This post is difficult for me to write. It’s terrifying to reveal my deepest, darkest secrets to the world; but I’ve done it before and I’m going to do it again. Last week, I recognized my postpartum depression (PPD) symptoms by reading about someone else’s journey to diagnosis. I’m willing to publicize my secrets in the hope that another woman might recognize her symptoms in my story.
Even though 15 to 20 percent of mothers experience PPD, there’s still a bit of a stigma attached to it. Perhaps that stigma is more evident to the person suffering from PPD. I have the fear that others might view me as weak, or less of a mother. I have a fear of admitting that I need help. I can’t “snap out of it.” I feel guilty that I haven’t been myself for months. My husband, son, family, friends and even my work all deserve more than I have been able to provide.
While it’s terrifying to admit what I’m about to reveal, a friend just told me that what she loves about me is that I’m real. So here I am. True, raw emotion. Uncensored. Scared, but hopeful.
When C was first born and even while he had colic for those two long months, I felt like myself. Exhausted and exasperated, yes. But I was still me. I still really felt the happiness and laughter in my life. Despite the exhaustion from the lack of sleep caused simply by having a newborn, I was energetic.
I stopped breastfeeding at the end of June, which coincided with the end of C’s colic. By the end of August, my body had stopped producing milk (yes, it took a long time!). I can trace my PPD symptoms to that period of time. My PPD has continually progressed since then.
There are constantly about 20 different thoughts racing through my head. It’s hard to keep up sometimes. I can’t concentrate on things. I forget what people have said to me, or what I’m supposed to do. Sometimes I’m watching a TV show, but am so distracted that I can’t remember what happened. I haven’t been able to read a book since before I had C. At first, there was just no time and now it’s just impossible to concentrate.
I get frustrated, irritated and angry very quickly. C’s crying makes my whole body tense up. I clench my teeth. I yell too easily and too often. I realize that I shouldn’t be upset, but I can’t stop myself.
I’m almost always overwhelmed, which contributes to the irritation and yelling. Piles of papers have been scattered on our counter for months. I can’t sort through it. I can’t file away important papers. It’s just too much. I’m getting anxious just thinking about it.
I feel hopeless. I wonder if things will ever get easier, if I’ll ever be able to “handle” being a mother.
I experience a heaping dose of guilt on a daily basis. I feel guilty for being overwhelmed, easily frustrated and for yelling. I feel guilty for not feeling more competent. I feel guilty that I’m not the same person I was before C was born (or even in the few months after).
While I still laugh and experience happy things, I don’t feel happiness as deeply as I used to.
I’ve experienced appetite changes. I’m hungry more often. I don’t necessarily eat more, just more often.
I have problems sleeping. Granted, sharing a bedroom with C does not help. C is perhaps the lightest sleeper on the planet and wakes up if we move or breathe too loudly. Regardless, I am always exhausted and even when I get a good night of sleep, I don’t feel rested.
This is perhaps the most difficult one for me to admit: intrusive thoughts. When I’m driving, I can’t stop thinking things like, “What if I hit that tree?” or, “What if we hit that car?” When I have C playing in the kitchen while I cook, I think things like, “What if this knife slips out of my hand and hurts C?” or, “What if the refrigerator door falls off the hinges and crushes him?” No, they’re not rational thoughts. No, I know that I would never hurt myself or C. But they’re there.
After finally recognizing that this is not just my “new normal,” like I had feared, I called my OBGYN office on Monday. My doctor’s first opening was two weeks later, but since I had mentioned postpartum anxiety and depression they got me in the schedule to see a nurse practitioner this week.
Today, I was diagnosed with moderately severe postpartum depression.
I will be starting an antidepressant tonight. I’m scared of the adjustment period. I’ve heard that other women with PPD have experienced severe highs and lows for the first few weeks until the medication levels off. In less than two weeks, we’re going to be leaving home to visit with family for the holidays. I’m scared of going through this adjustment in front of them. I’m scared of being judged. But, I’m hopeful. I’m hopeful that I will be able to feel joy as deeply as I once did. I’m hopeful that my son, husband, family and friends might get the best from me once again. I’m hopeful that I’ll find “me” again.
If you or someone you know might be experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression and/or anxiety, the following websites are great resources for evaluating symptoms and finding help. If you are having feelings of harming yourself or your child, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or dial 911.
Postpartum Support International
U.S. National Library of Medicine