This was my reality with postpartum depression.
I distinctly remember the day it hit me, like a ton of bricks: December 23, 2011. My husband had left to go to a friend's annual Christmas party and I was alone in the house with my two kids. I had finally gotten my 20-month old daughter down to bed, and it was now time for my 1-month old son to do the same. As usual I nursed him and shortly after he began to cry. Nothing too out of the ordinary, I seemingly had dealt with his crying before, and he often cried for an hour or two after feeding him (often it was just a little air in his belly). But this time was different, I was alone, exhausted, and his usual crying on this day struck a chord. It was seemingly unstoppable, even with continued nursing, burping, rocking, and singing; everything I did seemed like a waste. Then my crying began, “Why wouldn’t he stop?” I called my husband in desperation and begged him to come home. He reluctantly agreed to leave early, but it took him several hours to make it back. He eventually found my little boy and I knocked out in our family room, drained from each other’s pleas for help.
After that day, there were times I couldn’t bare the idea of nursing him again. I didn't want him to seem me, touch me, or want me. On some days, I hid from my baby; tucked in the corner of my closet, crying, letting him scream at night, knowing I couldn't be alone with him. The times where I tried nursing him alone I felt like I wanted to hurt him to try and get him just to get a moment of quiet. In fear, I forced myself into the dark corner of my closet where I would stay, soaked in the sweaty tears, till I could regain the strength to aid his cries. I tried classical music therapy and white noise to help both of us to calm down. I would swaddle him up, bounce on a birth ball for hours, then try nursing him again. His crying would eventually stop, but not before my crying started.
It. was. relentless.
To most people, all seemed well, but I was a broken mess inside. As a mother, I felt the obligation to look my best, and often I’d show a different face to those around me. I am sure all of us can relate as we put on fronts for a friends, and sometimes our family. I had a few friends understood some of my pain, but not to the full extent. Many of my friends and family saw the shallow view of me and didn’t understand at all.
In the rare moments I had alone and away from my children, my head would swim with questions. “Am I a good mother? Am I even a competent mother? How could I not love my baby? When will he stop screaming so much? What if it’s something I am doing? Is it my breast milk? Is it my voice? Was it the I gave him vaccines? What if it’s something worse? Is he terribly ill physically? Mentally? Why do I have so many fears about my children? Let’s refocus, How am I going to survive today? Why am I so distraught, it’s just a baby?”
Much to my surprise now, it still took a while for me to come to my sense about my depression. I t wasn’t before I finally broke down on the phone with my mother, hunched over my desk in the living room that my diagnosis began to make sense. I told her frankly that I couldn't be alone with my baby any longer and she said (succinctly), "Katie you need to get help. You have postpartum depression." She was right and in that moment, I knew I did. A day later, I told my husband in tears I was ill. One of the hardest things I have yet to do was confess to my closest friends and family that I had postpartum depression. Most people don't truly understand the loneliness and emptiness that comes with it, and I felt that accepting this diagnosis might alienate me more. However, my story tells something quite contrary…
In my first attempt to “fix” myself, I called my midwife office and asked them for a list of support groups in the area. I attended it only once due to the long drive and what came with the long drive: Listening to my screaming son the entire way there. I personally think he hated riding in the car for first year of life, because of this car ride. I barely held it together.
It wasn’t until I called my insurance surprisingly that I began my road to recovery. I told an insurance mental health professional over the phone about my problems and he found me a counselor in network I could see. Although my sessions weren’t the best with her, she helped me dig through my overbearing pain to see the greater issue at hand. After a few sessions, she attributed the problem to a gapping lack of help and support from my family and friends. Combined with the hormone transition and my history of depression prior to pregnancy, my cocktail of postpartum depression was, well, born.
