A Single Mom’s Postpartum Anxiety

This essay is a little different than the others I’ve posted. The point of view is first person. Instead of shifting the interview to third person, I’ve decided to blend direct quotations from Jessica and my own paraphrasing of her words. 

When I turned 35, all of my friends got pregnant at once, even the ones who said they’d never have children. I wasn’t distraught about this fact, but it got me thinking. I’d been on Match.com and other dating websites, and I’d had terrible luck. So I began casually thinking maybe it was time to look into getting pregnant. I thought I’d just make a phone call, nothing major.

I made the appointment at Carolina Conceptions, and I already knew then that I was willing to be a mother on my own, but I wasn’t planning on anything really happening right away. I was just beginning the process.

I had to go through three tests to check on my fertility, and then I could make an appointment two months before I wanted to start trying to conceive. Then my bloodwork came back from one of the tests and my AMH, a hormone produced by ovarian follicles, was low, very low, and this process went from something I’d just think about to something that had to be done right away. I remember asking the doctor, “Can’t I wait until April? What’s two more months?” And she replied, “We should move ahead immediately.”

So I was suddenly picking out a sperm donor, and I decided to keep my criteria simple: I wanted someone who had a lot of sisters (for the very unscientific reason that this would gave me a better chance of having a girl), and I wanted someone who I would want to have dinner with, a good person.

I got pregnant on the first try. So for all the worry, I was already pregnant in February of 2014.

My pregnancy was normal and besides some job stress, I was ready to have a baby and had a plan in place for family and friend support, and my dad came down from New Jersey even before my due date.

I ended up with a C-section due to blood pressure issues, and they didn’t do the anesthesia correctly, and I could feel the procedure, so they gave me nitric oxide as well, but the nitric oxide made me hallucinate, and as I lay there, I thought they said the baby was dying. My first thought in this drug-induced state was “God, save me.” When we would return to the hospital later, I was plagued with guilt for having this thought about myself, instead of the health of my child. When I woke up after the C-section, I thought I was dying and asked the nurse. Then I asked about my dad and my doula, and then the nurse had to remind me that I had a baby. This entire experience left me feeling a total lack of confidence, disoriented, and guilty from the beginning.

My panic began on the ride home from the hospital. When we were only a block away, I asked my dad to pull over because I thought Michelle, my daughter, was choking. Dad pulled over and checked Michelle and said everything looked fine to him. This was the beginning of my excessive worry about her health.

We got home on a Friday and I woke my dad up many times to ask if she was breathing and he would say “she looks fine” yet he got up every time to console me. The next day was Saturday and we had some visitors and then we were headed to bed, and I wish we had just gone to bed that night, but instead, we stayed up to watch the news. I was holding Michelle, and she just started twitching, like a marionette string. I asked my dad if this was normal. “Let me hold her,” he said. While he held Michelle, I picked up my iPad and began to Google. This led to more panic. I called the pediatrician, who went through a list of questions with me, and then recommend we take Michelle to the ER.

That was the longest ride. We were sleep-deprived, and I couldn’t drive due to the C-section and my dad wasn’t familiar with the area. Everything about that drive was terrible.

I stopped taking my pain meds the day we went to the hospital. I wanted to be totally clear and able to make decisions.  I remember a doctor coming in with a group of interns. I could tell we were something to see, an interesting case. This made me worry even more. I remember the cleaning lady, on that first day, came into our room, saw Michelle, and immediately began to pray and ask Jesus to lift her up. The second day, when Michelle was still hooked up to all the tubes and monitors, the cleaning lady wouldn’t even look me in the eye. From her reaction, I knew things looked as bad as I thought. However, everything came out fine. Michelle’s twitching was normal, and they sent us home.

But I couldn’t stop diagnosing her and thinking she was going to die. I didn’t believe them.

Eventually, my dad had to return to Jersey, so my best friend flew down to Raleigh and drove us back up to Jersey for the holidays.

In Jersey, I remember being on my phone a lot. I was googling or calling doctors. She would sleep with her head thrown back, way back. This worried me. She also spit up a lot. I was worried about all of this. I saw a pediatrician in Jersey three times during our month there, and I called my pediatrician back home at least two times per week.

While I was in Jersey during that month, I realized things were bad. My brother-in-law came to Christmas dinner sick, and he got my dad sick. Dad was bed-ridden for a few days, so I was completely alone with Michelle for the first time. And I just held her and cried. This isn’t right, I told myself.

I was scared to take Michelle with me to any of my appointments. I was a single mom, and I felt judged. What if they took her away from me? And even though my dad helped as much as he could, he didn’t understand. He would say “I don’t know what’s wrong. You have a beautiful baby.” And my first thought would be she’ll still be beautiful when she’s dead, because I really thought she was dying or sick. That was always on my mind.

One night, while still in Jersey, I called my dad at his girlfriend’s and said “I think she’s sick.” He came home, in the middle of the night. He was angry. He tried to reason with me: “This is not what a sick baby looks like. Sick babies don’t look this good.” And it clicked then. She was eating. She had good color. She wasn’t sick. This was me. “Maybe you have postpartum,” he said. I spent the next day trying to get Zoloft without success from my doctor in North Carolina.

So I went to an urgent care in Jersey. The nurse there was really nice when I started bawling uncontrollably. She printed me off all these resources in NC.

The doctor finally came in and said, “I can prescribe you one month of 50 mg of Zoloft, but if that doesn’t work, you’ll probably have to be hospitalized.”

So I didn’t take the Zoloft. It can’t not work if I’m not taking.  And I didn’t want hospitalization as an option on the table.

So I went back to North Carolina without much improving in early January, as scheduled, for Michelle’s pediatrician appointment. I had an entire list of questions, 30-40, for the pediatrician. I even had them grouped in certain categories, so that I could quickly refer to the list and not let her see how many questions I actually had. I began crying as I asked my questions. This was when our pediatrician gently and effectively intervened. She told me about Moms Supporting Moms, a local support group.

However, I still didn’t take any immediate action that day.

Two days later, I was talking on the phone with a friend who has always been there for me. I could call her at 1 AM and she would answer. She asked me what I was going to do. She said, “I’m not saying this because I don’t want to talk to you but we’re at the point when it’s more than I can help you with and you’re not enjoying Michelle.” This finally pushed me to take real action.

I called my OB and said I still wasn’t feeling well. They said they would call in Xanax while I waited for the Zoloft to start working, since I had just begun to take the Zoloft and it can take many weeks to work. However, the nurse warned me that due to the side effects “You’ll have to be really careful while taking Xanax because you might drop the baby.” This comment did not help my anxiety. And then they didn’t even call in the Xanax.

I called the warmline for Moms Supporting Moms and waited on a call back from them. I was just waiting, and it felt like forever.

Then they got the Xanax that day and the support group called me back and there was a meeting that next night. Once I got on the meds and started going to group, I got better.

A year later, I finally, fully believed Michelle was going to be okay. I didn’t think she was going to die that entire year, but I was always worried that something wasn’t quite right. I always had my eye out for something wrong with her.

But I’m a lot better, and I have Michelle to thank for that too. She’s just a great kid.

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