Postpartum Depression: Stories of Hope and Healing

600,000.

That is the average number of mothers who will suffer from postpartum depression this year (source). 

15%

As someone who suffered from prenatal depression, I know how lonely it can feel.

How desperate you can feel.

How guilty it can make you feel.

But it’s so important to know that you aren’t alone and you aren’t a bad mom if you are struggling.

Postpartum Depression is different from “the Baby Blues”. Awhile back, I shared a post about what no one talks about regarding the week after giving birth, – which definitely touches on the baby blues.

However, when those baby blues don’t go away, there might be something else going on.

According to the NIH, here:

The “baby blues” is a term used to describe the feelings of worry, unhappiness, and fatigue that many women experience after having a baby. Baby blues, which affects up to 80 percent of mothers, includes feelings that are somewhat mild, last a week or two, and go away on their own. With postpartum depression, feelings of sadness and anxiety can be extreme and might interfere with a woman’s ability to care for herself or her family.  The condition, which occurs in nearly 15 percent of births, may begin shortly before or any time after childbirth, but commonly begins between a week and a month after delivery.

Postpartum depression can affect anyone – rich or poor, married or single, first child or last. Because of that, it is important to know and understand what it is.

I know many mothers who just suffer in silence – they feel like they can’t tell anyone they are struggling because it will make them feel like a failure.

If you are one of those mothers – know that you aren’t alone. And by seeking help, one day maybe you can help others.

Fortunately, we live in a time where Postpartum Depression isn’t as swept under the rug. Every well-child visit and postpartum visit I went to, I was screened for depression.

When my mom had her first baby, she suffered from it, and she never told anyone. Sadly, that is how it used to be, but it doesn’t have to be anymore.

I asked different moms that I know and respect to share their stories. I hope that by sharing different stories (because it can present itself in so many ways), anyone who is reading this and struggling will feel a little less alone.

Postpartum Depression Stories

When getting more sleep isn’t the answer

 

Postpartum depression and anxiety can affect anyone. The happiest person in the world may still experience it – and it can be a bit of a shock.

When Kathy (blogger at Penney Lane) brought her first baby home after a tough delivery, she thought she just needed a good night’s rest. However, she soon realized how she was feeling wasn’t right.

So often, I hear of moms being told they just need to sleep and they will be better…but this really isn’t always the solution.

Kathy couldn’t eat or sleep and started worrying about what would happen if she killed herself or harmed the baby. It wasn’t that she wanted to do those things, but she worried about what if she went off the deep end.

Kathy later found out that she had Postpartum OCD. She was in tears after reaching out for help because the psychiatrist didn’t have an opening for weeks. She said:

Ladies, if someone can’t get you in, don’t give up. Someone will help you and it’s that important to keep trying. It shouldn’t be that hard to get help but don’t give up.

Kathy struggled with the idea of using medication and wanted to try and get better without it.

While many moms do need medication, Kathy was able to find solace by seeing a therapist. Over a period of four months, she was able to realize what was happening. Kathy said the counselor helped her find her own strength again and find tools to help her cope.

Those tools helped Kathy eventually be able to learn to cope. Even when the depression and anxiety have tried to creep in, she has learned that she can hard things.

And 16 months later, Kathy delivered her redemption girl.” She said:

In some ways I feel cheated that I didn’t get to enjoy Ethan’s first few months because of my battle and I feel he was cheated too but honestly there’s nothing I can do about it now and he’s a happy 6 year old who doesn’t seem to know any different. Through the whole pregnancy I was worried if the depression and anxiety would come back. I was prepared for it, my husband who stood by me through it all, and my OB who cheered me on as I recovered and called to check on me were all prepared for it but the rain never came. 

When motherhood isn’t quite how you imagined

Many women spend their life dreaming of becoming a mother. For Leah, it was no different.

She conceived the first time she tried, and she counted down the days until he was born. After a long labor and three hours of pushing, her sweet baby boy arrived.

While she was in the hospital, she was so happy – exhausted, but happy. But as soon as she came home, things were different. She said:

I was in my home, a familiar environment with my loving husband, but with a newborn I didn’t know at all. What was this “thing” doing in my house? Interrupting my sleep, crying what seems like all the time, nursing a billion times per day. I quickly learned I had a baby who acted like he had no idea what sleep was! I was told by the LCs at the hospital to “always put baby to the breast”. When he is hungry, or fussy, or restless just put him to the breast. When you don’t know why he is crying, put him to the breast. So I did. And I didn’t sleep for weeks.

