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SUPERMOMA Postpartum Anxiety Survival Story
By Stacey Ackerman
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Stacey Ackerman
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Darkest Days
What should have been the happiest days of my life turned out to be the darkest days. I had always longed for a daughter, and now that I had one I wasn't sure if I'd ever get to raise her.
I hadn't seen my newborn in more than a week, but it felt like a lifetime. As I sat in the windowsill of my hospital room in the behavioral health unit, I looked outside at the world around me. I saw familiar streets, ordinary people going to visit loved ones, cars driving by, even the downtown Minneapolis skyline in the background. These were all familiar sights that I'd seen a million times before, but life from inside these four walls looked very different.
Most of the time I couldn't remember the simplest things—like how to brush my teeth, take a shower, or comb my hair. The outside world seemed foreign now. I had to think about it really hard to even remember that I had a baby. My engorged and infected breasts were the only hint of reality—the reality that I had to abruptly quit nursing. I was in a different place at this time in my life—one that I wasn't sure I'd ever escape.
My psychiatrist labeled me Supermom. He said, "The higher up you are, the farther you have to fall." He characterized me as the woman who juggles so many things that I can no longer keep all of the balls in the air. "Sooner or later something's going to tip," he said. I had a hard time believing him at the time, but now I think he was wise beyond his words.
I used to run around and try to be the perfect mother, wife, entrepreneur, employee, daughter, friend, sister, housekeeper, neighbor, event planner—the list goes on and on. I still do try to be all of those things, although now I'm more aware of my actions.
Well, one day, my Supermom cape broke and I could no longer fly. I remember going to a birthday party with my oldest son, Evan. It was for one of his preschool classmates. His mother had meticulously arranged for everyone to sew an owl costume. I couldn't even figure out how to assemble the darn thing. One of the other moms said, "And there goes Jen, pulling out her Supermom cape again."
I wanted to be like her. I wanted to have the perfect craft for my kid's party too. I tried to have a really great fifth birthday party for Evan. I rented a huge tiger jumper, but it rained. I had planned for the kids to plant flowers, but none of them were interested.
Nonetheless, the party wasn't up to my Supermom expectations. Now I know that nothing can ever live up to those expectations because they're not realistic.
In my quest to be a super-accomplished woman with a ten page to-do list every day, I often forget some important details because my brain runs on overload.
I'm always the mom who forgets to put diapers in the diaper bag, or goes to the zoo without any snacks. And I am always losing my watch, the silver one that I bought on our trip to Switzerland. One day when I was pouring my corn flakes, the watch fell out. Talk about a great cereal prize!
As part of my Supermom persona, I like to have everything meticulously planned out. I want to be in control. Always. I hate the feeling of not having control. There is nothing that scares me more.
But it seems like there's this strange thing called life that seems to get in the way. The stomach flu, a car accident, an asthma attack, bad weather, or postpartum anxiety that shakes up my system.
Why can't these things be scheduled on my smart phone like everything else? I don't deal well with the unexpected.
After my daughter's birth, more and more stressors entered my life and I tried to hold it all together and stay in control, but I lost it. It's hard to admit, but I totally lost it. Sometimes I feel like I'll lose it again, but I'm working on that.
When postpartum anxiety/panic/psychosis hit me after having my third child, it was totally unplanned, unexpected, and it shook up my world like nothing else imaginable.
Chapter TwoWelcome to Motherhood—and Colic
My journey into motherhood began five years ago when my newborn son Evan let out the loudest shrill I'd ever heard in my life, and that noise didn't go away for four grueling months.
By the second night in the hospital, we begged the nurse to please take him back to the nursery so we could catch a little shut-eye. A few hours later, she brought back our screaming little child and told me he must be hungry.
Are you kidding me? I just fed him!
Evan was a handful, even too much for the nursery to handle. That screaming didn't stop for sixteen weeks, three days, and twelve hours. I was sleep deprived beyond belief, felt some baby blues, and really wasn't sure what I had gotten myself into.
I had originally planned to return to work after twelve weeks, but got laid off of my job when I was eight months pregnant. I felt miserable sitting in my brand new beige rocker from Babies 'R' Us trying to calm my screaming hellion.
I must have called my pediatrician seventy-six times a day! When she asked me where I was, I said I was out shopping with the baby. She gave me a huge lecture about how having a baby means you need to stay home to get the baby on a schedule.
Stay home! I can't do that, I thought.
As someone who thrives on a full schedule, staying home just isn't my speed. I like to run around, always living my life with a fully-booked calendar of events.
