A few days ago my mother and I were sitting at a restaurant having lunch when we both noticed that Leta was trying to put the table in her mouth. The whole table. We could see the concentration in her face, her thoughts swarming around how she could pull the whole table closer and fit it in her mouth. She had already burned through every toy I had packed in my purse (her response to each toy was, “You’re joking, right? I have already seen this toy before, therefore it possesses no entertainment value. You obviously aren’t trying hard enough, and now I must scream.”), plus six or seven packets of sugar that she would suck and then violently discard by throwing them at the person sitting next to us. We had only begun our appetizers and the level of Leta’s boredom had reached Terror Level: RUN FOR YOUR LIVES.
Rarely do I get to have lunch with my mother. She works in Los Angeles five days a week, and on the weekends she has to split her time among 40 family members whose sole purpose in life is to make her feel guilty. Sometimes she will stop by our house on the way to or from the airport so that she can snack on Leta’s cheeks, but then she’s off again having spoken only a few words to me, those words being “hello,” “goodbye,” or “Where’s that baby?”
A few days ago I spent over four hours with my mother, the longest amount of time I have spent with her in years. This can be explained by the fact that I haven’t been this depressed in years, or ever, and I finally decided to risk being one of those 40 demanding family members and tell her that I need help. I need help because I am on the edge, and I am holding on to that edge with my fingertips, my body dangling precariously over a dark hole that is reaching up to swallow me.
I haven’t wanted to talk about my depression because I keep thinking that it will go away, that my self-medication is going to work. But I should know better than anyone else that this just doesn’t go away. It festers and grows until one morning I find myself throwing things in the general direction of loving and wonderful people who don’t deserve to have things thrown in their general direction. It has entered my bloodstream and is systematically choking me to death.
Leta is sleeping unbelievably well. I haven’t had to feed her during the night in over 10 days, but I haven’t slept any of those nights. I lie awake at night waiting for her call, waiting for something to go wrong, waiting for someone to take her away from me. I can’t sleep thinking about how I wouldn’t want to come home to me, why does he continue to come home to me?
I get up in the morning having slept only an hour or two and I can’t imagine living another minute. The expanse of the day unfolds before me and I can’t comprehend how I am going to distract my cranky baby for the next 12 hours. There will be walks and more walks and books and rattles and moving from the porch to the sidewalk and back to the porch to delay her disappointment just a few more minutes. And then there are the moments when I can’t do anything to stop her from screaming at me, and it feels like she’s sad that she doesn’t have a mother who knows what the hell she is doing.
I used to just be sad in the morning, and after 11am I was okay. But in the last two weeks that okay period has been pushed back to 2pm and then to 5pm and now I am not ever okay. My nights are just as bad as my mornings. There isn’t a moment in the day that I look forward to. I don’t see an end to this cycle of stress, and I find myself asking much too often, “Why go on?”
Yesterday I saw a psychiatrist who prescribed me a combination of drugs. I wish that there were other ways that I could go about getting better, but you have to believe me when I say that this is way beyond herbal remedies or dietary changes. I exercise all the time and I have a very healthy diet (except for the pop tarts, but people, a woman needs her pop tarts). This situation is life-threatening. I am afraid of hurting myself.
Starting today I will be taking an anti-anxiety drug and a mood stabilizer, two very powerful drugs that have to be monitored. He did not prescribe a sleep aid because he thinks that the anti-anxiety drug will stop the incessant and unnecessary worrying that keeps me awake at night. I feel very positive about this, hopeful that these drugs may work and that I will one day soon be able to wake up in the morning and recognize what a wonderful life I have.
But there is one terrible drawback to this step I am taking toward sanity. The doctor told me that I have to wean Leta if I want to work up to therapeutic levels of these drugs. I have to stop breastfeeding in the next month.
I never thought that I would feel so devastated at the prospect of having to stop breastfeeding. I can’t talk about it without crying. Feeding Leta is the only way that she is comforted by me, and once that is gone will she even know who I am?
The strange thing is that breastfeeding has never been the beautiful and peaceful and wondrous endeavor that they want you to believe it is. I’m sure it is for many women, but for me it has been a struggle from the first moment she latched on in the hospital. It started out with excruciating pain, and then continued being painful for a month, and now five months later I still get engorged when she doesn’t eat a full meal. And Leta doesn’t ever eat a full meal, so I’m CONSTANTLY worried about whether or not she’s getting enough to eat.
I tried pumping for a few weeks, and every time I pumped I got a clog in my left boob and spent several days afterward hunched over in paralyzing pain. I can’t count how many nights I have laid in bed awake waiting for her to wake up so that she would eat and the pain in my chest could subside for at least a few hours.
But there have been moments, a select few moments when feeding her has been an almost religious experience. Moments when she stops eating, smiles and reaches her hand up to touch my face. My beautiful baby in my arms and close to my chest, her soft fingers exploring the line of my chin. Those were moments when I believed in God.
At this point if I don’t stop breastfeeding I will be doing the selfish thing. I understand that. I understand that I have to get better for the sake of my family, and at this point these drugs may be my only hope. But I didn’t think my heart could break into so many pieces. I didn’t know how much I loved feeding my baby, how fundamental it has been to my relationship with her, how much I have sacrificed to continue breastfeeding. My god, how I don’t want to give it up.
So I’m sitting here writing this and I can barely type because I can’t stop crying, and usually when I cry Chuck goes scurrying OUT of the room to get as far away from me as possible. But right now he’s sitting ON TOP of me, his face pressed up into my armpit, and he’s trying to get as close to me as possible. I think he knows I need him right now. I imagine he’s trying to tell me, “You didn’t breastfeed me, and look how awesome I turned out.” And then he says, “It’s going to be okay.”
And I believe him.