I love our dog. He’s a royal pain in the tush sometimes, but I do ultimately love him. He was my napping partner in pregnancy, curling up on the end of the bed while I napped early in pregnancy, and curling up right next to me on the guest bed when I found myself on bedrest towards the end. He let me cry right into his furry neck when I was overwhelmed and scared at the possibility of having a pre term baby, and he diligently keeps me safe when Shawn is out of town (even if he is a little over zealous in what constitutes a threat…he was very concerned about a snowman across the street one afternoon).
But about two or three weeks after we brought J. Bug home, I found myself hating our dog. Loathing him. I could barely walk for about a month after birth, so my Mom and then Shawn’s parents took primary care of Cole while they were here. Shawn was able to take care of him most of the time after that, but once I could walk and I was home by myself most of the day with Bug and Cole, I almost couldn’t stand the sight of him. One time he started pooping in the house, and Bug was screaming his head off. I was so frustrated that I just opened our back door and let Cole loose in our fenceless backyard. I ashamedly admit that I was half hoping that he’d just run off. To my dismay, he ran to the back of the yard, did his business, and came right back inside. Cole has an uncanny ability to decide to be particulary mischevious when my hands are full with J. Bug. He would bark just as soon as I got Bug down for a nap, or he would start chewing on something he shouldn’t while I was breastfeeding and couldn’t chase him down. Even when Cole would shake – jangling his ears and dog tag- right outside J. Bug’s bedroom door, threatening to wake him – I would get so mad at him I’d clench my teeth, shake my fist at him, grab him by the collar, and drag him to his crate. I just couldn’t handle him.
I knew my frustration with him was most likely projected frustration with Bug. After all, I couldn’t really get upset at a helpless infant for not sleeping, but I COULD blame Cole. I couldn’t take my sense of being overwhelmed and frustration at getting so little sleep out on J. Bug – but I could take it out on Cole. I couldn’t yell at Bug when he was crying…and crying…and crying…but I could yell at Cole. Shawn noticed my increasingly short temper with Cole, and bought me the book “Marley and Me” for Christmas. It’s an easy read, and I read it out loud while I was nursing Bug, so I worked through it pretty quickly. The story details the couple’s marriage and then purchase of Marley…a hyperactive lab who was dubbed the world’s worst dog. The wife (Jenny) was put on bedrest with their second child because of a risk of preterm labor (sound familiar?), and dealt with some postpartum depression after the birth. About three months after Bug was born, I read this excerpt from the book:
Complicating the sleep-deprived chaos that was our lives, our new baby had us terribly worried. Already underweight, Conor was unable to keep nourishment down. Jenny was on a single-minded quest to nurse him to robust health, and he seemed equally intent on foiling her. She would offer him her breast, and he would oblige her, sucking hungrily. Then, in one quick heave, he would throw it all up. She would nurse him again; he would eat ravenously, then empy his stomach yet again. Projectile vomiting became an hourly occurence in our lives. The doctors diagnosed reflux…Conor would eventually outgrow the condition and catch up on his weight, but for four long months we were consumed with worry over him. Jenny was a basket case of fear and stress and frustration, all exacerbated by lack of sleep, as she nursed him nearly nonstop and then watched helpess as he tossed her milk back at her. “I feel so inadequate,” she would say. “Moms are supposed to be able to give their babies everything they need.” Her fuse was as short as I had seen it, and the smallest infractions – a cupboard door left open, crumbs on the counter – would set her off.
The good news was that Jenny never once took out her anxiety on either baby. In fact, she nurtured both of them with almost obsessive care and patience. She poured every ounce of herself into them. The bad news was that she directed her frustration and anger at me and even more at Marley. She had lost all patience with him. He was squarely in her crosshairs and could do no right. Each transgression – and there continued to be many – pushed Jenny a little closer to the edge. Oblivious, Marley stayed the course with his antics and misdeeds and boundless jubilence…When he crashed through our small home, the bull in our china closest, I followed behind him, straightening throw rugs, righting coffee tables, and wiping up the spittle he flung on the walls. Before Jenny discovered them, I would race to vacuum up the wood chips in the garage where he had gouged the door once again. I stayed up late in the night patching and sanding so by morning when Jenny awoke the lastest damage would be covered over. “For God’s sake, Marley, do you have a death wish?” I said to him one night as he stood at my side, tail wagging, licking my ear as I knelt and repaired the most recent destruction. “You’ve got to stop this.”
It was into this volatile environment that I walked one evening. I opened the front door to find Jenny beating Marley with her fists. She was crying uncontrollably and flailing wildly at him, more like she was pounding a kettledrum than imposing a beating, landing glancing blows on his back and shoulders and neck. “Why? Why do you do this?” she screamed at him. “Why do you wreck everything?” Marley stood with his head down and legs splayed as though leaning into a hurricane. He didn’t try to flee or dodge the blows; he just stood there and took each one without whimper or complaint. “Hey! Hey! Hey!” I shouted, grabbing her wrists. “Come on. Stop. Stop!” She was sobbing and gasping for breath. “Stop,” I repeated. I stepped between her and Marley and shoved my face directly in front of hers. It was like a stranger was staring back at me. I did not recognize the look in her eyes. “Get him out of here,” she said, her voice flat and tinged with a quiet burn. “Get him out of here now.”
