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The dark side of becoming a mom: Postpartum Depression

I’m a very type A person.  I’m a planner. I’m a learner. I’m organized. I’m always prepared. When I was pregnant with my first child I read ALL the books. I read pregnancy books, baby books, what to expect books, labor and delivery books. I literally read somewhere in the ballpark of 15 books before I had my first child. Overzealous? Maybe. But I was going to be ready for anything.

The books talk about birth and how when your baby is born your heart becomes overcome with joy and love.  The books also tell you about the “baby blues” and how you might be more emotional those first few weeks. I was ready for both.

What the books didn’t prepare me for was NOT having that instant joy and love at first sight feeling for my son.  Nobody told me that I could feel so emotionally numb for MONTHS after giving birth. I never knew I could be so angry at a tiny, helpless infant for just BEING.  I know my husband walked on eggshells for several months, afraid I might lose it at any second. I wasn’t just a little “weepy” over the new changes in my life, I felt like I was in a small room full of water, silently drowning in my own misery.

Why wasn’t I prepared for this??

Because nobody talks about it. The books don’t tell you much. Honestly, my doctor didn’t even warn me it could happen.  No new mom would ever dare admit out loud that giving birth and having a newborn were possibly the worst things that could have happened to her.  It’s a taboo subject.  I felt alone.

According to the American Psychological Association, around 15% of women will experience postpartum depression (PPD). Of those 15%, over 40% are likely to suffer from it again after another birth.

Like any good, organized, educated, planning individual, I rationalized.  I was a new mom, this was a huge change to my life. My husband’s work was busy, he wasn’t around much.  We didn’t live close to family.  I was sleep deprived. My son was colicky. I couldn’t stand the extra baby weight hanging around.  The list was endless. I told myself I’d adjust and it would get better. Weeks came and went and nothing changed.  What the books do tell you about PPD tells you to get sleep, get exercise, eat right, and get outside. Check, check, check, and check.  I was doing everything I could think of to “snap out of it”.

I remember sitting in the room with my OB/GYN for my six week check up, my blood pressure elevated as I anxiously watched my sleeping son in his car seat praying that he wouldn’t wake and have a meltdown.  I broke down.  My husband and I had spent over two years dealing with infertility to have this baby. I had spent so many hours in this office crying about trying to get and stay pregnant. How could I tell him that I felt like getting in my car and just driving away from everything??  We talked. He listened. God bless that man. He assured me that this was out of my control. Even my postpartum pap smear came back abnormal which is also a clear indicator of hormonal imbalances.  He encouraged me to start medication. Of course, I resisted. I was exclusively breastfeeding so of course I’d read everything. I left that appointment with the intention to wait a few more weeks. Maybe things would get better. Then my husband was set to leave the state for work for a while. The sadness, anger, guilt, and anxiety I felt was just too much.  I still consider it a God moment that the very day I contemplated calling my doctor, he actually called me. He didn’t hesitate to write me a prescription for Zoloft. I was comfortable with this because contrary to what I previously thought, most medications are compatible with breastfeeding.

After about a week I felt significantly better.  I wasn’t by any means 100% but I could function.  In hindsight, I should have increased my medication. I should have probably done therapy and actually talked about this, but I kept it all bottled up inside. I never even told my husband the extent of my depression until about two years after our son was born.  I clearly remember the day things really changed. Sadly, my son was about 15 months old.  I woke up and had this feeling like a dark cloud finally lifted from over my head.  It was like I could finally take that deep breath I couldn’t catch for so long.  Even more sad is that I look back at pictures and videos of my son’s first year and I don’t cry tears of joy, I cry tears of sadness because I don’t feel like I was truly present for any of it.  I didn’t know enough.  Nobody asked, so I never told.  I’m telling my story now because I don’t want another mom to go through my experience. You CAN take antidepressants and breastfeed. You CAN change the tune in your head and find that joy you read about in the books when you were pregnant.

I wish that was were my story ended…

I was so nervous to have a second child because I was so afraid of going through PPD again. I talked to my OB/GYN about it and we would be prepared. When my daughter was born just seven months ago, I was in love the second she was placed in my arms. It was like being a first time mom all over again. This was what I had read about. It felt so different the second time around. Everything was so different. Then a few weeks went by and that irritable tension grew inside of me again. I felt out of control. I remember my husband working late one night and after I had put both kids to bed he came home and found me crying uncontrollably in our closet. This wasn’t the mom I wanted to be.  I hated the person PPD turned me into.  This time around my doctor had a questionnaire to fill out. The score was rated 1 to 12. Anything over 6 required attention. I scored an 8.  I knew I didn’t feel as bad as I had after my son’s birth but I knew I didn’t feel like “me” either. Unfortunately, I have no concept of “normal” or what you should feel like after having a baby. PPD can have so many degrees of severity.  I wasn’t anxious about taking Zoloft this time. I started right at 6 weeks postpartum. After a week I hadn’t seen/felt much change so I called my doctor and we upped my dose. Game changer.  I may be medicated, but I’m the mom I want to be and who my children deserve.  I have so much joy and love in my heart for these perfect miracles that God blessed me with.

It’s okay to admit when life sucks. Especially if you’re a new mom. Nobody deserves to walk down that path alone. It’s dark and it hits you straight in the heart.

You are NOT a bad mom if you experience PPD. It is NOT your fault.  There is hope and the ability to change the path you’re on.

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