That Time I Had the Worms (or what postpartum depression really is)

Warning:  This post contains what some may deem as “TMI.”  Meaning, if you are not a momma, you may not be able to handle it.  You’ve been warned.

Ok, cue almost two and a half years years ago.  My wee one was barely 5 weeks old.  I was just recovering from a seroma after my second c-section, a grisly experience that made me appreciate the word “packing” in ways that do not involve glorious flights to far away destinations.  And I was still (and for the following 4 months to come) sleeping in a recliner in the nursery, with her tiny body suctioned to mine all night long, a style of cosleeping that all infant sleep books would surely be captioned with a giant "DON'T."  Alas, the combination of pain from the c-section and the work of constant breastfeeding needed some sort of mediation other than attempting to roll over like a beached grumpy walrus every ten minutes.  You see, that little fancy handle on the side of the recliner had the power to prop me up in an instant with barely a muscle contraction and also instantly descend me into a relatively deep-ish sleep for 2-3 hour stints with the babe’s mouth strategically close to my nipple.  

PS:  I thought it was so genius, this arrangement, that I considered “marketing” it for new moms.  Which was almost about to become a LLC of my own making until a friend said, “So you’re going to invent ... um, recliners?”  Clearly, not a Buckminster Fuller moment of innovation.  

Anyway.

So.

It was right around this time, 5 weeks postpartum, that I decided to start eating tons of raw coconut oil.  I had read some sort of article in the holy land of academia known as Facebook about it helping solve world problems - no, wait, I mean helping with milk supply, depression, immunity, and anti-everything - so, I started eating it by the spoonful.  What I did not read, though, was that, along with creating clones of Nelson Mandela to install peaceful communities across the land, it also killed parasites.  

And, yes, this is where TMI meets your day.  

Picture this:  I wake up one morning, pulling the handle on my recliner invention to come to an upright position.  As I peel the babe off of my sweaty bare chest and place her delicately into the crib, I feel the urge to go.  Like #2.  I go.  And I do what I think many of us do without knowing - some sort of lingering Freudian-level behavior - I look down as I reach to flush.  And that is when I see it (pause for dramatic effect):  A worm.  And not just a little fancy squirmy worm.  A big earthworm.  The kind you see as a kid and run for dear life because you are convinced in two minutes it will become a boa constrictor and eat your face off.  Ok, that’s a little bit of an exaggeration.  But, I’m talking a worm at least 6 inches long.  In the toilet with my #2.

I go through the “normal” process of denial and convince myself that A) the worm was there before, having found it’s merry way up the sewage system in some sort of miraculous feat of wormdom; and/or B) this is Candid Camera and I better act really awesomely freaked out so I can win a lot of money based on my freak out.  Hence, I freak out.  And despite the fact that I am tempted to merely flush the toilet and pretend it never happened, I somehow someway manage to garner the balls to go and grab a tupperware container for worm capture.  Oh, and I also take a picture with my iPhone.  Because when you become a mom, your camera roll goes from indelibly delicious pictures of two-free-handed adventures to disheveled laundry piles and kids doing “cute” things and worms in your poo.  

Long story short, folks:  I end up getting diagnosed with an infestation of ascaris, something I was forced to learn not from the traditional family doctor but from an actual infectious disease physician who showed quite a bit of fear when I showed up in the office.  Yes, I scared the infectious disease physician.  I know.  I come to find out that I probably had hundreds of them and that they had enjoyed traveling through my lungs and heart before growing in my gut, two facts I learned that are not to be shared with friends who only sort of like you because they will then stop talking to you forever.  I also find out that --- wait, I’ll stop there.  You’ve had enough.  And you know how to google.  Onward.  Short story:  I got treated and my guts are now probably cleaner than yours.  

Here’s the point of this message:  In the days following the diagnosis and while I wrangled treatment with breastfeeding, I went to some more “integrative” physicians.  Like, you know, shaman and faith healers and that lady down the street with voodoo dolls she could sculpt into worms.  And while I didn’t proceed with their plans for anything less than a nuclear level blast of actual pharmaceuticals, there was one thing that one of them said that had stuck with me.  She said, “Why you not alive?  Parasites can’t live in healthy, breathing body.  Why you not alive?”

