Straight A’s, varsity high school athlete, full college scholarship, Master’s degree, avid volunteer, successful career, proud homeowner and Postpartum Depression…one of these things does not belong. Or so I thought…
I was newly married when I had my first baby at the young age of 25. My sister had given birth about six weeks earlier after her water broke on her due date. While her labor wasn’t short, she still made it look easy. New parenthood looked good on her. Thus, I was so excited to meet my little man. I had everything ready, clothes stockpiled & washed, all the equipment purchased, freezer full, house cleaned, etc, etc. You see I am a bit of a perfectionist and with that comes excessive planning and overthinking.
As things sometimes go, my son did not come rushing into the world, he was 10 days overdue & I let my doctor convince me to be induced. Not to be too graphic, but because my cervix was no where near ready for birth, I had to be admitted to the hospital 12 hours before they could even begin induction in order to “ripen” my cervix. After 12 hours, I was put on Pitocin and subsequently my water was broken by the doctor. Labor progressed & I opted for an epidural. The issue was that the epidural did not take on one side of my body, so I was able to feel pain on that side during the whole ordeal. By this time it was getting into the evening of the second day at the hospital and my son’s heartbeat started reacting negatively whenever I was on the side that was not feeling pain. Regardless, I pushed through the pain, literally, for hours until that precious little guy was stuck! No amount of pushing, suction, etc. was helping and once again I let my doctor convince me to have an emergency C-section. Let me tell you, what a whirlwind! Within minutes there were a gazillion people in the room unhooking machines, rushing around prepping me for surgery.
Although it was painful, due to the still not working epidural, my baby was born healthy with a full head of hair! Much of that night was a blur as I tried breastfeeding in the most amount of pain I have ever experienced. We ended up staying extra due to him losing weight, but I was slowing healing and overjoyed to be a parent at last. Then we came home and within a few days that all changed. What followed was a long painful lonely road called Postpartum Depression.
As previously mentioned, I suffer from being a perfectionist and as you can tell, things did not go according to my plan. That, in addition to the enormous amount of pressure I always put on myself, most likely were the cause of my depression. How did it start? Not all at once, but little by little I became overwhelmed. It was the night before Thanksgiving and I realized I had nothing that fit to wear, so off to Target we went, newborn baby in tow. I broke down in the store crying. My husband was the only one who knew at that time. I tried hiding my emotions during the holiday but eventually it was so bad that he called my mom. If not for her, I would not have survived. Being as I had never given birth before, after I told her I was still in so much pain & had run out of pain medication, she urged me to call my doctor.
I was readmitted to the hospital and coming out a day later I was feeling better physically, but emotionally I was still a wreck. My mom kept telling me that maybe this was not just the normal “baby blues”, but I kept arguing back that is had to be. I was a strong, athletic, smart, educated woman; this could not happen to me.
I finally admitted to myself that something deeper was wrong when we were driving home with my son screaming in the backseat and all I could do was cover my ears and wanted out of that car. I felt like a horrible person. This was my baby and my reaction was to run away? I felt no joy in looking at him or holding him. It was like it wasn’t real and I often felt like I was outside my body looking down on my life. Despite knowing for myself that something was wrong, the most difficult part was admitting it to my family, especially my sister who made parenthood seem so easy. The only person I ever openly called for help was my mom. She convinced me to discuss medication with my doctor and after an internal struggle with the idea of meds, I started on a low dose antidepressant.
Even after starting the meds, for weeks my typical day would begin with me calling my husband shortly after he left for work and then calling my mom saying “I can’t do this” and begging for one of them to come home. My mom left work countless days and spent countless nights at my house taking care of the baby, as I just could not. I continued to breastfeed because to give that up would feel like the ultimate failure. Besides that, I just sat around, slept or let my mom drag me around Sam’s club, Kroger, you name it. What was supposed to be such a happy time was one of my lowest points.
If you ask me now how I made it, I can say most likely the meds and more importantly my mom. At the end of the day knowing that I did have a baby to be there for did keep me going. Back then it was scary and something I could never have imagined. What scares me more are those who do not have resources available or someone like my mom to watch over them like a hawk. In the midst of all of this someone gave me Brook Shields’ book to read about her experience, but it just made me angry. While I never felt like I would hurt my baby like she did, she had all the resources and she still suffered so much.
Often I think our ideals for birthing, parenting, womanhood, etc are so far-fetched. We should not sweep depression, no matter the form, under the rug. We need to be there for each other and not be afraid to ask for help. Depression is ugly. It is sad and scary, but it does not have to define someone. As you can see by my story, it can happen to anyone. So be on the lookout for others in your life, friends, family or even strangers who might need a shoulder to cry on, or just a hug or even a kind word. Depression should not be taken lightly, it is a real problem. Let’s treat it that way.
As for me, I have since had two other children and both times some form of postpartum depression was present. Each time it was a little different given other things going on in my life during those months following their births, including separation and subsequent divorce when my youngest was 3 weeks old.
Looking back, I probably should have gone on meds those times as well, but did not because of the fear of how hard it was physically to get off them the first time. What I have learned is that a woman’s body can endure some pretty incredible things and that the mind can suffer just as much and still heal after all that. I learned that my family, including my sister, is one of my biggest assets in life no matter what. I am stronger after all that I have endured and I have three beautiful children that I love with all my heart. I am a survivor in many aspects of the word. Life is still hard many days and I often wonder if I suffer beyond Postpartum Depression, but I am not ashamed to be who I am.