“Postpartum depression is a thief–it steals away the woman’s perspective and her feelings of competence and confidence. Generally women with postpartum depression feel as if they’ve lost themselves.” Dr. Shosh, Postpartum Depression for Dummies
It wasn’t until a year or so after meeting my husband that I even thought about the possibility of becoming a parent. Teaching filled the void, and I hadn’t considered having a child of my own. So it’s not a surprise that when my husband and I began actively trying to get pregnant, the last thing on my mind was that I was 50% more likely to be affected by postpartum depression (PPD) or depression during my pregnancy because depression and anxiety disorders run in my family.
After our daughter was born, we spent five days in the hospital because of some medical concerns. It was nerve wracking and isolating, to feel like everything is completely out of your hands. Looking back now, I see that when I got back from the hospital I was displaying signs of postpartum depression. According to Postpartum Support International, those red flag signs of PPD include: constant obsessing, checking on infant’s breathing, fear of infant dying, fear of being near allergenic foods, fear of going to sleep, and being in a constant state of panic.
When we returned from the hospital, I stayed home with my daughter for weeks, barely leaving the house. I was afraid of everything. Especially afraid of my husband leaving us alone. What if she stopped breathing? What if she choked? I see now that by this point, my PPD was in full swing.
I tried to keep it together, especially during family and friend visits, but by the time my daughter was 8 months old, something just wasn’t right. As a teacher with a background in psychology, I just couldn’t believe I was suffering from mental illness and couldn’t pull myself out. It was hard for me to wrap my head around. My obsessive thinking made it hard to be present with anyone and my fear of my daughter being hurt by others or getting sick was debilitating.
After breaking down completely, I decided to finally seek help. Looking back, I’m angry and sad it took me so long to do so. I talked to a relative and she recommended I see a therapist, which was the first step towards my recovery.
Over the past few years, I’ve had time to reflect on my experience with postpartum depression. Here’s what I learned:
You can’t positive think your way out. The first step on my road of recovery was taking the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS). Seeing my responses on paper, and scoring extremely high, helped put my depression and OCD in perspective. I knew I couldn’t positive think my way through what was happening to my mind, body, and spirit.Talking to friends doesn’t always help, as sometimes they may confirm that what you are experiencing is normal. Taking the EPDS confirmed my concerns.
Don’t wait to get help. If you think you might be suffering from PPD, get help now. I thought I could “snap out of it” and it isn’t possible. The chemistry of your brain is working against you, and you might need medication or therapy or both. I urge you to find a therapist who specializes in postpartum depression.
Here are some facts you need to know about postpartum depression:
- PPD affects 1 in 5 new moms
- PPD is physical (biochemical/hormonal)
- PPD isn’t anyone’s fault
- PPD is treatable
- You need to approach PPD biochemically, spiritually, psychologically, and emotionally
- PPD is partially caused by hormonal imbalances in cortisol, estrogen, and progesterone levels that spike during pregnancy and plunge incredibly low after
Find a community of support. During those dark days, I wish my friends had been more aware of how deeply I was sinking. But I was really good at masking. Thankfully, a family member noticed what was happening and pushed me to get help. If you think something is off, don’t hide it from friends and family. There is nothing wrong with you and you aren’t a bad mom. You are not alone. Seeking help, and admitting you can’t do this alone is brave and courageous. This is a time when you need community the most.
Take care of yourself. I was so overwhelmed and afraid to leave my child under the supervision of anyone, that I was totally neglecting my own health. So I started small: a trip to the store by myself, spending time with a friend to try on clothes, and eventually out for a night on the town with my mom. Each small step I took to prioritize my needs helped me feel more alive, trusting, and to find the new me after having a baby.
Although my postpartum depression made me stronger in many ways, I wish I had gotten help sooner. The first year of my daughter’s life feels like a blur at times because I was living in a constant state of panic and fear. I can’t help but feel like I missed out on so much. My message to everyone reading this is to check on your wife, partner, friends, and other moms you know. Remind them their feelings are valid, that they deserve to feel whole again. To end the stigma around mental illness, we must be open about discussing how difficult this mom thing really is.
Here are some resources to get you started on your path to recovery.