WARNING: This is a very open and honest post. It may be difficult for some people to read, but I feel it is necessary for those struggling to understand they are not alone. This condition does not define anyone who suffers with it.
Postpartum depression (PPD) is a condition that effects more moms than we may realize. While there is more awareness of PPD than before, it is still not something that is talked about. We put on a smiling face to the outside world and blame stress to those who may notice the changes. The first step in bringing more awareness to PPD is talking about it.
So here is my story. It starts with the birth of my first baby, six years ago, but first a preface. I’ve never had a history of mental illness. I’ve always been mentally and emotionally strong, motivated, determined, active, and always seeking to better myself in either my career or my education. I was used to working two jobs or working a full time job and going to school full time.
When we got the news of my pregnancy, we were excited and I enjoyed (almost) every minute of being pregnant. It is truly amazing what the human body can do to conceive, grow, birth, and nourish a new life. My labor was slow to start and I had a few complications, but overall, I had a good labor and delivery. He was healthy, perfect, and beautiful.
After some discussion, my husband and I agreed that I would stay at home with the baby to raise him until he went to school. So I left my job about two weeks before I gave birth. I knew that having a newborn would be work, but I was really thrown off by how difficult it was. He didn’t sleep much the first three months of his life. And he ate. A lot. Constantly. Nonstop. There were days he was nursing so much that I had to get creative just to go to the bathroom! I didn’t have a lot of breastfeeding help so we ended up supplementing at two months. Then he was colicky and it took months to figure out that he was sensitive to gluten and dairy. His colic eased when I changed my diet, but he still had crying fits without any obvious reason. And then my husband deployed from the time my son was 10 weeks to 9 months old. So to sum it all up, my world got completely turned upside down. I left my life as I knew it and traded it in for a stress I never knew existed. Now don’t get me wrong: I LOVE my son and we had a lot of fun playing. However, I didn’t know how to handle it. I was used to stress and chaos I could control and this is something I had no control over. I was angry with extreme mood swings. I was angry at myself for getting angry with my son, I was angry with my husband for deploying, I was angry at the military for making my husband deploy with a newborn, I was angry at myself for not letting my husband deploy when I was pregnant, I was just angry at the world. When I got angry, I cried, I screamed, and I threw things (and got good at repairing things). I never threw anything at my son and when it got too bad, I would put him in his crib, close the door, and walk outside for a few minutes to calm down. Luckily, I was near my parents who took my baby overnight once a week so that I could get some rest. And I had another friend who would randomly show up to take my son for a walk so I could rest or come clean my house for me. Honestly, I don’t know how I would have made it through without her or my parents during this time.
On top of all this, the scariest part of the whole situation, were the invading, persistent thoughts I was having. Thoughts of harming my son. Thoughts of abandoning him. Thoughts of hurting myself. Detailed, graphic, horrifying thoughts. Things I have told no one about, not even my husband or my therapist. They were horrific, scary, and made my stomach churn almost to vomiting. I knew I would never ever hurt him or myself, but these are thoughts that would just pop up in my head and I couldn’t stop them.
I thought this all would stop once my husband came home. I thought I was experiencing all of this because my husband wasn’t home to help. But nothing changed. Nothing got better. I just got better at hiding it. At least I thought I did. He didn’t know the extent of how bad it was, but he knew something was wrong. I did everything that was suggested: get more sleep (now that hubby was home, I could), exercise, socialize more, etc. Nothing eased the stress. Then I read an article about how a mother can be diagnosed with PPD up to two years postpartum. By this time, my son had turned 1. So I decided to seek help. Sure enough, my therapist said I had a severe form of postpartum depression. He assured me it was nothing I did and that it is a biological/chemical issue. He prescribed me medication and sent me on my way. I didn’t see another professional for this. And I’m sorry that I didn’t.
The medication seemed to work okay. The thoughts were subsiding, my mood swings were still there, but less extreme. I didn’t feel any happier though and I still didn’t feel like myself. But I was able to manage a little better. Then we moved overseas. I was still having mood swings (moving doesn’t help the stress levels), but I was back to working on my college degree. At last it was time for me to wean off the medication. My primary care doctor wanted me off the medication in 4 weeks, but I could not tolerate that. It took me 4 long, difficult months! But I was finally off of it and I was a little more stable than before.
Six months later, I was pregnant with our second baby. I had another good pregnancy and smooth labor and delivery. She was perfect and beautiful, just like her big brother. We had no breastfeeding issues and right off the bat, was sleeping regularly and through the night at a month old. I didn’t feel like I was experiencing PPD issues with her right off the bat. But then we moved back to the states, with my hubby away for the first couple months. I slowly started noticing things. Like mood swings. And thoughts…that weren’t as extreme as before, but still nerve racking. I attributed them to possible PPD that hadn’t completely gone away before getting pregnant again or lack of sleep. But my mood swings began to get more extreme. I was having complications focusing. I didn’t have the energy to do the things I needed to do. I knew I needed to workout, but I considered my days successful if I fed the kids more than just snack food all day. I felt like a horrible mother because I yelled at my kids. I didn’t have any patience for them and my first reaction was to yell. Over small, benign things. I felt like a bad mom when I was trying to get something done, and my daughter just wanted to play, but I couldn’t focus on either her or my task. I felt like a horrible wife because I didn’t have the energy to be with my husband in any capacity when the kids went to bed. I wasn’t acting or feeling like a wife and mom, but more like a live-in nanny to someone else’s kids.
I finally made the decision to seek out help, but instead of medication, I wanted help in dealing with my problems. My doctor and husband talked me into trying a different medication in combination with therapy. So far, this has been the best decision. The medication seems to be working. My mood swings are far less extreme. I actually feel happiness and enjoy being with my kids (most days!). I still have difficulty focusing, but I’m working on that right now. My marriage seems to be stronger since getting help. And this is the first time since I got pregnant with my daughter, 3 years ago, that I have been able to stick to a fitness and diet routine. I still have a long way to go, but it’s getting better.
I cannot publish this post without bringing some attention to my husband. Since realizing my condition, he has been absolutely amazing. His kindness, grace, compassion, strength, and love he has shown me is helping me heal. And I wouldn’t be able to get through this without him. He is my rock, my love.
In my next post, I will go over therapeutic techniques that are helping me where medication cannot. If you want to learn more about postpartum depression, the American Psychological Association has some great information here. If you are suffering from PPD, the most important thing to know is you are not alone. You are not abnormal. There is nothing you did to cause this. Just keep doing your best and don’t beat yourself up. Please get help as soon as you can so you don’t miss out on anymore of your kiddos life. That is one thing that really saddens me about this disorder: PPD has taken me away from my kids and I’ve missed out on so much joy. Kids are a blessing and can bring so much joy to your life. Enjoy them while you can. I wish you blessings and will pray for those who struggle with this. xo