Staying at home rocking a baby all day felt so confining. I can remember sitting in that rocking chair with one leg hanging over the edge, staring out at the beautiful summer day and sobbing because I felt like I had given up my entire life.
The elementary school bus comes to our corner and all of the moms stand out there waiting for their kids to get on the bus. One morning after sobbing, I put Evan in his crib and ran out and called for help from the other moms.
"My baby won't quit crying," I sobbed to the moms. "What should I do?" I asked frantically.
I attributed my irrational behavior to sleep deprivation and the screaming baby, but only recently have I recognized that there may have been more to my moods than anyone realized at the time.
When Evan was just a few days old, I desperately wanted to take him for a walk in the new stroller. The problem was, I couldn't tell for sure if I had the baby secured properly in the stroller and I went ballistic. I started kicking the stroller and screaming, finally yelling to my husband, "I'm outta here!" I stormed out of the house and left him with the baby.
A few hours later, after some retail therapy, I returned home calm, cool, and collected. Eirik was completely freaked out. "I thought you had left us for good," he said.
"I just went to Kohl's," I said. I found it strange that he would think I would ever leave him and the new baby.
During the first few days home, the baby went forty-eight hours without ever closing his eyes. The screaming never stopped.
This wasn't what I had planned. We were going to plant an 'Evan cherry tree' in the backyard to commemorate his birth. We actually found a tree called an Evan at our local garden store.
My husband Eirik had two weeks paternity leave so we thought we'd have this nice family vacation and do a few renovation projects on the side. Why didn't those birthing classes tell us that we were so far off from reality? A friend of Eirik's said that newborns sleep for eighteen hours a day.
Are you kidding me, our baby doesn't sleep for eighteen minutes a day!
When I took Evan to Mommy and Me class, all of the other babies were quietly cooing or sleeping soundly in their car seats or their mom's arms. My little hellion just screamed. And screamed. And screamed.
Why didn't he come with an instruction manual? Isn't there an off switch?
I remember driving around the surrounding farm towns at 3:00 am listening to Mötley Crue over and over again. We also tried putting him on the dryer. We tried relaxing music. We bounced him up and down and twirled him round and round. He still screamed.
Being a new mom was so different than I had expected. My nineteen-year-old coworker had just had a baby, then immediately put on her size two jean shorts.
I was depressed as my flabby belly hung over my elastic waist pants and my breasts looked like two giant watermelons.
Where had the old Stacey gone and would she ever return?
We had taken birthing classes, breastfeeding classes and read every book at Barnes & Noble, but no one could have told me how difficult being a new mom would be. I felt completely robbed of my freedom. I just wanted to go where I wanted when I wanted, and now that was gone. Forever. I was fat, sleep-deprived, and not at all feeling the joy of my new bundle of joy.
At four months, I quit nursing and started my baby on soy formula. It seemed to be the magic ticket, because after that the colic stopped.
Once Evan got over his colicky phase, we finally got into the groove of being parents and I started getting used to being home when the baby napped, even though I didn't like it very much.
We watched every milestone in awe—his first bite of rice cereal to taking his first steps. Just like every first child, his every move was captured on camera, video and scrap-booked.
Right after Evan's first birthday, my husband convinced me to try again. He was really close in age to his two younger sisters and wanted that same closeness for our family. Besides, it could take a while. But it didn't. Our second child was conceived instantaneously.
Early into this pregnancy I was an emotional mess. Money was tight and I worried about how we were going to support both kids. Evan was an active toddler, and I didn't know how I was going to handle two under two. I felt really overwhelmed by the pregnancy.
I recall a time when Eirik and Evan were outside with the neighbors laughing and having a great time, and I was lying in bed crying my eyes out. I didn't want to be pregnant and felt resentful of the decision. This feeling lasted for a few months, but I was unaware that this was an illness and never sought out any medical help.
During this pregnancy, I started having difficulty breathing and went to the emergency room where I was diagnosed with pneumonia. I was about sixteen weeks along and asked if they would do an ultrasound just to make sure everything was okay.
We got a sneak peak at the baby and found out it was a boy. While I was happy that the baby was fine, I felt a little disappointed about the gender. I never had a sister and I have always been a girly-girl. I love doing hair and spent many years as a makeup artist. I love to shop and go crazy for baby girl dresses. We already had a girl's name picked out—Audrey Sophia.
Our son Eithan was born on Easter Sunday in 2007. The delivery went smoothly—in fact I never even had to push—he just fell out!
When the epidural wore off I reached over to try and pick him up and realized it was too painful, and I still couldn't feel my legs. I could barely stand and when I tried to walk it hurt so badly that I could only do the granny shuffle.
