I know all too well that hindsight is 20/20.
Looking back on my pregnancy, I see that I had so many risk factors for developing a perinatal mood disorder, specifically postpartum depression.
When my son Evan was born in December 2008, I looked at him and thought, Who is this? There was a big disconnect between us and I instantly felt overwhelmed and guilty about it. I did all the things that new mothers are supposed to do—tend to my baby’s every need, coo, cuddle, and speak in a high-pitched voice.
Despite my efforts, I felt hollow inside. Wasn’t I supposed to be madly in love with this new little baby? When friends asked me if I loved being a mother, I wanted to tell them, “No! This is not what I signed up for!” I cried for the first three weeks of my son’s life. I struggled with breastfeeding, was convinced I was a horrible mother, and constantly worried. I feared that my son would stop breathing, that he would be abducted from his bedroom window in the middle of the night, and that he would slip from my arms and fall over the banister into the foyer. My thoughts raced day and night. I was terrified of the prospect that I would never again be the person I once was.
During the postpartum period, I felt like I was living in a fog. I struggled to get through each day. I often spent all day on the couch—breastfeeding, watching awful TV shows, and crying myself into a stupor. Around six weeks postpartum, I sent a text message to a friend who had given birth six months prior. I wrote, “When will I feel like me again? When can I start doing the things I used to love doing?” She wrote back, “It’s not about you anymore!”
I was crushed by her response, convinced that I was sentenced to live my life in this “prison.” Soon after, I began to withdraw from friends and family. I started arguments for no apparent reason. I began to dread each day. I had bonded with my son and loved him more than anything, but I wanted me back—the strong, independent, social butterfly. Instead, I was a shell of my old self.
At five months postpartum, my husband forced me to go see my primary care doctor. I had zero energy, despite getting adequate rest, exercise, and nutrition. The doctor ran a battery of labs and ruled out mononucleosis, thyroid disorders, anemia, and insomnia. She had taken one look at me and said, “You look so put-together and happy. I don’t think postpartum depression is an issue here.” Meanwhile, I continued to struggle at home, cry, and get anxious over every little detail.
Finally, at nine months postpartum, I had a dramatic meltdown. I was upstairs in my office, finishing a research paper for my master’s program, and I began to cry hysterically. I have a wonderful baby, a wonderful husband, a beautiful home, success in graduate school, a supportive family—so, why am I drowning in soul-crushing despair and misery?
I went online and looked up postpartum depression. I took the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale and was not surprised when my score was high. My husband came upstairs to find out the source of the crying. He took one look at me and rushed to my side. I looked him in the eye and said, “I think I have postpartum depression.” Just saying it was a small weight off my shoulders.
Two days later I sat in my obstetrician’s office. I just broke down and sobbed. He held my hand and talked with me at great length. I agreed to start taking Zoloft and check in with him in ten days. Within two weeks of initiating the medication, I felt like a new person. I was more relaxed and started to enjoy things again. I knew that it would take six weeks to get the full effect, but I was already enjoying some of the benefits of the medication. My sister even told me, “You’ve never been this nice in your entire life.” The comment was bittersweet.
In addition to taking medication, I began to talk openly about my postpartum experience. I shared my story with neighbors, family, and friends. In sharing my story, I found that others began to admit their own struggles with PPD.
While volunteering at a local baby expo, I wondered why our community didn’t have a successful support group, warmline, or any educational opportunities. I brought these ideas up to Randy Gibbs, the Executive Director of Jenny’s Light, a local nonprofit whose mission is to improve and save lives by increasing awareness of all perinatal mood disorders, including postpartum depression. Randy and I later met to discuss the ideas, and I began to get more involved in the organization. Four months later, I was elected President and Outreach Director of Jenny’s Light.
Today I travel the metro area giving presentations on perinatal mood disorders to hospitals, physician groups, nurses, breastfeeding coalitions, family/early childhood educators, pregnant and parenting women, and families. I am in the process of forming a community coalition and a local support/maternal wellness group. I realize that I have found my true passion and calling in life.
Looking back on my postpartum experience, I mourn the time I missed with my son and husband. I was not truly present until my diagnosis and initiation of treatment at nine months postpartum. I am now happy, energetic, and greet each new day with enthusiasm. I am a different person, and my experience has shaped me to be the woman I am today. The relationship I have with my husband is stronger than ever, and my son is one of my greatest joys. Every week, my son and I have a mommy-son lunch date, and together we love to sing, play piano, and read books. I love my family more than anything!
My journey through postpartum depression was full of darkness and despair, yet I wouldn’t be where I am now without that experience. My passion for education and advocacy for perinatal mood disorders came out of this dark and personal struggle. I have also changed my career focus. After finishing my Master of Science in nursing for Family Nurse Practitioner, I will continue my graduate studies to acquire a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree for Psychiatric-Mental Health Clinical Nurse Specialist.
My experience with postpartum depression has taught me to be kind to myself. There is no such thing as Supermom. Everyone has struggles, but many don’t openly speak about them. And I am no longer one to judge. A woman needs someone to support her and listen to her, without the fear of being judged and criticized. Postpartum depression can happen to anyone. As a society, we need to create an environment where women feel safe and comfortable talking about their feelings and struggles—the good, bad, and everything in between.
A Note from Dr. Shosh
Given time and the proper assistance, all moms are able to find the joy and bond that comes with being a parent. If PPD has a hold on you, don’t forget the following:
— It is common for mothers to not immediately feel connected with their children, even without postpartum depression.
— Elizabeth felt judged by another mom who enforced the myth that mothers’ needs shouldn’t matter anymore once a baby comes. Don’t buy into that myth – it will lead to depletion, resentment, and often depression.
This story is another beautiful example of how we can come through the darkness and into an even brighter light than before – in this case, Jenny’s Light
Image credit: Anne Worner