Saturday, January 5, 2008

Downward Spiral

Part of this is from a previous post.

As each day went by, I began to feel worse and worse. Ladybug was crying all the time. I began to tell everyone that something was wrong with her. On this point I was correct, but nobody believed me. I would tell my mother, my husband, and our pediatrician that something was wrong. She was not acting normally. A baby shouldn't cry as much as this. My mother thought I was just reacting to the differences between Ladybug and Sweet Pea, who was a relatively calm baby. The pediatrician didn't understand the extent of her crying and told me it was just newborn behavior. Friends suggested it was colic and I'd have to wait it out. It would be 4 more months until we finally figured out the root of her problems. It was lesson to me in mother's intuition. Always trust it.

One of the things that gave me some hope at this point was that the big 6 weeks postpartum date was coming up. Several baby books suggested that newborns' fussiness peeks at 6 weeks and then gradually declines. By three months, they should not be nearly as fussy, supposedly. I got down the calendar in the kitchen and made a huge red circle around week 6. Only 2 weeks to go. That date was like a beacon to me. I thought I could make it to that point and then, hopefully, things would get better.

I am by nature a slight control-freak. I am a list maker. I am a note-taker. I try my best to control my life as much as possible. In an effort to gain some control or at least feel like I was gaining control over Ladybug's issues, I began keeping a journal of her eating and sleeping habits. I kept the journal on the bookcase in the hall next to her room. I would record the times she ate, when she fell asleep and when she woke. I tried to keep track of how long she cried before I could get her to sleep or get her calmed down. It quickly turned in to an obsession. I would worry about it throughout the day and check and recheck my notes. I almost compulsively checked it every time I walked by it in the hall. I made my husband follow along and I became very angry when he forgot. I felt increasingly anxious if he or I forgot to record something. Eventually the anxiety turned to panic and at times I became hysterical, screaming, crying, feeling totally out of control in my emotions, all over this journal. This type of obsessive attention to detail is one of the symptoms of postpartum psychosis. It was probably the first indication that something was going very wrong in my head.


I also started feeling very guilty about the lack of time and attention I was able to give my two year old. Before I had Ladybug, Sweet Pea and I did all kinds of things together. I'm a member of a local chapter of the MOMS Club and we went to playgroups, play dates, The Little Gym, Kindermusik, etc. We were very active. I did it as much for myself as for him. I was bored stiff just staying at home and I tried to fill our days with activities just to get us out of the house. We were both used to more activity.

Because Ladybug refused to sleep anywhere other than her crib, we were housebound. I was also terrified to take her anywhere because of the constant crying. I didn't want to subject others to her screaming. When we were home, the majority of the time I was rocking her trying to get her calmed down. I would put Sweet Pea in the playroom next to Ladybug's bedroom and tell him to play quietly while I rocked her. What two year old plays quietly? He would make all kinds of noise and come running in and out of the bedroom, inevitably waking up Ladybug just when I had gotten her to sleep. I never grew angry at him, really, but I would sit in the rocker and wait on pins and needles, fearing he would wake her.

Living like this day, after day, started taking it's toll. I cried everyday, often for hours. I felt on the verge of tears all the time. I would sit in the rocker and look out the window crying. I cried in the middle of the night and in the morning. I cried every time I had to care for Ladybug. My husband would come home at lunch to help me. I don't think I ever actually asked him to stay, but inside I begged him to just stay home with me and give me some relief. I would sob as his truck pulled away to go back to work after lunch and I would count down the hours until he returned.

Often, when I was rocking Ladybug and crying, I would look around her beautiful nursery, at all the work we had done to make it special. My husband had painted the walls a pale, soft pastel lime green. I had hung light pink curtains on antique-looking ivory steel rods. The stitched sampler prayer that had hung in my bedroom as a child was re-framed and hung on the wall. I had chosen pretty gingham and flower bedding from Pottery Barn Kids. There was a white lamp with a pale pink shade on it that cast a warm light in the middle of the night when I would go in to feed her. My old dolls were lined up on a white wicker chest that had been mine as a child. A cloud of beautiful butterflies hung over her crib from the ceiling, watching over her. It was a beautiful nursery intended for a much desired, beautiful child.

When I looked around, I would think to myself how disappointed I was that this experience, my first few weeks with my child, had been so awful. I would think about how disappointed I was to have this screaming baby instead of the peaceful, contented baby that I had wanted. I realize now that one of the emotions I had during this time was grief. I was mourning for the loss of my dream.

This baby did not match up to all of what I wanted her to be. I had waited 9 months for her arrival after having miscarried.. I had imagined what she would be like and how much fun and joy I would have in taking care of her. I was thrilled to be having a girl. I looked forward to the mother-daughter bond and how I would help her through all those daughter things in life, play dolls with her, put bows in her hair, buy prom and wedding dresses and be there when loves were lost, read her Eloise and teach her to be a strong, confident woman. But instead I was struggling to care for a child who never seemed to be happy, that seemed to be damaged in some way, imperfect. I mourned.

