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later, much later, i will realize that the most daunting word ever introduced to my vocabulary was postpartum.  that in the peaks between pregnancy and parenthood, there is a miserable valley that no one ever talks about.  it becomes my personal inferno; the contrapasso for the joy of giving new life is a period of intense mourning and grief.

one week after james' birth day, i return to dr. grisham's office to have my staples removed.  as he clips them away, he remarks "your body has bounced back really well."

these are words i have always wanted to hear, but now that i am on the other side of this pregnancy, i realize that i am no longer preening over my waistline or critically evaluating the appearance of back fat.  i find that i have no questions for dr. grisham about weight loss, postnatal exercise, or uterine retraction.  instead, i ask him:

"will i ever stop crying?"

all throughout my pregnancy, i lauded myself for what i perceived as mental fortitude- no mood swings, no crying jags, no inexplicable anger or sadness.  everyone talks about pregnancy hormones, but i escaped the oft-hyped, estrogen and progesterone-fueled rollercoaster of emotions.  i went about all of my days as usual, mostly feeling like i ate too much.

but for all my smugness in the comforts of a unicorn pregnancy and a relatively simple delivery, i received my comeuppance in the form of a postpartum mood disorder that hit me with the velocity of a bullet train.

"you have the baby blues?" dr. grisham asks detachedly while swabbing my incision site.

fuck whoever came up with that term.  baby blues are a range of playful pastel colors.  baby blues are a 1990s comic strip i always skipped over.  baby blues are ian's beautiful eyes against the backdrop of his summer tan. 

and yet, it's also the innocuous terminology that encapsulates 10 days of my closest brush to mental illness.  it feels hyperbolic to type that now that i am feeling fine.  now that little man is napping in his bassinet and i'm lying in bed replaying pokemon heartgold (typhlosion sucks, should've gone with water starter per tradition).  but there's no other way to explain the sheer velocity of unjustifiable, unpredictable, untenable emotion that flattened me completely on day 4 postpartum.

there are times when i come home from a vacation, a long stretch of time spent away, or some other break in the regularly scheduled programming- and my house no longer looks the same.  nothing has actually changed, but my perspective has shifted.  my perception of the layout is slightly altered based on the time of day, the route home, how long i've been away, or some other inexplicable factors.  it is this cognitive differential that hits me first when we return home from the hospital with our little souvenir.

so my house feels different, and my brain begins to process that as the first clue that a terrible rift has occurred between my old life and my new.  now this is no longer the happy safe haven that belonged solely to the two of us, full of warm yellow light, trap music, and saturday night pizza parties.  every room belongs to james now, and all i can process are the details that feel concrete from the aftermath.  the folders full of hospital discharge paperwork.  the drying rack for bottles and breast pump parts.  the baby swing in the dining room.  we are barely one day into our new routine and i begin to feel like an animal trapped in a cage.  the nursery immediately transforms from my favorite room in the house to my most dreaded.  

i peer into james' tiny little baby face and feel nothing.  he looks like a tomato, i think listlessly.

and then i think that something has gone horribly awry.  where is the instantaneous, incomparable, boundless love everybody promised?  

"it's your baby!  of course you'll love him immediately!" the girls from work reassured me several months ago.

but i am a cynic and an asshole and i have never loved anyone or anything at first sight.  my affection for ian built up from a slow burn.  i am still trying to figure out if i like momo.  and then it occurs to me that my feelings for james will follow suit- like everything else important in my life, our bond will be a marathon and not a sprint.  i grapple with this.  i fluctuate between determined acceptance and abject disappointment.

meanwhile, that wild, wonderful, and heavy love i should've felt instantly for james seems to have been misplaced- misdirected and funneled to ian instead.  in the depths of the days immediately postpartum, my feelings toward my husband become amplified, all-consuming, and decorated with anxiety.  when he showers, shaves, or changes clothes i feel my pulse speed up and a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach- i worry that he is about to leave the house.  the idea of being separated from him, even for 15 minutes, makes me sick.  i cling to him like velcro, and just the feeling of pressing my face against his chest wrenches pavlovian sobs from my lungs.  i feel like i love him so much the enormity of it will break my body in half.  

on day 6 postpartum, ian lies down on the nursery floor rug.  i burst into tears, thinking that he is tired or maybe his back hurts.  

we are both bewildered by my ceaseless and unprompted crying.  it is unlike anything i've ever experienced before.  i go through at least 7 rolls of toilet paper, sobbing relentlessly, perpetuating a constant state of congestion.  

worse still, the endless crying is accompanied by a timed melancholy that settles on my chest like a weight as soon as the sun begins to set.  evening after evening, i stare through the blinds in the nursery at the last rays of golden light like i am peering out of a prison cell, trying hard to fight off nauseating waves of panic, anxiety, and sadness.  "the sun is setting," i tell ian, attempting but failing to keep the note of fear out of my voice.  i feel trapped and claustrophobic.  i conjure up images of all the things we could've been doing with our weekend nights, all the places we could've gone.  an arrested development joke becomes a looping soundbite in my brain.  i've made a huge mistake.

the next day, we go on a walk down the street in the 105 degree heat because i feel like i will die inside the house.  when a domino's delivery driver passes us, i think momentarily i wish i had his life.

and i feel like i'm trapped inside a glass box that has upended my perfect life into a nightmarish, cloistered, isolation chamber.  ian sits besides me and holds my hand, but i am so unbearably lonely.  by day 7 postpartum, i do not recognize myself.  i feel like i have been horribly and irrevocably transplanted into someone else's brain.  i start reading everything i can about the postpartum hormonal shift, hoping against hope that literature and facts will interject some sanity into this space of sourceless misery.

monoamine model of postpartum blues. a: after delivery, estrogen levels drop 100- to 1000fold; the estrogen decline is greatest during the first 3 to 4 days postpartum, with a modest decline thereafter. b: monoamine oxidase a (mao-a) levels are significantly greater in the early postpartum period, with a peak on day 5 postpartum. c: in the early postpartum period, up to 70% of mothers experience sadness, mood lability, anxiety, insomnia, poor appetite, and irritability, with mood being lowest on day 5 postpartum.  credit: max planck institute for human cognitive and brain sciences

monoamine model of postpartum blues. a: after delivery, estrogen levels drop 100- to 1000fold; the estrogen decline is greatest during the first 3 to 4 days postpartum, with a modest decline thereafter. b: monoamine oxidase a (mao-a) levels are significantly greater in the early postpartum period, with a peak on day 5 postpartum. c: in the early postpartum period, up to 70% of mothers experience sadness, mood lability, anxiety, insomnia, poor appetite, and irritability, with mood being lowest on day 5 postpartum.  credit: max planck institute for human cognitive and brain sciences

i have all the support and love i could ever want, a good little baby who feeds happily and naps well, and a scientific grasp on the validity of my changing brain chemistry.  it is still not enough to combat the baby blues.  the only prescription here is more time.  i rifle through google search results like a madwoman, reading discussion after discussion about how commonplace this really is, and how it is certain to get better.  

"two weeks," i tell ian.  "i should be fine in two weeks."

today- right as of this hour, actually- i am two weeks postpartum.  i have found my way out of the haze of hormonal fluctuations and neurotransmitter instability.  i have not cried in three days.  i finally feel like myself again.  so much, in fact, that i debated the necessity of this blog entry.  the squall of my baby blues passed through turbulently but quickly, and it is hard to believe that i ever cried at the sight of ian putting on a fresh pair of slutty shorts.