October 19th was a big anniversary for me. It was the anniversary of the start of a journey that I understand now will never truly have a final destination. On Wednesday, October 19th of 2011, I woke up and knew that I was not well. My body ached, I felt like a truck had run me over, and I was hot. 104 degrees Fahrenheit kind of hot. I slowly made my way to your bedroom to get you out of your crib. It felt like I was trying to pick up an elephant. I struggled through carrying you down the 5 steps to the living room and handed you to Daddy. I was wiped, done in, dizzy, sweaty. I needed to go lay down. I REALLY needed to go lay down.
Daddy is supposed to drive truck and I am in a panic. I’m not one to easily admit that I am unwell, that I need help, that I can’t do it all. But on that day, I am freely begging for help. I CANNOT take care of you….I know it, and my need for you to be taken care of FAR overrides my need to be able to do it all. Grandma E comes over and takes care of both of us while Daddy is away. For the next few days, I literally do not leave my bedroom but to use the bathroom and I barely see you. Grandma E does everything from playing with you all day, to making me rice or soup (which I can’t eat), to bathing you and putting you so sleep. From my bedroom, I listen to life go on.
It’s like a little bit of torture. I’ve gone from being with you practically 24/7 (as I am still on maternity leave), to hearing you having fun and wondering what has struck you as funny, to hearing you cry and aching from not being able to respond, to wondering if you are hungry. Constantly wondering if you are hungry.
You are 10.5 months old and still breastfeeding. You have never drunk from a bottle and we haven’t yet gotten you to drink out of a Sippy cup. As I’m writing this, I see how silly it must have seemed at the time, but I’m seriously in a panic about it. How will you survive? Surely you will get sick? Dehydrated? After only a day and half of hardly seeing you, my body deceives me and is already starting to produce less and less milk. We half heartedly try to breastfeed a few times and it doesn’t work. You are frustrated and squirmy because there is no let down. And I am just emotionally drained. Not only am I sure that you are now malnourished, but I’m convinced that our relationship has been broken. You are a very busy and alert baby and you never have had much time for cuddling. Nursing was our time to bond. When we could be both emotionally and physically close. When you would quiet your body and I could look down at you and just take you all in. Within a day or two, all that was gone.
So, I’m sick physically. I still have a fever, I’m starting to cough, I have aches and pains and headaches. On top of those symptoms, I have stopped breastfeeding cold turkey. So, to the flu like symptoms, we can add a change in hormones that is wreaking havoc on my mind. Turns out, depression isn’t an uncommon symptom for Mamas who quit breastfeeding cold turkey- with the sudden change in hormones and change in relationship between Mama and Babe. Interesting….
Of course, I’ve been talking to Nana and Babu. Nana is worried that I might be experiencing engorgement or pain due to suddenly quitting breastfeeding. I’m not. I’m not at all. There is no engorgement, no leaking, no pain, no nothing. My body deceives me, it lets me down. I’m not sure if I can put it into words, but I take this as some kind of evaluation of my body’s organic and natural responsibility as a Mama. Why I am not engorged? Why did I just stop producing milk? How can my body not know that just because I’m sick, it has no right be that selfish? That my baby still needs me? It’s messing with my mind…..all of this is slowly but surely messing with my mind.
By Friday, I am so wiped. It’s hard to describe, but my body is in such pain and I’m experiencing some strange version of restless legs syndrome. I am literally not able to sleep. Now, I’m quite used to not sleeping so you can only imagine how little sleep I was actually getting for it to actually be impacting me. I decide to go to the doctor’s. She checks me out and listens to my chest with her stethoscope. It’s all good. It’s probably just a virus. Drink lots, get some rest. You know? The usual. And that’s it. Back home we go. I’m a little bit devastated. As Grandma E and I drive home, it’s taking everything in me not to cry.
When we get home, I decide to get some of the milk that I have pumped and froze and defrost it to see if we can get you to take it with a dropper. It’s sour. The breast milk is sour and it puts me over the edge. I call Nana and Babu. Poor Babu is the first to answer. “How’s it going babe?” he innocently asks and gets a sobbing mess of a daughter trying desperately to explain how the milk is sour and that I can’t produce any milk and that you don’t drink from a bottle or a Sippy cup and that the doctor says that I’m fine and that the sky really must be falling. I’m doing the ugly cry and Nana and Babu are worried. They want to come help.
On Saturday night, things are no better. They are worse and I’m getting desperate. Daddy takes me to the hospital. ER doctor listens to my lungs and immediately puts me on a couple rounds of ventalin and then orders an x-ray. Surprise, surprise! I have pneumonia.
By Sunday, Grandma E has gone home and Nana and Babu have come to help. We’re 5 days in and the physical and emotional strain is taking its toll. As I’ve been writing this, I have not hesitated once. The details have been very accessible in my memory and I have not struggled to remember what came next. But by the time Nana and Babu get here, the physical is morphing into the psychological and the dates and the details are becoming fuzzy.
