These days, as I excitedly await the arrival of my first grandchildren (twins), a precious little boy and a sweet baby girl, my world is surrounded with everything, wonderfully baby. But sometimes motherhood brings the bittersweet dance of joy and sorrow. The following true story has a happy ending, but not without soul-searching, self-doubt and God’s blessings that my friend found help and is now a survivor of Postpartum Depression – Kay
SURVIVING POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION
I can’t wish it away, pray it away, talk it away, or distract myself enough
In the midst of my shame and crying I heard the therapist say, “It’s OK, we all get depressed sometimes. I know that you are thinking that you shouldn’t be depressed, but it’s OK. This too shall pass. This happens to a lot of women after pregnancy; your hormones are out of balance.” This feedback came after I had spent a full hour in a therapy session trying to explain to the therapist why I didn’t have post-partum depression. Never mind the fact that I couldn’t stop crying, I had trouble staying awake during the day, was completely overwhelmed, agitated, and in a fog, and had hit rock bottom. That’s the real reason I made the appointment in the first place. At the time I didn’t realize to what extent I had minimized my symptoms of post-partum depression (PPD). It was after months of denying it and talking to friends and professionals that I accepted that I really did experience PPD. I say “experience” rather than “had” PPD because it is something I couldn’t wish away or get rid of with a magic pill. I couldn’t wait it out like a cold, the severity came and went and felt different each day. Therefore, I say “experience.”
I would like to walk you through my experience of PPD and describe some things I learned along the way to help me get through it. My hope is that if one woman reads this and is able to get help or feel some relief, then sharing my story will be all worth it.
So let’s get straight to the point: What does post partum depression (PPD) feel like? How do you know if it’s just “the new normal” of mommy hood or really clinical where you need help? When I say “clinical” what I really mean to say is I couldn’t wish it away, pray it away, talk it away, or distract myself enough. It was always there hanging over my head like a cloud. I tried everything I could think of to make myself feel better. Some strategies helped distract me long enough to think I was feeling better, but they usually ended up exhausting me even further in the long run. For the textbook definition of PPD, you can go to any pregnancy book or website to read the clinical description. I had read the symptoms before, but living inside of a body and mind experiencing PPD is much different than reading about it. I can remember identifying with a few symptoms after reading about PPD in a book a couple of months after delivery and thinking to myself, “I must just be sleep deprived. I bet when I start sleeping I’ll feel better.” I also remember thinking that something must be wrong with me and I wondered how on earth other women made it through the first few months with baby.
I had lots of other symptoms as well. I worried about everything, which I thought was somewhat normal for first-time mothers, but I was obsessive about every little thing. I obsessed about baby’s sleeping and naps and charted everything to the minute. I read numerous books on everything about pregnancy and babies (being educated and informed is great, but being obsessive and thinking that I needed a degree in child development, nutrition, and sleep is not healthy). I felt guilty for everything—letting him sleep in the swing and in the stroller, letting her cry for five seconds, and not being happy all the time. I felt guilty in the mornings for thinking “I have to do this all over again.” I remember almost falling asleep one morning while changing her diaper and thinking, “I don’t know if I can change one more diaper. I want to run away and be by myself.” In the mornings, I stood in my closet overwhelmed and not able to decide what to put on for the day. I was too overwhelmed to take baby out of the house because I thought it would be too exhausting to go anywhere and what was the point anyway. Everything seemed so overwhelming and pointless. I was irritable and agitated and felt helpless and frustrated when I would hear other people’s children cry in public. Actually, it would send me off the deep end and I would feel panic stricken. (You might be thinking that is normal, but typically I would have responded in a very nurturing way – so this was atypical of me.) I was very fearful and mistrusting of anyone taking care of baby or even holding him. I was afraid to leave him with anyone; I missed my husband and missed spending time with him. When my husband came home for lunch, I didn’t want him to leave.
Fortunately, I could get out of bed in the morning—another reason why I didn’t think I really had PPD. I always woke to my son crying, so of course I could get out of bed, but staying awake was difficult. I felt groggy and indecisive all day and in a fog. Things I had previously enjoyed annoyed me, but I didn’t realize that it was part of depression because I was stuck in it. I thought I had changed from having a baby. Looking back, it is so obvious but, when I was in it, I felt completely different and believed that how I felt was real. I felt guilty for working outside the home. I would cry in my office and cry on the way home. I felt like I was being panicky when I was away from my son. Even in the hospital I felt panicky when other people would hold him. I felt disconnected and separated when I wasn’t holding him. This is another reason I didn’t know I had PPD—most books say you feel no connection to your baby. My PPD presented more like an over-connection. I rationalized this by saying that it was from the oxytocin from nursing. To an extent the oxytocin does create a bonding feeling and a desire to be together, but it was like mine was on overdrive.
The scariest part of my experience was when I felt disconnected from the world. It was like I was behind a hazy screen or like I was watching people on a movie screen. It wasn’t like a hallucination, but just a fuzzy kind of distant feeling. I couldn’t stop my crying in public and I was very fearful. Another scary part of experiencing PPD is that I felt so ashamed to tell my husband or anyone what negative feelings and thoughts I was having. The only reason I finally told my husband was because I began to have fleeting thoughts of how I could end my life. I knew I just wanted to feel better but having fleeting thoughts of death was not typical for me. I knew I could not fight this alone. I knew at that point that I needed to reach out. Up to this point I made excuses for my thoughts and feelings but I couldn’t dismiss this.
