By Valarie Savage Kinney
It didn’t happen right away.
After my second daughter was born, I was elated. Absolutely over the moon.
My baby was beautiful.
My baby was perfect.
My baby screamed.
She screamed through the night, and kept my one year old daughter – and me – awake.
She screamed after eating, and I tried changing my diet to see if something in my breastmilk was upsetting her.
She screamed when I dressed her, when I rocked her, when the swing stopped for three seconds.
My husband worked third shift, so I didn’t sleep much. Short thirty minute intervals. An hour or two if I was particularly lucky. Many nights I slept only as long as the baby swing kept rocking, and would lurch awake to rewind the crank every fifteen minutes.
It was after a couple of months of chronic sleep deprivation that it began to happen: the Wind.
It was the sensation of being unable to catch my breath, the feeling that a great wind was blowing so hard in my face I could not breathe. I realized something was wrong because I was inside the house with the windows shut. It was snowing outside and there was no hint of a breeze in the house, not even a fan.
My baby screamed and I felt paralyzed, because I could not find any air.
I did not tell anyone about the Wind. I did not know how to explain myself without sounding like I’d lost my mind.
The sleepless nights continued, stacking up on top of one another like the building blocks my toddler played with as her sister cried.
I read articles in magazines about parenting, about how to lose the baby weight and give enough attention to my toddler while caring for an infant and get a nutritious dinner on the table every night at the same time because routine is so important for young children. I combed through these magazines religiously but never found a story about another mom who felt wind in her face when there was none.
My emotions were erratic and I began to weep over things like the mountains of laundry that just kept getting taller and the desperate loneliness that made my bones ache and the thought of how much energy I would need just to cook dinner for my family.
I wore fatigue like a heavy winter coat and it weighed me down, until my limbs began to feel as if they were made of lead.
And always, always, the Wind was there, stealing my breath and roaring past my ears.
There was a small voice in my mind that whispered to me something about asking my doctor for help.
There was a different voice that said if I admitted to feeling depressed, people would come and take my babies away from me.
So I stayed silent, and the Wind grew stronger.
Everyone assured me that as my baby grew, she would cry less. She would outgrow the colic or whatever it was that made her scream so much. That did not prove true.
Every day, every night, her frantic screams continued. Every day, every night, I wept and tried to breathe.
Irritation over everything — the sun shining or not shining, the television being on or not being on, people talking to me or not talking to me — allowed a permanent feeling of anger to sit hot and angry in my gut, and I wished for the energy to act on the anger. I wanted to destroy something, just to get the feeling out of me.
But I was too tired to do it. I was too tired to do anything.
There was a day when my baby was wailing, and my husband was asking about what I was going to make for dinner, and I was standing in the kitchen with the Wind pummeling me in the face. My lungs ached for a deep, solid breath but I was unable to get one, and my toddler daughter tipped over a cup of water on the floor.
I began to scream. I screamed and screamed and screamed, and found I couldn’t stop. I felt so frustrated and angry and depressed that even my skin hurt. I picked up a coffee cup and threw it at the kitchen cabinets. It shattered and tiny shards of the cup fell all over the floor.
Time seemed to freeze for a moment. It started up again in slow motion.
Quickly, I stepped over the mess to move my toddler away from the sharp pieces of ceramic, and she jolted away from me, a look of utter terror on her face.
My child was afraid of me.
Of me. Her mother.
It took me several days after that to convince myself I needed to call my doctor, and when I finally found the courage to do it, I told the receptionist I needed an appointment because I was having headaches.
I could not bring myself to say I was depressed. I felt as if admitting it would mean I was an unfit parent, and I loved my daughters more than my own life.
I went to my appointment and spent a few minutes trying to describe to my physician the headaches I wasn’t really having. Finally, I stared down at my hands and told her, “You know what? I’m not here because of headaches. I lied. The truth is, I think I might have post partum depression.”
I started taking Paxil and it took some time to tweak the dose and figure out the best time of day for me to take it. I had hoped the effect would be immediate, but it wasn’t. Several weeks passed before I was able to emerge from the darkness. Bit by bit, the heaviness fell away.
One day it struck me: the Wind had finally stopped.
I took a deep breath, and smiled at my babies.
Valarie Kinney is a writer, fiber artist and Renaissance Festival junkie with a wicked caffeine addiction. She resides in Michigan with her husband, four children, and two insane little dogs. She is the author of Slither and Just Hold On. Narrator for Dragons of Faith.
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