WARNING!! If you have read any of my previous posts you know that I like to keep things on the lighter side. This will not be the case for this post. I am writing today about postpartum depression. This is a topic that I hold dear to my heart because I had it after my 3rd birth. What you are about to read is raw, open and truthful. There is nothing pleasant about the words that will follow. I'm not writing this to instill fear but to let anyone out there going through it to know that you are not alone. Many women go through this but few talk about it. So we're talking about it now.
My story really begins in 2010 when I gave birth to my third baby. All went smoothly in labor and delivery. We went home and survived for the first few weeks like all families do right after delivery. At about 4 weeks, she started to scream bloody murder every night from 7:00 pm to 12:00 am. This lasted until she was 5 months old.
This wasn't fun for my 2 boys who, at the time, were 5 and 11. For me, it was torture because my husband worked nights. Even with his schedule, we managed to work out an up-every-other-night plan where we would take turns being up with the baby. I thought this would be amazing but I'm a light sleeper and ended up awake anyway. I was sleepless, not eating, and not taking time for myself because I was constantly working to keep my family alive and kicking. Let's add to this that I was under-producing breast milk with a baby that refused to latch. Pumping wasn't working, supplements weren't working, and I surely wasn't eating enough. My day consisted of school pick ups, homework, dinner, bedtimes, working at Bellies and Babies (starting month 4), cleaning, feeding, diapering, and surviving the evening torture. I was tired, frustrated, panicked. Feeling betrayed by my body. And worthless.
At month 5 things started to look up for me. My baby finally stopped the scream fest at night! That's right folks, she stopped. It was amazing. My baby girl was smiling like I had never seen. She was now the baby I had always wished her to be. That's why what came next really felt like it was out of left field.
I began to notice that I was losing interest in my everyday life - including my children. It was a chore to fake being emotionally present. I would wake up, peel myself out of bed, put on whatever happened to be sitting by my bed, and start the day. Lets not even go into the fact that I had no connection with my husband. Our sex life was an urban legend and I was grateful that he came home so late because it meant I didn't have to talk to him. I want to make it very clear that I loved him the entire time. He is amazing and tried really hard to make sure that he helped in anyway he knew how or that I told him to do. In comparison, I was like a laptop without wifi capabilities. I was alive and working through life but just totally unable to connect.
Then the scarier parts started to settle into my everyday. Upstairs, I would walk down the hallway with my back up against the wall as if I were a spy skimming the outside of a skyscraper. I could see myself dropping or throwing my baby girl over the railing to where the stairs were. Then, I would sit on my bottom, holding her for dear life, going down one step at a time until I got to the bottom. All of this was necessary so that I didn't hurt her either intentionally or unintentionally.
Making dinner, I would sit in the kitchen with thoughts off slitting my wrist with the knife I was cutting an onion with. When bath time came around, I would bathe her in the kitchen. There were 2 reasons for this: first, there was no way I could drown her in such shallow water. And, if people were around, it would keep me from purposely drowning her like I had visions of doing quite often.
I know that this all sounds pretty terrible. And believe me it was. What kind of mother would have these thoughts about her baby?? The kind of mother who is going through postpartum depression.
6 months post delivery, I was coming undone. One night, laying in bed with my husband I began to cry. It was my night to be up with her. He turned to me and asked what was wrong. I couldn't even bring myself to say what I had just imagined about doing to my precious baby girl. My fear was if I did, he would surely divorce me and take our children with him because I was clearly unstable. I finally got it out. I told him what I was seeing, feeling and doing to keep myself from either hurting the baby or myself. He hugged me, reassuring me that all would be okay. He reinforced the fact that he will always love me and that I didn't have to go through this alone. Immediately, I felt relieved. He took that night's baby shift and checked on me throughout the night. He was thankfully off the following day.
