Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Through a Glass

Pop culture has turned Post-Partum Depression (PPD) into something of a fad, or an example of extremes, or the scapegoat to personal downfalls, or the extreme opposite: a falsity.

Here's a look at what it feels like from the inside- picture being inside a small, glass room. When you are inside this room, you can kind of hear what is going on outside, and if you force yourself, you can hear and interact in conversations. It's just muffled enough so that if you don't focus and concentrate on what is going on, you can easily tune it out. Time passes in weird rushes and pauses. Sometimes, you swear that you've been rocking and nursing your baby for only five or ten minutes, and you are startled when you look at the clock and realize it's been nearly an hour. Or sometimes you focus so hard on chopping vegetables for dinner, and think that surely you've just wasted thirty minutes on the stupid celery, and barely five minutes have passed. You know you love your children and your husband, and try to focus to make sure that they understand that, but feel guilty because every once in a while, your own flat affect (numbness, nothingness) becomes glaringly obvious to you.

And then something triggers a quick smash through at least one of the panes of glass in your small glassed-in room, and suddenly you feel something again. In my case, it was an odd event involving a small child (not my own). Anger and no small amount of instant "Mama Bear" defensiveness managed to flip that switch back on again.

I'm in a place right now where I vacillate between no feelings and then lots and lots of them. It does make me think, as always, where this can fit in the primal, natural state of mothering children. Did Cave Clara deal with this? Somehow, I doubt it, unless there were extreme circumstances that compounded the issue (loss, abandonment, a major catastrophic weather event, etc.) Pregnancy and birth and the post-partum period of time were treated as normal, natural, spiritual conditions that sort of flowed together and were assisted by the knowledgeable women in the family or tribal group. Extra hands were always available to help out with the children that Cave Clara already had, and to go grab some well-established herbal remedies to some of the nutritional deficits of birth. Food today is, even when carefully searched for and prepared, nutritionally inferior to food in its natural state. Even when food is bought from local sources, it's still typically something augmented in some way by factory-prepared chicken food (most likely created with genetically modified soy) or chemical plant treatments (pesticides or fertilizers).

Catnip tea, Motherwort tincture, and calcium helped me avoid a severe hormonal crash in the first four weeks following Vincent's birth. So effectively, in fact, that I felt fantastic, and stopped taking them. Three weeks after a birth, a mother's endocrine system starts doing a colossal tango, preparing her body to begin to be able to breastfeed her baby via the "supply and demand" mode that mothers and babies worldwide, for centuries, have perfected. By three months post-partum, the post-pregnancy hormones that supplied the colostrum and early, fatty newborn milk are replaced by the give-and-take of nursing of the infant triggering the oxytocin that maintains the perfect amount of milk for the baby- right down to the time of day. So three weeks post-partum is a prime time for new mothers to feel a "crash."

That crash didn't happen for me until a bit later. As typical for that sort of thing, it probably was from overdoing it. The facts are fairly easy to blame for this- we don't live near family, and out-of-state family members have their own lives and can only help out for so long. Mr. Clarateaches does need to work to support us. And active toddlers and rapidly growing babies need to have a mama that does things with them, all day every day (and all night, too, sometimes). Food, we already covered. I attempt to use herbs, but I really need some fantastic old crone to guide my path (and frankly, to do the work for me).

Post-Partum Depression is NOT some kind of character flaw in the mother. It's not a reflection of her children, nor is it a reflection of her feelings towards her children. PPD usually works the other way- it can cloud the actual feelings (rather than stem from them). PPD is not Post-Partum Psychosis, either. PPP is a rare, but very serious medical condition that requires intense, immediate medical and psychological help. It's not an excuse. It is indeed something that requires a lot of work to overcome, and some women do choose drugs and medical intervention. There is no weakness there, just like there is no heroism involved in choosing the opposite.

For now, I'm choosing a combination of things. Pilates in the morning, assisted by my baby (he makes a fantastic weight, and loves sitting on my lower legs while I do abdominal exercises) and my toddler (who grabs a baby doll and incorporates it into her gyrations) do a fantastic job of clearing my head. Keeping myself on a fairly regular schedule of accomplishing tasks and getting us out of the house means that my family has what they need, even on the days I don't particularly care. Sunshine, calcium (so important to the brain), and a diet that is a strange mix of Mediterranean and Weston A Price's "Traditional Foods" all seem to help. Re-reading Glasser's Choice Theory is also helpful, at least in as much as I am working hard to make sure my feelings (or lack thereof) are not affecting my actions. The support and love of Mr. Clarateaches is, always, crucial. Bit by bit, I'm getting there.

Off to start my day...


Mel said...

Thanks for posting this! Society's view on ppd is so wishy-washy. Some that don't understand it say that it just doesn't exist, but those that have been there know that it is very real. It still doesn't get discussed often enough! I am proud of you for finding ways to cope with all of the crazy emotions and hormones that you are now facing.

Melissa B said...

I thought there was something going on with you. You seemed a little off to me. I'm glad you're finding outlets and methods for coping. I'm really proud of you for recognizing what is happening with yourself and taking action to make it better.

Alissa said...

((hugs))Honestly, I am not so nervous about labor and birth this time- it's afterward that has me a bit worried. It is good to read your post and remember how important it is not to over do it after a baby is born. And, boy- it is NOT easy to not over do it. Your strategies sound good for caring for yourself. Thanks for sharing. We love you!