Leah was unfamiliar with cluster feeding, and she was so surprised (and discouraged) when she found that was what her son was doing. She always worried that maybe he wasn’t getting enough. Her son didn’t sleep well, which resulted in her being exhausted.

I began to have this fear of the night time. This overwhelming anxiety. Once the sun set I would almost start to panic-worried about what kind of night we may have. I literally feared having another sleepless night. He NEVER wanted to be put down. He never seemed content. .I cried everyday for a month. Every. Single. Day. I desperately missed the time when it was just my husband and me. At times I wondered “what have I done?”

Leah didn’t recognize the person she bad become during this time. She wondered where the girl who dreamed of becoming a mom went. And, unlike many women, Leah felt she had all the support in the world but felt so alone.

They soon discovered that her son had reflux. As soon as they started him on medication, she felt like hse had a new baby – who was happy, smiled, and actually acted content. She said that her tears disappeared and her anxiety got better.

Her son is now 10 weeks old, and she can’t imagine life without him. Even though she used to cringe when people told her it would get better, she realized that all those people were right.

I occasionally get a little anxious for the night when my son doesn’t nap well during the day….fearing we may be taking a step backwards towards the Dark Days, but we don’t. We keep improving, and sleeping longer, smiling more, and falling in love.

I so desperately wish someone would have given me a heads up about just how hard the newborn weeks are. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows! Well, maybe it is for some lucky people. But I felt like the only person who was struggling. And breastfeeding was SO hard! But it is better. I’m now back at work, my son goes to the babysitter and I’ve had time to miss him. I live such a blessed life. My Dark Days are over and I can finally see the sun

Loneliness and Brain Fog

Often, moms don’t understand that what they are feeling is postpartum depression. It presents itself in so many ways, and it doesn’t always mean you feel disconnected or resentment toward your child.

Kayla (author of SayNotSweetAnne.com loved her new baby and felt no resentment or hatred toward him. Instead, she felt confused – she describes it as feeling “half-drunk and like I was unable to concentrate.”

Because of that, she had a hard time reaching out for help. She felt alone and increased her isolation because of it.

I was so happy to have my baby but I felt like my ability to think had suddenly disappeared. I couldn’t follow the narrative of a TV show. I couldn’t remember how to find the contacts area on my phone. And when I went back to work, I struggled to keep up in meetings. All of this meant that I felt I’d lost myself.

People would tell her that things would get better or that she just needed sleep. But she found that no amount of sleep mind her mind clearer.

She evenutally started having intrusive thoughts – imagining terrifying situations about her and her son. They made her terrified and sad, but she couldn’t stop them.

Eventually, she saw a therapist because she realized this was not typical behavior. She reflects:

Over time my brain fog has dissipated (as hormone levels get better) and the intrusive thoughts aren’t so prevalent. As women though, I think we need to aknowledge that having a baby is like going to war. Its dangerous, wracked with worry and pain. When we come out of it, we have a deeper, darker side. Some of us fold that into who we were before and there’s no big change. Some of us are plagued by that darkness and need more than a pat on the back to get better.

NICU Postpartum Depression

Having a baby can be emotionally difficult for anyone – but when your baby is in the NICU, it’s a whole other story.

Kate’s son, Alex, spent some time in the NICU after he was born over a year ago (you can follow his amazing journey here). She said:

In the olden days, people used to ban people with leprosy from society. That’s what the NICU feels like. You feel like a leper totally isolated from the normal world. People sometimes don’t know how to react to your child’s situation, and they hardly ever say “congratulations.”

Here is a bit more of Katie’s experience:

Sometimes your baby can’t nurse and has to eat through a tube.

Sometimes you can’t hold your baby for days or weeks.

You just feel robbed. Robbed of the joy and bonding in those early days.

Because you miss out on this bonding, you may not feel as attached to your baby.

It’s ok. You will eventually. It’s a totally normal reaction to the shock of this situation.

It does not mean you don’t love your baby.

The normal biological process of bonding has been interrupted while your baby gets good medical care.

Eat lots of food and drink water. Sleep as much as you can.

Take notes when you are asking the doctors questions and don’t be afraid to tell them if you are struggling to understand.

Ask for help.

Tell the nurses. Tell a hospital social worker. Tell your OBGYN. Nobody will be surprised you are struggling with depression because most moms do while their baby is in the NICU.

This may not be the perfect birthing experience you imagined, but your child is writing their own story and one day even though it’s been hard, you will look back on these early days and smile.