I began to fantasize about leaving. I would concoct escape plans. I would plan where and when I would leave. What I would take with me. We are about six hours from the coast. I thought I would go to the beach. All I wanted to do was just get in the car, drive in silence the six hours and then sit on the beach and watch the waves. I didn't know if I would come back, I just knew I wanted out. Several times I came very, very close to leaving. Once, at night, I lay in bed listening to my husband snore and I thought, if I get up now, he'll never know and I can be hours down the road before he realizes I've gone. Other times, I contemplated putting the kids down for a nap and walking out the door. I figured I would call my husband to let him know to come home, but that I would be gone by the time he got here.


All of this sadness and guilt quickly turned to resentment. I began to deeply resent Ladybug. I resented her for disrupting our lives and stealing time from Sweet Pea and I. I resented the loss of sleep I was suffering. I resented her constant crying, which often upset Sweet Pea. I resented the loss of my free time. I resented her for being born.

I would sit in Ladybug's room, trying desperately to get her to sleep and think of all the things I could be doing. I would think of all the things my son was missing out on because of this baby. I would think about the friends we weren't seeing much of. I would think about the story times we were missing and how much Sweet Pea loved to go to the library. I would think about the lack of exercise I was getting. How would I every lose the baby weight if I couldn't exercise? I would think about the books I could be reading. I would think about how I was never able to make dinner anymore and we were never able to sit down together as a family and eat. I would think about how miserable I was and how I was going to have to endure this for months to come. I could barely see how I was going to make it to tomorrow, let alone months from now. I began to feel that my life had become hopeless and there was nothing I could do about it. I came to dread each day.

The resentment festered inside me and grew. Within days, the resentment changed form and blossomed into hate. What a horrible and horrifying emotion for a mother to have. I began to hate Ladybug. I started to try to avoid having to touch her. If my husband was home, I wanted him to deal with her. If relatives were over, I would happily hand her over. I did not want to have to see her, hear her, or touch her. I didn't want her, period. I actually would feel physical repulsion when I held her. My skin would crawl and I became tense and stiff. I wanted nothing more than to get her away from me. This was the beginning of my real break with reality.

I began to tell my husband I wished she had never been born. I thought we had made the biggest mistake of our lives in having her. I would suggest to him that we try to give her away, laughing as I said it, but meaning it deep down. I started to fantasize about taking her to the hospital and leaving her there. I thought we could look into putting her up for adoption. Intellectually I knew I should not be feeling this way but I chalked it up to all the difficulties we had with her and her constant crying.

At around 7 weeks postpartum, something happened to me. It wasn't overnight; obviously this had been building up. I can't identify a specific moment or day that things changed. But they did. I entered some kind of other world in my mind and it was a horrific, terrifying place.

The hatred I felt for Ladybug fueled rage inside me. Not only did I hate her, but I began to get furious with her. I would yell and scream and rant at her for not going to sleep. I would rage at my husband for not doing what I thought he should when he was caring for her. One day, as I was trying to get her to bed, dead tired myself, I lay her on the floor and screamed at the top of my lungs. I told her I hated her and I wished she had never been born. I yelled at her to just shut up and go to sleep. I cursed at her. I continued to rage at her until my husband had to remove me from the room. This was the first of several such episodes. I can only imagine how it must have terrified her. Her mother's ugly, hate-filled face looming over her screaming obscenities.

For a couple of weeks, I had had intrusive thoughts, another sign of PPD. I would picture ways Ladybug could get injured or die. I would have visions of her strangling in the crib or suffocating. I would picture her flying out the window. I would imagine myself smothering her with a pillow. I would imagine cutting her with a kitchen knife or her accidentally impaling herself. All these thoughts came unbidden. They just popped in my head periodically and proceeded like a slide show.

Together with the hate, they planted in me a tiny and secret desire. Alone, in the darkest corner of my mind, I wished she would die. I remember thinking to myself that if she died of SIDS, I wouldn't care. I didn't think I'd even cry. I thought to myself, well, it would mean an end to all this. It would mean relief. Maybe we'd all be better off. Yes, maybe she'll die, accidentally of course, but maybe she'll die. I began to welcome the thought and even wish for it.

One night, in the middle of the night after a feeding, she would not go back to sleep. I began to cry, sobbing at the frustration of it all. I felt the anger build up in me and I seethed inside. I roughly grabbed her by her arms, squeezed and shook her for just a second. I stopped myself before doing anything else. I did not hear voices or think someone was telling me to kill her. I just wanted her to die and leave me alone and when I got angry enough, that desire resulted in a strong compulsion within me to hurt her. There were times I squeezed her to hard. Times I put her down too roughly. Times I shoved her into my husband's arms. Times I dumped her, almost throwing her, in the crib. The hatred combined with the anger brought out violence in me and in my behavior.

1 comment:

TC said...

Very powerful stuff, very scary. Your writing is also very brave. keep it up