As soon as I told him about my feelings, he quickly intervened and was very supportive. We went to my ob-gyn who discussed different options for treating PPD and she also gave me a referral for a therapist who specializes in women’s and family issues.
What I learned from this experience is that so many women have experienced PPD and the severity of symptoms varies with each woman. When I was trying to decipher if what I was experiencing was the reality of being a new mom or if it was PPD, I reached out to a lot of people. Some of them were responsive/supportive and others were not. I am so grateful for my friends who shared their experiences with me and who encouraged me to seek help. The other valuable lesson I learned was to do what works for me. There are lots of different opinions out there and lots of conflicting ideas, but I had to do what was best for me and my family.
A friend of a friend reached out to me recently because she had heard about me experiencing PPD. She shared her experiences with me, and I think it is because of her that I have the courage to write this. After hearing her experiences I felt validated in mine, like thank goodness I am not crazy! I am very hopeful because in meeting her I saw living proof that people do live through PPD and parenthood and THIS TOO SHALL PASS. I am thankful to her for being so real with me and also for letting me share my experience.
Looking back I also learned not to expect everyone around me to understand what I was going through. Not everyone can relate because they do not fully understand it or they may not be able to handle seeing their loved ones in pain. While some people may not believe that PPD even exists, I am grateful to have supportive family members and friends who I rely on each and every day.
So what are some things that helped me get out of PPD, or manage it? Now that I think about it, I guess I am still managing it—although I feel much better and feel like myself again. I think now I am mostly managing the challenges that new parents face. These things are in no way intended to be advice; however, they do outline things that work for me, today. It may change tomorrow, but for today this is what works for me.
I allow myself to experience this. For one, it’s OK to be going through this. I have a habit of minimizing and telling myself that there are people in the world with bigger problems and, yes, that is true. Regardless of what suffering other people may experience and regardless of the level, what we all experience is our part of our journey. I remind myself that it is okay to struggle and get through this.
I am learning not to try to appear all put together. No one is and no one expects me to be perfect. No one has the perfect life, perfect marriage, or perfect kids.
I forgive myself. This is harder than it sounds, but when I start feeling guilty for missing one of my son’s naps (which rarely happens), or whatever else my ego comes up with to evoke guilt, I forgive myself. I remind myself that I am human. I stop beating myself up for the past. I omit the words: “I should have, I could have done this better, I wish I would have.” Forget about it. I tell myself: it’s over, done, move on.
I stay in the moment. I remind myself to stop trying to predict the future. Stay in today. I still plan for the important things, but I work really hard not to worry about the future. I have a sign on my fridge that says “Cross that bridge when or IF you get there.”
I let myself get angry. I just remember all of those social rules and don’t take it out on my family. I run, do spin class or find some way to let that frustration go. Running and yoga help me a great deal. Saying what I feel in the moment helps too. My husband and I believe in being very transparent and not letting feelings build. We share frequently.
I rely on friends. I meet with a group of friends on a consistent basis to support and motivate each other in regards to goals and to have me time. These groups remind me that I am not alone and that I can count on others for help.
I do what works for me. I seek feedback from other moms, dads, pediatricians, and research (although I am no longer allowed to read 800 books on each baby topic), and then I see how that fits with my family’s needs. I adjust the plan when it needs to be changed.
I ask for help. This is a work in progress. I remember that it is IMPOSSIBLE to do everything on my own in spite of what previous generations reportedly did, and I benefit my family and myself when I ask people for what I need.
I take breaks. I tell my husband what I need from him and when I need to get out of the house. Since there are no more weekends off, I plan time so that both my husband and I can have some time for us.
I guess basically what I am saying is that I try to cut myself some slack. Having a baby is such a big adjustment, and it really has been the biggest opportunity in life to learn the lesson to stop and be in the moment—to stop worrying about the laundry or cleaning or cooking an organic meal from scratch, and train for a half marathon, and work outside the home, and try to have dates nights. During the week instead of telling myself I have to do it all, my new expectations are to enjoy baby and husband and to work. If I get anything else done it is a bonus! If what everyone says is true, this time will go by so fast and soon he will be running off to school or driving off in a car. When I experience really great moments or days, I try to capture these in my being and in my memory. Of course I wish these moments would last longer, but then I remember that because those moments pass so quickly it means the less desirable moments won’t last too long either. I finally understand the saying, THIS TOO SHALL PASS.
So when I sat down to write my story my hope was to help at least one person out there, to provide some relief or help someone feel normal and not crazy. I wanted to instill some hope in one of the readers out there. What I realized after finishing this is that it really helped me to share my story, to honor what I experienced and to remember all the nuances of this humbling, amazing, yet sometimes painful process of being a mom. I know this is only the beginning of a wonderful journey.
Dr Trotter also post regularly in her FaceBook fan page http://www.facebook.com/DrKaySudekumTrotter.