I was at a loss for days after that.  Not only because of the worms, but because what she had said landed inside of me with a heavy, depressive weight and spoke to the darkness I had been feeling for some time.  This is something people don’t talk about in terms of new moms.  We talk about the experience as a label, “postpartum depression,” but we don’t give it color and light and context and individuality.  And by doing that we escape really doing what every sufferer of it needs:  To be seen.

My experience of postpartum depression involved an intersection of precious life and sudden death.  Giving birth had handed me this amazing orb of newborn tenacity, a tiny person who needed me in a way that I didn’t know how to be needed.  I felt straight-jacketed and limited.  I felt overstimulated and rushed.  Exhausted and toxic.  Mushy and incapable.  Alone and in need.  Needed and without.  And then, all at once, I felt guilty and shameful for feeling that way.  How can one experience a sensation of such suffocation in the the face of the fleshy, pure, hungry, ready, willing, spongey, hopeful mush of a new baby?  I became deeply sad because I desperately wanted what the world around me had promised in terms of this new mom “glow.”  I wanted to genuinely feel the breath that can only come from soaking up the life of this gorgeous spirit I had nurtured inside of me when she arrived safely on the outside of me.  

The only way I know to describe it to someone who has not experienced it is the feeling you get when you have a terrible flu and it happens to be one of the most beautiful Spring days outside.  Maybe even the first full Spring day after a long winter, the warmth of which feels to be entering every pore of your pale skin and the radiant green from fresh new leaves feels to be dancing in the wind just for you.  People are out and about, walking and biking and talking, bare legs exposed as they sit at tables in cafes drinking cold, quenchable drinks.  But, with your flu, you can only see this through the window, behind the glass.  And to make matters worse, the very thing that is breathing new life into the air is offensive to your senses.  The light, the warmth, the chatter, the buzz ... it needs to be far away, yet you’d do just about anything to erase your ailment and get a moment’s whiff.  But.  You can’t.

Being a mother in this modern age under the simplistic label of “postpartum,” where communities of women have grown disparate and no longer connected in the flesh, has the potential to pull you into a sensation and acceptance of this sort of invisibility.  

For me, with the luxury of time and healing, I can now look back at the time after I gave birth to both of my kids and see what was happening.  Motherhood dug up all the deepest holes within me, but did not afford me the space to be in them.  Beyond that, I assumed that my life as a reckless and wild woman was over.  I buttoned up.  Assumed overload.  Got safe.  Tamed myself.  Deliberately hid myself from accessible strength and consequential power.

My belief is that much of what is missing from modern motherhood is a combination of untamed congruency with your true self (no matter the cost) and a willingness to engage in healthy recklessness.  We try to reach congruency through deprivation diets, positive psychology, and extremely disciplined workout regimes (to name a few).  And we try to experience healthy recklessness through drinking, binge eating, spending, and gossiping (to name a few).  Yet, all of these attempts are merely false grasps and are usually ways that can completely numb us out - which means, they backfire entirely and push us into a vicious cycle.

Unbuttoning myself was the way out of the label of postpartum depression that held me invisibly to an unexperienced life.  Congruency led to pain, sacrifice, and emotional/physical/spiritual sobriety.  Recklessness led to freedom and a rekindling of my untamed self.  In my case, and this is not everyone’s path, it started with physical strength.  It was as if my nervous system itself needed to know it had a supported, functioning spine to back itself up in the face of that bright sunlight that is motherhood.

As the worms reminded me, we are all animals.  Our bodies are merely biologically programmed shells of something so much greater that I feel completely incapable of expressing adequately.  But, the beauty of that is that we get to live inside that shell as congruently and recklessly as we choose.  And when we do so, parasitic components of our life experience stand no chance. 

To blood flow.  And risk.  And adventure.  And unbuttoning.  And strength from the deepest ounce of you.  And to good infectious disease physicians, of course. 

PS:  Please do not google ascaris.  :)