One of my best friends had her mom in town for a couple of weeks. I was having a really rough time with my PPD, and her mom noticed. She came up to me and started talking and she shared her experiences with me. Her story resonated with me and helped soothe my aching. I have asked Kristi to share her experiences because it may bring healing to others as well.
Postpartum depression is such a misunderstood condition and, unfortunately, one that still has a negative stigma about it. I have suffered with it 5 times and have met numerous women over the years who have also silently suffered and that is why I’m willing to share my story.
When my husband and I got married, we seemed to truly have the “fairytale” life. We were not only a couple, but best friends. We were both pretty laid back and really never argued. With things going so great it wasn’t long before we decided to start our family.
We were so excited when I finally got pregnant and then devastated when at the end of the first trimester I lost the baby. Obviously, I was sad. But about a week after the miscarriage I found myself feeling anxious and distraught. It took very little to make me upset or cause me to break down in tears. I didn’t even feel like myself anymore. My poor husband didn’t know what to think or how to handle it so he mostly just tried to avoid me. People kept telling me it was just because I was sad about losing the baby. It wasn’t until years later I realized that I had been suffering from postpartum depression. Yes, you can experience it even after a miscarriage. Fortunately, it does end and a couple of months after the miscarriage I was feeling more like myself again.
The next year we were blessed with a beautiful baby girl. The first couple of weeks I was fine and then suddenly the depression and anxiety began to take over again. People told me I was just adjusting to being a new mother, but it just seemed like something more than that. I knew I should be happy. I wanted to be happy…and I just couldn’t. Three months later I began feeling more like myself again.
Two years later we were blessed with another baby girl. Then my whole world fell apart. My older daughter had developmental delays and special needs; my husband deployed on a submarine 2 days before the baby was born; and my mother died of cancer 4 weeks later. Again, the first couple of weeks I was fine. I came home from the hospital determined to face life head on. Then one morning I woke up and it was like I was a different person. I remember looking at my girls and thinking, “I know I love you, but why can’t I feel it?” It was like I was numb inside. I found myself just going through the motions of everyday life. My girls were always clean, fed, and dressed, but some days that was about all I could handle.
I felt like I was in survival mode. The depression got worse. I remember thinking that I wasn’t a very good mother and that my family would be better off without me. Looking back now I can’t believe I ever thought that, but it was truly what I felt at the time. My husband was deployed for months at a time so I was basically a single parent. In a way this was a blessing because it was the reality of knowing there was no one else to care for my girls that kept me fighting.
When my youngest was about 6 months old I got very sick and it was during that doctor’s visit that I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and advised to begin taking an antidepressant. I became very defensive and refused to take anything. To me taking medicine was a sign of weakness. I came home from the doctor that day and was greeted by two Navy wives who had been great friends. They asked me what the doctor had said. I will never forget their reaction when I said he thought I had postpartum depression. You would have thought I said I had leprosy. I could tell they both felt uncomfortable and unsure how to respond. The months that followed found them avoiding me. It was then that I decided postpartum depression was something not to talk about. And I didn’t for many years.
This time it took about a year before I felt like myself again. Once I felt “sane” I looked back and realized I wasn’t the only one affected. My husband and girls had suffered too. This is part of a letter I wrote to my husband trying to explain how I felt during this dark time…
“I’m in a hole. I’m looking up, arms outstretched heavenward. I see light. That is good. Sometimes the hole is so deep I don’t see any light. But even then my arms are still stretched out, up towards the opening of the hole; waiting for someone to help pull me out. But no one ever comes. And so I wait, and suffer. Sometimes the hole gets deeper, sometimes shallower to where I can almost climb out myself. Sometimes I feel I am being buried alive. Those are the days when I don’t want to exist anymore; when I feel I just can’t go on. When I feel like I’m making everyone around me, all the people I love, feel as horrible as I do.”
A year later we were blessed with a baby boy. The whole pregnancy I was worried about the person I would become after the birth. Fortunately, I ended up with an amazing doctor who understood and explained postpartum depression to me. She helped me realize I wasn’t “crazy” but simply going through a change in hormones that occurs after birth. For some people the change is easy with little affect. For others, the body chemistry is completely thrown off. She knew of my aversion to taking medicine and asked me if I had diabetes would I be willing to take insulin. I told her of course I would. She then explained that postpartum depression is no different. Just as some people can’t process sugars correctly and need insulin, some women have a hard time processing the change of hormones and need some help with antidepressants. She also explained that if you have had postpartum depression once you will most likely have it again and that it tends to last longer with each pregnancy.
So knowing that “when” and not “if” it happened this time she promised she would be on the lookout and start me on medicine as soon as I needed it. As if on cue, about 2 weeks after delivery my world began falling apart. My sweet doctor called me at home and after a short conversation she had me come in and got me started on antidepressants. The first two weeks it made me feel worse instead of better, but then I began to notice a difference. I didn’t feel perfect, but the anxiety and depression became bearable. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. It took 3 years before I felt completely like myself again.
Feeling empowered now by knowledge and experience I approached my last pregnancy with a completely different attitude. I explained my history to my doctor and he was quick to come up with a solution. Knowing it would happen again, he began me on an antidepressant, safe to take while you are pregnant, one month before I was due to deliver. It gave the medicine time to build up in my body before the big hormonal change happened. What a difference that made! Instead of falling into the dark hole I needed to climb out of, I never fell into the hole. It still took about 3 years before I felt enough like myself again to wean off the medicine, but I was able to function and enjoy life and my family during that time.
I hope that as more people share their stories, the stigma attached to postpartum depression will go away and that the many women who suffer from it will find the help and support they need.