We celebrated my daughter’s first birthday on August 9th, but September 3rd also marks a big one in our experience: the day I was hospitalized for my postpartum depression and anxiety. I’ve spent time every day for the past year turning it over and over, trying to reconcile why this happened to me. What were the triggers? Could things have been different?
Our daughter surprised us an entire month early, arriving at exactly 36 weeks. After a smooth delivery, I was so relieved that she was here and healthy, but she wasn’t ready. Preemie babies simply need more time. Her blood sugar was dropping, and despite her need to put on weight, she wasn’t prepared to breastfeed. She didn’t latch and was too tired to suck even if she could. She was given formula almost immediately. Every two hours, 24 hours a day, we would attempt to breastfeed for 30 minutes, then give her a bottle of formula while I pumped for an additional 20 minutes. When doing the math, that process took at least an hour. Then we were supposed to get her to sleep and use that remaining, oh 20 minutes, to get some sleep ourselves. It was brutal. I started to crack.
And oh, Covid. We were in the thick of it. I laboured in a mask, and we were allowed no visitors. If my husband left the hospital for any reason after our initial admission, he would not be allowed back in. Walking through a busy hospital during a pandemic with my under six-pound baby was maybe my first real experience with anxiety. We drove home crying, scared about the world we had just brought an innocent new baby into. My mom and sister met us at our house. They had to stay far away and only were able to look at our baby after we were inside with our glass front door between them and her—more cracking.
For a couple of weeks after coming home, we were in the throes of newborn life, completely alone, still on our rigorous two-hour feeding schedule. I thought you were never supposed to wake a sleeping baby, but we did, many times over. We were continually being served the cocktail of defeat and frustration that was nursing a premature infant—not sleeping. My mom saw how hard I was struggling. She self-quarantined, Covid tested, took off work, finally jumped through enough hoops that I deemed her safe … and came over. I was so grateful for the help, but I was already spiralling very hard into postpartum depression.
My mom stayed the night to try and help us get some sleep. I didn’t. I finally got out of bed and confessed to her what had been pressing on my mind for several days. I couldn’t do this. I was suicidal. I wanted to run. From that moment, it all becomes a blur. My husband and Mom took over care of my daughter. I gave up breastfeeding. There was lots of crying, yelling, meanness, thrashing around in bed when I was meant to be sleeping, not eating, meeting with therapists, calling a suicide hotline (not helpful), and eventually a trip to the emergency room (actually two – I chickened out, wasn’t honest, and they sent me home the first time) that led to my being hospitalized in a mental health facility for a week—fully cracked.
I don’t even know what to say about that experience. It was bizarre finding myself there. I was in the hospital on my daughter’s actual due date, not with her and not wanting to acknowledge that she existed. My friends were having a Labour Day pool party, and I was sitting in group therapy with a bunch of strangers in a locked ward. How did this happen?
My time spent there was not exactly healing other than the fact that I got a week of rest and started on medication. I was so out of my mind. I thought I would never be able to work again, let alone raise a baby. I didn’t think anything was ever going back to normal. In one session of therapy, we were asked to write facts about ourselves. I forced myself to write, “I have a daughter; her name is Wren,” then cried and cried because it was true. After a week, I was sent home, they deemed me better, and I wanted to believe that. I had a few good days at home, sleeping upstairs while my husband continued to take care of our newborn alone. I couldn’t face the nights. I still wasn’t well. I had decided that I didn’t need to die, but I still couldn’t raise a baby. I was convinced my sister had to take her from us.
After harshly voicing that opinion over and over, my sister ironically got me instead. She picked me up, and I stayed with her for an undetermined amount of time. My husband couldn’t stand me in the house, and I understood why. At my sister’s, I continued to heal; my medication kicked in. I felt better. I went home after a week.
It was a slow road to recovery. Good days and bad. Mostly bad until eventually, the good won out. I slowly came back to myself and to my daughter. I faced the life that I had wanted, had created, and was relieved to find that it was actually pretty great. Wren was such a sweet baby. I’ll never forgive myself for missing her early days, but I’m doing my best to make up for it now.
Mental health is tricky. It’s hard not to blame myself, even when all of the science says I had no control. I recently read a memoir of another woman’s experience and was shocked to see my own story written almost word for word. It helped me to see PPD as a real disease with diagnosable symptoms rather than just a fracture in my own personality. Despite that knowledge, I’m still working on forgiving myself, still processing what we went through. I don’t know if I’ll ever stop searching my history for the trigger. Trying to find an answer that doesn’t really matter, but I keep looking for anyway. The word of the day is acceptance, and here I am just trying to get there.
This picture is of Wren on September 7th. I had been in the hospital for four days. She’s so small. I can’t look at this picture without crying.