Postpartum Anxiety

Despite not having depression or anxiety with her first three, Sydney experienced horrible anxiety attacks after giving birth to her little girl this past September.

At first, Sydney wasn’t really sure what was going on, since she had never experienced it before. She said:
The first episode happened in the middle of the night a few days after we brought her home. I woke up with this awful feeling that I wasn’t being a good mom. That turned into a feeling that I was dying and no one would be able to take care of my babies. My heart was racing, I was sweating and I was sure I was going to die. After about 30 minutes of stressing I broke down in a huge ugly cry and after about 15 minutes of crying I felt better.
After this happened once or twice a day for the next week, Sydney’s husband convinced her to see a doctor.
Her doctor immediately recognized that she was suffering from postpartum anxiety. Together, they discovered that the attacks were triggered when she forgot to take her pain medication.
I found as long as I was taking the pills every 4-6 hours (as directed) the anxiety attacks didn’t happen. I continued to take the pain pills for the full two weeks, which is way longer than I did with my first two babies, and the anxiety attacks were gone.

When Everything Looks Fine, It Doesn’t Mean It Is

Postpartum depression affects people from all walks of life and situations.

A mother who never struggled with previous children may find herself struggling in a way she never would have imagined.

Rachel (author of RachelTeodora.com) wanted a third child more than anything – she didn’t feel like her family was complete.

With her previous children, she adapted well. She figured that by the time her third child came around, things would be the same.

However, that wasn’t the case.

On the outside everything looked fine. But on the inside I was falling apart. I felt like I was behind the glass door standing on the outside of my life looking in at my beautiful family. A family I wanted to be a part of but just couldn’t seem to feel connected. I was stretched thin. I felt like I was drowning and I could barely get my head up to gasp for air. I am a Christian woman and I felt like I should be experiencing joy during this time. I had a child that I had wanted, and a family that I loved but all I felt was guilt that I couldn’t seem to enjoy it. I became mad at those around me who couldn’t read my mind. I wanted help desperately, I just didn’t know how to ask. So I suffered in silence. I am usually someone who has everything all together and I clearly did not have this together.

She read books on postpartum depression and after hearing stories of other women, she knew what she was suffering from.

After a year of struggling, she finally found help. It took awhile to find the right treatment. The medication she was prescribed didn’t help and things got worse when she went off it cold turkey.

I had the most irrational thoughts. The rational side of me knew I needed to get some help. I knew that I had people that loved me around me, but the irrational side was angry at the people around me who weren’t offering to help me. I remember thinking if I did something extreme then they would know how desperate I was. Thankfully the rational side spoke louder and I ended up in a pile of tears heaving sobs in the laundry room for an hour before my husband came home from work.
After that, she met with a psychiatrist and found a medication that worked. She started asking for help and taking care of herself – she found that taking her medication and regular exercise helped her through.  She says:
I only wish I had felt the need to ask for help soon. To not suffer in silence for so long. I talk about my experience as often as I can to share with other people who are experiencing PPD that you can come out of it. There is nothing that you have done, but there are things that you can do.

Final Thoughts

In talking with other moms, the one thing everyone kept saying was to get help and not feel ashamed. It’s so important to know that you are not alone, and that others want to help you.

It isn’t your fault if you suffer from postpartum depression or anxiety. No one blames you for feeling the way you do, and even when things seem bleak, it can be better.

Although I have never suffered from full-on postpartum depression, as I mentioned earlier, I did suffer for prenatal depression. When I think back on those times, I just wish I had been willing to ask for help. No one, except for Forrest and a nurse at my doctor’s office, knew that I was suffering.

I felt that no one would care and that everyone would think I was being selfish.

Even after I had Jack, I was terrified about getting pregnant again. I couldn’t bare the thought of going through that again, only with a child this time.

And fortunately, I didn’t. I was in a different stage of life, and even though I was sick as a dog, I was okay. Which goes to show – every pregnancy is different.

I really liked what Katie (whose story shared above) had to say, as I feel that most moms can relate. 

I was so tired. I felt like I was failing as a mom. All of these other moms online were so scheduled, clean, and crafty. It made me feel like a failure. I’ve since learned that comparison is the thief of joy and the internet is so misleading. We only show the best of ourselves online. Please don’t compare yourself to moms you only see on Facebook. It’s not real perspective. We are all just trying desperately to make parenthood work. You are not alone!

Find moms that you can connect with. There are so many ways to interact with others moms who know what you are going through. I run a pregnancy Facebook group and a breastfeeding support group that all moms can join and support one another.

And, even if you feel so alone, you can always reach out to me!

 

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