I can’t say that I was entirely surprised when I found myself showing signs of postpartum depression. Shawn and I had talked a lot about how we would handle it if it did become an issue, and I talked to a few friends at length who dealt with it. We knew that it was temporary, mostly hormonal, and not something that was anyone’s “fault.” Still, I was surprised by the intensity of it, and my helplessness to change it or move past it. I was overwhelmed and didn’t know how to deal with the stress, so I shut down. The feelings of being overwhelmed were honestly too much for me to handle, so I shut down ALL emotions so that I didn’t have to deal with the stressful ones. I was flat, mostly monotone, and emotionless. Even Shawn asking what I wanted for dinner was too much. I felt like I was making a million decisions every ten minutes, unsure if any single one was the right one. I felt like I was forever trying to guess at the right thing, always fearful that my guess was wrong. Trying to decide what to have for dinner on top of that? Forget it. Mundane decisions were enough to break me down because I was already feeling the load of guessing and deciding and guessing again, and deciding something different. I distinctly remember being almost scared to be in crowds – especially church. I did my best to fake being happy and confident, but I knew someone would notice. I hated making small talk – my mind felt like a huge fuzzy mess – making small talk was way beyond what I could handle.
My brain was foggy, my eyes were empty, my voice was flat, and my emotions were nonexistent. Sometimes I would crack, though. I quietly cried myself to sleep after being up with Bug in the wee hours of the night for two or three weeks. After a few particularly trying nights, I’d wake Shawn up, hand J. Bug to him, and heave huge sobs of inadequacy, doubt, frustration, anxiety, and sadness. Poor Shawn didn’t know who to deal with first – his screaming infant or sobbing wife. I was helpless to change the way I was dealing with my new stress, but for the life of me, I couldn’t make myself feel emotion, smile, or get excited about much. Bug was a couple weeks late at smiling, and I deeply worried that he was stunted because I didn’t smile enough at him. The first time he smiled at me was on his changing table, and I rested my head on the edge of the changing mat and cried. I was so relieved. It’s a frustrating feeling – to want to be happy, but to feel incapable. I suppose I thought that to allow any emotion in would mean that I’d have to deal with the emotions of being overwhelmed, and well…I didn’t have the luxury of time for a breakdown.
I felt like I was last on the list, and I resented Cole a little bit for even being before me on that list. When I could sit J. Bug down for a minute or two, Cole needed tending. Forget grabbing a quick shower, eating lunch, or even changing out of my pjs…Cole had to poop, needed food, needed water, or was barking like a maniac. I never wailed on Cole like Jenny did Marley, but I did take most of my frustrations out on him. The puppy never seemd to mind. He took my anger, screams, and mutters of “stupid dog” in stride. The only thing he seemed to do differently was to desire to be by my side (and underfoot) more, which only served to add to my frustration. No amount of yelling, pushing, or ignoring was enough to stop that dang dog from loving me uncoditionally.
I wish I knew exactly how it was that I came through postpartum depression. To be honest, I wish I knew that it’s completely in the past. I still feel overwhelmed, but I try to handle those feelings a little differently. I run two or three times a week, and use that time to problem solve, to zone out, to vent frustration, and to just get away. I focus on eating healthfully and try to get as many fruits and veggies in my diet as I can. I do my best to talk openly with Shawn and my Mom when I find myself feeling helplessly overwhelmed again, and I head to the coffee shop or grab a bath when time allows. I started noticing that my ability to handle the stress was directly linked to how much sleep I was getting, so I let Shawn get up with Bug if I know he’s not waking up out of hunger. Beyond that, my advice to anyone finding themselves in the middle of postpartum depression that isn’t severe (if you have the desire to hurt yourself, your baby, or anyone else, please see a doctor now) would be to do your best to keep healthy, get rest, talk openly about it, take as much as possible off of your plate, and then wait it out. The hormones will balance eventually and you’ll soon find yourself realizing that you’ve gone an entire week without a meltdown.
Shawn’s not here as I write this, so I won’t even attempt to describe what it’s like from his perspective. I know it’s not easy, though. I know he sometimes feels like he can’t ever do enough to give me relief and I can’t imagine how much this has worn on him for the past four and a half months. He’s a great man, though, and a wonderful husband, and there’s nobody else with whom I’d rather be taking this journey. If you’re a husband reading this though, I can describe a few of the things Shawn’s done that have helped. Perhaps most importantly, Shawn’s listened and held me when I’ve cried. It’s huge when he doesn’t try to ask me why I’m doing so much and adding to my stress, but just listens to me. He’s not complained about having to get up with Bug occasionally in the night, and he’s glad to take the baby from me when when I’m at my wits end.
Coletrane and I are slowly making up. He’s still as obnoxious as ever – barking way too often, chewing on Bug’s pacifiers, and pooping in the house – but my attitude towards him is starting to change again. He’s barking because he’s trying to protect J. Bug and I, he chews on Bug’s pacifier because he doesn’t know that it’s not his toy, and he poops in the house because, well – he’s the world’s worst dog. And I’m starting to love him for that.