I waited so long to have a baby! First, it took me forever to fall in love with the right guy and get married. Because of this, I didn't have my daughter until I was 38 years old. Considering that I had never changed a diaper before having my daughter, I had no idea what I was getting myself into! I found myself to be incredibly depressed after the birth. I did have some problems at the end of my pregnancy and had to have my baby over 4 weeks early to prevent her from being stillborn (we got incredibly lucky on that one). Because of this, my daughter had to spend two weeks in the NICU. It was so hard leaving the hospital without her! In addition to all this, my mom was having health problems and had a series of surgeries scheduled, so she wasn't able to come out to help me with the baby.
After having the baby, I found myself crying all the time. My husband encouraged my OB to prescribe me anti-depressants, which I initially didn't think were necessary. I didn't have a firm grasp on knowing how much of my depression was due to a case of the baby blues and how much of it was due to my mother's health problems. We did some research on the medication, and it didn't seem like the right thing to do. Because my daughter was born a little early, she had a hard time staying awake for feedings, which is a big reason why she had to be in the NICU. A lot of her feedings had to be delivered via a feeding tube. A side effect of the anti-depressants was drowsiness for the newborn. This was something I didn't want to increase.
I couldn't understand why I wasn't happy. It was a miracle that my daughter wasn't stillborn. Having a baby was something I wanted for so many years! Yet, I felt like the world's most inept mother. Nothing seemed to come easily! When breast-feeding finally seemed to be working, my daughter became extremely bloated and started projectile vomiting. It turned out that she was unable to digest the proteins in my breast milk, so I had to follow an elimination diet. I wasn't allowed to eat anything containing dairy, soy, nuts, peanuts, eggs, fish, and shellfish. When my daughter was about 8 weeks old, my mother passed away. I was a mess!
What helped me a lot was a phone call. A woman I hardly knew called me to make sure the baby blues weren't getting the better of me. She was a wife of a coworker of my husband, and she was a family therapist. Initially, I had assumed my husband asked her to call me since I had gotten so crazy. She assured me he didn't. She called me because the same thing had happened to her, and she wanted to help me. In fact, she was so moved by her own experiences that she pursued her Master's degree in counseling because of it. She did her thesis on older woman becoming moms. Out of her universe of over 30 women who were over 30 years of age, every single one of them felt exactly as we had: inept and the world's worse mother. Women who have excelled in the workplace and had so much independence have a harder time adjusting to motherhood. We're not use to being so out of control of our environment. Add in the lack of sleep and the hormones and look out!
After having this phone conversation, I felt the great weight of depression leaving me! All I needed to hear was that I was normal--I was not alone in feeling the way I did. I honestly was on the verge of going on medication! All I needed to hear were those simple words--"You are not alone!"
Not long after that, Brooke Shields came out with her book on postpartum depression, "Down Came the Rain." I didn't read the book, but I remember being so thankful that this topic was out in the public domain! I'm sure it helped many women understand that they weren't alone either! Maybe this helped some women to avoid medication, like me! Maybe it encouraged other women to get medication who truly needed it! I think it was great that Brooke Shields took a subject that was taboo and got people talking about it! Fantastic!
This summer, unfortunately, has seen a few cases of mothers murdering their children with autism. It has raised the ire of mothers on the parenting boards screaming for justice for the poor murdered children. I'm sure there will be justice. But to me, the real story is what drove these women to commit these horrible acts of violence. I really think there are a lot of parallels with postpartum depression. True, there are no fluctuating hormones, but there's also no end in sight for these mothers and other mothers raising children with severe autism. I used to attend a support group for mothers of children with special needs. I heard stories of how they had to change diapers and shower their 13 year-old boys. How they had to deal with their children hitting and biting them. How they had to deal with their children never being able to talk--never being able to say, "I love you." How their children had endless tantrums because the world was just too light or too noisy for them. How they had to deal with decreasing state budgets that meant less respite support. I honestly don't know how these women managed. It was heart-breaking to me.
My daughter is extremely high-functioning. We have no doubt that she'll be placed in gifted classes and will attend college someday. She's capable of having friendships with her typical peers. We even have hopes that over time, she'll be so high-functioning that she won't be considered to be on the spectrum anymore. Nevertheless, I had to deal with my own depression at times. This was mostly an issue before we had her diagnosed and had interventions like behavior therapy that helped her so much. It was hard dealing with her tantrums. She'd cry if I made a left turn while driving, but she wanted me to make a right turn. She had endless tantrums over weird, mundane things. It was really hard to cope.
What do mothers do when their children show no sign of progress? What supports are in place to help them? Apparently, more needs to be done. Oh yes, we can describe the mothers who kill as evil and horrible, but does this prevent other cases from happening? I think we need to come up with ways to help women before problems begin.
In my case, I've been impressed that every single interventionist that has been through my door has pulled me aside at some point and asked me how I'm handling the stress of the situation. They've all stated the importance of "me time." Because my daughter has done so well, I've found the stress and depression quickly went away as well. I'm lucky! Regarding the mothers who've committed murder, I can't help but wonder if anyone had taken the time to ask them how they were doing and provided them the help they needed before they murdered their children. Something tells me they didn't have any kind of support--any kind of safety net to help them out. That's terrible, and of course, the ultimate victims were their children.
This shouldn't happen in our society.