I didn't know what I didn't know...
Grace is my oldest child and I had her when I was 28, right in the midst of my training to become a pediatrician.
After years of babysitting, taking care of younger siblings and nieces, and learning all about pregnancy/childbirth and breastfeeding/newborn care during my medical training, I thought I knew it all. I had no idea how unprepared I was to become a mom and where my journey was going to take me!
My labor and delivery with Grace went very smoothly but my postpartum experience was a nightmare. We could not get her to latch onto my breasts to feed, even with extensive lactation support, so we ended up in a "triple feeding" cycle--I'd try to get Grace to latch on with a nipple shield or use a supplemental nursing system (SNS), would then take off the shield or SNS and try to get her to latch onto my bare nipple (which never worked but I was determined to keep trying), then I'd double pump to empty my breasts, and I'd finally feed her fresh breastmilk and/or formula by bottle. This process would take about an hour from start to finish, and then about an hour later it would be time to start again as she ate every 2 hours.
It was insanity, but I didn't realize it was insanity, as I had never done this before and this is what I was encouraged to do by the lactation consultants I worked with and trusted. I was so sleep-deprived and stressed that I did not have the ability to rationally evaluate the situation I was in.
I struggled with feelings of failure and inadequacy, as it had been drilled into me that breastmilk was "best" and that if I only tried hard enough that I'd be able to breastfeed. I also had extreme sleep deprivation as the most I was able to sleep was about one hour at a time. By the 8 week postpartum mark I had recurrent thoughts of wishing for Grace and my husband to have a better mom and wife than I was able to be, and one night, after I had rocked Grace to sleep and put her to bed, I almost jumped out of our second floor window to end my life. This is when I realized that I needed help and that something was really wrong. The next day I saw a psychiatrist, was diagnosed with postpartum depression (PPD) and started on Prozac. The fog slowly started to lift and I finally began to enjoy my life with my new baby by around 4 months.
I buried my heartbreaking experience with PPD deeply and kept it a secret because I was ashamed and it seemed to me like everyone else around me enjoyed their maternity leaves, new babies, and motherhood. But I now know otherwise...
In my personal life I have met countless struggling new moms, and in my work as a neonatologist I have met hundreds of new moms with perinatal mood disorders. I now can seen that our current medical/social/cultural systems are not equipped to deal not only with PPD, but the entire postpartum experience. I am thankful for increasing awareness and discussions about the importance of the "fourth trimester" for maternal healing and postpartum bonding.
Through this blog, doing neonatology in-home visits, continuing to work part-time in a busy NICU, and joining up with local maternal-infant mental health initiatives, I hope to increase awareness and diagnosis of PPD and other perinatal mood disorders, and provide the love and nonjudgmental support that I wish I had when I was a new mama almost 13 years ago.
This photo was taken about 6 to 8 hours after I had Grace, in 2005. This was before social media existed, and before it was normal for people to hire a newborn photographer. I think it was actually taken with a disposable camera!