A Mother's Journey Through Postpartum Depression
During my pregnancy with my oldest son, I started to feel a little off. I read a few articles online and my feelings seemed to be similar to those of women who were experiencing antenatal depression (depression during pregnancy). I was confused though, since this was a planned and dearly wanted pregnancy, and I had a great support system. I brushed off my feelings as just being due to hormones and continued on. My son was born in August 2008. It didn't take long for the bottom to drop out from under me. Within days of bringing the baby home, I was plagued by crying fits which lasted for hours. Worst of all, I began to have fantasies of hurting my son. I was terrified and repulsed by my thoughts and my inability to control them. I knew I needed help but I was sure that if I told anyone how I was feeling, I would be arrested and my son would be taken away from me. Instead I prayed daily and begged God to keep my son safe and to help me. With time the intrusive thoughts faded, the crying stopped, and I returned to "normal." I was ecstatic that I had "cured" myself.
Two years later, I was pregnant. I desperately wanted a daughter and my gut feeling said this baby was a girl. When I saw my son's boy parts on the screen at the ultrasound, my heart dropped. I was devastated. All of the feelings of joy and anticipation I had towards my baby disappeared almost instantly. After several nights of crying myself to sleep, I decided to find someone who could help me with my feelings of gender disappointment. I found Juliana through Postpartum Support International. Her credentials were impeccable, and she came highly recommended from a friend that has contacts in psychology. I figured that I had nothing to lose and made my first appointment. Juliana and I worked together through the entire pregnancy to help me reform the bond between myself and my baby. She let me know that it was okay to mourn the loss of what I thought my family would look like, but that I also needed to embrace the exciting future I had with my two sons. By the time my son was ready to be born, I was genuinely looking forward to his arrival. Except that when he was born, I did not feel the same overwhelming joy that I had with my first son. And once again, I felt the crushing weight of postpartum depression on me. I felt like a zombie. I described my feelings as someone in survival mode - I could only do the minimum to care for myself or my baby. I spent my days either zoned out in front of the television, or crying in bed. When the baby made the slightest peep, I quickly made a bottle to quiet him and put him back to sleep. I found myself wishing that I would fall asleep and never wake up. Although I was not having the same intrusive thoughts about harming my son, I still had some hesitation in being completely honest with Juliana. Would she be ethically or legally obligated to report me? Would I go to jail? Would someone take my baby away? Eventually I decided to open up and let her know exactly how I was feeling. Her first step was to assure me that no, I was not going to jail. See, there is a big difference between postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis, and I was not psychotic, and not in danger of actually hurting my baby. I was depressed, like millions of other new moms. Thankfully depression is treatable, and we put together a plan to control and overcome my depression and anxiety. Additionally we, in concert with my OB, made the decision to add an anti-depressant to my treatment. Juliana and I worked on developing the skills I needed to change my ways of thinking, to put aside intrusive thoughts, and to step out of the fog of PPD (Postpartum Depression). We had begun to scale back our visits (as I was doing much better), when I was struck with what I thought was the worst news possible. I was pregnant. Again.
Almost immediately I was plunged into the darkest depths of depression I had ever known. I was angry at my husband for getting me pregnant. Mad at myself for being so careless with our birth control. Mad at strangers on the street for no discernible reason. I decided the best way to deal with this pregnancy was to ignore it. I continued seeing Juliana regularly, but I never brought up the new baby or my feelings about the pregnancy. When I was 14 weeks pregnant she said the words I knew I would eventually hear - it was time to start dealing with what was happening. This baby was coming whether I made plans for it or not, and I'd be a lot better off if I took a proactive approach to my physical and mental health. The next six months were horrible. I was plagued with suicidal thoughts and eventually began to think that taking my own life would be the best option. After all, I had a very generous life insurance policy which would ensure financial stability for my husband and our boys. And if I died before I had the baby, he would only be left with two children to take care of instead of three. Thankfully, I didn't take my life. I think that because I was treating my depression, instead of letting it rage unchecked, there was still a part of me that had hope that I would get better. I just made myself get through that *one* day - I didn't think about tomorrow or the week after or the month after. If I could just get through today, then I would be okay.
Once again I relied on Juliana and my OB to help me put together a plan for my safety and treatment. I made sure to share everyone's contact information in case any of them saw a dramatic difference in my demeanor which might signal a problem. I made a safety plan and shared it with my husband and a trusted friend (both of whom also had the number to Juliana and my OB). And my doctor and I decided that immediately after birth, I would start my antidepressant medication. The last few weeks of my pregnancy were extremely difficult. I was filled with terror at what I thought was the inevitable PPD tsunami that was rapidly approaching. Even as I sat in my hospital bed, my belly tightening with each contraction, I was trying to prepare myself for what was about to come.
Except it didn't.
The moment I heard my baby cry was one of the most joyous of my life. Falling asleep with him in my arms brought me comfort. Nursing him created a bond that I hadn't felt in years. I marveled at his dark hair and the singular dimple in his right cheek. He was the most perfect creature I had ever seen. And I loved him. At one of my first postpartum visits to Juliana's office, I expressed my shock that I was not feeling ANY of the symptoms of PPD that I had with my two previous births. Juliana reminded me that although I was at higher risk for PPD, it was not guaranteed that I'd have it again. And I haven't. My son is nearly four months old now and I haven't had any of the issues I was so afraid of - the intrusive thoughts, the inability to bond, the hopelessness, worthlessness. I'm happy. I'm healthy. I'm also not completely out of the woods. PPD can strike months after a baby's birth. But I'm not afraid. I have the love and support of my husband, a wonderful group of friends, and a medical team that I trust (literally) with my life. Juliana is part of that team.
I am forever grateful to Juliana. She is the perfect mixture of firmness and tenderness. She guides her patients through the most difficult and scary experiences they might ever have, all without judgment or condemnation. She is caring and thoughtful. Intelligent. Insightful. Knowledgeable. Well respected in the community. It would not be a stretch for me to call her an angel. Aside from my parents, she is the most influential person in my life. She has taught me how to manage my anxiety, overcome antenatal and postpartum depression, and most importantly, be the kind of mother that my children deserve.
If you are, or think you might be, suffering from depression, either during or after your pregnancy, I urge you to seek treatment. You aren't just being dramatic. You aren't just hormonal. You aren't alone. You can get better.
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