Guest writer: Christine Lyalko
You can’t tell, but the woman on the left was suffering and in a dark place when this photo was taken.
I thought having a miscarriage was the most devastating time in my life. I wasn’t expecting the overwhelming and all consuming grief I felt over something that wasn’t even an actual baby yet. I was only 7 weeks along when I lost it (although I have to point out to myself that the “only” in that sentence is an unfair word I use to describe my pain, because I thought my pain was not as great as those who lose babies when they’re farther along – but it’s awful no matter what).
But then I experienced PPD, or some version of it, after having my son.
I read up on PPD, my OB told me about it, I heard about it from a friend who experienced it. I was armed, prepared, ready to call it out if it happened. But honestly, I didn’t experience even an ounce of it with my daughter, so no way was I going to have it with this baby I wished for so badly. And I wanted him SO BADLY. I even “prayed” for a baby in my mind to a God I don’t particularly believe in *just in case*. When I got pregnant again, I was ecstatic. I loved him immediately. And when I gave birth I was in heaven, head over heels, could not be happier.
But 6 weeks later something changed, tilted, knocked me on my ass. He wasn’t sleeping. He cried a lot. I still had hormones and chemicals running their course through my body. But mostly, HE WASN’T SLEEPING. I was a level of exhausted I didn’t know was possible. Having two kids was nothing I had prepared for. I was suddenly choosing between nursing my infant or making dinner for my 3 year old daughter. Bouncing him around like mad to stop the crying, or doing her bedtime routine. Waking him up from a nap or being late to pick her up from daycare. The choosing killed me. I felt awful every minute that I had both of them with me. And when my daughter was at daycare, I was spending most of the day crying. The second he would fall asleep, I’d tiptoe downstairs and eat finally or shower finally and then go to lay down and POOF. He would wake up crying every damn time. So I’d skip eating or showering, and just lay down immediately, but somehow those were the times he’d wake up instantly and cry too. I put my head down, he’d cry. I’d give up and stay awake to do chores, he’d sleep. My head touched a pillow, the monitor lit up like a Christmas tree. It felt evil, like the universe was somehow punishing me. It felt like absolute torture.
So most of the time, I’d cry. I’d cry with him, along side him, tears would sometimes spill onto his head and that would make me cry harder. Writing about it now makes me cry. And for some context, I rarely cry, so this was unnerving. But I thought I was just exhausted, just totally sleep deprived, perfectly normal. Until one day when, after a night of barely any sleep for us both, he finally was passed out around 5:30 am. My husband got up to get ready for work and I was trying to stay in bed thinking I could get a half hour of sleep in, which sounded like bliss. It was then that my daughter opened the door to our room, slammed it shut (not on purpose), woke the baby and I started screaming at the top of my lungs into a pillow. My husband looked at me with a worry I hadn’t seen before.
Then the awful thoughts started coming. I’m going to be raw and honest here which quite frankly is terrifying but I think it’s important because I believe I am not alone…. I started thinking it was all a giant mistake. How had I ever thought another baby was a good idea? Why did I do this to us, we were so happy before? Did I even love him? Did he even love me? Maybe they would be better off without me? I could suddenly understand how a mother could run away from her family. I even daydreamed about it sometimes, what life would be like if I took off. I didn’t want to be there. I desperately pleaded for time to go faster so I could go back to work and bring him to daycare so I didn’t have to be with him all day. And with all these thoughts came the loudest one of all: I am the worst mother in the world, an absolute failure and do not deserve these kids. I know now that it was the PPD taking over, but I have never felt such utter disgust in myself in my entire life.
For weeks I alternated between guilty, disgusted, hopeless, desperate, sad, angry, confused, lonely, anxious – sometimes a combination of some or all of these. There were happy moments too of course, but the heaviness of those other feelings drew me so far down into a place I didn’t think was possible. I didn’t want to talk to anyone, didn’t call anyone, barely answered texts. And I definitely didn’t want to hang out with anyone – even if I did at times, I didn’t want to and would be counting down the minutes until they would leave. And for the most part, my husband didn’t know any of this. He’s a wonderful hands-on husband and father, so it was through no fault of his own. I was really good at hiding it, really good at keeping it inside.
