Over 1 million women each year experience postpartum mood disorders.
This is her postpartum depression story.
I know a lot of people don’t talk about postpartum depression. And a hell of a lot less talk about needing medication to treat PPD. But, hey, I’ve already told the internets that (at one point) my vag looked like Mickey Rourke and that I poop with my feet on a stool, so why stop the self-humiliation there?
When I had my daughter, my postpartum experience was a shitstorm I never wanted to repeat. Not only was I extremely depressed (baby blues, my ass!), but I also had a cancer scare, developed a thyroid problem, got two bacterial infections, and found out my mom has Parkinson’s Disease.
Needless to say, I went down and went down hard. I never really recovered.
Queue the after-effects of having a baby in an already-depressed person, throw in the obstacles thrown in my path, take away all things that resemble sleep, and add an infant who cried from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. every day, and you had me: one hot mess of a mama. Let’s just say it was not pretty.
I lost friends, alienated the ones I loved, lost all sense of self-worth. The only thing I managed to do right was to be a good mom. But that’s ALL that I was. Outside of being a mom, I was a shadow of my former self.
I started therapy right before I got pregnant again. I didn’t want to start medication since we were planning another baby and the jury is still out on the effects of being on anti-depressants while pregnant. Therapy helped and things evened up a bit when I actually got pregnant, but I was never really there. I participated in my life, but didn’t have an active role in it. I didn’t realize it then, but I hadn’t experienced true happiness in years.
I decided to take control before The Crazy Train of postpartum depression even left the station. I started anti-depressants in the hospital right after I had my son and had a prescription filled for when I got home.
So far? Best. Decision. I. Have. Ever. Made.
Now that I am actually receiving effective treatment, I feel something I haven’t felt in a long time: happiness. I didn’t know how far out of control my depression had gotten until I actually did something to address it. Now, not only does the medication not sap me of all emotion, but it has actually helped me feel real emotion again. I actually feel like I AM someone again. I feel joy, sadness, relief, anxiety, love. I feel everything. I’m not just a passenger on the back of the bus of my life. I’m actually driving again and it feels fantastic.
Now, are medications an easier choice for me because I am a formula mama? Sure as hell are. Is there something you can do even if you are not? Yep – talk to someone: a friend, your doctor, your priest, your mom.
Hell, talk to me!
Having a baby is hard. Having a baby while struggling with depression feels impossible. It’s not your fault and you are no less of a mom for having it. Just get help. I did this time and I feel real again. I feel whole. I feel strong.
I feel like me.
My fiancé and I have been together for over three years. We have an almost 1.5 year old daughter. I have chronic illnesses.
I have good days and bad days, as well as post partum depression.
Why do I always feel like he’s going to be sick of me being sick and leave? He’s fully supportive at all times, and I rest when I need rest.
Will I ever feel good enough!?
Depression and I have been dancing partners for more than a decade now. Sometimes it’s a slow waltz, sometimes a spinning reel, and sometimes I get to sit off to one side and take a nice relaxing break from my dark friend.
Over the years I’ve learned to observe my own triggers and put safety valves in place. For example, I go to therapy once a year, even if I’m not depressed, just to keep tabs on the way I’m feeling. As soon as I discovered I was pregnant in 2008, I knew I had to keep a watchful eye on myself. I was prepared – absolutely certain – that I would end up with postpartum depression, and I was terrified of feeling as low as I could go with a baby to look after. When I hit rock bottom, I can hardly care for myself. How was I supposed to look after this tiny new person as well?
So, I lined up a therapy session at 34 weeks of pregnancy, aiming to build myself a nice set of mental defenses against the coming storm.
I went to my first session, wanting to talk about my anxiety over going on maternity leave. I loved my job, and I didn’t know how I could stand to be at home all day every day with a baby. We talked about it. I cried a little.
No, I didn’t. I cried a lot. I cried so much that I couldn’t even talk. I just sat there on the couch, sobbing so hard that my unborn baby started squirming, and the psychologist had to go get a second box of tissues. I did that for a whole hour, all the while trying to gasp out explanations for my behaviour. Hormones, obviously. Stress. Fear of change, of the unknown. I knew all my triggers.
