I knew it was happening as I sat in the waiting room for at my 6-week postpartum appointment. I couldn’t stop the tears from streaming down my face while I filled out the postpartum depression rating scale. As my tiny baby girl slept next to me in the stroller in the doctor’s office, the crazy mixture of feelings was overwhelming to me. I couldn’t look at her. I felt guilty for not being able to look at her. I didn’t want to hold her, but I felt so bad for not wanting to hold her. I dreaded having to nurse her, even though just a few days ago I couldn’t get enough of her little nursing faces and noises. I loved her so much, but I had no desire to be a mom.
“You have postpartum depression”, my doctor said after briefly glancing at the rating scale. I knew this already, but had been denying it to the point of exhaustion. I couldn’t fake it anymore. The only thing I could think was how can I make this go away? How can I feel normal again? Normal was what I had been working so hard to achieve since my baby was born. I needed to be back into my normal routine after I had the baby and feel like my old self again.
You see, the problem with all the what to expect/new mom books is that they leave out a huge chunk of the whole ordeal. That part about your life going away. Forever. And this new life you gain in a matter of seconds, the moment they put that baby on your chest, is the only life you’ll know for probably the rest of your life. Everything from your former life seems to be erased. I struggled with the fact that the person I was yesterday, and every other day of my life, was missing and I no longer had an identity because I didn’t feel quite like a mom yet either. Everyone told me that I needed to give myself time to get used to my “new normal”. I was expecting the transition into my new normal to happen as soon as I delivered my baby. Nope.
Hopeless is the best way to describe how I felt after having my daughter. I was hopeless that the baby blues would never let up. Hopeless when I would try to take a nap because I was so exhausted, but I couldn’t turn my mind off. Hopeless when my daughter would cry for hours at night and nothing I could do helped calm her. Hopeless when my husband offered to take all the night time feedings so I could sleep, only to find out that I had to wake up every few hours to pump anyways. Hopeless when I just wanted to sit on the couch and zone, but felt guilty for not paying attention to my baby. Hopeless when I had a list of basic chores to do, and nothing got done because the baby wouldn’t stop fussing.
Hopelessness is a gateway to depression. Once it’s there, it only gets worse if you can’t snap yourself out it. Factor in the batshit crazy hormones, and it was a perfect storm for postpartum depression to hit me hard.
While I was experiencing one of the worst moments of my life, I made sure that no one knew what was happening. I completely isolated myself from my friends and family because I was embarrassed and ashamed. I was also afraid that people would have the wrong idea about what was going on, and assume that I was suicidal or wanted to hurt my baby. Everyone would think I was mentally and physically weak, even though no one knew how hard I was fighting. Two weeks went by before I could talk to anyone.
This was one of my biggest learning experiences as a mother and human-being in general. It’s a horrible, dark place to be stuck in, especially when the expectation is that you are happy and glowing with joy at the birth of your new baby. I learned a lot about myself and about coping with intense, uncontrollable emotions. I wish every hospital and birthing center gave more information about PPD, what’s normal and not normal, and the next steps a new mom should take if symptoms start to worsen. Maybe I wouldn’t have held it in for so long if I knew I could get help with managing it sooner than my 6-week appointment.
Being 11 weeks away from having another baby makes me excited and very anxious that the PPD will happen again. I feel much more calm about having another baby because I have some idea of what to expect, and I have a deeper understanding of myself and the strategies that work for me.
Never judge. Ever.
Before I had my daughter, I would always judge moms. Everything from putting a kid on a leash to letting them stare at an iPad throughout a family meal at a restaurant was so beneath me and something I would never do if I ever had children. Fast-forward to now. I do just about everything I said I would never do. How does this relate to postpartum depression? There is a lot of criticism out there about treatment methods, medication, nursing while taking medication, etc… I stopped nursing once I began taking the anti-depressants because I was so afraid that the medication would impact her tiny, developing nervous system. I don’t explain that to people when they ask me for my breastfeeding “number”. “How long did you breastfeed for?? Oh, six weeks only??” (insert awkward silence and judgmental stare). Even when I hear those horrific news stories about mother’s that harm their newborns, I don’t judge. I feel so incredibly sad for them. No one harms their newborn baby unless something is seriously out of balance in their body. Most of these cases probably could have been prevented if they had the proper treatment and support system in place.