Some of my therapist’s suggestions definitely weren’t in-line with my road to recovery, however two of them really stood out. The first involved me making a visit to my doctor, and telling him about my issues. He, in-turn, prescribed me to Zoloft, and asked me to make follow-up visits to check on my recovery. The second involved me taking a trip to go somewhere, anywhere, where I could be assisted with my children and have some time alone time for reflection. After toying with idea, that ideal getaway location was my parents' house (not necessarily everyone’s first choice). Now that I look back on it, I wish I could have stayed there for a month, even though my stay only lasted two weeks. The first week, I continuously slept as my parents cared for my two kids. Every second of sleep was a gift from heaven and much needed. I finally had a break from the bed time, meal prep, and house maintenance routines. For the first time in a long time, I had my haircut and pampered myself to a pedicure. Even my sister chipped into my vacation and arranged for a professional photo shoot with my kids (see above). But most importantly, I finally had time to reflect and answer those tough questions, honestly truthfully and positively. I can be a mom, I am a great mother, and I was right, there was something I needed repair within me. After my getaway, I could look at my kids and I see happiness, but I certainly could not see that before then.
This trip wasn’t the end-all-be-all of my postpartum depression, continued therapy and medical support helped me win my battle. However, now that I look back, I feel like it still took two whole years before I loved my son. To the naked ear, that sounds horrible, but the truth is this battle I fought can be felt among so many women today, and they’ll agree with the statement I just made. Perinatal mood disorders (like postpartum depression) have affected, and continue to affect so many women in this day and age. And while many do feel very alone, and I want assure you, you are not. You can get through this, with time, but it does come to an end. It also doesn’t fix itself, you need to take the time to get help and reach out. Take it from someone who tried to brave it alone, and couldn’t.
Eventually my family limited the help they provided me, and then my closest friends stepped up to the plate. One of those friends, on a particularly difficult day, drove my kids and I, 8 hours away, to my parent’s house for another getaway. Many of these friends had families of their own, and sacrificed their time to help me when I was at an all time low. Their sacrifices will never be forgotten.
However, there were also friends who I told about my condition, but never really didn't talked to me or helped me. I think they heard the words “depression” and thought distance was the cure, and I feel that their response is most likely due to lack of education. When I trying bringing it up with these same friends who distanced themselves, I feel that my entire discussion with them about my depression never existed. It is as if it floated over all of their heads.
It is with this I want to leave you: if you see a friend who you believe is struggling in the slightest with her birth, and her child, do not hesitate to reach out. They may be reluctant to accept help, just as I was, but there are a hundred ways my depression could have worsened if my mother didn’t intervene. And if you are approached by someone who feels buried by the weight of being a mother, DO NOT pass it off as stress. Listen to them, help them, and guide them.
According the American Psychological Association, and average of 13% of women in their postpartum periods will be diagnosed postpartum depression (2013). Prevalence of women who had it previously (early 2000) is marked at a staggering 41%. This is not a condition to just shove into a corner an ignore. We can all attest to the power depression can have on those around us. I encourage you, if you think you might have a friend with postpartum depression, to check out the symptom guides and resources on PPD and clinical depression from the National Institute of Mental Health. Many of the resources here can help you figure out where your friend or family member stands in their progression with the disease.
If you are the mother reading my story, wondering whether or not you have Postpartum Depression, listen carefully. You are strong, you are a warrior mom, and you are loved. I am always willing to listen to anyone who feels like they are swimming in the wears of being a mom, and would love to talk with you! You are welcome to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact me by clicking on the "Contact Us" tab above. If you want to investigate Postpartum Depression a little more before contacting me, do so! One of the most popular evaluations out there is the Edinburgh Postnatal Scale which you can do at home. Your health care provider can provide you with this scale as well, if you can't print it out.
With that said, dig in, dig deep, and find help if you think you have Postpartum Depression. I am here, along with thousands of other women who have persevered to see another day (check out Postpartum Progress to see how others have battled this condition). You can do this, you are not alone, you are not to blame, and with help (and prayer) you can conquer all!