That Woman is Gone: Discovering Postpartum Depression

On some spring mornings, even nine years later, a remnant returns: red-winged blackbirds wake me before dawn, panic cinches my throat, and adrenalin pulses in my fingertips.

I still don’t know whether the sleeplessness caused the depression or if it was the other way around.  By the time we checked out of the hospital, because of a sleepless night before the birth and a litany of distractions (mostly a blood-pressure cuff accidentally set to squeeze my arm every sixty seconds), I’d gone almost seventy-two hours without sleep.

Is that what made me lose my mind? A faulty blood-pressure cuff?

My mom flew in from California to help me adjust to those first days with a newborn and toddler. I couldn’t settle down to sleep, but I figured I was lovestruck with my copper-headed bundle. I funneled my energies into cooking, shopping, and planting flowers when the baby was still only days old.

My mom left, and I still couldn’t nap or sleep at night. I’d feed Becca and lie awake until she cried again. My husband took over nighttime feedings, but it made no difference. I thought my nerves would explode through my skin. Even if I dozed fitfully for an hour or two, the birds would always wake me before dawn.

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Tuesday Morning at the Old Asylum, Part 2

Continued from yesterday

For most of the fall after we moved to Northern Michigan, I was sick with a bad respiratory infection that turned out to be bacterial bronchitis. The doctor sent me home with an antibiotic and a prescription for an SSRI—an antidepressant.  She said she was concerned about the coming dark months and the cold of my first northern winter and my compromised immune system. The stress of the move, she said, could be why I can’t seem to get well. She’d looked over my family history.

So she prescribed the pills even though I didn’t tell her I was depressed, and I definitely didn’t mention that I’d been haunting the grounds of the old insane asylum brooding over my schizophrenic uncle. Or that I’d bought a pack of Venus disposable razors at Meijer the week before—because shaving my legs was the only sort of self-help plan I’d been able to launch that day—and now I couldn’t get that Bananarama song out of my head.

I didn’t tell her how much I hated the idea of that song being lodged deeply in my subconscious, not just because it’s so awful, but because it’s the sort of thing that would have tormented my uncle to the point of violence. We couldn’t turn on the radio in his presence. When it was really bad, he wasn’t allowed books either.

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