With Zach regularly out of town, I grow desperate enough to call a hotline for postpartum anxiety and depression. The young woman on the other end of the line kindly gives me names of counselors covered by my insurance plan. I search them all and find the one nearest to me—a woman who also appears to be the most stylish, which is a plus.
Every Wednesday afternoon, I strap K into her car seat, and we drive to the therapist’s office. The baby nurses and naps while I talk about the dread I feel, the sense that this harrowing slog will never end. I talk about the bad dreams and the worst-case scenarios in my mind. I describe the fear that comes over me when K stirs in the morning as I watch through the baby monitor.
My therapist, Lisa, is reassuring: All this is temporary. She tells me she loves how I talk about Zach, that I have great support systems in place, that she can tell I love K by the way I interact with her. I ask, more than once, where I fall on the spectrum of postpartum anxiety and depression; Lisa tells me I’m on the milder side, and somehow that’s enough to help me get through each week. She says I can pursue meds if I want them, but they won’t be a cure-all, and they’ll take some time to kick in. I’d rather not. I’m not a patient person, I tell her. “They’d have to be some magic-ass pills.”
I can never find parking in front of the therapist’s office. And on street-cleaning days, I walk four blocks carrying my heavy car seat with my even heavier child in it. She has catapulted from the 20th percentile in weight to the high 80s. It doesn’t help that I’m short, and the car seat barely clears the sidewalk when I carry it. I know someone somewhere in this neighborhood is watching me and thinking, “Why is a 12-year-old lugging a fat baby down the street?”
A couple of months after my first counseling session, Nashville actress Hayden Panettiere announces that she is receiving treatment for postpartum depression. She had a baby with an older gentleman twice her size, a world champion boxer, and a few months later, she checked herself into a treatment center. There was a time, I’m ashamed to say, when I was skeptical about women’s claims of postpartum woes. But not anymore. I find myself relieved that a B-list actress is raising awareness about the issue.
Friday of Independence Day weekend, we drive up to the lakefill on the Northwestern University campus in Evanston. It would be easier to stay home and go from feed to feed, nap to nap. But Zach thinks we should venture out for some fresh air. And I want to take photos so I can look back someday and say that I tried—I really tried.
Zach gives K a tour of my old college campus—an abbreviated version of one that I gave him when we were dating years ago: “This is where Mama fell asleep during lecture….” He is trying to get me to smile, but I am stressed out: Where will I nurse her? Am I wearing the right shirt to nurse her? What if we don’t have enough wipes? What if she doesn’t fall asleep in the car and cries the whole way back?
Thankfully, we make it through the day. It’s nothing like the dozens of other times Zach and I came here. Before K, whenever we had a free Saturday, we would drive up, walk along the lake, take a nap on the grass, and watch the sailboats. I loved our former life so much, but there is no time to mourn it properly. We are sprinting just to keep up. As Zach puts it, even trying to have fun is stressful.
I look back on photos from that day and see two kids who don’t know what they’re doing, but trying. We’re in our mid-30s—hardly young—but we are definitely making it up as we go. Maybe years down the line, I’ll see those pics and think, “Oh, that was a fun outing.” But today, I know better.