This was PPD (or like I said before, some version of it). I knew it, although I constantly told myself I was just exhausted, if I could sleep, it would get better, I would be better. It was the lack of sleep for sure. I almost convinced myself that’s all that it was. But that was only a piece of it and I knew it deep down and for some reason I couldn’t say it out loud. And this went on for another 4 months, which felt like 4 years.
Three key things happened during this time that were small moments with profound affects for me and which I truly believe eventually pulled me out of this state. If it weren’t for these 3 things I truly think I would have suffered longer.
First, at around 8-9 weeks postpartum, a girlfriend reached out to me to ask me to join her at the gym, a spin class she had been going to. Having two kids of her own, she is a big believer in “me” time and innocently asked me to go with her, wanting to get me out of the house, but not realizing what I was going through on the inside. I was extremely hesitant BUT the idea of getting away for a guilt-free activity like working out suddenly seemed like bliss. I have ALWAYS disliked working out, but at the time I disliked being home more. So I went, even with my “lady area” newly healed. And I LOVED it. The darkness, the music so loud you could no longer hear your own thoughts, the heart pounding movements, the adrenaline, a dark and loud place where I could ugly-cry and no one could hear or see me. It was exactly what I needed. So I started going to this class every now and then when I could get a sitter, then once a week, then twice a week. I’d go and I’d cry and I’d sweat and I’d come out a tiny bit lighter. I’d never understood the appeal of working out before but suddenly it was my saving grace and I was hooked. I’ve been going now for well over a year and a half, mixing in other types of workouts too. I’ve never felt healthier or stronger, mentally and physically, and I absolutely love it.
The second thing that happened was, a week or so after that first friend reached out, I was texting with some girlfriends one day, thinking I was just doing some normal venting but in my clouded mind didn’t see that my words were concerning. I wasn’t trying to let on that anything was really wrong – in fact I was actively avoiding it. But whatever I said, two of my girlfriends decided they were going to confront me and tell me they thought something bigger was going on. It was like a dam broke and whether they knew it or not I cried harder then ever before when they started telling me their concerns. But it was what I needed…I suddenly felt like my dirty secret was exposed but in a good way, as if them figuring it out on their own gave me the freedom to open up a bit. I still insisted it was sleep deprivation but a little crack in wall I’d built opened up, providing a relief I didn’t know I could feel.
The third thing to happen was at 13 weeks I went back to work. I hated that I was excited, but I was and that’s the truth. And it was a HUGE factor in getting back to my normal self. Just being in a normal routine, showering every day, using my brain, talking to adults, having all that distraction changed things drastically for me. My son still wasn’t sleeping great but being at work somehow pushed me to muster up the energy I needed to get me through the day. It was as if my body went from trying to fake the energy to actually having the energy. He didn’t start sleeping better until he was 5.5 months old, but by then I was feeling much better. In fact, the minute he started sleeping better it was as if that last little layer of heaviness lifted and I felt like a completely different person….although not really different, just the person I was before I gave birth.
Finally, I was working again, talking to my friends, going to the gym. And I was in love with my son. I swear I don’t cry a lot but I could cry once again thinking about it. Being so clouded and unable to focus on that love was the saddest time of my life. But all of a sudden, I was happy again and so obsessed with him that I’d put him down for bed and wish for the morning immediately so I could go get him. I’d spend a good half hour, if not more, just looking through his photos and videos the second I was away from him. It was just like when I had my daughter. It was the best feeling in the world.
So this story of mine is a little bit of advocacy for working out, because it absolutely saved me (as did going back to work and just getting time away from the house). But mostly this is a plea to reach out to anyone you think is going through a tough time after giving birth. I cannot even beg those going through PPD to ask for help because even if you recognize it, can name it, are totally aware of it, it’s debilitating. For me, I felt that it was a burden I needed to bare for some reason and frankly I didn’t know how to truly talk about it. And because I felt all those awful feelings listed above, namely the guilt and embarrassment, I stayed silent. So, for those that know someone who just had a baby, try to pay close attention. Reach out, get them out of the house, suggest a spin class, barre, yoga whatever. To my two girlfriends who paid attention and confronted me and to my friend that asked me to go to a spin class with her to get me out of the house: THANK YOU. I am forever grateful to them, to my body for allowing me to get out of that misery, to the exercise that brought me to such a healthy place, and to my babies.
Fast forward a year and a half. The woman on the right is happy and healthy, both mentally and physically. And absolutely beyond imagination in love with both of her kids.