Strange. I can’t remember how long they stayed for. I honestly can’t. At some point after Nana and Babu came, Nana and I went back to see the doctor. I believe the main purpose in going back was to see if I could get something to help me sleep. What I do remember is that, much to my dismay, what she prescribed did not work and I was again, devastated. At some point, my physical state improved. Unfortunately, my psychological state didn’t. While I’m struggling to remember the details, what I do remember is the lack of energy and ability to function well. I remember the sadness and feeling that I had nothing useful to offer anyone. I felt lost and so unlike myself….a level of sadness that I had never felt before in my life. Getting out of bed was akin to running a marathon. All I could do was the bare minimum for you, then I wanted to go back to bed and sleep or hide (I wasn’t sure which). The sound of your cry, you needing me, could make me fall apart. I had nothing to give. I hardly ate and lost lots of weight. Showering was a chore. Cooking was a chore. Leaving the house was a chore. I was lost.
Three months. That’s how long the worst of it lasted. Not long, but powerful. I struggled to find myself….where on earth had I gone? When would I be back? I struggled to find joy and purpose. I struggled to take care of myself physically. I cried. A lot. Alone in my bedroom or in the shower. I struggled to seem “normal” during any social or family events, which was incredibly draining. Every moment that I had to do something- whether it was make dinner, play with you, talk to Daddy or have a shower, I had to start with a mini pep rally in my mind. “You can do this,” “You have to do this.” I wondered when I would be back.
It’s one of the most shame-inducing parts of the whole thing, because I want to be able to say that I “snapped out of it” because of you…..my beautiful baby boy. That would be the “right” thing to say. That’s what I prayed would happen every day for 3 months. It’s the part of what makes depression so incredibly draining and confusing- how can I be so disconnected and sad with this beautiful family in front of me? It’s incredibly complicated. Quite frankly, what weighed on my mind most heavily as time progressed was- how on earth am I supposed to return to work in this state of mind? How on earth am I, the Director of departments whose job it is to support the health and wellbeing of our staff, return to work in such a state? I was overwhelmed. And as the clock ticked, the pressure and stress around my looming return to work is what kicked me into recovery mode.
I utilized our EAP program, I saw my family doctor and did what I needed to do to get well.
So why tell you this? I wavered on whether or not I should. My first concern? What if you feel somehow responsible? And the fact that I even had to wonder whether or not you may feel somehow responsible reiterates the need for me, and others to talk openly about depression. Cause quite frankly if we had a solid understanding of mental health issues we would know that the people around us are not responsible for our feelings, no more than they are capable of getting us to “snap out of it.” Our relationship with our family is such an integral and confusing part of the mental health journey and we must be open about these things. Aiden, should you ever get lost like I did, I hope that you’ll remember this story and feel comfortable sharing your journey with me and reaching out for help. That’s reason #1.
Secondly, you may have a wife one day……and I hope that, God forbid she ever get “lost” like I did, that you will be gentle, that you will be understanding, that you will be supportive, and that you will be patient. There’s no road map, honey. There’s no timeline. There’s no guide book. There are no guarantees. It truly is frustrating and you will need to have an incredible level of patience and trust in supporting her towards recovery and wellness.
Finally, and as always, I’m writing this to remember the lessons you are teaching me. You didn’t bat an eye during any of this. From full time breastfeeding to quitting cold turkey? Ok. From spending 90% of your day with Mama to being taken care of by others for a week? Sure! Why not? From never being put to bed by Grandma E to doing your night routine with her for the first time? Works for me! From never utilizing a bottle or Sippy cup to drinking from a Sippy cup after 15 minutes of instruction from Nana? No worries Mama! I got your back!!! You are resilient and adaptable. It’s the greatest lesson and gift you could have given me. Because quite frankly, if I’ve learned anything from this whole situation, it’s the intense and critical need for Mama to take care of herself so that I can be well in order to give you and Daddy everything that I want to be able to give you. And if you can put up with everything you put up with for those three months, then Lord knows that you can adjust to Mama going for a pedicure, sleeping in on the weekend or having Daddy take you to the Ontario Early Years Centre instead of me once in a blue moon.
And life is beautiful again Aiden. I was lost, but now I am found. And I haven’t lost or missed a moment with you since getting well…..I didn’t miss the first time you recently said “ahhhh do” in response to my “love you.” I was present and available during the three weeks of adjustment to daycare that had you up at all hours of the night. I didn’t miss all the tickles and the kisses. And the singing Raffi together. And the snuggling in our rocking chair reading books. I didn’t miss any of it. And in fact, I’ve been uber present ever since.
So as difficult as my experience with depression was, I am grateful for the many lessons both it and you have taught me this past year.