Monday, August 23, 2010

Depression, I Know Thee Well - Part 1

Imagine you are expecting a much loved, much wanted baby. Imagine the baby is born early, and she is the little girl you were wishing for. Then imagine she dies, and you never get to hold her, be in the nursery with her, or comfort her as she passes away to Heaven. Your view of her was always through a nursery window. You are sent home from the hospital with nothing of hers, not even the little numbered hospital bracelet that matches yours. No lock of hair, no crib card, no footprints. She is buried and the only touch she has ever had of yours is the brief kiss you gave her at her funeral.
That is what happened to me. I am unable to write this without crying even though this happened nearly 36 years ago. What I am going to share with you is very personal. However, it is a story I want to share - I feel a longing to share to let people who have suffered depression know they are not alone.
After Meredith was buried, the rest of the world went back to regular routines. The cards stopped coming, the food deliveries stopped arriving, no more flowers arrived. (Let me say here that we were very thankful for all the kindnesses shown us. No gift, however small, went unnoticed.) No one in the family wanted to hear me cry or talk about her outside of my husband. Even my mother, who had a stillborn daughter herself, didn't want to see me upset and often shushed me if I started to cry about my baby. In later years, Mother changed her tune and grieved with me. Maybe at the time it brought up sad feelings for her - I will never know. My mother in law refused to look at the photos of Meredith that my father in law took at the funeral ( the only photos we have of her). I made an appointment with the pediatrician to go over the autopsy report and needed a ride to the office. MIL refused to take me and my husband couldn't take off work to go as he had already missed so much when the baby died. A church friend was going to take me, but she became ill with her pregnancy and had to keep canceling. So many people we knew worked during the day, so I just finally gave up. I gave up much too easily in those days. One day about two weeks after the birth and death of our baby I was very upset and crying so MIL arranged for me to go and visit my parents, as she said this had gone on for too long, and I should be getting better. She said I needed to be with my parents. Like a good son, my husband took me to my parents for a week, without him, but I really didn't want to be away from him. He was grieving, too, but we did as we were told.
Hubby's grandmother wanted me to take a job less than six weeks postpartum. The "helpful" minister at our church had found it for me. I didn't feel like working, physically or emotionally, but GM became angry with me and said I needed to help out now that I wasn't pregnant. She said I would get pregnant again and she couldn't help me out anymore. I was shocked - she had always been so nice to me. She was my husband's beloved grandmother. We lived with her, so hubby and I felt like we didn't have a choice but for me to take the job. We moved out as soon as we could.
My job turned out to be just a Christmas job and it was the first job I ever had in my life. I tried hard but many days I cried as I worked, trying to hide it from customers. I felt bad physically as I went to work less than five weeks after the birth. The blood loss I had after birth pulled my health down greatly. I did not have any closure over Meredith's death. There was just not much support for me. No one wanted to help me grieve.
I started to sink into a deep depression. When my job ended, I started sleeping a lot. Hubby would go to work in the morning leaving me in bed. Somedays I would wake up at 4:oo or later and realize I just had enough time to shower, dress and straighten up the apartment before he came home. I didn't want him to know of my fatigue. I got several more temporary jobs so I could pay off our hospital bills (we didn't have any health insurance) and save for Meredith's tombstone. When these jobs ended, I would start sleeping all day again. No matter how late I slept, I was always tired when our regular bedtime came. I also started gaining weight. I was slender when we married and wore junior petite sizes, but that began to change. The doctor had given me birth control pills when I went for my postpartum visit and had warned me against getting pregnant for at least six months, preferably a year. So I mourned our loss, but also the fact that it would be a while before I could try again.
Nothing seemed to give me pleasure except shopping for flowers for Meredith's grave. Every store in Texarkana that sold artificial flowers saw me as a customer very often. Hubby was beside himself with the changes in me. He didn't know how to help, even though he was a counselor himself - he mostly worked with substance abusers.
Gas was fairly inexpensive then, so we visited my parents nearly every weekend so we could also visit the cemetery. I sometimes had irrational thoughts, such as when we still lived with his grandmother, I wanted desperately to have Meredith exhumed and buried in GM's yard so I could look out the window and see her grave whenever I wanted to do so. I didn't mention this to my doctor, as I felt I was alone in this journey. I felt he had not given me adequate physical or emotional care when I was in the hospital, so why should I seek further help from him?
The first counselor I ever saw, at my husband's urgings, was the director of the place where he worked. This man was a minister, and I soon found out all he wanted to hear from me was about our sexual life. I felt victimized by him, so I only went a couple of times, not even telling hubby how bad it was. I don't even know if I really understood what I had as depression, but I did know in the 1970's one didn't really talk freely about emotional issues.
One bright spot in all of this was the purchase of Meredith's tombstone. I worked as a summer temp for the Texas Employment Commission (as it was called then) and made enough money to pay for the hospital bill and her tombstone. We chose a lovely pink granite stone with a white vase from Ken Stewart Memorials, who still has a business in Texarkana. Mr. Stewart treated us superbly and we will never forget his kindness and understanding. We took the tombstone with us and Daddy set it for us on the weekend before her first birthday.
I struggled with extreme fatigue and depression for two years and we moved to the DFW Metroplex in 1976. I started feeling a bit better, and a much wanted rainbow came into our world in June of 1978, fullterm after an eventful pregnancy. There are no words to describe the feeling when he was born, our red-haired Adam. I wanted a girl so badly, but it only took me a few seconds to get over the fact that he was a boy. We were afraid to buy much when I was pregnant, but MIL and GM bought the crib and bedding after he was born, and church friends gave us a shower, plus we got lots of gifts from family, friends, and neighbors. The church in Texarkana even sent us a huge shower in a box! We were so grateful for all the help. MIL said something at the time that was prophetic, and it rang in my head for years afterwards. She mentioned that she was buying things for us because we lived a few hours away, and she wouldn't get to be in his life much. The truth of the matter is that we visited them very much over the years and she never paid much attention to our children. She paid for a crib and served her time, I suppose. Even though she acted this way toward us, I still loved her very much. That is why I was so hurt that she treated our children that way.
The depression seemed to leave after Adam was born. He made us so happy and I had a purpose in life again. The Lord had blessed us and taken away lots of the pain, but Meredith was still gone, she was still missed and loved. Two years, two weeks, and three days after Adam came our twin girls were born! Amanda and Angelique were preemies and I started having those old dark feelings again. I was afraid they would die. I made sure we had pictures, footprints, and other memories of them. When Amanda lost down to 3lbs, 15ozs, I was devastated. I knew she was dying. But she didn't. They came home after two weeks in the hospital. We were in a mad rush to keep everyone fed, clean, happy, and rested. Every 2.5 hours around the clock, we fed babies, even after school started and I returned to work. After about three or so months of that, one night I enlarged two nipples and added cereal to their formula. They were so surprised at the taste and we got the first full night's rest we'd had in months!
But I was suffering from what I now know as postpartum depression. I was anxious all the time, afraid someone I loved was going to die. I called my family all the time to see if they were okay. I was told I had a perpetually worried look on my face. Hubby had bought a microwave for us to warm bottles in. I had a deep-seated fear that I would accidentally put one of the babies in there instead of a bottle. Even now, this memory is nearly too horrible to write. Added to this was the loss of my fertility. My doctor had strongly suggested that I not have any more pregnancies, so I had a tubal ligation six weeks after the twins were born. It was a medically sound decision, but it broke my heart. At the surgery check-up, I did tell my doctor about my anxious feelings. he gave me a prescription and said if it didn't help, I would have to talk to "someone else" and I knew that someone must be a psychiatrist. I DID NOT want to see a psychiatrist, so I stuffed it all in and kept on going the only way I knew how. The Lord was there, even though I didn't ask Him to heal me. I was used to praying for the needs of other people, and I hated to ask for something for myself. He had sent us three exceptionally loving children, and I thought I should be happy. He was there, and would be there through a very long journey.


