My son was barely three months old when postpartum depression took hold of me. My husband and I were moving into our home after a 9-month remodel. On the outside, I should have been the happiest woman alive. The house was truly magnificent and situated on a world-class fly-fishing river. The sun was shining and the baby couldn’t be healthier and happier – sitting, well not actually sitting, more laying helplessly, in an infant seat listening to music on my phone as I unpacked box after box after box for days on end.
When I got home from the hospital a few months prior, my labia were swollen larger than a cantaloupe and I was bleeding, throbbing, stitched up and sagging everywhere. My bladder was prolapsed and I was already running on two days without sleep. Today, on moving day, I was not much different. My bladder was sagging awkwardly in between my legs and I could feel it like a foreign object in my underwear any time it was full. I was frightened but my doctor insisted I keep doing Kegels and it’d all be okay.
The sleep deprivation was real, though. Any time the baby slept I worked on my business (I was working full-time as CEO of a tea company until he was 4 months old) and in the hours he was awake I worked on the move. I packed and unpacked every box diligently,with no family or friends in our new town to help.
Then the unimaginable happened. It started as a pain in my right arm. Every time I laid down or tried to get even remotely comfortable it would stab my neck and my arm would get pins and needles; that really painful part right after you realize a limb has fallen asleep. You know that one, right? Where you nervously shake and shimmy and try to “wake up” your arm or leg because of the unbearable stinging?
I kept packing and unpacking boxes, moving my husband and I from our rental home where we’d lived for 6 months to our new home. My arm was stinging and my exhaustion was harrowing. I would close my eyes and heave loudly as I lifted items from their boxes. I remember sitting on the toilet wincing at the thought of having to even reenter my new kitchen, bedroom, or living room where the boxes were piled 8-feet high.
At night in between feeding my son and, well, feeding my son 40 minutes later, I’d dream of getting into car wrecks or falling out of the shower and passing out. I dreamt of being hospitalized for days – forced to sleep. That’s all I wanted. Sleep. It became an obsession I lusted after. I thought about sleep in the shower and in the grocery store. I watched my husband sleep for stretches of 3, 4, and even 6 hours and seethed with envy.
I’d once read about a certain type of orgasm that lasted hours, even days. Women raved about it and likened it to the “kingdom of heaven”. I knew in my heart that a few hours sleep would be unquestionably more satisfying than even the world’s greatest orgasm.
We lived in a small mountain town in a remote neighborhood 1,000 miles away from family and I knew almost nobody. Let alone a babysitter. Let alone a babysitter (stranger!) that I’d leave my precious 10-pound child with, no less.
A few days into moving into our new home and I have had this pins and needles feeling for nearly a week. I wasn’t sleeping and when I was dozing off it was from a sitting position in a chair that was barely more comfortable than an airplane seat. My neck throbbed constantly and I felt like I’d rather be maimed than deal with my arm pain any longer.
The local physical therapists in my valley wouldn’t see me without a referral from a doctor and the only doctor in town that was available didn’t have time until Thursday. It was Tuesday. I braced myself for two more days until a doctor would graciously prescribe me something to help with the pain. Certainly I couldn’t take sleep aids; I was nursing and what would happen when the baby woke up crying?
My loneliness and desperation were palpable. I avoided the phone and most other human interaction for fear of letting on that I was melting down big time. Above all, I felt like a terrible mother. I sang and smiled at my son and gave every ounce of love I had in me. But love for my son wasn’t counterbalancing the sleep deprivation…
Two days later I packed the baby up and drove towards the doctor at long last. I was running at least thirty minutes early for the appointment in case there was a laborious new patient process. By some act of Lucifer himself there was construction on our street. No big deal, you say? Well imagine that I live on a river 8 miles from the nearest town with virtually no place to turn off and take a different route.
For thirty minutes I waited for the crew to give us the all clear. I began getting nervous at around 15 minutes in. I left the car and asked the construction crew if they’d please have pity on me and allow me to pass. The baby was screaming in the backseat and I explained the doctor’s appointment, the pinched nerve, the newborn baby who sucked at sleeping, and my overall desperation. They looked at me and looked at my (used) Porsche SUV and rolled their eyes. “No special privileges, ma’am. You have to wait with everybody else.” Now I was weeping.
I called the doctors office and they told me I might as well turn around because they have a strict no-mercy policy about showing up on time for appointments. I panicked and once I had the all-clear I flew to the office. Nearly an hour after I left my house I arrived at the doctor. I was only ten minutes late. Not bad, all things considered. But the frowning face looming down at me from underneath yellow fluorescent lights told me otherwise. “We’re sorry Mrs. Hirsch. We told you that you had to be on time or the doctor wouldn’t see you.” I was now hysterical and wailing. “Let me see a manager, please,” I begged. I stood there holding the insanely heavy car seat while trying to “baby” the arm that had the intermittent numbness and perpetual pins and needles. The room was spinning. My sleep deprivation had clearly morphed into full-blown exhaustion and depression. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
A nurse appeared with a cross, no-bullshit look on her face. She explained coldly that the policy was in stone and that the doctor wouldn’t see me. I cried and loudly cussed out loud, to my own surprise because I treat people so beautifully otherwise. I got to my car and hit the steering wheel repeatedly with my throbbing hands and cried. I was not exhausted. I was delirious. I was depressed. And nobody in the world could or would help me.
This was rock bottom.
I wasn’t one of these mothers who dreams of not having a baby. In fact, I wept daily staring at him because of how gorgeous he was. I adored breastfeeding and didn’t mind his crying much. I’d just started to hike and workout, which was definitely helping me get back into fighting form; but the constant exhaustion I felt coinciding with mangled lady bits and even more mangled marriage contributed to postpartum depression.
I gave every bit of what the baby wasn’t using to my employees. I shuddered to think of shutting our doors when they had their own families to feed. I’d had house guests at least 45 of the 90 days my son had been alive. During the time I could be resting, I was cooking, cleaning, changing beds, entertaining my husband’s friends and business guests. (My own friends and family had not visited yet.) When I wasn’t fighting with my husband or doctors’ offices, I was choking down big lumps of foul-tasting cuss words that were always on the tip of my tongue. I was at once rapturously in love with my son but also as exhausted as could be.
I was finally ready to admit I had a problem.