It never even crossed my mind that I might get postpartum depression. I’m the person my friends call for positive energy. I’m the optimist. I’m the happy person, or at least I was.
Things were looking good leading up to the birth of my first child. I was thirty-two years old and in a good place in my life—good career, good husband, good marriage. Together my husband and I had waited until we felt ready to have a baby. In fact, I had miscarried just four months prior to getting pregnant with my daughter, so there was no doubt that we were really ready to have a baby.
I LOVED being pregnant—seeing my tummy grow, feeling my baby kick inside of me, knowing that she was with me all the time. So, what happened forty-eight hours after my daughter was born caught me by complete surprise.
There I was, packing up to leave the hospital, suddenly feeling numb and emotionless, thinking, Is this it? Is this all there is? Where’s the overwhelming joy, excitement, and love that I heard about from other mothers? No one told me it would be like this.
After I got home, I had problems nursing. My daughter wasn’t latching properly and my milk didn’t come in until day five. I couldn’t sleep, I was scared, and I felt trapped. My husband went back to work the day after I came home, my parents went out of town just three days after my daughter was born, and I felt alone and stuck. Everyone else’s life seemed to go right back to normal and there I was at home—stranded for weeks in the house after a huge snowstorm—not feeling at all like myself, wondering what I had done to my life.
I knew in that first week that something was wrong. I was hoping it was just the Baby Blues, but it didn’t go away, even after a few weeks. I was anxious and worried all the time that something would happen to my daughter. What if I do something? What if I accidentally hurt her? I had dreams that something would happen to her and it would be my fault. The thoughts beat me up. I was so angry with myself, and frustrated, because I couldn’t make the thoughts or the empty feeling go away.
I thought, “What is wrong with me? What happened to the kind, warm-hearted, happy, loving person I was prior to giving birth?” How horrible of a person am I that I can’t even feel the love for my baby, and that I have awful thoughts and dreams? Being a mom didn’t seem natural to me at all. I felt like a failure. I started to hate myself and I just couldn’t make it go away on my own.
I never planned suicide, but I felt that if things kept going that way, I wouldn’t want to be around anymore. I felt that my daughter deserved better. I scared myself with thoughts that suicide might become an option. I kept wondering, “Why is this happening to me, when all I want to do is feel the extent of the love I have for my baby girl?”
I immediately tried getting into a support group, but they were on a four-week break. Four weeks? I didn’t know if I could make it without help for another four days!
I contacted a therapist and over the course of several months worked on strategies to ease my stress—nurse less, get more sleep, and start forgiving myself for this condition I didn’t cause. Finally, when I went back to work, I started to feel like a mom. I started to connect more and to actually feel again instead of feeling nothing. I began to feel hopeful that the real me was still there and I could be a good mom after all.
Then, one week after returning to work, my daughter and I were in a car accident when a man ran a red light, hit us, and spun our car around two times. Thankfully, we were both okay physically, but mentally, I started to spiral back into anxiety and depression. This made my road to recovery longer, and I eventually had to take antidepressants to get things back under control. Over the course of several months I started to heal again.
My husband and I had always wanted two children and for the first year after my daughter’s birth, I was so afraid of a reoccurrence that I couldn’t even think of it. Around the time my daughter was eighteen months old, I was feeling courageous enough to try again, but I wasn’t about to get pregnant without a plan. I talked to my OB, who recommended a psychiatrist specializing in postpartum depression, and I started seeing a therapist about twenty-five weeks into my second pregnancy.
Seeing a therapist was helpful in expressing my fears and in preparing me mentally for the postpartum period. The plan with the psychiatrist was to begin a low dose of antidepressants four weeks prior to my son’s birth. He arrived two weeks early, and although I didn’t get to a therapeutic dose of the antidepressant, I had a much different postpartum experience the second time around.
I felt the joy I had only heard was possible immediately at the birth of a baby, and I didn’t have to wait several months to feel it. I had a nanny three and a half days a week, since I worked out of the home. The nanny stayed on with us to help with my daughter and the baby while I was on maternity leave from work, which gave me the much-needed support I didn’t have the first time around. The time I had spent planning in the hopes of a better second experience paid off.
Having postpartum depression was the hardest, yet most valuable experience in my life. It forever changed the way I see things. It enhanced my ability to help other women heal and renewed my passion for life itself. What originally seemed like a curse became my greatest gift.
Now, ten years later, I am a life coach and my experience has grown into a passion for helping women to rebuild and restore their confidence and sense of self and to adjust to their lives as mothers after postpartum depression. I know firsthand how amazing, fulfilling, and joyful life after postpartum depression can be. Part of my mission in helping other women is to let them know that life on the other side of postpartum depression can be everything a potential mother could imagine, and more.
I am the proud mom of a warm-hearted, caring, almost-ten-year-old girl and an adventurous seven-year-old boy. I wouldn’t trade them for anything in this world and my journey to having them in my life was more than worth it. I still go into their rooms at night to watch them sleep and I am filled with a love that is deeper and more encompassing than I ever could have dreamed.
So what happened to the person I was before I gave birth to my daughter? She just had a rockier road to joy and fulfillment. I had no idea when I was going through postpartum depression that I was yet to become a better, stronger, happier, and even more passionate person than I was before, but that’s exactly what happened.
A Note from Dr. Shosh
Michelle’s story is one of transformation. She was already a strong, happy person before PPD, and through this experience she came out stronger and happier on the other side. Keep that in mind as you brave your own path. Here are a few tips to help you along the way:
— One of the myths of having a baby is that we must feel instant joy. This may be true for some, but it may not be true for you, and that’s okay.
— Michelle experienced a loss of support after delivery (husband going back to work, parents leaving, etc.), which led to some problems. We need more support, not less, once the baby comes home. Be sure and set up the environment you need in order to be well.
— The second time around, Michelle arranged great help with a nanny and professionals who specialize in postpartum depression and anxiety, which made such a difference.
— When we need a support group, we need it immediately. If it’s necessary to wait for a local group to start up again or to have room for you, try to find another one in the short term (please refer to the Resources section of this book as a guide).