Kristin said...


Thank you so much for sharing your story! You know that I have never lost a precious baby, but so many of these things you went through, I also experienced in the loss of my Mom. The extreme fatigue, weight gain, everyone else's lives going on except mine, no one knowing what to say and not wanting to help. I am so sorry that you didn't have the support back then and that some people hurt you and took advantage of you. Grief is such a hard thing and most people just don't understand unless they have gone through it too.

Debby said...

My heart is heavy with your sorrow. I often think of the woman who had lost children back when you did and how different it is today. Just go on with your life like nothing happened.
Being that my mother was despressed I know what you mean about the care then, not like today. I always thought that if my mom was here today they would have been able to treat her depression. I pray that it helps you to be able to process this now with your blog. My son is named Adam. So happy you had the blessing of more children. ((HUGS))

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sharing this with us . I'm always heartbroken to hear when people didn't get support during the time when they needed it most. I think things have changed a lot, but still have a long way to go.

I also want to thank you for the very sweet card to my Madelyn for her birthday. It really meant a lot to me to see that in the mail.

Lisette said...

Thank you for sharing for sharing your story. So many keeps those feelings to themselves. I am sorry you did not get the right kind of support then. You are an amazing woman! ((HUGS))

Marie W said...

Hugs to you my love. I am disappointed that the empathy and "treatment" given to mothers back then was non existent. Sending love your way. <3

Holly said...

I'm glad you shared. Things were definitely much different then and it's hard to imagine not having support to get through the tough times after losing a baby and just being expected to move on.

Bree said...

It's so nice to read your story. I wish I could read here more often. It sounds like you were very young when you lost Meredith. How awful to be disregarded in that way.

I kind of have that mourning my fertility feeling sometimes now, too. I wish my body were able to carry lots of babies. Don't get me wrong, I am thanking my lucky starts for this precious one who is sleeping on my chest as I write. But, I'd love to give her a living sibling, but I am so afraid that my body will fail another baby.

Thinking of you and sending love.

Mackenzie's Mommy said...

I'm so sorry you did not have any support when sweet Meredith passed away. I can't even imagine how hard that must have been. <3

Rachel said...

Thank you so much for sharing. I am so thankful for the community of BLM that are out there. Those that share what they are going through and cry with me. I could not imagine going through this alone. I am so glad that even after all these years you are finally able to connect with other women who understand.

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