When I was in my twenties, my good friend Frances was convinced she had hypoglycemia. She was never diagnosed by a medical professional. Nor was she even tested by one. She was a 19th century English lit major with no scientific background. Her dad was a corporate attorney and her mom, a painter. There were no doctors in her life. This was well before the Internet, so her likely source for information was Ladies' Home Journal or Prevention Magazine.
And yet, she presented herself as hypoglycemic. Many of us, her friends, debated the merits of her self-characterization. Wasn't it a bit unfair to "real" hypoglycemics? They had suffered through hungry hours of laboratory-proven tests revealing their lower blood sugar levels. They had forked over a co-pay. So, after all was said and done, who was Frances to throw this term around, will-nilly?
My friends and I may have thought Frances was leaning toward the self-absorbed, narcissistic, hypochondriacal side, but in fact, she didn't feel well.
And, even her greatest critics (i.e., her best friends) had to credit her with a modicum of self-awareness; when she referred to her hypoglycemia in relation to someone else's diagnosed and tested hypoglycemia, she would call it "My Hypoglycemia." At the time, I thought it would make a great title for her autobiography. Kind of like Willa Cather's My Antonia, only non-fiction and much less interesting.
I may have a little too much fun at her expense.
Cut to several years later (okay more than several, but typing my actual age is too upsetting). I was still laughing at Frances when I realized I was engaged in my own self-diagnosis: My postpartum depression.
That's right. I had "My Postpartum." No doctor diagnosed me. There were no tests. I didn't seek help. It didn't seem that bad. I had no intention of hurting my kid; no wish to hurt myself. I didn't even want to murder my husband. I wasn't sobbing uncontrollably; I wasn't using drugs or alcohol. I just wasn't enjoying myself. And I'm a person who enjoys herself.
I love eating and talking with friends, that kind of non-stop verbal exchange accompanied by delicious food and full-bellied laughter. Yet when I had a meal with friends, I felt detached. The conversation seemed forced and un-fun. And I had a hard time meeting new people: The Mommy groups depressed me -- drinking margaritas with people I didn't know at Rosa Mexicana while listening to a sleep expert seemed lonely and desperate.
When I was pregnant, my friends, knowing that I was an exerciser, kept telling me to sign up for Strollercise. "It is the best way to lose the baby weight," they said, "because you keep the baby in a stroller with you, you don't have to pay for a sitter and you get to work out in all the cool areas of NYC." But running around Bethesda Fountain in Central Park followed by leg lifts on the barre of my stroller made maintaining my pregnancy weight an acceptable alternative.
I'm a catastrophizer by nature, and my baby was premature. I had a hard time leaving him. If I went to the corner to get a snack, I would call the babysitter when I stepped out the front door and talk to her until I returned home. It was hard for me to go to work; the image of my baby running away from home or being attacked by a killer dolphin would haunt me every hour I was away from him.
And let's talk about the lack of sleep. I know -- yawn -- boring topic, but this makes everything awful.
I couldn't put my finger on it. I knew I wasn't completely happy, but postpartum had never occurred to me. People with postpartum in the news hurt their children. The actors with postpartum in commercial acted catatonic. I never thought about hurting my kid and I was catatonic only on the inside.
Some women take to mothering the way some take to medicine or painting. It is in them. I wasn't one of those mothers. I didn't change diapers with aplomb, breastfeeding a newborn with low milk supply is a recipe for disaster and while I love talking about myself, I like to hear more from my conversation partner than the squeals of an infant. I was lonely. And I was in the beginnings of an identity crisis. Suddenly, my title was "mother," and how weird was that? I was used to be "goofball," "nagging wife" and "chronic television watcher." But, "Mommy????"
For months, I found myself blurting out, "I just had a baby" at the most inappropriate moments. I'd be at Staples buying paper. The cashier asked me if I had a membership card. "I had a baby," I answered.
I'd be on the phone with directory assistance: City and State please, the operator would say. "Baby," I would answer. Why did I do this? I don't know. Somehow I believed it was information everyone needed to know, that it would explain everything.
I'm a comic. My joke writing process is simple: I write what I think is funny. But nothing seemed funny anymore. When I went to the clubs and my fellow comics were clustered around one another dishing about this gig or that, trying out new material or even gossiping, I felt completely distant from them. Working less, I had no idea what they were talking about. I was also rusty on stage and my confidence was shaken.
When I went to the park with my new baby and I saw other mothers or nannies deep in chit-chat, taking endless photos, I didn't understand the origin of their cheer.
My husband didn't behave like this. He stayed home for the appropriate amount of time and jumped back into work. He would call every afternoon and ask how his Mommy and son were doing. Mommy?, I'd think to myself as I verbally assured him all was swell. Who the hell is Mommy? And Son? I thought I was Karen. Funny happy Karen. But no, OMG, I'm responsible for a real boy, a not-sleeping eight pounds of actual human flesh. And I'm numb. When will my life come back? Will I ever be silly? I loved being immature -- it was part of my thing. Now I had to make decisions about baby-proofing and car seats. How had that happened? And friends. I had them before the baby, but they just stopped coming around. They didn't want to disturb me and my kid. Because of course my infant and I were in deep gossip mode.
Of course, my husband could afford to go about his daily life. He wasn't nursing all night. He wasn't the one who, when donning a sweat suit, now defined herself as "all dressed up." He made plans with aplomb.
Luckily, after a year or so, I began to be my old self. My son became a happy and adorable toddler, my husband, blissfully unaware that anything had happened, went on with his productive normal life. A light bulb went on over my head; I was entitled to have fun. Why hadn't I thought of that before? So, even though I was tired and constantly worried, I actually started enjoying myself, my child and even my husband. And for a few weeks, I was all-fun, all the time.
Here's the downside of that: nine months later, my second son was born. I doubt I have to say another word.