the smell of my desperation has become a stench

Familiar territory

Yesterday morning after a bit of a blurry night, one that resembled the many blurry nights before it where the newest member of the family periodically yelled orders and shot butterscotch poo four feet up and out the back of her diaper — wait, have I mentioned yet that Marlo doesn’t cry? I’m serious. She doesn’t string together a chorus of wailing like many other babies her age, but, and this is a HUGE but, a Kardashian-sized but that makes everyone in the room stop and stare and wonder HOW IN THE WORLD that thing fits through a door, the kid can yell. And I mean, YELL. Like, the referee has just called the runner out at home base and the coach runs out, throws his ball cap on the dirt and starts rattling off a string of obscenities that I wouldn’t even repeat on this website, I KNOW CAN YOU EVEN BELIEVE IT, that kind of yelling. Pot-bellied, weathered by years of tragedy and illness and unemployment kind of yelling. Drunk on scotch and just got home from the coal mine yelling.

Where was I? Right, yesterday morning. Somehow all the pieces came together and everything that normally has to get done on a Monday morning got done. Leta got dressed, the dogs got fed, Marlo burped and ate and yelled about the wet diaper that had leaked all over her onesie. And then, here’s the kicker, I took a shower, washed my hair and applied mascara. If you’ve never lived with a newborn you’re probably going, huh? What? There’s a point to this? YES. IN FACT THERE IS A POINT. AN EXCLAMATION POINT. A THUNDERING HERD OF THEM. Because then we got into the car and made it to Marlo’s two-week check-up on time. Without any crying or screaming or chucking heavy appliances across the room. I guess the only way to explain the significance of this to someone who hasn’t ever lived with a newborn is to imagine waking up in a bed of liquid chocolate next to a naked supermodel. And then suddenly you realize that while you’ve been sleeping someone came in and wallpapered your room with Twizzlers and one hundred dollar bills.

I felt so powerful, so victorious, like I could crush solid granite with my hands. I wanted to turn cartwheels across my front yard, except for that whole STITCHES IN THE LADY PARTS thing. Yes, I did just go there, my apologies to the 19-year-old boy who is reading this in his mom’s basement. Listen, you just go right ahead and think that all women wax themselves bald down there like the pictures you see in that stack of porn underneath your bed and pretend I didn’t just suggest that on occasion, when the MIRACLE OF LIFE is involved, that beautiful flower of a body part has to come face to face with a needle and thread.

Now, on to something I feel like I need to tell you right away. When I sat down to write this I realized that this is a bit out of order, that I should tell you about labor first, but then I felt like I shouldn’t wait because so many of you are wondering and have written to ask, how are you? How are you coping? Do you think the dark cloud is going to eat you alive again? Because what I experienced after Leta was born was so monumentally awful, bad enough that I eventually ended up in a hospital. What if it happens again? You know the odds are that it will happen again, right? Aren’t you scared out of your mind?

And so this is what’s going on…

The adrenaline rush I experienced after going through a natural birth was unlike anything I’ve ever lived through before. It was so powerful that I didn’t sleep for over 48 hours, and I was giddy, so happy and high and certain that I could move mountains. From the moment they laid Marlo on my chest I was in love, and she and I bonded instantly. For two days she was attached to my chest and I did nothing but marvel at her every feature. That fascination with her has not changed, and neither Jon nor I are experiencing any of the shock that we did when we brought Leta home. In fact, it feels like we are just continuing where we left off when Leta suddenly shifted from newborn to giggling baby. Breastfeeding is so much easier this time. In fact, it’s an absolute joy, and both Jon and I can change a diaper with one hand while multi-tasking with the other. There is none of the crazy stress that was there when our lives shifted from childless couple to Family of Three.

However, on day three something happened. At first I thought it was the sleep deprivation catching up with me, so I ignored it. But by day five and six I couldn’t pretend I was okay anymore. I started having panic attacks and such severe anxiety that my hands started to contort and clutch into twisted positions that I could not relieve. I couldn’t fall asleep or stay asleep, and my mind started spiraling into dangerous places. I was so angry, so frustrated because there was no reason to feel this way. Intellectually I knew everything was okay, and my god! I knew what I was doing! I loved the baby and knew how to meet her needs! WHY WAS I PANICKING?! There just wasn’t a good explanation for my crippling anxiety, but there it was. And it was robbing me of the experience I was determined to have.

So early last week we called the doctor who treated me in the hospital back in 2004. He does not normally see patients who are not in the hospital, but by some lucky twist of the universe he thought I was someone else, someone whom he owed a favor, and agreed to see me as an outpatient. And two days later I’m sitting there on a couch in his office facing him as he contorts his face in an effort to figure out just who the hell I am. And I’m sweating, and the anxiety is crawling up my body and paralyzing my neck, and he’s all, hmm… you’re not who I thought you were. But here you are, and dear God, woman. You look just awful.

So he pulled up my record from five years ago, glanced back at me, looked back at his computer, and that’s when I involuntarily blurted out, “I wrote a book about my experience in the hospital.” Maybe to let him know that I was serious? That here I was dumb enough to try and do this whole thing again? And he immediately whipped his head around and said, “You’re THAT woman?”

Yes. Indeed. THAT woman. The woman who writes about poop and hemorrhoids and stitches in her vagina YES DEAR GOD THAT’S ME. Listen, my Republican, Mormon, gun-owning father read my book and he still loves me! That counts for something, right? I guess his wife had heard about my book, and when she was describing it to him he knew immediately that I had to have been someone he treated because of the speed with which I healed. He treats postpartum depression very differently than most doctors, and his patients usually see results instantly. And that is exactly what happened with me in the hospital five years ago, I took a cocktail of meds and within two hours I felt like a different person.

So we did a lot of talking, and since he’s been treating women for this very condition for over 30 years I did a lot of listening and learning. The odds were completely stacked against me, and he said that if I had been gearing up and treating the possibility of this in my third trimester I might have been able to avoid it. But since I didn’t it was time to attack it now. So he made a minor tweak to my meds and asked me to come back and see him in two weeks, and I am not even kidding, I felt better that night. In fact, better does not do what I was feeling justice. I felt free.

So what about breastfeeding? That’s what you’re all wondering, I know, and this is what I’m going to say: he thinks that what I’m taking is perfectly safe to take while breastfeeding. He’s prescribed it before to women who are breastfeeding and everything has been perfectly fine. No, I’m not going to talk about what I’m taking because one, it’s no one’s business, and two, I don’t care that you think I’m poisoning my baby. I also think that anyone going through this needs to consult their own doctor and make an informed, personal decision about their individual situation. And then go on and live a better, happier life.

I’ve been on the new meds for over five days, and I haven’t had a panic attack once. I feel like a regular person who has an infant and can handle it, and during my pregnancy that was exactly what I was aiming for. Turns out I needed a little help, a tiny adjustment, but here I am and I am loving it. I love what it has done to my relationship with Leta, what it has helped me see and appreciate in Jon, and I love that I can barely stand to be away from that baby for a minute. Jon has been watching Marlo so that I could write this, and a little bit ago he came rushing downstairs with this kicking, yelling, hungry bundle in his arms, and it was like I hadn’t seen her in years. And that yelling… that raucous, staccato, one-too-many-beers yelling… it didn’t make me cringe, it made me laugh.

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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