After my second (Pixie) was born, I waited for the depression to hit the way it had with Bug. It never did. Between the sleep deprivation and the everyday stresses of life, I did have some trouble, but I was prepared, and this time I knew how to handle it. Making sure that I napped when Pixie was napping helped a lot, and knowing that I wasn’t expected to do and think and feel perfectly helped even more.
If I hadn’t learned from my previous experiences, I would have had a harder time dealing with the D-MER.
What the heck is D-MER? I certainly didn’t know. Not until Pixie was ten and a half months old, and by that time the worst had passed.
It turns out there’s more than one way for your brain to torture you after giving birth. I’ve always taken pride in being original, so regular old post-partum depression just wasn’t going to cut it this time. Instead, for the first 8 months or so, almost every time I sat down to nurse, I felt like I’d been smacked by a sledgehammer of nausea, fear, and self-loathing. D-MER. Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex.
Nursing a baby involves some complex hormonal interactions. Oxytocin, prolactin, and dopamine are involved in milk let-down, and in the warm, fuzzy, happy feelings usually associated with breastfeeding. You know, smiling mommy cuddled up in a rocking chair with a calm, sweet infant in a pastel blanket. Well, some moms don’t get that. The current theory is that their dopamine doesn’t release the right way. This causes feelings that are exactly the opposite of what a mother should experience when feeding her child. They fade a few minutes into feeding, but boy, those first few minutes can be hard to ignore.1
As soon as I’d grab my baby to nurse, it would start. A feeling in the pit of my stomach, like I’d accidentally taken a swallow of rotten milk. I’d remember whatever food I’d eaten last, and the thought would make me feel even sicker. Then I’d feel upset with myself for eating the food. Okay, upset is too tame a word. Worthless. I was a worthless pig for eating that snack; for eating at all, ever. That’s why I was so fat. Because I was always eating. And the house was messy, and I wasn’t a good mom, and I was a horrible, bitter, vindictive person who wasn’t ever going to get anywhere in life and would go to Hell after I died, if I actually believed in such a place, which I didn’t, but God was still going to be very displeased with me, and I would be separated from my family forever. Because I was a failure.
Not exactly the train of thought that comes to mind when you picture a new mommy snuggled up with her soft suckling infant. But that’s what I went through, occasionally at 3 am with tears streaming down my face.
I learned to anticipate it. Sometimes I wanted to yank Pixie off my breast to make it stop, but I gritted my teeth and powered through, wanting to do the best thing for her. If it weren’t for what I’d learned having Post Partum Depression with Bug, I would have felt worse. I would have felt like a bad mom. I would have wondered if I didn’t love my baby enough, since I felt so bad nursing her. I would have wondered whether God was angry with me. Fortunately, this time I knew better.
As the months went by, the horrible sensations softened. I didn’t know what to call them. When I finally told DH what was happening, I was afraid I would sound neurotic, whiny, and crazy. But as always, he was ready with a big hug and a squeeze of my hand. Exactly what I was hoping for.
Mid-September, I happened to mention my problem on a blog I frequent. By then, the horrible feelings of despair and self-hatred had reduced to a small spike at the beginning of every few feedings. It happened to be that someone else who had experienced the same thing and gotten a diagnosis read my comment and shared her information. Before that, I didn’t even know that what I was experiencing had a name. I thought it was just another permutation of Heidi’s Crazy. She said she’d felt the same way, and had been incredibly relieved to find out that she wasn’t just imagining things.
Why am I writing about this? Everyone on my block is probably going to read it and think I’m nutty.
Except the people who have been there.
And for them, this could be salvation. The knowledge that they are not alone. That they are not bad, or crazy, and that they didn’t do anything to bring this on themselves and they aren’t being punished. They have Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex, caused by a hormonal malfunction beyond their control. And God still loves them, and they are still good moms.
One person speaking up can change the life of someone who is suffering. Speak up, and you help banish the guilt and the stigma. Stay silent, and someone may suffer for it. What do you know that could ease the burden of someone like you? Have you experienced depression? Do you have days or weeks where you’d rather be doing anything but staying at home with your kids? Do you feel like the work you do as a mom comes any way but naturally? It’s time to tell someone. Make a comment here, talk to your friends, bring it up at church or at your neighborhood barbecue. Someone out there is waiting for you to say something so they can know they’re not alone.
1http://d-mer.org/ (June 16 2008) April 30 2012