Later that night, I was at home when there was a knock at my front door. There was a lady standing there who I recognised, although she didn’t know me. She was the niece of a work colleague – and she was a drug addict who was mixed up in all kinds of bad things that I’d been hearing about for weeks at work. She asked me if I could give her a lift into town. Odd request from someone you don’t know and I blurted out the question, “What for?”
She informed me that she was out of her anti-psychotic medication, and if she didn’t get to the pharmacy as soon as possible she was going to end up really sick.
Yikes. I threw out the first excuse I could think of – I told her I was pregnant and tired, and I couldn’t do it.
Mistake. Her eyes shot to my belly, and she spent the next couple of minutes telling me how lucky I was, and how she wanted her own baby, and… And by that point, my other mental dance partner was knocking loudly on the door of my brain – anxiety. I got her to leave, to go ask a different random stranger for that lift, and then I stayed awake. All. Night.
Convinced, utterly convinced, that she was coming back with a knife, and she was going to try to take my child from me.
By the time my next therapy session came around a week later, I wasn’t just a bawling mess- I was a shaking, hysterical, terrified mess, convinced that some kind of evil was heading my way. No ifs or buts about it, something bad was going to happen – from this girl, random strangers, an accident – I was sure that either my baby or I was in trouble, and no amount of logic or reasoning could sway my reptilian brain centre from this fear response.
And at that point I realised that this time, my depression and my anxiety had snuck around that safety valve, and I was in the extremely intense grip of something they hadn’t talked about in any of my childbirth classes:
Before the baby arrives, you’re supposed to be the glowing mother-to-be, fondly looking forward to the arrival of your new little one, taking it easy, enjoying your last days of freedom. Sure, you might get depressed once you’re sleep deprived, struggling to breastfeed and awash with postpartum hormones, but before the birth – no, that’s all supposed to be sunshine and moonbeams.
I was ever so glad I’d gone to that first therapy session, because otherwise I would have been running up against all these feelings with a baby in my arms. Or not, as the case so happened – it turns out I wasn’t wrong about my dire predictions, and everything did in fact go horribly wrong. But by that stage, despite a crash c-section, my baby being airlifted away from me, a month in the NICU, I found myself able to handle some of the greatest stress I’ve ever experienced without breaking down. By that stage, I was seven weeks into my therapy course, taking antidepressants, and acknowledging my fears.
From the simplest (fear of being bored) to the most complex (fearing that I’d end up being too much like my own mother and would turn my daughter into just this kind of wreck), I had faced down those issues, broken them into pieces, examined them, and found that they weren’t as scary as I thought. I’d come to understand some of the most important rules of becoming a mother; first, you can’t control what happens, so you just have to roll with it; second, your best is absolutely good enough; third, you can’t predict the future, so there’s no point guessing.
So, I guess this leads me to a few points about my experience of antenatal depression:
- It exists, and it’s not always the hormones. If you feel down, anxious or sad to a degree where it starts affecting your life or your enjoyment of life, go see someone about it. Your doctor, your therapist – it never hurts to talk, whether you conclude in the end that you’re depressed or not. You might end up with post-partum depression and be glad you put those defenses in place nice and early.
- I was terrified of taking antidepressant drugs during pregnancy for fear they might cause problems for my child. There are safe antidepressants you can take, and my personal experience was that the pregnancy hormones meant I had greater need for the medication than on previous occasions. My daughter’s problems, FWIW, were most certainly unrelated to the drugs, although when I weaned her from breastfeeding at 18 months, I was still taking the medication and as a result she went through a withdrawal process over about a week. She was a most unpleasant character during that week, but both before and after that, she was/is the same happy, delightful little person she’s always been.
- There’s no law saying you have to be delighted about everything baby-related. Birth? Bonding? Nappies? Cracked nipples? Pah! But in addition to those, of course, you get that milky new baby smell, smiles and cuddles, first words and steps and everything else that’s wonderful about kids. Taking a realistic view of the potential downers is important. Don’t expect it all to be utopia, but don’t expect it all to be terrible, either. Parenthood is, of course, a buffet that serves up a little awesome, a little awful, and you never know which you’re going to get.
