They lifted her onto my chest, and for a moment, the world stopped spinning. I admired her tiny fingers and toes in a way only a mother can admire fingers and toes. I listened to her newborn noises and soaked in having seven pounds and 15-ounces of warm and squirmy weight on my chest.
I was on top of the world, especially pleased with myself for growing and pushing out a perfect baby. Everything seemed right in the world.
And then it wasn’t.
I woke up the next morning, crying uncontrollably. My husband climbed into the tiny, crinkly hospital bed and pulled me into his arms. “What’s wrong?” he asked, concerned and confused.
“I honestly don’t know, it’s probably just the hormones,” I sputtered, between sobs, “I’m sure it will go away soon.” Yet, a pit of dread pooled in my stomach as a little voice in my brain whispered, “I’m not going away anytime soon.”
PPD didn’t look like I thought it might
I was confused. Postpartum depression did not present the way I envisioned it might; I was madly in love with our daughter and wouldn’t change anything for the world. Okay, maybe I’d sleep a little more, but that was it.
My days were filled with tears. I didn’t know why I was crying. I was so happy to have another cute baby and wanted to soak in the tiny toes, milk breath, and gurgles. I became an expert at hiding my tears, blotting my face with cold towels before visitors arrived. I wanted to tough it out; I would not, could not allow PPD to ruin the supposedly happiest days of my life.
Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into one and a half months, just in time for the six-week checkup.
“You’re going to tell your doctor, right?” my husband asked, after I had tearfully finished reading our two-year-old, “Pat the Bunny”. “You better come with,” I pleaded, knowing I needed some courage in the form of my husband.
Saying it out loud
I cried as I told the doctor I couldn’t make it through the day without crying. Heck, I couldn’t make it through a conversation.
He listened empathetically, waited for me to catch my breath, and nodded. “You have it.”
I was given strict instructions to get as much sleep as I could and started an antidepressant.
Unexpectedly, after confessing the dark secret that I had kept for weeks, I immediately felt a weight lift off my chest. I saw a tiny yet bright, ray of hope, that maybe, just maybe, I would be okay.
While things didn’t improve quickly or immediately, things did start to get better. I was able to read “Pat the Bunny” without crying. I didn’t have to cover up my splotchy face or red eyes before visitors arrived. The nights didn’t seem so daunting, and the days held the potential for happiness.
Seeking help was the best thing I did
The symptoms lasted about nine months, only really getting better when our daughter started sleeping through the night. I was able to wean off the antidepressant about a year after starting it.
As a nurse, I knew that PPD affects a high percentage of mothers. I knew there was nothing to be embarrassed about. I knew I should seek treatment and ask for help. Yet it was still really hard.
Now that I’m through the darkness, it is much easier to talk about. And I guess, such is life. Hard things are always easier to talk about once we get through them; once we understand the story ourselves.
Here are 10 things I wish others knew about Postpartum Depression
1. It wasn’t my choice. Yeah, we all know mental health conditions aren’t chosen, but sometimes, people could use a friendly reminder. I once worked with a nurse who said of patients on antidepressants, “It’s not that hard… they just need to be happier.” This couldn’t be further from the truth. Postpartum depression is as real as a broken leg and is caused by a multitude of factors, including drastic changes in hormones and sleep deprivation.
2. Postpartum Depression can present in different ways. For me, that meant crying nonstop. For others, it can mean difficulty bonding with their baby, appetite problems, irritability, trouble thinking clearly, feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, shame, the list goes on (if you’d like to read the whole list, click here).
3. It is pretty common. The CDC reports approximately 1 in 8 women will experience PPD. When I started talking to other moms about my experience with PPD, I was surprised to learn that a lot of them experienced PPD and/ or postpartum anxiety. If you’re on the boat, know that you aren’t alone.
4. Asking for medical help is hard- really hard. Media portrays the postpartum period as a joy-filled period where the mom is elated and the baby is adorable and everyone is happy. So, when I experienced the exact opposite of that, I felt so guilty; like I must be an awful mother. Thankfully, my husband pushed me to get help and encouraged me to follow doctors’ orders: more sleep and an antidepressant.
5. And it’s also difficult to ask for help around the house and with the baby. Because I felt like such a failure for having PPD, I didn’t want to ask for help- thinking it further disqualified me from being a “good mom.” While I wasn’t great at asking for help, I was pretty decent at accepting offers from others to help. My sister came over weekly to help with our three-year-old, so I could nap with the baby (or watch Real Housewives), and that was the biggest lifesaver. If someone you love might be struggling, offer help! They might be feeling too embarrassed to ask.
6. Talking about PPD while in the midst of it is tricky. I only told my husband and sister about my PPD while going through it. I wanted to give people the image they want to see- happy new mom. PPD is a downer of a topic, and given that I spent the bulk of my days crying, when I was with friends, I didn’t want to go to that dark place. Mostly, I wanted people to see me as they always had. Once I got through the darkest and hardest parts of the PPD, I was able to open up a bit more about it.
7. Sometimes, those with PPD just need someone to listen. I will never forget the night I called my sister from the gym parking lot, crying. I confessed that I had to leave the house because I was so scared I was going to do something crazy. I had hidden the knives, unable to trust myself. I was sure she would tell me to go get myself admitted to the psych ward, but instead, she simply listened and said, “You are a great mom. You aren’t going to hurt your baby.” She wasn’t judgy and she didn’t try to explain away my feelings. Those words meant the world to me. I clung to them that night, and I still hold onto them to this day.
8. Typically, there isn’t “just one thing” that will fix it- it’s a combination of things. For me, that meant an anti-depressant, more help with the baby at night so I could get good sleep (yes, for us that meant adding in some formula bottles), and time. It isn’t an easy fix, nor is it quick.
9. A little encouragement goes a long way. The random people in the grocery store who would say, “You’re a great mom!”, the understanding smiles I’d get from other moms as I tried to contain a screaming baby while in the checkout line at Target- those small encouragements brought a significant amount of light into my days.
10. I am not “less than” because of my PPD. It took me a while to understand it, but my PPD did not make me a worse mother or a less competent human. While it was not a road I would have picked, it is part of who I am. It was a crash course in, “You have to take care of yourself so you can take care of your kids.” It did not take my brain away- I continued to thrive in my career despite it. It didn’t take my love away- if anything, I love more fiercely because of it. It was hell, and I got through it, coming out stronger. So no, I am not “less than,” and I was not “less than” while I had it. If anything, I became more.