Let’s talk about something that lots of people have heard of, but may not know much about: postpartum depression.
Now, as far as research for this extremely important and serious issue? Not a whole lot, at least not before more recently in the last decade or so (if that.)
Characterized by mood swings, appetite changes, irritability, a feeling of being overwhelmed and more- this often debilitating condition affects more of us than you think. When I first heard of postpartum, I thought almost nothing of it. Sure, I had struggled through my adolescence with generalized depression, but I am a pro at ignoring the obvious issue. My trademark solution is the “stay too busy to realize how bad it is” approach.
I filled my whole days with working, and when I wasn’t doing that, I filled my time with constant interaction. When that wasn’t enough, I took a job where I committed to travelling for 288 days out of the year. I thought surely that be enough to distract me from the looming cloud of dark self doubt that seemed to be ever festering.
But after the birth of my first daughter, it reared its ugly head in a new form that I didn’t have handy dandy coping mechanisms for.
Postpartum depression hit me like a ton of bricks- and I didn’t know what to do about it.
I struggled in silence for a while. Each time Monkey cried, it pierced my heart and mind and made me feel worse than I already did. To compound onto the already huge issue, my milk never came in, so I wasn’t able to continue nursing. Each time she would cry, I would attempt nursing again, and each time she would still be hungry. In my mind I was convinced it was something wrong with me; our bodies, as women, are literally hardwired to be able to do this seemingly simple task: feed our children.
Was I literally so broken that I couldn’t even perform this basic motherly duty? After caving and supplementing with formula because fed is best, the dark part of my mind continued to convince me that I was the part that was “wrong,” I am the problem.
I struggled silently with these thoughts all the way until my six week postpartum check up. They screened me for PPD at this appointment, and told that I had one of the worst cases they had seen in a while. She offered up amazing suggestions like speaking to someone, searching out local groups for support, or even medication. But being stubborn, I declined, convinced that it was simply a mentality change that I needed.
By the time I was ready to admit that I couldn’t do it alone, it was too late.
I found out I was two months pregnant with my second daughter. Without asking if it were true or not, I told myself it wasn’t safe to take antidepressants while pregnant and resolved myself to “sucking it up” and just forcing myself to be “better.”
My first two daughters, Monkey and Bear, are a whopping 10 months apart. With the influx of hormones from my pregnancy with Bear, my depression got a little better. It helped that I was distracted with a growing baby, a pregnancy, and a 50+ hour a week job commitment that required my full attention as often as possible. I had also picked up a second job about halfway into this pregnancy, so I was working every day, all day, with no breaks and no excuses. I was back to running my body into the ground as a substitute for dealing with the actual problem.
But when Bear was born, she had colic. And after that, it was reflux. And yet again, breastfeeding was a flop. The second time around, I lasted a total of sixteen days with nursing- and about half of that time was with supplemented formula. So once again, I viewed myself as failing in such a basic sense of motherhood that I considered myself almost a disgrace to the mothering world.
Finally, when it got to the point that I found myself withdrawing even from socializing with C and the babies, I knew something had to be done. No longer could I keep resigning myself to crying silently in the shower so that it didn’t look like it had happened, or sitting and staring at the wall, pretending to be going to the bathroom when in reality, I was just hiding from anything and everything on the other side of the door.
I went back and spoke to my OB and told her I was ready for change. I needed to be different, because I knew I was failing my girls. Not from not being able to nurse- but from not being able to put my pride aside and admit that this beast was too big a burden for me to conquer on my own. It took a few tries to get my medication right- but afterwards, it was such a welcome relief to not hear a cry and immediately panic. To have a voice in my head reiterating that I wasn’t good for them, and never would be.
By the time I found out I was pregnant with Bug, I was so terrified of repeating this experience that I panicked and kept the pregnancy a secret for over a month. When it finally came to light, my OB assured me that my medication was safe for use during pregnancy, and that it would be the best course of action to ensure that I didn’t go back to that dark place.
Bear was 7 months old at this time, and I spent an evening crying in the dark in her room on the floor. I wasconvinced I wouldn’t be able to handle three kids. After a complicated end of pregnancy with Bug (preecclampsia, no epidural due to a constantly dropping pulse, blood transfusion…low potassium and iron…ALL THE PROBLEMS!) I had one blessed silver lining- nursing was actually going well this time! I had done a ton of research during this pregnancy, and was determined to make it work.
So far, I am 3 months postpartum with Bug, and everything has been great. As with any success story with kids, routine (as I can get to that) has saved me both sanity and tears. I continue to take my medication, and look for more ways to treat myself. I can’t forget about myself in this process and grand transition to becoming the mother I want to be.
While I am a mother, I’m still my own person- and I need to always remember and embrace that.