I had a relatively normal pregnancy. There were certain complications, but when b-day arrived and push came to shove, I pushed and shoved and wailed for my own mama, who along with my daughter’s father, Chris, held my hand through a 36-hour, hell-on-earth labor. Pitocin went in like a lion, and my baby came out like a lamb, a tad purple and smashed, but perfect nonetheless with rose-bud lips, violet-blue eyes, only ten toes, and a birthday three-hours shy of the day her father and I met.
Fast-forward: we were a unit, dodging debris and diaper explosions with grace and confidence, and even in the face of the holy f-caboose that attaches itself to the newborn baby train, when we swerved, we never went off the road. In fact, I went back to work when my daughter was just 6 weeks old, and I thought, "I've got this." I danced at my desk my first day back. "Ohhhh, I've goottttt this."
Except I didn't.
The first night the postpartum beast showed its rotten teeth I called Chris' mom at 12:30am. Chris was out of town working, as he often was, when my body jolted awake sweating and shaking.
“I know it’s late,” I cried to his mom over the phone, “but something is wrong and I’m too scared to be alone with the baby.” She rushed over and spent the night with me, petting my back until I fell asleep. “You’re OK,” she whispered in the dark. “You’re OK.”
Except I wasn’t.
Despite the signs I refused to accept that my problems were psychological. “It’s my hormones readjusting, high blood sugar (I'm T1 Diabetic), my kidneys, neuropathy, a tooth infection,” I justified. It was only when the dentist, little mirror in hand, made clear that, “There aren’t even any cavities,” did I finally break down and ring my OB-GYN to convey the following:
“I’m scared and shaky all the time, dizzy, terrified to be alone with B, and,” this was the kicker, “I think there is a ghost in the laundry room.” Rauschenberg’s ghost actually, who I thought I could keep locked up by placing the laundry basket in front of the room’s doors. Some crazy lady shit.
“Why do you keep doing that?” Chris asked one night after catching me in my ritual.
“You don’t want to know,” was all I said. “Rauschenberg in the laundry room,” sounds like a good novel, but not necessarily a sangfroid sentiment.
I felt no relief having unloaded my secrets to a professional. Nor did I feel relief when she rattled off the following, “postpartum depression,” “panic,” “normal,” “number to a psychiatrist,” without a single non-lexical vocable in her voice. I jotted the number down, curled up on the floor of my daughter’s nursery and sobbed, “But I’m not depressed.”
When I shared the diagnosis with Chris, he had the same response: “But you’re not depressed.”
To the outside world, I wasn't. I was working. I was taking care of my baby. I was handling my business. Except I was also, sobbing in the bathroom late at night and at work. Hiding from a ghost artist.
So HOW did I work? Looking back, I don't know. I really don't. It was the worst year of my life.
I do however, have the following advice:
Recognize when you do not in fact, "got this."
For countless women, heading back to work, PPD or not, is not an option. We need to make money. And for some of us, certainly myself, we want to be able to handle life the exact same way as we did before.
The problem is, postpartum depression grinds slow, but it grinds fine, and when you're dealing with it in the middle of your work grind, the symptoms can be hard to recognize. PPD isn't just tears and baby blues. Shit can hit the fan when you least expect it-- like a panic attack in the middle of the biggest meeting of your life. (Yep.)
I'm a little bit Type A. Or a lotta bit, depending on the day you catch me, and at one point I really, truly thought I could do this on my own. Acknowledging the issue is the first step, seeing someone is the second. You don't need to do this alone. Even if you feel like you can't share with anyone in your office, that's what the professionals are for. No one at work knew I had PPD (until now).
Sometimes being smart and independent means knowing when to ask for help.
Figure out if you're protected by the ADA.
In hindsight, not telling my boss was def not the most intelligent move, and my pride could have cost me my job. If you work for a company of 15 or more, PPD is protected under the American Disabilities Act. A law enacted by the government in 1990, it provides civil right protections to individuals with disabilities. You need a doctor to diagnose you and you'll need to tell your boss.
In most case, your employer is not bound by the law if they don't know about the disability. And like any good lawyer will tell you: put it in writing.
Use your vacation and sick days.
I hoarded my vacation days, with the idea that I was stockpiling them for some impressive European vacation I was never, ever going to take. But there were days I was completely useless at work. Nauseous, anxious, tired; the sound of email in my inbox could send me into a dark rabbit hole.
Use the days. You can picnic in Paris some other year.
Delegate your work load.
If you're in the position to not take on extra work, don't. You can prove that you are an invaluable asset to the company by getting better, and kicking ass when you're back to your normal self (it will happen). Taking on too much work in the midst of PPD and doing a half-assed job is only going to make you look worse. And then you'll feel worse. And then... so many tears.
Remember, there is always someone out there who has been through it and thrived. Even though that first year was hell-- I'm still here, better than ever.