Ophelia arrived and we thought she was an easy baby. Easier than Declan, for sure! Then her two month appointment came around and we found out that she wasn’t gaining enough weight. In the two months since then, we’ve been back at the doctor’s at least every two weeks (and sometimes more) for weight checks. We’ve tried different formulas, different bottles, different nipples, and different positions. We’ve given her two different reflux medicines and probiotic drops. We’re working with an Occupational Therapist and talking about whether we need to see a GI specialist. We’ve tried fortifying the formula. We started solids early. The doctors are flummoxed and I am frustrated. The girl just does not want to eat. Every time we seem to be doing better and I start to feel hopeful, she plummets again. A slight fever or shots or congestion or a new person can send her spiraling downward and my mood right alongside. I was so excited to get through those first few weeks of baby blues without signs of the depression that I experienced with Declan, but it seems it was just waiting in the wings. Ugh.
Since I have not been able to persuade my sister (who has a 1-year-old and another one on the way) to travel 4,500 miles on 3 planes to come and save me from myself like she did the last time, I have started seeing a counselor for the first time ever. In our first visit it was just good to talk to someone who is being paid to listen. She gave me some tools and tips to try the next time I felt the darkness descending. While I am struggling to actually apply these while I am feeling sad, I think we’re off to a good start:
- My biggest problem is dwelling on the negative. When Ophelia has a bad feed I immediately imagine all the worst possible scenarios. I focus on the unfairness of the situation and find myself dealing in absolutes – she’s never going to eat well again, we’re never going to get past this, I’m never going to be able to feed her in public or leave her with a babysitter (or even my husband, since she won’t eat for him!). One action to counter this is to focus on every positive thing that happens, no matter how small. I’ve been writing them down as they happen so that during a sad moment I can look back and hopefully recognize that things aren’t all bad. These can be directly about the issue at hand (Ophelia is hitting all of her developmental milestones and is a pretty happy baby; she loves solids so far and is really good at eating them for how young she is; she’s staying hydrated; she gained some weight), or can be about anything good at all (Declan pooped in the potty; we had a lovely Christmas as a family; I have super supportive colleagues).
- I need to notice when I am placing expectations on Ophelia that result in disappointment when she fails to meet them. Instead of being upset and frustrated because she should have eaten 3oz but only ate 1, I need to change my language to “it would have been nice if she ate 3oz, but it’s okay that she didn’t.” This is a particularly hard one. Rational me knows that it’s absolutely fine if she has one bad feed, but irrational PPD me is angry that she isn’t eating as much as I want her to.
- Related to that, I also need to stop making assumptions when I don’t have all the facts. One bad feed does not necessarily mean that the entire day will be bad. One bad day does not mean that she’ll never eat again. (Repeat and repeat again until I believe it.)
- With all of these, I have found that it helps to have an external voice reinforce all of it since sad me does not listen to rational me. My husband struggles to deal with me on bad days and doesn’t know what to do, so recruiting him to be my voice of reassurance helps us both! He just repeats the same points – we’re focusing on wet diapers, she’s developing normally, she loves solids, etc., etc., – but it really helps to hear it spoken out loud by someone else.
- The counselor also gave me some exercises to try when I feel overwhelmed – all designed to help me focus on physical sensations as a distraction from my emotions. These help if I can persuade myself to actually do them when needed!
Postpartum depression sucks. Or any kind of depression for that matter. If you haven’t suffered it then it is impossible to understand what someone is going through when they are in the midst of an attack. It’s not just about feeling sad. It’s about feeling so overwhelmed by sadness or anxiety or even anger that nothing else matters. It’s about knowing deep inside yourself that you are being completely irrational but being unable to stop. It’s imagining every possible worst case scenario and being absolutely convinced that they will all come true. It’s seeing yourself be horrible to those around you and being unable to stop. It’s not being able to see an end to the sadness and lacking the motivation to do anything that might help. It’s feeling overwhelmed, out of control, lost, alone.
I don’t really have a point to this post except that writing and sharing helps.
Here’s Ophelia happily eating solids to cheer us all up. Thanks for listening!