My obstetrician consulted a neurologist who ordered an MRI. They tried to tell me that I had strained a muscle from pushing, but I snapped back at them, "I didn't even push at all!" I was convinced that the epidural needle had injured a nerve, causing my paralysis.
This temporary paralysis lasted for nearly two weeks and Evan was a very busy twenty-two-month old! I spent the first few weeks home in bed, barely able to pick up my new son. All I wanted to do was get out in the fresh air and go for a walk, but I couldn't. There is nothing I hate more than feeling stuck. But I was stuck. I was helpless. Luckily, my mom stepped in and helped me take care of the kids for a few weeks.
Chapter ThreeGoing for Number Three
While we were really happy with our two boys, the talk of a third child started popping up like tulips in the spring.
Eirik came from a family of three kids, so to him this seemed normal. I grew up with divorced parents and lived with my mom and younger brother, so a family of five seemed huge to me.
I had several concerns about having another baby.
Can I handle three small children? Maybe we should just be thankful for what we have.
"If we don't try you'll never have a girl," Eirik said.
"Yeah, but what if we have three boys?" I replied. "Then I'll really be outnumbered!"
"We won't, it's going to be a girl next time," he said with complete confidence.
Normally I would not believe someone who told me this, but he was two for two so far. While he doesn't like to admit it, my husband has an incredible sixth sense. The moment that Evan was conceived he said he "felt it and knew it was a boy." The same thing happened the second time around. Therefore, I was pretty certain the girl chance would be good.
When my brother Brian and I were kids I really wanted a sister and I nicknamed him Brianna. Brian is three and a half years younger than I am, and I used to dress him up in my clothes and put makeup on him. Somewhere I have an old photo that will make really good blackmail!
Something felt missing by not having a girl in my life. But that wasn't enough to talk me into having three kids. I was still worried about all of the practical aspects.
Can I have a career and three kids under school age? How will we pay for three kids in day care, sports, and college? Will we have enough room in our house? We'll have to get a minivan!
While I tend to worry about the details, Eirik is great about seeing the big picture. "Don't you want a large family? We both have small families and hardly any relatives. It would be so nice to have a big family as we grow older," he said. That was definitely not the perspective I had originally taken on the subject matter, but it made complete sense.
That October, I went with my mom to visit my brother and his wife and their two kids, Sam and Allie in California. They were pregnant with their third child. Since they live so far away, I hadn't gotten to know my niece and nephew very well. At the time, my niece was not quite two years old.
During that visit I put her hair in cute pigtails. I helped her get dressed in pink girly-girl outfits. I went with her to gymnastics class.
My brother looked at me and said, "You want one, don't you?"
"What do you mean?" I replied.
"You want a girl. You need a girl," he said.
"Yeah, I do," I blushed.
When I returned from that trip, I looked at Eirik and said, "Okay, let's go for it!" Of course I knew full well that the baby could be a boy, but I decided that while I might be disappointed, I would love any child and that a large family seemed right for us. So on Halloween night of 2008, we made the scary decision to become parents once again.
One cold blustery day in January, just after the excitement of the holidays had ended, I decided to take a day off and stay home from work. Eirik was working and the boys were at day care. I didn't quite know what to do with myself in the rare situation I was faced with: all alone in a quiet house.
I paced around the house wanting to take another pregnancy test, but I knew that Eirik would be disappointed if he wasn't there.
I had taken two pregnancy tests earlier in the week and they were both negative, but I couldn't help feeling like they were wrong. In fact, with both previous pregnancies the first few tests were a false negative.
The suspense was killing me! I am one of those people that need to open things up immediately because the anticipation of an unopened package makes me go crazy.
When Eirik and I got married several gifts were mailed to us before the wedding. Unfortunately for Eirik, all the gifts were opened and put away before he ever got a chance to see them.
I couldn't control the suspense any longer.
The test will probably be negative anyway, and then Eirik will never need to know I took the test without him.
I gave into my burning desire to want an answer immediately and took another pregnancy test. This time it was positive!
Then I got really sad because I was all alone and didn't have anyone to share the good news with. I didn't want to call Eirik and tell him at work or over e-mail, but I was dying to tell someone.
I decided to go shopping instead and find a cute way to surprise the family. I bought a pink shopping bag and put the pregnancy test inside, along with a pacifier, candy, and some other baby items. I decided to make spaghetti dinner that night. That would have been enough of a surprise to my husband since cooking is not my favorite thing to do.
Excerpted from SUPERMOM by Stacey Ackerman Copyright © 2011 by Stacey Ackerman. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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