You are my sunshine

My son has taught me how to live, love and grow in ways I could have never understood before. His very being keeps me going and gives me purpose. It is a love like no other.

My only sunshine

After nearly three years of trying to get pregnant, (including an ectopic pregnancy, surgery and infertility) in June of 2009 I successfully conceived. I didn’t allow myself to get too attached while I went for weekly blood draws and ultrasounds to monitor my early pregnancy.

As the first trimester passed and we saw our tiny bean grow into a perfectly formed tiny baby, the hope in me stirred and I began to let myself feel joy. Anxiety continued, however, as I underwent frequent fetal echocardiograms to evaluate the baby for a heart condition he was at risk of developing.

The second trimester came and went and his heart remained perfect; we were in the clear.

In my third trimester, at 32 weeks, I started having contractions, followed two hospital visits for pre-term labor. At home, I remained on bedrest, and made it to the 37th week.

My labor was quick and my beautiful baby boy was born perfect and healthy at 6 lb., 1 oz.

I felt the biggest relief in my life when I saw my newborn baby. This joy quickly dissolved when the OB began the repairs. I began feeling very funny. I was trying to communicate how weird I was feeling when I found I was unable to speak. Ringing in my ears drowned out the sounds and I slipped into unconsciousness.

This is it, I thought. My baby was born healthy, but I’m paying for it by dying in childbirth.

The next thing I knew I woke up on the Mother-Baby Unit. The nurses there cheerfully told me I had experienced lidocaine toxicity and my baby was with my husband in the nursery. I ached to see his face and hold his perfect body. When they returned, I instantly felt a jolt of joy and energy as I acquainted myself with my new family.

Two days later, we were discharged and went home as a new family of three. Our families had camped out at our house but we sent them home to have the space to figure out what we were doing.

The next few days were quiet but things did not feel right with the baby. I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong with him. My milk came in late and my son became dehydrated and difficult to arouse.

After that crisis resolved, we received a concerned call from the pediatrician. The results from A’s metabolic screen were positive for a rare but potentially fatal disease. They cautioned us that there are many cases of false positives, but I went into panic mode. We stayed on alert night and day to watch him breathe. We had to wait for a week for the news that it was an error. He was fine.

You make me happy when skies are grey

The weeks after were full of relief, bliss and love.

I managed through the marathon feedings and fell more in love with my son each day. Parenting seemed to come naturally to my husband. I finally had everything I dreamed of. Then at 11 weeks, A did a remarkable thing: he slept through the night.

Usually a cause for celebration, this milestone marked the beginning of my downfall. I felt as though this gift I had dreamed of for so long was a mirage and could be taken from me at any moment. The lines between fear and reality became blurred.

First, I stopped being able to sleep. I felt the need to rest my hand on the baby’s chest to feel the reassuring rise and fall. I started having the most disturbing images in my head. These horrifying images tortured me relentlessly. I felt constantly nervous and on edge. I felt so agitated I couldn’t keep my body still. When I lay in bed, my legs wouldn’t stop moving.

I had the most intense feeling that sometime terrible was about to happen to my son, A. Something that I had to stop. Soon, I was having stomach problems and I couldn’t keep anything down. I started going days straight without sleeping. I stopped eating solid foods. I lost twenty pounds in a month. I became weak and fragile.

The images I’d seen before were now coupled with horrifying phrases in my head. They all involved seeing my baby hurt. I had urges to do things like bang my head on the shower wall to stop them. These urges were like the most intense itch you know you should never scratch. I felt if I didn’t give in to them, I would jump out of my skin or explode.

During the day, I had panic attacks where I felt like I was dying; my arms went numb, my heart raced, I became sick to my stomach and felt paralyzed.

At night; the baby and my husband tucked safely in bed, I started having these urges to disappear. I wondered how fast I could pack everything up and drive off before they awoke. I thought if I disappeared, my baby would be able to grow and thrive and would be better off without me.

My husband did not understand what was going on and became very angry. We fought constantly. I had to ask him to stay home from work or leave work numerous times because I didn’t feel safe alone with the baby.

Soon, I found myself unable to get out of bed. I wondered if I was dying or losing my mind. I didn’t want to live anymore. I pictured milestones in A’s life without me present. I became obsessed with planning A’s birthday party because I had the distinct feeling that I wouldn’t be around by then. The day came when I couldn’t take another second.

That was when I reached out to my Mom.

You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you

I’d always wanted to get better. For my son, for myself and for my family.

I didn’t want anyone to know what a bad mother I was so I tried to stop visitors and kept phone calls brief. I’d been refusing to take the medications I needed because they were not compatible with nursing. Having to suddenly wean my baby was like a final blow of failure to me.

After my urgent phone call to my Mom, she left work in the middle of the day without packing a thing, got on the highway and talked to me on the phone until she arrived three hours later.

She took me to the midwife, who sent me to the ER to be admitted. But because I told them I had no imminent plans to kill myself, they wouldn’t admit me. They gave me sleeping pills and the address of an urgent care psych center.

Problem was, the place was a partial-hospitalization program, which my insurance did not cover and would require me to be away from my son during the day. I felt helpless and desperate. I didn’t have any hope of anyone being able to help me. I was taking the medication, but it didn’t seem to be doing anything for me. Things escalated at home with my husband and I really feared hurting myself, so I packed our stuff and we left.

After my Mom and my sister helped me get settled in, things started to turn around. I moved in with my sister who was a huge support to me. I had family and friends around me constantly. I had the help I needed to care for A while taking care of myself. I sought help at a local center devoted to postpartum mood disorders and began to see a psychiatrist and therapist regularly.

I was given a name for what I was going through: Postpartum OCD. I joined a local support group that meets monthly and I met the most amazing and inspiring women who really get it and have been there. Their strength was contagious. I starting believing that I could get better.

The horrible thoughts in my head started to disappear. I felt more connected with my son. I still had some panic attacks where I felt myself regressing and dark thoughts would again invade my brain. Sometimes, I felt like I wasn’t getting better at all and there was no point to struggling through it.

But I learned to reach out to those who cared about me when I felt this way. During my darkest days the phrase “this will not end well” would repeat itself in my head, this mantra was now replaced by “this too shall pass.”

Please don’t take my sunshine away

Time, therapy and medication have given me my life back. My recovery has been full of ups and downs; good and bad days. I am still working on mending relationships. But as the autumn came, I felt my old self emerge.

I will never be the person I was before I had a child, but I am a stronger, wiser woman. I have found I am strong enough to make it on my own, but that the support of others is essential. I am learning to enjoy the moments without obsessing about what will come next. I am learning to let go of complete control and let my son explore and experience with my guidance.

It’s a new way of living, and it’s very freeing. I am able to enjoy every day with A. He amazes me on a daily basis. I don’t know what challenges or heartaches I might face in the future, but now I am healthy and strong enough to face them head-on. And if I’m not, I will still be okay because of the support system I have.

And in February, I will be at my son’s first birthday party, celebrating his year of thriving and mine of survival.