The week my son was born, I knew that something was wrong.
My husband had to return to work the next morning and I was up every hour trying to breastfeed. I was so exhausted, and when my son slept or napped I couldn’t rest. My mind raced and no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t turn it off. I lay in bed thinking my son would never be satisfied and I would never to be able to sleep again. I was up for almost forty-eight hours before I called my OB to see if he could prescribe any medication to help me sleep.
I felt little attachment to my son and began having scary thoughts of harming him. I was so paralyzed with fear that I did not want to be left alone with him. I felt like such a monster. I had wanted a baby so badly and now I was having thoughts of harming him. I knew I would never act on my thoughts, but I wondered what was happening. I felt so helpless.
I met with my OB and she put me on Zoloft for my depression, Xanax for my anxiety, and Ambien for my lack of sleep until the Zoloft kicked in. She also referred me to a psychiatrist who specialized in postpartum depression.
I felt a little better after meeting with my OB, but I still felt lost. It was a couple weeks before I could get in to see the psychiatrist, and I was confused and scared. I began doing research on the Internet and came across Postpartum Depression for Dummies by Dr. Shoshana Bennett. The book absolutely spoke to me and gave me so much useful information that I decided to contact her for an individual session.
After my first session with Dr. Shosh, I found out that I had obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and that I wasn’t the only woman going through this. Before the end of the session, she made sure that I had a plan in place that would work for me, which made me feel a little better. She assured me that although I might have a tough road ahead, with the proper help, I would make it through. I vowed to do everything I could to get better, and my loving husband vowed to do everything he could to support me.
While I was waiting to see the effects of the antidepressant, my husband and I stayed with my parents so that we would have extra support. I began a nutrition program, set up a sleep schedule, and accepted all the help that was offered. I had been thinking I could be a super mom, and do it all myself, but I came to realize that I first needed to get myself healthy, for my son and my husband. Part of that process meant putting a stop to watching the news and surfing the Internet because it only increased my anxiety.
The scary thoughts began to subside and I found myself wanting to go out and do activities that I used to love before I was hit with PPD. I started gaining my confidence back and found that I wanted to be able to take care of son by myself, which was a huge accomplishment.
After several months, I felt like myself again and was happy. I no longer had to take the antianxiety medication or the sleep aid and I was able to nap and fall asleep on my own. I loved being a mom and wife and finally started enjoying myself again. I joined a local moms group and was thrilled to talk with other adults. My husband and I decided that I would quit my job and stay at home with our son. It was the best choice for our family.
Additionally, after an offer from Dr. Shosh, I began volunteering for the Postpartum Stressline. I found it rewarding to give back and help women going through what I had been through. After a year of being on the antidepressant, I was taken off and felt great.
When my son was fifteen months old, my husband and I decided that we wanted to have another baby. We both knew that I was high risk for PPD but decided that if it struck again we would get through it.
I got pregnant right away and my husband and I were thrilled. After the end of my first trimester, I started feeling anxious again. I had just learned that my grandfather had terminal cancer and that my husband would be traveling for weeks at a time. The insomnia and constant worrying came back and I knew I needed help right away.
I contacted my support team—Dr. Shosh, my psychiatrist, and my OB—and was able to get appointments quickly. My husband and I discussed going back on medication and we decided that the benefits of taking it outweighed the risks. I also read Pregnant on Prozac by Dr. Shosh, which had a tremendous amount of information to help us make informed decisions.
I was put back on the antidepressant, the sleep aid, and antianxiety medication until it kicked in once again. Having been through this once before, I intellectually knew that I could get through it again, but that did not make it any easier.
My husband and parents were incredibly supportive and I knew that I had to take all the help that I could get. The scary thoughts returned, but this time I knew how to handle them and talked things through with Dr. Shosh.
I also had many added stressors during this time so it was difficult for a while. We decided that it was best to stay with my parents until I felt that I could handle everything on my own again. Caring for a toddler was exhausting with my husband traveling so much, and I simply didn’t want to be alone again. Having the support and comfort of my family was a gift.
Like last time, I made sure to take my medication and supplements, stay hydrated, follow a nutrition program, get rest when I could, and get outside to get a change of scenery. I still had an awful time sleeping, but I knew it would come back like it did before. Every day I made a list of tasks and chores to accomplish for the day, which helped to bring my confidence back. Little by little I came back, and my loved ones helped by pointing this out. I made sure to push myself to do things that were a little out of my comfort zone but not do too much.
After a month at my parents, I knew that I was ready to go home, return to my life, and get back to our routine. I was smiling and laughing like I used to, I was finally getting sleep—though still with the help of a sleep aid—and taking care of my son was no longer so exhausting. I had made it through the worst.
Today I’m twenty-one-weeks pregnant and I feel great. I love my life and no longer feel anxious like I once did. I’m off the antianxiety medication and sleep aid and just take the antidepressant that will continue throughout my pregnancy. My husband is still traveling, but I’m okay with being alone. I take breaks, get rest, and do things that make me happy. I’m also looking forward to the birth of our second child, because I know that I have a plan and the tools for when the baby comes.
I never wanted this to happen again, but I know that there is a reason it did. The experience has made me stronger and I plan to help as many women as I can. They deserve the immediate comfort in knowing that they are not alone, and with the proper help, they will get better. It’s a powerful feeling.
A Note from Dr. Shosh
There is power in getting help as fast as you can, which Katie’s story illustrates. Here are some practical nuggets for you to consider:
— When you have anxiety, it’s natural to have thoughts swirl in your head while trying to sleep. But if your thoughts don’t eventually quiet down and allow you to rest, it’s a sign that you may have a disorder. Please contact a provider you trust for help. It might not result in medication, but some form of treatment may be necessary.
— When a doctor prescribes medication for a mental health condition like depression or anxiety, he or she should also prescribe a mental health professional for therapy. Prescription medication might be useful, but it’s not enough and should never be considered the total answer.
— Learning to be patient with the recovery process is one of the most important and challenging aspects of getting your health back. PPD rarely goes away as quickly as we wish. Remember, there are many opportunities for growth during your recovery. The silver linings you end up with will be much sweeter when you learn not to fight the process, but it’s easier said than done.
— Additional stressors during pregnancy, like Katie’s husband traveling a lot, set us up for a tough pregnancy and postpartum period. Please get more help if you find yourself in this situation.
— The second time around, Katie made sure her plan of action was implemented immediately. She didn’t wait, hoping PPD would disappear on its own. Moving in with her parents was smart, since that’s where she found support. Whatever works best for you and your family is the right plan.
— Knowing something intellectually—for instance, that the illness will go away won’t get rid of your symptoms. Still, it’s important that you hang on to that truth. It can help you pull through the tough times.
Photo by Anne Worner CC BY 2.0