The Repeat Cycle
Updated: Mar 13, 2019
It is always so interesting to look at things in hindsight. Sometimes it allows us to see things more clearly because we are on the other side of the learning moment. But other times you don't get that clarity and are left continually asking the question "why in the world did that have to happen that way?!". When I experienced PPA with Alice it felt very much like the latter - time did not help me see the purpose of experiencing Post-Partum Anxiety with Beth OR Alice. I see now that maybe I was still in the learning stage at that point, and that maybe only now am I receiving that clarity to look at my journey with insight. But when I felt that intense anxiety sweeping across me after Alice was born, it felt like I was starting back at the beginning and everything was just on repeat.
As I said in my last post, when Alice was about two weeks old I had my first return flare-up of PPA. Prior to my experience with Alice, I had been able to identify that the cause of my bouts of panic was a combination of hormone-imbalance and external-stressors. Alice introduced me to another side of PPA - the side where it is strictly one or the other. The initial flare-up was the strictly hormone-imbalance experience. There really is no external reason that I have been able to identify as the cause of it. One minute I was fine, the next I was plunged into very deep water with a weight already around my neck. It wasn't a slow build-up or predictable pattern. It was instantaneous. When those feelings of fear hit me I just wanted to melt into the ground and disappear. This time around my cyclical thoughts centered around "not again" and fearing what this meant for us. I now I had two beautiful girls at home but instead of focusing on that reality, I was terrified that I had just wrecked everything. That I had been naive in thinking that I could make it through another round of this (this was both true and untrue at the time), and selfish for putting my desire for another baby above the overall health of our family. I was connecting with Alice better than I had initially connected with Beth, so instead of my fear being that I couldn't be a good mother to Alice it was turning back into fears around being a good mother for Beth. She was 3 years old at this time and she has always been very perceptive of how people are feeling. As I battled the intense emotions and panic attacks, she would come up to me and hug me and try to make me feel better. But instead of making me feel better they made me feel worse (sweet,squishy, little Bethie hugs couldn't make me feel better?!) because I was terrified that she was going to be scarred for life now - that she would have memories of this that would influence her love for me or cause her to doubt my love for her. I didn't want her to see my like that but I couldn't stop the panic attacks and crying and day-sleeping and distraction. Like I said, it felt like things were on repeat from only 3 years ago.
God being every faithful, we were able to push through that initial flare-up without visiting the hospital. Within a couple of days I was able to connect with Dr. Aftab and we increased my Venlafaxine dose. I can't remember exactly, but I think we re-added a small dose of the medication that I took with Beth as well. So within about a week of my first panic attack we got things under control again. During that time David and I had some pretty serious conversations about how this effected maternity leave going forward. I remember we were out for coffee together and I said "I wish we had just planned on you taking parental leave the whole time". To my surprise, David said "I do too"!
Now, to add a new layer to all this, it must be understood that I have a very complicated love-hate relationship with work (not my job(s) in particular, just the entire work concept). I love it because I do something I'm passionate about, that I'm good at and that provides me with a deep sense of purpose. But I also hate it because of those things too. My work has always been a safe place for me and it is an environment I feel better about myself in. Being at home during maternity leave was showing me that I am far more a "live-to-work" person than I ever imagined I would be - and while part of me is OK with that, the mother part of me HATES it. Hates it with a very deep anger and a intense guilt.
When David and I realized that we ultimately wanted to switch places, and I become the working parent and he the at-home parent, things got a lot better for a while. Once again his employer was incredibly gracious to him, and by chance it worked out well for my employer to have me return so early. I still stayed home for another 8 weeks, and that was really lovely to allow us all some time to breathe and regroup. So...we were in the clear...right?? Of course we weren't! Instead, I had to get all over-confident in how I was feeling and ended up making some plans that messed me up again - really messed up. At this point in time it was the end of September 2015 and since September 2013 I had been very slowly working towards my Master's degree in Counselling. To this point I had only ever taken online courses, but was needing to take an intensive course (1 week) on campus. The class was scheduled for the week before I was slated to return to work full-time. During the planning of this I knew that I had to be cautious with myself because it had only been about 2 months of stability AND I was going to be travelling for the first time since the fateful Newfoundland trip 3.5 years earlier. Surprisingly, however, the trip went well! I missed my family dearly but I also enjoyed going away to learn and be enveloped in the world of academia (which I actually have a secret love for - yes, I'm crazy). The problem, however, was that I didn't think about also being careful with myself upon my return. Once I got back from Winnipeg I started back to work the following week. During all of this transition I was not allowing myself to truly process what I was going through. I barely had time to breathe from getting off the plane to preparing to become a working mom again.
