Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow…

18 May

It’s getting hard to smile. Even when I want to, I find that just the corners of my lips turn up, like Jack Nicholson’s Joker. My face feels slack. I feel slack.

I promised myself I would be open about post-partum depression. Awareness is good, right? The more we talk about it, the less alone we’ll feel, the less stigmatizing it seems. This is all great in theory. Actually sharing how I’m feeling is more difficult. I’m not sure yet if I’ll publish or delete this. So we’re five weeks out and the general heaviness has descended. I feel like my shoulders are being pushed downward. At the same time, I feel empty inside. My brain, which understands what’s happening in a logical and reasonable way, seems detached from the rest of me, which is reacting to the crazy imbalance of chemicals and hormones.

And I just had a panic attack. Literally just now. I paused in my writing and went downstairs to make sure the bunny’s litter was changed and his water was full. Rhett was refusing to go to bed and Patrick was dealing with it. As voices escalated, I could feel my insides tightening up. My breaths became shorter and I ended up standing in the corner by the front door, shaking and hyperventilating. Now, ten minutes later, my hands are trembling and my body feels tingly. Was it because I was writing this post, or was it the rising voices? Maybe it was guilt. We’re always getting after Rhett. To be fair, he’s always doing something he shouldn’t. But it still feels like 90% of our communication with him is getting after him.

Guilt is the main emotion that I’m dealing with. When I’m at the hospital with Willa, I feel guilty that I’m not with my other kids, that I’m not taking care of my house, that I’m not picking them up from school. When I’m home, I feel guilty that I’m not at the hospital with Willa. I feel guilty that I’m not entirely present wherever I am. I feel guilty that this far out I still need help and that friends are still giving up time to watch my kids and still bringing us dinner. Shouldn’t we be self-sufficient by now? Then I feel guilty that I’m not being more accepting of help from good people who love us. I feel guilty for complaining about feeling guilty, for having any negative thoughts whatsoever. At least I’m alive, right? I should just be grateful for that.

The days are passing quickly. My usual routine is to get up, hopefully early enough to help get the kids out the door. Patrick takes care of most of that and tries not to wake me up. I feel guilty about that. I shower, eat and head to the hospital. I’m working with the nurses and occupational therapist to get Willa to nurse and take a bottle. This is slow and frustrating, painful both physically and emotionally. I have to have patience. I’m at the hospital most of the morning. After Willa has eaten, we sit quietly, skin to skin, wrapped in a blanket. She sleeps and I relax. That’s my daily island of peace. It’s when I feel like I can just breathe for a while. Until I notice the hours creeping by and start to think about what I need to be doing at home before the kids get there.

I head home and get a late lunch, I’m starving by this point. I lay down, that hospital trip, as uneventful as it is, physically wears me out. I intend to rest for just a bit, then get up and work on thank you notes, or wipe down the kitchen, or start going through the kids’ overflowing drawers to cycle out the winter clothes and things they’ve grown out of. But every single day I sleep until Patrick and the kids get home. I wake up, still worn out, my jaw aching because the stress has made me start grinding my teeth. I have little mental energy for the rest of the day, so I spend most of it trying to engage with the kids without getting short with them. Then I retreat back to my bed, stay awake until at least ten so I can pump and go a long enough stretch in the night to get decent sleep (I failed to mention that I’m pumping every three hours to keep up a milk supply for Willa. That just adds to the fun). When it’s bedtime, I lay awake for a while. Lately, the events of the night Willa was born and afterwards replay in my head. I try to shake them, to think about other things, but I can’t. I get a little panicky. I start thinking about what-ifs. This goes on until I can’t take it anymore and fall asleep.

I feel isolated. I’m living in this little bubble, moving through the motions of the day, mostly alone. I’m not actually alone, I have people around me. I have Patrick, who is attentive and thoughtful, who knows my needs and cues and drops everything to help me. But I feel like I’m experiencing this alone. It’s just me and my thoughts driving down the freeway, holding my baby, laying awake at night. I feel detached from the world. I rarely see friends, I’m usually asleep when they drop the kids off. When I’m home, I’m too tired for visits. My only outing so far has been to Finn’s piano recital. At the same time, I’m stressed by the thought of being around a lot of people. I feel full of contradictions. I’m frustrated with this.

Today Willa became the veteran of the NICU. The baby who had been there longer went home. Then the baby across from us, whose mom I’d talked to when I recognized the stunned look on her face and vacant eyes, went home. Another baby left, safely tucked into a car seat, his parents thanking everyone in the NICU and leaving happily. I smiled for them all, was happy for them, but it was just the corner of my lips turning up while I held back tears and envy. Then I turned back to my Willa, we two fighters, and sighed. Fighting is exhausting but it’s what we’ll keep doing.

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6 Responses to “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow…”

  1. kathcahoon May 18, 2016 at 2:27 am #

    You dear Girl! Trauma such as you have experienced will take some recovery time! Do not be so hard on yourself, drink plenty of water– LIKE TONS OF WATER–continue to talk to Him above and know that I am praying for and daily thinking of you!!! Please try to be gentle with yourself!!

  2. Tracy M May 18, 2016 at 6:27 am #

    Sending you all the love. I cannot fix any of it, but I can sit, and bear witness, and spend a moment with you. I’m grateful you’re writing, even if it’s hard- it may be a tiny steam-release valve.

  3. Donna Keusch May 18, 2016 at 3:06 pm #

    Melissa – We love you, and are so sorry for this turn of events in your life, Would that I could wave my magic wand and make it all better! Maybe writing all this is like Wilford Woodruff as he faithfully wrote in his journals all those years ago – so that there would be a record (not that you’re ever going to forget!). One day, Willa will read all of this and know what an impact she has made in all your lives. I know your heavenly Father is aware of your struggles, and I am certain He is sending blessings. Matt and I are surely keeping you in our prayers. Someone once told me “enduring is an action word” (Which I am sure you’re well aware of). Love to all the Masons!

  4. Luisa Perkins May 18, 2016 at 11:45 pm #

    You’re in my prayers all the time. Someday, when you’re up to it, I’ll tell you our NICU stories, which pale in comparison to yours. (But thumbnail: Tess came out of the NICU just a few weeks before 9/11. Talk about a double dose of PPD.) For now, please know that you have my empathy. Circumstantially, I haven’t been where you have been–in the valley of the shadow of death–but emotionally, I remember feeling everything you describe here. ❤

  5. Kristine May 19, 2016 at 7:41 am #

    So well and bravely written, Melissa. I always think that good prose is a sign of health, no matter how difficult the subject matter. But I’m a little weird that way 🙂

    You are so strong and good, even if you don’t feel it right now. And you are loved, even when you can’t feel it through the fog.

  6. Cara May 20, 2016 at 12:16 pm #

    Thank you for bravely sharing. I admire your honesty about the realities of PPD and post traumatic stress and mothering a baby in the NICU. You are currently in such a hard place – I even more admire your ability to write about while still in it. I wish for you self compassion for yourself, even if that’s the hardest thing of all!

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