The life I’ve been living for over eight months now is an ugly one. A lonely one. A dangerous one.
Night after night, after my son is in bed – sometimes earlier, if his father is home – I pour my first drink. A strong one. I recoil from the sharp taste of vodka or whiskey, both of which I’ve grown to hate. Sometimes it makes me gag, almost comes back up. But I never allow that to happen. I suck the drink down through a straw. Make another. Then another. My body relaxes and my mind becomes fuzzy. I grow sociable and talkative. Rarely do I become an angry or depressed drunk. Rather, I become the person I feel is the best version of myself, the one I used to be while sober – cheerful, fun, laid-back, interesting. My social anxiety dissipates. Things become less irritating to me. My frustrations, fears, and that unnamable empty sadness I carry around are buried – or more accurately, soaked – in a poison that is killing me.
I sit in a blue rocking chair where I tried and failed to breastfeed my son less than a year ago. It emits a maddening repetitive squeak as I rock and drink, but I don’t care. I don’t care about anything. I just want to get to that far-away, mellow state where life seems good, hope still exists, and I can tell myself that tomorrow, I will give up the bottle and make a fresh start. Lately, more often that not, I pass out in that chair, sleeping so deeply I cannot be shaken awake.
In the morning, I’m shaky and nauseated and dehydrated. My partner – I’ll call him Steven – is the one who gets up with our baby, feeds him breakfast, plays with him while I sleep off hangovers. I groan in protest when Steven wants to make it to his very flexible job by earlier than ten o’clock. We might have had whiskey-soaked sex the previous night, but now I want nothing to do with him. Together on-and-off for more than ten years, we’ve ceased to become a romantic couple. Now he is merely my co-parent, my roommate, my financial support, and my enabler.
I muddle through the day trying to be the best mother I can even though my hands shake as I guide spoons towards my son’s mouth and I have to listen to him wail in protest when I must run to the bathroom again with digestive issues. When you don’t have a gallbladder, and your liver is constantly busy trying to process toxins, the bile needs somewhere to go. Forgive the unpleasant image, but it’s something I’ve dealt with every single day for nearly a year.
I never vomit, and I rarely have headaches. But my body temperature is irregular; I have hot flashes at thirty-three. I can’t eat regular-sized meals anymore, and I’m very particular about what foods I can tolerate during the day – often chicken soup or broth is all I can manage. I’m always tired; I don’t sleep so much as become unconscious for five or six hours a night. My body is worn down. I lose my breath easily. I have coughing fits from the permanent lodge of mucus in my chest. I’m overweight, not from eating but from liquid calories. My muscles ache, and I struggle to heave my 25-pound child into my arms.
I say a few things on Facebook, read aloud and talk cheerily to my son, and spend the day lonely, wanting a drink, aching for something better. I don’t know how to regain the joy I used to have.
When I was twenty-one, I rarely drank. I wasn’t a partier. I was beautiful, thin, and blonde. I worked, and went to classes, and danced, and sang, and laughed, and threw Frisbees and footballs, and rollerbladed, and painted my fingernails, and flirted, and kissed, and was always surrounded by friends. I didn’t need to drink. Life itself was enough.
At twenty-two, I met Steven. It wasn’t his fault. I didn’t become an alcoholic because of him. The shitty fact is, it was likely always in my brain chemistry to become an addict. They run rampant on both sides of my family. It was always there, waiting. All it took was a relationship with a “social drinker” to change my attitude about alcohol. I saw that it made me freer, bolder, less shy and anxious, relaxed, witty, more fun. And from that point on, it took over my life.
By twenty-five, I was doing shots before going in to work my job as a jewelry seller at K-mart. By twenty-seven, a counselor told me to go to AA. By twenty-eight, I was drinking at every family gathering, every social function, every holiday, and often alone. By twenty-nine, I was living back at home with my parents, drinking secretly up in my childhood bedroom every single night.
