The birth of a baby can trigger a whole lot of emotions. Sometimes they’re expected, other times they’re intense and overwhelming. You may feel so happy and excited or maybe you’re a little anxious or completely terrified. Your body is adjusting, your hormones are surging, you’ve heard the stories of the extreme emotional highs and lows, but when the sadness overtakes you and anxiety becomes where you function from, you’re in new territory…
The journey through postpartum depression (PPD) is different for everyone. I’d like to introduce you to three women who would like to share their experiences with you. To invite you into this chapter of their lives, to share their story and encourage you along the way.
Shortly after we announced we were expecting our second child, I began having some complications. The doctor told me to expect the worst. Every day I was nervous and anxious; wondering if we could make it just a little further…hoping our baby could be born alive. I spent more than half my pregnancy on bedrest, unable to pick up my 2-year-old or help my husband around the house. We finally made it to full term and felt so blessed and thankful by this precious gift. But things were about to change real fast…
I have 4 children, 2 boys and 2 girls. I had my first child over 25 years ago. It was a different time. Postpartum wasn’t talked about or openly discussed, we didn’t really understand it as well back then. I struggled after every birth; crying, feeling sad, foggy…it was like living under a gloomy cloud. I didn’t have joy, or the ability to laugh…
The first few weeks after my twins were born, my mom was able to stay with me and help out. When she left and I was by myself, I began to spiral into a state of anxiety. I was anxious for the first 6 weeks, but I had constant help and support, I always seemed to manage and I figured this was normal – I was fine. Within about 2 days of my mom leaving I was so anxious I couldn’t sleep, so nauseous I couldn’t eat, so overwhelmed by the 2 little babies [that I KNEW I loved] that I didn’t want to look at them or even hold them. I felt totally alone and worried that this would be how I’d feel for the rest of my life…
Right after my daughter was born, the doctors came to me with medical concerns. Immediately I thought the worst. We had worked SO hard to make it to full term, now what? I worried constantly. My baby would have convulsions from lack of sugar and I couldn’t put her down. I was stressed out and exhausted.
I tried to take it one day at a time, I just had a baby, of course my hormones were out of whack…this will get better. I stressed out about everything, blowing the smallest things way out of proportion. The intensity of the emotions led to anger and resentment in my marriage. My husband and I would fight and I no longer had any patience for my toddler, which upset me even more.
It got so bad that I closed all my windows with black out curtains and hardly left the house. When I did leave the house, it was mostly for show, so everyone thought I was ok. My relationship with my husband was pretty much nonexistent and I distanced myself from almost all my loved ones. I knew I needed help, but like so many others I was scared to ask for it.
My mom came to me one day and told me that asking for professional help was nothing to be embarrassed about. She helped me see that there was an army of people behind me, supporting me. She also told me it was a chemical imbalance, not a flaw in myself. This didn’t make me a failure.
I saw my doctor who started me on an anti-depressant to help with PPD. She talked with me and explained that this happens to so many mothers and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It took almost a full month for the meds to kick in, but when they did life got 110% better. I could laugh again.
I experienced PPD with all of my children. With my first child, I thought maybe it was just the baby blues. I would cry and feel frustrated, it was a struggle to get through the day. As the months wore on I kept thinking it would get better, but it didn’t. This was a while ago, and we didn’t talk about these kinds of things. Other moms and other women didn’t understand me; it was safer for me to suffer in silence. I struggled with PPD that eventually became more of a mild case of depression.
With my subsequent pregnancies, I began to recognize the feelings and I began to dread them. I knew what was coming. The tears and the sadness would come so quickly after the birth that I couldn’t appreciate coming home and taking care of the babies. I functioned in survival mode, barely.
Eventually I began to read books and getting informed. I talked to my doctor and found a safe place to share my feelings of sadness. I could have used more information, I think it’s important to take advantage of the research and information available today. Looking back, there is a lot of supports that would have been beneficial for me.
There’s not the same stigma surrounding postpartum depression today as there was 25 years ago. There has been a lot of hard work and research done to learn more and to help with educating others about PPD. Talking to someone and learning to lean on the supports I had available was the best thing I did to begin finding my way out of the darkness.
I had struggled with anxiety in the past, so I knew what it felt like, but this was so much more than that. I didn’t want to hold my sons or even look at them. I knew that wasn’t normal and I figured it had to be some kind of postpartum – even if it wasn’t depression. I was completely exhausted, not because the babies were getting up, but because of all the anxiety. The physical reaction and anxiety and all the thoughts racing through my head, it was a complete flip from the person I was. Eventually myself and my twin boys were admitted to the hospital.
Before I got help, I thought I would feel like this forever. I was so in my own head. I didn’t know how to deal or why it was happening or if there was tools or resources I could use. I felt completely stuck and all alone. But, I was picky about whose help I wanted. I really wanted things my way. I was a first time mom and I didn’t want to let go of that control. I felt guilty and like I was failing as a mother.
Getting help was a journey. It didn’t happen overnight, but by reaching out and asking others for help, surrounding myself with people. I had to work at it. My mom came back and helped out so I could get back on my feet and take some time for the medication to start working. Part of what had sent me to my darkest places was hormones. It really is a chemical imbalance, not a personal failure. It really helped for me to know that. When my mom couldn’t help anymore I reached out to others in my community. I started to put together a schedule, a plan for my days – inviting someone over for coffee gave me some adult time, playdates out were time out of the house that I could look forward to. PPD is different for everyone, it’s not just medication, it’s not just talking to someone. Sometimes it’s one or the other, sometimes it’s a combination of both.
What advice and/or encouragement would you like to share?
- You are not alone, and you’re not the first person to feel this way.
- Talk to someone and be real. Tell them the good and the bad.
- Talk to your doctor or medical provider.
- Ask for help.
- Take care of yourself, of course the baby’s needs are important, but you matter too!
- Get out in the fresh air, even if it’s only for a few minutes a day.
- Take it one day at a time, don’t try to figure out the big picture.
- You won’t feel this way forever.
Wherever you’re at, whether experiencing postpartum depression is a journey you’re on personally or if PPD has affected someone close to you, please know that you’re not alone. Reach out to a friend or family member, or talk to a doctor or medical provider. The benefits of asking for help far outweigh the pain of suffering in silence.
Did you miss Part 1 of this series? Check it out here.
*The names and details of these stories have been changed to protect confidentiality. This post is not intended as a substitute for the medical advice of a physician. Readers should regularly consult a physician in matters relating to personal health and particularly with respect to any symptoms that may require diagnosis or medical attention.