Because, Seriously, Movies Didn't Teach Me Sh*t: Adventures in Postpartum Depression
I’m not saying my usual state of being is sunshine sparkles and kitten shits or anything (I’m not Taylor Swift, people) but for the past five or six weeks, I have been a big pile of red-eyed sad. In the interest of full disclosure to the “you people” I’ve come to love over the past few years, I’ve decided to tell you about it.
If you’re wondering how serious this is, last week, Luke Perry and Jennie Garth allegedly started real-life boning, Lindsay Lohan did all kinds of stupid shit, “Jersey Shore” got cancelled and the most heartbreaking blind item in the history of blind items was posted and I couldn’t get it up to write about any of it. So you know it must be bad.
Admittedly, I didn’t know much about postpartum depression. I knew what pretty much everyone knows, that hormones are dicks from hell and sometimes, shortly after giving birth, a woman can experience severe depression. While I understood all this as a vague concept, I didn’t know what it was like, what to expect. Because, like a lot of people with only a cursory knowledge of certain things, I tend to count movies as research. And there just aren’t a lot of movies that deal with post-partum. In movies, the credits typically roll after labor. They don’t often stick around for six months after. And that’s understandable. Because that would be boring. A lot of diapers and formula measurement. It’s all hugely exciting to the people going through it, but I can’t really picture a lot of people watching a movie of my life, where the only moments of heart-pounding drama come when I attempt to clip her nails. Seriously, have you ever clipped an infant’s nails? It’s like Russian roulette.
I can think of two movies that deal with postpartum: For Keeps, starring Molly Ringwald, and Three Men and a Baby. Yes, Three Men and a Baby. It’s pretty easy to forget amidst all the montages, wacky misunderstandings, ’80s thug drug dealers, Steve Guttenbergs, and pastel tank tops with tiny shorts, but at its core, this is a movie about a woman who cannot handle being a mother, freaks out and gives her kid to Sam Malone. But, other than that, I can’t think of anything.
In fairness, I haven’t been able to think of very much lately. My brain’s been broken.
I have PMDD, pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder. Some of you might be shocked to find out that it’s not just a made up disease created to sell birth control pills (though those pills are my main source of medication and management, and you can take them when you pry them from my cold, dead fingers, Paul Ryan); it’s real and it’s stupid. It’s essentially a major depressive or anxiety disorder that lasts one week every month until middle age. I don’t know that I can accurately describe how embarrassing this condition is. It is really upsetting, as a woman, to feel like the confirmation of the myth that the monthly menstrual cycle is an illness that makes women weak, emotional and crazy. In fact, many experts still contend that it’s not real, rather a cultural fabrication. Many of them are women, disgusted at the idea that a period is a disease. But, for me, it is.
Sorry, gender. I really didn’t mean to. If it makes you feel better, it’s not exactly a picnic for me either.
I bring this up because women who suffer from PMDD are much more prone to postpartum depression. So I knew it was probably coming. When I envisioned it, I was terrified that I’d be the kind of depressed woman that hated her baby, refusing to feed the tiny creature that I cooked in my own lady oven for nine months, potentially hurting and damaging her little body and psychologically ruining her before she could even roll over. And that was my best case scenario. Worst case, I was panicked to my very core at the idea that I could hurt her physically, snapping and doing something terrible that would be followed for months on the Nancy Grace show. Luckily, it wasn’t like that at all.
When she hit three months old, I thought I was out of the woods. I’m not one to brag, but I pretty much aced the questionnaire every time I went to the doctor after she was born. And, following a pregnancy that saw its fair share of problems and hospital visits, I was gifted with an incredibly easy c-section and recovery, and a gorgeous little ladybug with a hilarious, friar-like hairline, whose neck worked right away and who started sleeping through the night at four weeks old. So, I’m very lucky. I know this.
Looking back, I feel pretty stupid for not realizing that, at that three-month birthday when I thought I’d totally dominated problem-free motherhood, I’d already been in the throes of depression for a couple weeks.
Depression is tricky. I can only speak to my own experience, which is, of course, an atypical one, occurring only one quarter of each month, then drifting away, quick as it came. But, for me, when it comes on, I never realize it until it’s too late. I never *feel* depressed. I just feel…correct. When I start feeling ugly, or like everyone hates me, or like I’m going to be fired, or like I’ve said and done terrible things and am an awful person, or that my husband is going to leave me, I never think, “ah, yes, I am experiencing that same hormonal imbalance that has occurred on a monthly basis since I was fifteen years old. I totally anticipated this and can ignore these dangerous and inaccurate thoughts.” But that never happens. Rather, it usually goes, “this is all totally true. In fact, I’m probably psychic. I should probably just start packing up my desk now.” And that’s how this went.
It started with my assaulting my husband with accusations. As many of you know, my husband is a recovering alcoholic with nearly two years of sobriety. He’s been through a lot and he’s my hero. Until I get depressed, that is, and then he’s lying fuck-up who’s out to destroy me. And I hate this. I hate that this happens. But usually I only feel that way for a day, then it goes away, and I’ve gotten really good at not accusing him of drinking every time I convince myself “he just stumbled over a word, BECAUSE HE’S SO WASTED” each month. But this was different. On a nightly basis, I’d start crying, begging him to reassure me he’d never drink again, certain that he was lying as he promised me he wouldn’t, that he was not only drinking my wine/mouthwash/perfume, but also cheating on me. With whom? EVERYONE, PROBABLY. I would ask him if he thought other women were pretty, stare over his shoulder as he checked texts. “It’s from his mom,” I’d think. “He probably changed this new bitch’s contact name to ‘mom’ in his phone. He’s so fucking sneaky.” I don’t think it will shock you that this got old to him very quickly. But my husband is a very sweet, patient person (and I can tell you right now that he has the patience of a goddamn saint) so he attempted to politely ignore my crazy. What got to him wasn’t how I talked to him. Nor was it my frequent nightly visits to our daughter’s bedroom to watch her chest rise and fall while I hysterically Googled SIDS and cried in her rocking chair, for that matter. It was how I talked to myself.
I don’t want to blow your minds. But, despite celebrity voodoo trickery making it appear otherwise, it takes many women a fair amount of time to lose their baby weight and regain some semblance of self-perceived attractiveness. I know this. This is pure logic and a rudimentary understanding of the human body, particularly following major surgery where I had a person removed from my uterus. And, yet, I’ve cried every single morning for the past six weeks. Because I’m an enormous fatty McPiggenstein, you see. I’m disgusting and should be thin, and I’ve got this flabby stomach, and why do I even bother going out in public, and I might as well just fucking die already.
I’m not joking or doing a bit. These are all real things I’ve said to myself in the mirror on a daily basis. Because I weigh, like, thirteen pounds more than I did before I got pregnant.
This is not normal thinking. It’s certainly not healthy thinking. And, yet, it genuinely did not occur to me that anything was wrong with me. Certainly not anything a private investigator, secret breathalyzer or personal trainer/diet consisting solely of water, cigarettes and bits of toilet paper couldn’t cure. And I don’t know what made me finally think otherwise. All I know is that one morning before work, I was sobbing hysterically again because my pants still don’t fit and I’m still wearing maternity pants (because to buy a bigger size would be giving in) and when I got to the office, I texted my husband to say, “I think I might have PPD.” He had the goodly restraint to not respond, “NO SHIT.”
So, now, I’m getting better. It will take some time and some fancy pills, but I’ll get there. I don’t like this. I don’t want to *be* like this. And, hopefully soon, I won’t be.
Because, really, Lindsay Lohan needs me. I can’t let her down again.
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