I’m not even sure how my body was even healthy enough, at age thirty-one, to conceive a child. And here I have to apologize to the infertile couples who are hating me – I know I didn’t deserve him. I didn’t deserve a beautiful, full-term, perfectly healthy son. I did not drink after discovering I was going to be a mother, but I drank during the first weeks before I knew he existed and worried throughout the pregnancy, turning to Google countless times trying to determine how much damage I might have done. The answers were frightening. I almost expected a miscarriage throughout the first trimester, but my son was a strong one from the start. I felt him astonishingly early for a first-timer. Later, he kicked me with such force I almost expected him to emerge alien-style from my belly. He kicked until he broke the amniotic sac, forcing his birth five days before my scheduled induction.
He was pink, and wailing, and alert, and utterly perfect. The only issue was that he had breathed in some of the amniotic fluid and needed to be suctioned. I was stunned at my new role, but I loved my boy and wanted to protect him with a fierceness I’d never known before.
I had hoped motherhood would be enough motivation to keep me sober.
It wasn’t. By the time he was three months old, I was back to nightly drinking.
When I’m sober, my brain is my worst enemy. It prevents me from sleeping peacefully. It tells me what a failure I am, what a mess I’ve made of my life. It regrets everything I missed out on when I was younger. It berates me for being fat, ugly, socially awkward, useless. It panics about the future. It worries about money, my health, my wasted potential.
To quiet it, I drink.
Nobody but Steven knows. It’s my secret. We live hundreds of miles from our families. We have no friends in our current location. It’s just us, estranged partners struggling to raise an energetic, happy, rambunctious almost-toddler. He works long hours, and after the baby goes to bed, I’m alone. In my rocking chair, with a drink at my side.
I’m standing in the middle of a room, screaming at the top of my lungs and no one notices.
I’m surrounded. Surrounded by a husband and family who love me. Friends, both on-line and in real life. But no one ever says anything.
I want to yell, Can’t you see how much pain I’m in? Why are you ignoring me?
WHY? WHY? WHY?
Do they think I’m just asking for attention? Do they think I’m faking it for pretend sympathy? Do they think I could fix it but I don’t because then I would have nothing to talk about?
I didn’t choose this. I didn’t choose to feel helpless and alone. I didn’t choose to have to battle with myself every single day to just get out of bed.
I have to talk myself into getting up. Talk myself into feeding myself breakfast. Every single day is broken up into tiny increments. Small goals to achieve. I say to myself, I have to make it through this hour and then it’s time for a nap. Just a couple more hours and then the husband will be home. One more day until the weekend.
I fight the urge to cry and do nothing but lay on the couch. I fight the urge to go into the kitchen, late at night, and pull a knife out of the block and put it to my wrist.
No one wants to hear me say this. No one cares.
I keep screaming. And screaming. And screaming.
All I hear in my head is the screaming.
I had tried to deny it throughout the months of November and December but it is now clear that I am once again going through another one of my depressive episodes. Honestly, I kind of expected it. These episodes have been happening since I was 15-years-old and even though some people in my life don’t fully understand why, they will continue to creep up and knock me (and any confidence I have) on my ass.
That’s just how it goes when you’re dealing with bipolar II disorder. It can be controlled but there is no cure. This is something I will have to manage for the rest of my life, like millions of others in this world. That thought both frustrates and saddens me. Frustrates me because oftentimes, especially during these episodes, I feel like a victim. Why did God choose this path for me? Saddens me because I just want to be a happy positive person but my brain chemicals won’t let me be who I want to be!
Since I can’t take medication right now I was holding out hope that my pregnancy hormones would ward off depression just as they did when I was pregnant with Landon. No such luck. But I am thankful that I have been through enough of these episodes to know the difference between a bad day and full-on depression. I am thankful that I have done enough therapy and research to recognize when getting better is beyond my reach.
I have all the classic symptoms, i.e. random spurts of crying, sudden internalized anger, unable to muster up enough energy to perform basic life skills (taking a shower, doing the laundry or dishes), loss of concentration, no desire to talk to or be around family members or friends. Basically feeling so overwhelmed with the thought of doing anything that I just plain can’t pull myself out of bed. Is that what you would consider a bad day? What if you felt like this for a week or an entire month?
