Wednesday, February 11, 2009

We are used to the pain, used to suffer in silence, so what's the problem?

I pretty much slept my way through the first 18 months of my daughter's life. Even when I was awake, I was sleepwalking myself through the day, isolated from the rest of the world by a veil of zombie-like tiredness. I found it hard to keep my eyes open, and if I wasn't trying to hide a yawn, I was fighting hard to concentrate enough to find my way from one room to another in my apartment.
The health-visitor, who I took my daughter to once every two weeks to have her measured and weighed, and, who's job it was, technically, to see what was going on, always asked me the standard question: And how is mummy doing today then?
- I'm tired, I said. I don't seem to be able to find energy to do anything.
- I know, the health-visitor always replied, smiling vacantly. It is hard with all them sleep-less nights, innit? Don't worry, it'll get better.

She should have seen the signs. But, then again, I never pushed it any further. I never told her that I did in fact get a full nights sleep, because my daughter slept through the night very early, and I didn't have to get up at the crack of dawn because she was happy playing in her bed for hours by herself, and even though she was the easiest, happiest creature alive, I still felt exhausted and constantly on the verge of death. For a long time, I felt it was my own problem to deal with, and how could anyone help me if I didn't spell it out to them? (I feel very differently about this today, but that's another blog-post.)

When I finally did muster up courage to talk to my doctor about this, he prescribed me a dose of medication which was supposed to help me up from the black hole and make me function properly. What he forgot to do was to monitor my response to the medication and as it wasn't the right dose for me, it just sent me spiraling deeper down a spinning vortex. I wouldn't be able to give you a specific time when I finally got better. The journey back to normal life was so long, and so full of re-lapses that I have stopped keeping track.

Needless to say, during the second pregnancy both me and my husband was very worried that I would fall back down again and when I finally mustered up enough courage to talk to my OB-GYN about it, she made a few notes in my papers and I felt safe.
This time, both birth and the after-care experience was wildly different, in a good way, from the first time, and I felt very positive that my mental approach to motherhood would be too (this too is another blog-post).

One Sunday night, about two weeks after the birth, we eat a family dinner around the table when the phone rings. It is my OB-GYN.
- I just wanted to call to see how you are doing, and how the baby is.
- Everything is fine. We're doing well.
- Good. Good. And how are you feeling?
I give her an update on the physical state of my body.
- Good. Good. And you? You are doing well? Good. Fine. So I'll see you for your six week check up. Have a good night.
At the check-up she didn't even ask me any questions. She only confirmed that I was in good enough shape for light exercise. That was that.

One thing motherhood has taught me is that unless you're making a lot of noise, a hell of a lot of noise, you're not going to get heard. And most new mother's don't know how to make noise. They are tired, confused, low on energy and very reluctant to complain, because, after all, they are new mothers who should be feeling like they're in seventh heaven. What could you possibly have to complain about when you've just had a new baby?

Even though it is believed that between 13-15% of new mothers experience PPD in the UK, until recently it was still a very taboo subject. In the US, a study made by PRAMS shows that one in five American women suffer too but again, no one talks about it. So many women, so few voices.
It is not deemed as 'appropriate' to be feeling anything but joyful since you're embarking on this supposedly best of all journeys. At a strech, "Baby-blues", or "feeling a bit low for a few weeks", is something that society has taught us to brush off as "hormones". After all, women show all kinds of weaknesses due to our hormones, don't they?

Unless professionally trained (and even there, I have showed you how arbitrary that can be), few people would know how to respond if you told them that you found it hard to put on your own clothes or leave your apartment every day. Or that you can't pick up your baby because you are worried that you will hurt her. Or that you are missing every single mile-stone in her development, the smile, the gurgling, the rolling from one side to the other, because, if you're not sleeping with your eyes closed, you are drifting in and out of a vacuum, not really sure where you are.
How could they understand? After all, you should be smiling. You've just become a mother, what could possibly be wrong with you?

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