We called my OB's office and they immediately called in a prescription for Prozac. We picked it up as soon as it was ready and I took my first dose. It was night and day. That morning I woke up feeling unraveled and 20 minutes after taking that tiny saving grace I was fine. I was able to be around my baby and never had another thought about hurting her. I as so grateful that they were so quick to respond. I stayed on Prozac for a few months - scared that if I stopped, the intrusive thoughts would come back.
After starting my prescription, I began looking for someone who specialized in PPD here in Charlotte. There was one. That's right - one. Dr. Thorne is a psychologist at The Prenatal and Postpartum Center of the Carolinas. Because she was the only one, it was hard to get in with her. I tried to talk to my OB office about it but, because I was 6 months post, they told me it was now a primary care doctor issue. I love my OB but this was really astounding. Not only did they not help with PPD but there was never any follow up to make sure things were okay. I was told that my primary care would refill the prescription and that was it. No one was concerned past the prescription issuance that I initially had suicidal thoughts or thoughts of hurting my baby. What if the pills didn't work? What if I ended up dead because of this.
Quick sidebar...what you need to realize is that with PPD these are considered intrusive thoughts. They are symptoms of PPD. You see, with PPD you're terrified of these thoughts which is why you don't go through with them. Postpartum psychosis is the other beast some women encounter that doesn't give the red light that these thoughts are scary. This one doesn't rear it's ugly face as often (which we're thankful for). We won't touch on that one this post but I think it's one to be covered at a later date...
Anyway, no one was concerned. My doctors didn't refer me to anyone. No nurse called to make sure all was well. At the time, there wasn't a support group or meet-ups for postpartum depression that I could find. I never talked to any of my friends about this. I was ashamed. My friends who didn't have kids would think terrible things of me. My friends with kids would think I was an unfit mother and stop talking to me before they called child protective services. None of this would have really happened but it didn't matter. That's how I felt so I walked this road alone until I told my husband about it. I was basically left to my own devices to figure this thing out.
My prescription just kept getting re-filled with no end in site so I decided 6 months later that I wanted to stop and researched how to make this happen. I began to self-wean. For the next year, I'd be fine for a while until it would start going down hill and I'd go back on the pill again (but at a lower dose). I'd be fine again, and then again things would start going down hill. The cycle kept repeating.
I didn't like the fact that this was my new normal so I began to really consider my life style as a contributing factor. I started concentrating on my health by changing my diet, eating right, doing yoga, and taking time to decompress on a normal basis. This was really hard initially because, with 3 kids, a husband, and a business to run, there was very little time left in my day for "me" time. But I made it a priority. It was amazing the immediate changes I saw after just the first few weeks which in turn made it something really easy to maintain. I knew that if I was going to survive it was something that had to happen. I was happy, more rested, at ease in mind and soul and really able to handle the struggles that entered my day to day life.
Given my field of work, I was always talking to expectant and new mothers about PPD and what to watch out for. This was not a foreign topic for me so I was surprised that I never saw what I was going through as PPD. After the fact, I got really good at spotting it in the women who would come in for postpartum massages here at Bellies and Babies. After poking around a bit for details I would share my story with them. Some would break down in tears. Others would express relief that they had someone to talk to about it. These conversations were eye-openers. These women were surprised that they were going through PPD and that I was going through it as well. It's always the ones you least expect.
If we as a community know this is something that happens, why do we still play the shame game? Why do we make it so hard for women to discuss the terrifying things they go through during this time? Instead of embracing these women and offering them the love and support they need, as a society we make them feel like they are less mothers because of it. None of us are perfect, especially in motherhood. We are constantly seeing things on Pinterest and Facebook that show other women rolling into motherhood with ease and grace. What about those of us who walk around in 3 day old pj's crying our eyes every night? What about those of us who feed our kids cereal for dinner because it was just that kind of day?
You can help by reaching out to your tribe and let them know that you read this post. Even if you haven't gone through it yourself, it is very real for someone you may know. Show the love by stopping the shame game. If you have any tips, suggestions, or stories please post them here so we can pass along to someone else in need. If you are a provider that can help in Charlotte or its surrounding areas, contact us so we can add you to our contact list for referrals.