The Light at the End of the Tunnel: My Battle with Postpartum Depression
White hot rage. Big heavy tears.
This was my battle with postpartum depression.
Although I didn't know it at the time, my battle with PPD started with the birth of my first child, 6 years ago. It was a rough delivery and an even more challenging postpartum. My husband had been given a promotion at work which meant we had to relocate... at 8 months pregnant. Soon I was living in a new town with what felt like ZERO support. I struggled to breastfeed my son and can still, to this day, remember the feeling of dread I experienced when I knew my son would be waking up soon. He would want to nurse and it hurt. so. bad. I began taking extra pain pills to cope. I sat in my room, crying, trying to nurse through the pain.
Fast forward almost a year. I was feeling more adjusted. Going to the gym on a regular basis (and joking that it was "Mommy's Prozac"). But I was starting to experience episodes of shortness of breath. They became so severe that I thought I must be having a heart attack and ended up in the ER- the only time in my adult life that I've ever gone. They ran all sorts of tests "just to be sure" but in the end, diagnosed me with anxiety attacks and gave me a script for Xanax. I thought they were full of shit.
I was in denial. I never filled the prescription and continued on with my life.
Fast forward five years. I was a new mom again but this time, things seemed to be going better. I had better support in my life and a wealth of knowledge and experience to draw from; I'm a doula, after all. I know this stuff. I can handle this... right?
But, the anger started to creep back in. Actually, it never really went anywhere. I just told myself it was normal- even though I knew in my heart of hearts, it was very far from normal. I was still in denial. I screamed and threw things at my husband. I yelled at my kids...at my baby. I got so mad, I scared myself. But I still made excuses.
I grew up with a father that did those very same things so I told myself that I must have inherited his temper. I told myself I just needed to get to the gym more often to "blow off some steam". I told myself that the good times with my kids would outweigh the times I scared them with my anger. They would forget the harsh words if I said enough good ones... right?
I lived for nap time, bedtime, and my evening glasses of wine.
I couldn't admit something was "really" wrong. After all, my work wasn't suffering. In fact, it was booming. I didn't feel depressed. I could get up and function when I needed to. I wasn't like the women in the commercials, moping around, wearing pajamas and looking sad. I just needed better self-discipline. More sleep. Less stress. A better routine...
The final straw came on Father's Day, 2015.
It was a bad day. I was an angry shell of a person. I remember being in the car, as my husband drove us to dinner (that he had arranged) staring out the window and crying. Tears just ran down my face. I was a combination of mad and sad, at the same time. I enjoyed the anger and I fed on it. I made ugly comments to my husband and yelled at my kids. Finally, I stopped talking altogether. I sat through the entire meal and watched my husband take care of everyone. He got food for our daughter, fed her, and helped our son get his food while I just sat there and felt nothing. He asked a few times if I was alright, but knew better than to say too much for fear of my snapping at him. This was his Father's Day and it was awful.
On the drive home, I felt a flicker of shame.
Once home, I retreated to our bedroom to escape (as I so often did those days). I got on the internet and did some digging. I stumbled across Postpartum Progress and their article The Symptoms of Postpartum Depression & Anxiety (in Plain Mama English). It was my turning point.
It was my lifeline. The light at the end of my tunnel.
Reading that article, and exploring the rest of their page, was my moment of clarity. I realized then that I was, and had been, dealing with postpartum depression. All of my excuses came crumbling down. I knew I needed help. But I wasn't ready to admit it yet. I wasn't ready for the stigma that came with postpartum depression. I wasn't ready for medication. I didn't want the professionals I work with to know something was wrong. What if word got out I was on an anti-depressant? Would they judge me? Stop referring to me? More importantly, would my husband think less of me?
I sat with these thoughts for a few weeks before finally picking up the phone and texting my midwife.
"May I call you?"
She was great. She listened. Reassured. Made me feel normal. Because I am normal.
"In fact, more mothers will suffer from postpartum depression and related illnesses this year than the combined number of new cases for both sexes of tuberculosis, leukemia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and epilepsy. This is not to minimize these other terrible diseases, of course. I simply want to illustrate just how prevalent postpartum mood & anxiety disorders are."
Each year, approximately 950,000 women suffer with PPD (read about why that number is probably much higher than that here). I'm not alone. Postpartum Mood Disorders are so very common and need to be discussed. It needs to come out of the shadows, out of the whispers and into the forefront of our conversation about how we support women and families.
I thought long and hard about sharing my story. I may lose clients over it. I may lose professional relationships over it. But maybe it will speak to a new mom on the same path I traveled. And maybe it will help. Maybe it will be someone's light.