Talk to someone besides your spouse.
Your spouse can help you tremendously, but it gets to a certain point where they can’t help you anymore because they are so afraid/nervous/sad for you. Remember that they are on this journey with you, and they need time to cope with life being temporarily turned upside-down while you are recovering from the PPD. They will learn things about you, themselves, and your relationship that may be good and may be bad. Talk to someone else besides your spouse about how you’re feeling, your worries, fears, anxieties, how you’re coping, what your plan for recovery is, etc. Someone who is an “outsider” to what’s happening on a daily basis at home can offer you completely different perspectives on things, and sometimes a different perspective can help you in the most profound ways.
See a professional.
Whether it’s a psychiatrist, therapist, or counselor, it is crucial to have someone who is trained in dealing with depression to talk to. If you can find someone who specializes in PPD and/or women’s health, that’s even better. Bring your spouse with to your meetings. They can be your voice when it’s too hard to talk about something, or when you’re not being completely honest in your conversation. Having someone who is trained in mental health issues is a vital part to recovering because not only do they offer an outside perspective, they can give you strategies to cope with whatever part of PPD is chipping away at you the most. My therapist gave me an amazing visualization strategy for when my anxiety was getting out of control and my mind was racing. She told me to imagine a calm, peaceful stream running through a beautiful mountain valley, with leaves floating down it. Place any anxiety-inducing thought on one of those leaves, and watch it float away. I never thought I would be able to control my anxiety without medication, but this simple visualization strategy helped so much and still does to this day. You may be rolling your eyes at this, and it very well may not be something that works for you; however, a professional can offer you a variety of strategies and one of them may make a huge difference in your recovery.
Get out of your house.
Your face needs to see the light of day at some point. It’s not healthy to shut yourself in and cut yourself off from the world. Going out and doing something for yourself will make you feel better and somewhat normal again. I remember getting my nails done and going grocery shopping (because that’s my happy place) with puffy, red eyes, no make-up on, and messy, unshowered hair. At first, I felt uncomfortable doing things that were normally comfortable for me. Then my mind started to wander back to my normal thoughts like, “What color should I choose for my nails?” and “These tomatoes look so juicy, I should buy some hamburgers to grill.” Getting out takes your mind off the bad things. It forces you to be your normal, non-PPD self. It helps you to see that life is continuing on, and that you will be back in your daily routine soon. Whatever it is that you used to do before motherhood became your new life, do it. I promise you will feel so much better.
Don’t be afraid of medication.
Medication is a touchy subject for many. My ob/gyn recommended two courses of action. She prescribed me an anti-depressant and recommended seeing a therapist. I had a temporary moment of relief when she wrote the prescription. It was my only hope for feeling normal again. Postpartum depression isn’t a choice. It’s a combination of a hormonal and chemical imbalance in the nervous system. Some people can overcome it with therapy alone, and some people need medication to help re-balance everything. And that’s okay.
Let people take care of you.
It’s only natural to want to be the care giver when you are a mom. It’s our job. When postpartum depression hits, you need to let other people help and care for you just like you would let someone take care of you if you had the flu. It’s something that you should not have to overcome on your own. While I was in the deepest, darkest part of postpartum depression, I could not take care of my daughter. I didn’t hold her, feed her, play with her, or talk to her for several days. My mom, dad, and sisters took care of my daughter and me during the day. My husband tried so hard in many different ways to make me feel better. Having support from family and friends is crucial, and you have to be open to letting go and allowing other people take care of you.
If you are going through a rough patch with postpartum depression, please know you are not alone and that you will get better. The more support you give yourself whether it’s through medication, seeing therapists or counselors, or staying with a friend for a few days, the better your recovery will be. Be open to help, be honest with yourself, and remember that you will be “normal” again.