Sleep and Post-Partum Depression


I know I'm tired when I don't want to write. When it has to be wrenched out of me and the little tiny people in my brain (what, you don't have those?) are fighting like mad men to keep the door shut. It's not that I'm not thinking, just not thinking very well. There is an overwhelming sensation at all times that I'd pretty much just rather be sleeping. Life is somewhat less interesting. I start to write and then I yawn and stop... because whatever it is just doesn't seem worth writing about. At least not by my hand.

Another of the odd affects of fatigue is that I battle with stuttering. It is completely involuntary and as if my mouth has somehow rebelled against my brain. It's bad enough that I can't remember even simple words that I have known since I was two, but now I have to worry about being able to say them once they are recalled. The solution is getting more sleep. But since that isn't reliable, I have found that slowing down helps... focusing on the first letter and staying there until I have hold of it. Like humming. Mmmmm. Conversation around my house might go as follows (only slightly exaggerated):

Me: I can't remember a word that I need. What's the name of that thing with the g-g-g-grrrreen stuff on top and the brown stick in the middle.

Professor: Lollipop?

Me: No. No. You know, the things outside and the green is lots and puffy and under the clouds?

Professor: (His eyes widening a bit with alarm) You mean a TREE???

Me: Yes, thank you so much. A tree.

It's bad. Real bad.

I have a temper when I'm exhausted. The presence of many high pitched bickering voices tends to set it off quickly as does the sight of someone's underthings left in the bathroom. When my frustration reaches the breaking point, they all give each other the look that says "Here we go. Whatever you do, don't laugh." And I know it's happening and it's like the stuttering. I need to take it slowly or my m-m-m-m-mouth runs off to do it's own thing.

There is no napping for me in this house. It is far easier to stay awake than to start to fall asleep and be awakened by pokes or cries or stares. All you parents know what I mean by that last one. They don't actually do anything to awaken you... they just stare at you. You open your eyes to find a little child about 3 inches from your face willing you awake. And it always works.

I'm convinced that fatigue is one of the primary causes of post-partum depression. It messes with your body chemistry and emotions and perspective. True depression is a physiological problem that is often triggered by an difficult event or lifestyle. Over a period of time, the body hormones change as a result of our turmoil... and life becomes harder and duller than it should be. It spirals out of control until climbing out is difficult or impossible for a person to do alone. Did you ever go to bed feeling hopeless and overwhelmed and then wake up feeling like Little Miss Sunshine? Sleep is a powerful healer. It only makes sense that long term sleep deprivation leads to depression. Post-partum depression really is common... and that is not surprising to me at all.

I'm not currently struggling with depression but I recognize that there are certain things I need to do to stay well. Sleep is one of them. Slow is another. I am grateful that this is a relatively slow period in our lives and I am guarding it jealously. I need to be home a lot and I stay home a lot. My place right now is here and it might appear to others to be boring, lazy, anti-social, or dull... but it is the right place for me to be. Thank God we got over our frenetic, sport-centric, success-driven lifestyle. I'd be a mess.

I've experienced a bit of "baby blues" after each child as I battle sleepless nights and juggle responsibilities, but my only experience with true PPD was after my 5th child. She had a bad reaction to her newborn hepatitis vaccine and screamed for the first 6 weeks of life. Crying replaced sleeping. We were also trying to sell our 1100 square foot home while still living and homeschooling in it. And I was driving to and spending hours at sports practices every single day. I chose love and understood joy intellectually... but the feeling was gone. It took a good year before I even had the desire to read a good book or pursue any interests beyond what was required. It became more than getting a little sleep could cure and was a lonely and painful time... but I firmly believe that the exhaustion from lifestyle and circumstances was the cause that started a chain reaction. In other words, it didn't have to be that way.

Fatigue affects relationships. Exhaustion requires me to focus like a laser beam on the important tasks at hand. The difficulty is that everyone is important and their needs are important. Sometimes I am too tired to cook and read and talk and bounce babies but I do it anyway. By the end of the day, I don't have as much energy as I would like for my beloved. We still spend time together but I fade quickly, fighting for every inch of clarity. He sees me after I am taxed to the end of my strength. I am so grateful for his loving patience.

Before I began my elimination diet and discovered my wheat intolerance, I made an appointment with one of the most reputable rheumatologists in our area. I was looking for answers to my chronic pain and swelling and thought he would have the answer. My official diagnosis? FATIGUE. He told me I was healthy as a horse and that exhaustion can cause a whole host of physical symptoms, including pain. He was ultimately wrong in his diagnosis (and I knew it at the time) but I found it interesting nonetheless. Exhaustion doesn't just cause discomfort... it can cause real pain and illness.

I really think God designed the postpartum period to be a slow time. Everything points to it. The fact that breastfeeding requires extremely frequent nursing. The slow physical recovery for mom from labor and delivery. A baby's strong need to be so often held and comforted. The fact that as soon as one newborn hurdle is conquered (colic, jaundice, etc.), other things quickly pop up to replace them (teething, crawling, etc.). Our culture is cold to these slow needs and expects mothers to take six weeks and then press on...

Sports practice.
Play dates.
Church ministries.
School demands.
Meal planning.
Household management.
Mom's taxi service.
Family obligations.
Work schedules.
Relationship building.
Scheduled hobbies.
Daily Mass.
Friendship maintenance.
Personal care.
Care of the children.
Nursing babies.
Music lessons.
Acts of service.
Prayer time.
Holiday prep.
Food shopping.
Household projects.
Date nights.
Social obligations.

All good things. But I'm tired. When the phone rings, I cringe and think:

 I don't care who you are, the answer is no. Unless you're offering to clean my kitchen. Then please, my time is yours. Would you like a latte?

So if you don't see me at whatever thing is going on tonight that I was supposed to be at, you'll know why. I'm jealously guarding my well-being for the sake of my family. It's the only excuse that I need, even if no one else understands.

Posted on September 17, 2013 and filed under "PPD", "post partum depression", "sleep".