higher. After completing six weeks of boot-camp with my girlfriends I wanted more. I joined another boot-camp for the ridiculously fit and criminally insane. This class started at 6am. Because it was closer than the previous class, I found myself sleeping in an extra 15 minute. I was living the dream. The instructor really prided himself on being one of the hardest trainers on the planet. I’ve trained with a few people. He will forever be the most difficult class I’ve ever taken. I’m not really that fit to begin with folks. I am truthfully more of a seasonal exerciser. After a few months of “hitting it hard” I like to take it light and maybe all the way off for a month or so. This class practically killed me physically and emotionally. With ligament issues in my wrists due to my pregnancy I found planks, crawls and military pushups virtually impossible. My trainer had very little patience with me and spent the entire hour shrieking my name followed by the words slacker, lazy, go, complainer, or weak. After the first month, I realized that I was paying someone for the privilege of permanently damaging my wrists and emotionally abusing me. If he had been my lover, I would have had him arrested.
I’m pretty certain there is a reason the word DIE resides in the word DIET. I gravely dislike dieting. It’s completely unnatural for me. I prefer to eat healthily. Cutting obscene amounts of calories feels very similar to ripping off my own arm and beating myself about the head with it. I reviewed a couple of plans, which included the Flat Belly Diet, Atkins, the South Beach Diet, the Grapefruit Diet, etc. Then a friend suggested that I look into a perfectly legal and insanely expensive injectable. She would give them to me for free she informed. "People pay thousands of dollars for this treatment!" she encouraged. It’s simple really. You just shoot yourself in a fatty part of the body every morning and then restrict your food intake to 500 calories a day. I heard the sound of screeching tires in my head. 500 calories, how is that possible? 500 calories? Wasn’t that what I usually called breakfast? Shooting myself in a fatty part of my body I could handle. I had plenty of fatty body options. I anticipated playing connect the dots at the end and imagined buying myself a prize should it have ended up being an intriguing pattern.
The emotional fall-out would be severe and swift. I found myself crying every single day. Sometimes I would lock myself in a room while the baby slept and the toddler zoned out in front of the T.V. “I just need 5 minutes to completely lose my shit in private,” I would tell myself. Then before I knew it 5 minutes was inadequate. I needed 10 minutes. Then I needed 15. My lowest memory was having the baby wailing to notify me of his hunger. I attempted to walk to his bassinet when the toddler latched firmly onto my leg. “No, no, no baby! I need MY Mommy!” He exclaimed. I completely lost all functions. “Baby needs to eat! I’m so sorry honey. Mommy will be with you in a minute,” I cried. I lay in bed feeding the baby sobbing while my first born lie down at my knees weeping as well. I had ruined everyone’s life. I thought. I was selfish to want more than one child. I was a self-centered monster. I could see my boys in their future therapist’s office now. I had damaged them and they weren’t even 3 years old. How was I going to pay for college and therapy? Days later I would find myself once again locked in the spare room of my house crying frantically to my best friend, “I need to put them both in daycare. They would be better off with strangers. I’m a terrible Mother. I cry all day. They are going to think I’m bi-polar Maybe I am bi-polar! I’m failing at this job. I’m failing at the most important job in the world. Help me! Please help me!” She would assure me that I wasn’t failing. She would gently remind me that what I was doing to my body through diet, and exercise were very unhealthy and suggest that I ask my husband for help. Because I love her and trust her, I could see the importance of her words and by the grace of God, I heeded them.
The call to my husband seemed like a blur. I was bawling and I can only barely recall the things I said aloud to him. Whatever the message I delivered, he received it clearly. “I’m on my way home now, “he said. “You are going to be fine. I love you,” he concluded. At that very moment, a million pounds were lifted off my shoulders. I believed him. I believed that I was going to be ok, but I also knew it was going to take time. When my husband arrived at our home, he had already formulated a strategy to get me help. We would call my son’s homeopathic doctor and make an appointment as soon as possible. After about three minutes of conversation the doctor suggested that I come in right away, as in right freakin now! The drive to his office was long but provided a great deal of time to fully explain what had been going on to my husband. He was trying his best to be strong but the alarm was visible and growing with each of my complaints. When we arrived at the physician’s office, we did a round of tests, which included blood pressure, hemoglobin, oxygen level, and live cell study. All the test's results included disheartening news. He spent the next 30 minutes confirming all of my worst fears. Not only was I suffering from Post-Partum but a continuance of my current behavior would send me right into a condition called Chronic Fatigue. I was damaging my body and badly no less. Just when I thought I could feel no more shame. I found I was wrong. The prescription was lengthy. I’d have many enzymes, vitamins and other natural remedies to digest over the next few months. He also advised me that sleep and eating a healthy diet were not optional but mandatory. Finally, someone was giving me permission to do a few of my favorite things. I was filled with momentary bliss.
The next few months my husband and I dedicated to getting me back to my “normal” self. Whatever that means, right? I napped religiously while the boys were sleeping. I ate foods that were good for my body. I ate a lot of those foods. I worked out but I changed my pre-dawn workout to a mid-day one and slept in until 6:30 in the morning every day. I spoke openly and frequently with my friends about the difficulty of this job we call Motherhood. For me, sharing released me from the embarrassment. I admitted when I didn’t feel well or was otherwise exhausted. I stopped trying to make everything appear perfect and left a little mess here and there. If I needed to wear my PJs all day leaving my hair uncombed I did so. More importantly I did so without judgment of myself. I didn’t need to feel guilty or inadequate. After a few months and a lot of self-love, I realized that I was once again normal, painfully normal.