In March of 2010, my husband and I welcomed our beautiful little girl. I was 37 weeks, which is full term by most standards. I wanted so badly to have a natural birth. We did everything that most parents-to-be do; such as birthing classes, breastfeeding classes, read all the books on what to expect, and we even wrote down our birth plan. There’s a reason why they say to hope for the best and prepare for the not so good when it comes to delivering a child. No matter what you do as a new mother, you get judged. When you think about it it’s actually good training for motherhood because guilt and judgement come with the territory.
I went from sitting on my deck on a lovely spring day, to being attached to countless amounts of wires, tubing, and monitors as they proceeded to induce me. That is where my recollection of delivering my first child comes to an end. See, because I had preeclampsia, a condition in pregnancy that can be fatal to mother and child, the doctors did what they were trained to do and induce. Looking back now, I know that preeclampsia saved my daughter’s life. She was born at just four pounds. As it turns out, I was unknowingly dealing with IUGR (intrauterine growth restriction). My daughter was not growing in utero and they didn’t catch it. I now know that had I gone any longer in the pregnancy, I may not have her here today.
So after this long and very dramatic delivery, I proceeded to take home an extremely tiny and, later we found out, sickly baby, thinking everything would be okay now that it’s over. Wrong.
Post-Partum Depression: The Silent Killer of the Wonderful Joy
As the weeks went by after a very brutal c-section, life was going from bad to extremely bad. She was getting sicker and sicker, (we later found out it was due to apnea, severe reflux, and Milk, Soy, Protein Intolerance). It got to the point where I felt like a robot. It wasn’t till she was about three months old that it was brought to my attention that I may have ppd. The problem with admitting you have ppd is the feeling of shame. “I just had this beautiful baby, and I don’t want her/him” is not very motherly, afterall. For me, I felt absent in my own life. I didn’t feel sad, or happy, or anything for that matter. I felt like I was on autopilot. Admittedly, I had thoughts so dark and so deep, that even writing about them is scary even though it is in the past tense. I have to thank my husband and his aunt for bringing this all to my attention, because without them I never would’ve recovered.
Admission, Education, and Recovery
For me, the hardest part of admitting that I had ppd was that I had no idea what it meant. I had no idea what was happening to me, and I had no idea when it would end. With my saint of a husband by my side, we sought help. First, in private, his aunt approached him (which had to be extremely difficult for her) and through simple conversation she mentioned I may have it. She knew the look of it because she herself had suffered with it. Neither my husband nor I had ever heard of it, and if I had heard of it, it was under the ghastly stigma that mothers that have that end up in the loony bin or they kill their children. There ‘s no way that was me. Well guess what. YES, that was me. What we learned about ppd is that there are different levels of severity. The mothers that take action and physically harm themselves or their children have an extreme case of it that has gone untreated, and worsened into post partum psychosis.
Thankfully, I knew I wasn’t at that point but the thought of not existing, the thought that everyone would be better off without me, that nagging thought that I’m a failure of a mother…all of that was there. Everywhere we looked, we saw “only good mothers breastfeed”, “only good mothers LOVE motherhood”, “only good mothers can handle it all.” Well, you who are reading this for whatever reason, I am here to tell you that all is a crock of you-know-what. The facts are: “good” mothers provide for the needs of their children. PERIOD.
I couldn’t breastfeed (either of my children) even though I really wanted to. I had the opportunity to breastfeed briefly but later found out they were both allergic to milk protein… so guess what? I decided to do what a “good” mom does and feed my babies what made them feel better. “Breast Is Best”….. If it works for you. So there I was, with all this guilt for not being the stereotypical perfect mom, and I was in a low place. After Aunt “Sally” brought it up to my hubby, I’m sure that before he brought it to me, he was sweating bullets. What a position he was put in. As it turned out I was greatful he spoke to me, because I knew SOMETHING wasn’t jiving in my brain.
First we saw my general practitioner. After you deliver a baby, you go for a six week follow up to your obstetrician and they are SUPPOSED to check you to see if you are at risk for this. The reality of it is they ask to fill out an over photocopied piece of paper with little faces on it ranging from smiley to sad and you are to circle how you are feeling. Yeah, ok. Like that’s gonna happen. Many women that suffer with ppd either don’t know they have it, or don’t feel it till well after that six week follow up.
Being a woman, my GP was the saving grace in this entire episode. She had also suffered with it so she knew to treat me right away. (There are more medications out there than there are illnesses, so make sure you get the right cocktail.) (PVB thank you). Its been years, but she saved my life. Along with medication, I needed intense psychological therapy. My therapist, also a woman, helped me work through the feelings of guilt, dismay, and the overall feelings of hopelessness. During my treatment my hubs was advised to let a trusted friend or family member know what we were dealing with, so as to protect anyone from harm. It can be that bad.
The way it was described to me is that it is like a cloud, hovering over your head. Eventually, the cloud just lifts. I didn’t believe her. I didn’t think it would ever end because in the middle of all of this, my husband worked extremely long hours and I was alone all these hours with a very sick baby. No one understood the severity of how sick she was because many thought I was the paranoid new mom. Note: there is no such thing as a paranoid new mom. Without this “paranoia”, I never would’ve learned about mother’s instinct, and I never would’ve gotten the help for my children that they had needed. Always trust yourself as a mother. I personally am yet to be wrong about my babies.
She was right, though. The cloud did lift. I am three and a half years passed it and I’m just a half a pill away from being completely med free.
If you are reading this, please know that you are not alone in how you feel. For the sake of yourself and your family, please know this can target any mom and it is not your fault. With the right therapy you can conquer this. If you do not feel like yourself, or you think you may have it, please find someone you trust that can help you. This site will prove to be very resourceful and there is also an anonymous hotline if you feel like you have no help.
Update 2015: I continue to speak publicly about this. Now my babies are four and five and there are days when reflection brings me back to this time. If you are reading this know that I am proof that you it can be overcome. Do not give up your fight. I promise you, success is in the smile of that child. You will conquer this!
Update 2017: Always will be a passion of mine.