Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Sibling loss, motherhood and postpartum depression

Today I was supposed to have a shrink appointment, the first since our extended vacation in Florida. My shrink, however, seems to be somewhat schedule-challenged, because she wasn't there. (We've had one schedule glitch already--a double-booked session.) When I told my husband, Paul, he said: "What does that say, that she thinks you don't need it anymore?"

Good question. I don't really know the answer to that, yet. The fact that I'm seeing a shrink again, at all, surprises me. I spent more than a decade in therapy when I first arrived in NYC, learning to understand and cope with the effect of my brother's illness and death on my life, and, at long last, mourning him in a way I had never been able to before. I thought I was kind of done with the big psychological task of my life.

But after Luke was born, I developed postpartum depression. It totally threw me--not just because I felt horrid, but because I really thought it wouldn't happen. When I was pregnant with Henry, I worried that I'd develop it. But I didn't. A first child, I thought, is a much bigger adjustment than a second, so I didn't worry about it during pregnancy #2.

But after I got home from the hospital, I found myself crying, numb, regretful, negative disconnected...literally in emotional pain every waking moment. I was in agony over what I'd done to Henry, by having this second child, taking attention away from him. And I was in despair over this poor infant who had a mother who was, rather than doting, a disheveled mess. And though I'd nurtured hopes of a close relationship between my two boys, I now saw that, though Luke followed Henry voraciously with his gaze, Henry was mostly indifferent.

It took me a few weeks to realize, and admit, that it was more than "baby blues" (what an annoying moniker) while my hormones adjusted. Fortunately a friend who'd worried about ppd during her own pregnancy had a contact for me, and I was able to make a shrink appointment, get diagnosed, and treated.

The turning point for me, though, was not the diagnosis (which I found humiliating...even though that's not rational), or medication (I'm on a tiny dose of an antidepressant, which probably isn't doing anything, but since I'm feeling okay the shrink sees no reason to up it). It was realizing, with her help, that Luke's birth had opened up a new well of feelings surrounding my experience as a sibling.

Well, duh. But, shockingly, I had never occurred to me. I don't know why I was surprised, really. So much about me has to do with that. My shrink wondered, aloud, if I felt so guilty about what I'd done to Henry, taking attention away from him, because that had been my experience as the well sibling--essentially ignored as my parents tried to manage the situation with my brother. I burst into tears.

A moment later she proposed that I felt so horrible on Luke's behalf because I could sense his yearning for Henry's attention, even at such a tiny age, and could sense Henry's irritation and see, at times, his patent rejection of the little guy. And that I identified with his yearning. Right again.

Once I realized that there was cause and effect causing my depression, not just some random neurochemical blight, I basically snapped out of it. It organized my emotions--made sense of them--in a way I hadn't been able to myself. Sibling loss, the life long effects of it--I get it. I just hadn't "gotten it" yet, in the realm of motherhood.

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