I just want to note for any worry warts out there that I DO get out of bed. I DO take care of my son. I feed him, play with him, change his 12 diapers a day and hug and kiss him all day long. I’ll admit that sometimes I have to force myself to do it. But he is my greatest motivator. Sometimes I will roll out of bed at 5:30 a.m. even though I don’t want to because he is up and jibber-jabbering. I will walk into his room and see that huge grin on his face and suddenly I realize I’m actually smiling! Oops, wait, stop smiling Molly because you’re supposed to be depressed! I will sing our usual morning songs while changing him and getting him his milk. It’s nice to know that even though I am having a really rough time right now there is still sunlight in the shadows of this disorder.
One positive about having had this disorder for all of my adult-life is that I am armed with the perspective that I CAN and WILL get better. That’s why they are called “episodes.” I’m convinced that much of why I feel the way I do is circumstantial. Unexpectedly leaving my job (and my nice salary), rarely seeing Naaman because he has to work so much, trying to sell our house in a down market, and how about we throw an unexpected pregnancy in there? I am happy to have this surprise blessing in our lives and I feel certain this baby is here for a reason. But I am still pretty upset about the timing of it all. All of these circumstances at once could drive anyone to their breaking point. But someone like me who doesn’t come wired with the usual coping skills? It’s a recipe for disaster.
Blogging about my struggles and strengths with this disorder is something I think I need to do more of this year. Maybe it will help someone else out there to know that they are not alone. That you can manage motherhood AND mental illness successfully. I do realize that writing about this on my blog subjects me to the awful and unfair judgment of strangers. There are still so many in this world who don’t understand mental illness. They never will. They see it as a weakness or a fault. They see me as someone who doesn’t deserve a loving husband or a beautiful family. They assume that if I can’t be happy then I don’t deserve what I have. But they’re wrong. Just because I suffer from depressive episodes through no fault of my own does not mean that I don’t have the same right to happiness that everyone else does.
I desperately wanted to reach the same milestones as most everyone else. High school and college graduation, successful career, engagement, marriage, babies. I am still a human being with feelings and a heart and I am convinced that I deserve the same happiness as everyone else.
One misconception is that I can turn the depression switch on and off. That I can “snap out of it” or “get over it.” Oh, if it were only that easy. I do not choose to feel this way. I was born this way and had some horrible things happen to me when I was a teenager that exacerbated my symptoms. Do you think I don’t try to wish these feelings away every day? I would give anything if I could just snap my fingers and feel happy. I know what it is to be and feel truly happy. And I want those feelings back as soon as possible. But I’m smart enough to know that this won’t just disappear into the background. Not without regular therapy and medication. I suffered through many years of agony and the darkest pain before I was able to come to this realization. But now I can get help before I reach my lowest of lows.
It’s a New Year. 2010. There is so much to look forward to this year. A new little miracle will enter my life and I want so much to be ready to welcome him into the arms of a happy, more centered mama. I want to feel the unspeakable joy that I felt the day we brought Landon home. I don’t think I’ve ever smiled a bigger smile in my life than on the day when we came home and put him in his crib for the first time. I want that with B and I’m trying to remain hopeful that I’ll get that chance.
But right now it’s oh so tough. I am once again feeling resentful of tragic things that have transpired in my life. So much so, that I start to forget that my entire life sets within an hourglass. I have no way of knowing how much sand is left. All I want is to be grateful for every particle that falls to the other end because that means that God has given me another day. Not the ones that are still waiting to go through. Not the ones that have already fallen. I want to be grateful for the sands that are falling through the hourglass right now.
My next OB appointment is Tuesday. She knows all about my history with this disorder and is ready and willing to talk about treatment while I’m still pregnant. I will let you all know how it goes. I am hopeful that there is a solution for me so that I can get better. I am smart enough to know that I have to act now. I cannot wait until after B arrives. Thoughts and prayers are always welcome. Every good vibe sent my way helps a bit.
At the recommendation of my OB who was extremely supportive of antenatal depression I took a small dose of antidepressants and received weekly talk therapy. Brigham (Baby B) was born on May 2, 2010 to a happy, stable mama. Please talk to your OB. At the time of my pregnancy I thought there was no way I would ever be happy.
Antenatal depression exists.
Just know, you’re not alone in this struggle.