The first week went well - great even! David was handling life at home with the two girls well and I had jumped back into work feeling good. But than I took a minute to finally breathe, and instead of feeling refreshed I felt overwhelmed with horror - it was like I suddenly looked up and in front of me was a giant red billboard that screamed:"You are not at home with your newborn daughter AND you had just left her for a full week voluntarily...aka: you are a terrible mother." When those thoughts entered my mind it was like the roof came crashing down on me. All the effort I had put into trusting my abilities as a mother dissolved because WHO does that?? What kind of a good mother puts her own needs and goals (Master's program and full-time work) ahead of the needs of her babies??? The panic returned in full-force and this time not even my safe work-space allowed me some reprieve. I went downhill so fast and it was even worse than the initial flare-up when Alice was a couple of weeks old. Again I became consumed by the fact that I was currently on medication and still experiencing the panic attacks. Again I got stuck in the cycle of anxiety that convinced me that I was too-far-gone. I was in so deep again that when I talked with Dr. Aftab about what to do, she wanted to admit me to the mental health ward again. AGAIN. For the first time in this entire process I felt so desperate for it all to stop that I feared hurting myself. I didn't have explicit thoughts on how or when, but I could not deal with the idea of living through all of this again and I literally wanted to die. And in those moments of desperation I thought that that would be the easiest solution - me being gone would eliminate any more panic attacks, medications, hospital admittance, shame, fear, exhaustion, etc. Thankfully I never actually contemplated suicide - instead God gave me enough clarity to acknowledge that Dr. Aftab was right and I needed to be in the hospital. I consider it another one of the many acts of God's grace that He allowed me to see the dangerous territory I was entering and still have the wherewithal to seek help.
When I was admitted for this second time there were no free beds in the Dube Centre, so I was put into a "room" that I honestly can't tell you where exactly it was. Not because I don't remember but because it was literally a large storage room that had a curtained off area with a bed and a couple of chairs - clearly it was a space used only when required for over-flow patients. While I'm sure that sounds absolutely awful, I actually really appreciated it!!! It meant that I did not have a roommate and had way more privacy than if I had gotten admitted into the actual Centre itself. I stayed there for three nights, and though it was really hard to be in that place again, it was absolutely what I needed. I forced myself to deal with my current reality (full-time working mom who was also pursuing school), and allowed myself to also grieve the time I was losing with my baby Alice. Babies are little for SUCH a short amount of time and I hadn't really processed that I was going to be missing out on a lot of that "littleness". Through a lot of prayer, and an increase in medications again, I was able to leave feeling more prepared to accept what kind of a mother I was. And that is a mother who isn't only fulfilled by her kids. I admit that I need to pursue purposeful activities outside the walls of my home. Not because my children don't make me happy or fulfilled, but because I was made to work in community. And any mother knows - full-time motherhood is NOT a community job! It's a lonely and secluded job a lot of the time, and for me to be mentally well I needed to accept that I don't work well like that. Even though the mother-piece of me still wanted to feel guilty about not being at home and not being fully satisfied as a stay-at-home parent, I have been able to find peace with it as well. I've been able to realize that my version of momm-ing is different than other moms, and the cost (my mental well-being) of trying to be like other moms is way to high for my family.
When I finally made it past that second round of PPA, around Alice's first birthday, I was 99.9% certain that we were done having kids. We were blessed to have two healthy girls, work was going well for both of us, studying for my Master's was still slowly progressing, and I had managed to regain my sanity once more (I was even looking at decreasing some of my medication again!). I felt like a good mom and there was NO WAY that having another baby was a good idea.
Except my heart completely disagreed with that logic by the time Alice was 2 years old...and as the saying/Selena Gomez song goes: "the heart wants what it wants".
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