It has taken me a year to be able to tell this story, a year since my baby was born, a year since I lost my mind, a year since I began recovering from severe postpartum depression.
I’m going to talk about postpartum depression which will be healing and uncomfortable for me, but getting a dialogue started is so necessary.
I was prone to depression since my teens, but it was always mild and manageable. I never imagined the darkness that would descend after this perfect little miracle appeared. The first week home was magic; I was on such a high and in awe of how surreal life was. Slowly I became lonely, which was odd because there was now another little soul with me at all times. I had help, meals, well wishes, visitors, and a beautiful baby who happened to be a naturally great nurser.
I had everything and yet I felt empty.
I couldn’t understand this feeling, I kept blaming the hormones and hoped it would be over soon. I prayed it wouldn’t be long because the darkness was getting overwhelming and my milk production started to suffer which meant my baby was always eating, always hungry, and always crying. I would’ve given a limb for five minutes of sleep. All this time the darkness was taking over, enveloping me. I felt trapped and terrified.
I only told a few people, who assured me that by week three the hormones would even out and I would be fine. Even my obstetrician wasn’t concerned. Well, by week three I was not sleeping at all.
I would sit up and stare at my baby all night waiting for her to wake to eat, trying to calm myself enough to have a let-down, yet worrying that I wouldn’t and my baby would starve. I also found myself pumping so that I could have a quick glass — I mean bottle — of wine. Every. Night.
I cried all the time and by week four, I felt myself coming undone.
I know exactly when the turning point occurred.
In the middle of another sleepless night, I couldn’t see to work the buttons on the baby swing so I used the flashlight on my phone. I couldn’t work my phone and I was convinced I was never going to be the same and the anger rose up in me like a volcano.
I meant to throw the phone on the bed, but as it left my hand something went very wrong. It hit the wall clear across the room almost nailing my poor sleeping husband. I fell to the floor crying hysterically.
Tomorrow came and I was convinced I just needed to do better, that I was not doing motherhood right and that I only had to figure out a new way to live life and get some more sleep. I was a pretty good actor and smiled harder in front of others while I cried in the shower. All this time I slowly started to become consumed with thoughts that my family would be better off without me — yes definitely better off without me.
At every checkup after birth my doctor was only slightly concerned and did put me on the lowest dose of an anti-depressant, which I was convinced would work miracles. Yet I was devastated three weeks later when I still felt like dying would be better.
I was certain this was absolutely the right move because I didn’t want my family growing up with a sad excuse for a mother and wife holding them back.
Five minutes later, two friends and a police car were in my driveway. I was angry, thinking how dare they interrupt what I was trying to do for my family. The police officer asked where my baby was and if I hurt her and if I had taken any pills. I had not yet taken any and I had never (luckily) once thought of harming my child.
I ended up on my way to the hospital in the back of a police car sobbing my heart out as the cop blasted country music.
The rest of that day was a blur; I remember finally admitting I wanted to kill myself and signing a paper that consented my admission to a mental hospital. I was put in the back of a dark ambulance with no belongings, dressed in a hospital gown and driven 45 minutes away from home.
I slept the whole first day not wanting to interact with really crazy people because THAT would be scary. The second day I learned about the rules: no sleeping during the day, no shoe laces or plastic bags allowed, and I had to participate in group, individual therapy, and daily meetings with a psychiatrist to manage medications.
After about two days I finally felt safe, participating in group therapy was helpful, and my head was clearer than it had been in a long time.
I was one of the lucky ones; I was medicated with the right cocktail that produced no side effects and I went home to my family after five days. My support system was amazing and I was never made to feel ashamed about this very serious medical condition. I ended up with an amazing post acute psychiatrist and had very few relapses; none of them were nearly as bad as the initial occurrence.
For those who have recently given birth or those who love someone who has, please be aware of the following facts:
- PPD is caused by a cluster of factors such as the immediate release of hormones after birth, physical exhaustion, anxiety about nursing and being a “good mom,” and physical pain from birth.
- A supportive family is very helpful, but doesn’t give you immunity from PPD.
- Please, please, please tell your doctor your true feelings even if you are horrified. Some women feel dead inside, some want to die, some try to die, and some want to hurt their children. Your doctor needs to know and if they do not take you seriously, talk to the baby’s pediatrician, talk to anyone who will listen.
- It is very hard to not feel ashamed, but please understand you are not alone and your feelings are valid and mostly chemical based and do not mean you don’t love your baby.
- About 80% of women experience mild depression (baby blues), but 10-16% of new mothers experience a much more serious case like mine.
- The effects of PPD can last for a full year after the baby is born.
- PPD is much more serious than “the baby blues.” Almost every new mom experiences some change in mood the first weeks after giving birth due to the severe drop of hormones in the system, lack of sleep, and the stress of caring for a new life.
If it seems no one will listen and you feel like hurting yourself, please call the suicide prevention hotline 1-800-273-8255.
My baby is now 14 months old and I am still on medication. I feel amazing and I shudder to think what would’ve happened if my husband did not call 911 that day. As I think about someday having another baby, I do understand that I am at greater risk for PPD than a typical woman so when the time is right, my family and I will make the decision with much thought.
Please know there is hope and you won’t feel like this forever.