My husband and I got married in September of 1999. We were looking forward to spending our lives together and raising a family. Shortly after our wedding day we found out that we were expecting our first child. We were thrilled with the news.
My personality before and during the pregnancy was happy, and I continued to work until one month before the delivery date. I was easygoing and excited to be a mom. It’s what I always wanted. Then, in the last month, my personality changed. I became quiet, emotional, and withdrawn. I was nervous about what to expect. I sat alone at home during the day and wondered if I would be a good mom and how I would handle taking care of a newborn.
My thoughts upset me because I was really looking forward to meeting my baby, but I was also scared. There were many times that I called my mom crying. I was confused, wondering, Why is this happening now?
Two weeks before the big day, my friends and family threw me a baby shower. It was a wonderful gesture, and I put on a brave face, but I felt overwhelmed. My mom later told me what people had been saying about me. The comments ranged from “She looks tired and distant” to “She’s not her usual, cheery self.” It hurt me to hear those things, but I suppose they were just trying to be honest.
In the days to come, as the nesting process accelerated and I prepared for the baby’s arrival, my mood fluctuated greatly. Some days I felt like myself. I was giddy with excitement as I fixed up the baby’s room, folded cute little baby clothes, and got the bottles ready. Other days I was anxious, emotional, and downright scared.
Then, in the middle of the night in January, my water broke and we headed to the hospital. It was there that we welcomed our first child, a beautiful baby girl.
The first week home was great. I felt happy and excited again. My mom came to help and we enjoyed our time together. The second week, however, things changed quite a bit. I felt off. I was tired and emotional. I wasn’t interested in feeding, changing, or taking care of the baby. This was not what I expected. I became frustrated and confused about the feelings I was experiencing.
As the days went on, my emotions ran wild. And with that came anxiety. I worried about everything. Am I taking care of the baby as best I can? Did I make the right decision in not breastfeeding? I was in a constant state of panic about whether I had enough formula for the baby—to the point where I bought more whether I needed it or not. It was as if I were preparing for nuclear winter. Deep down I knew I had plenty of formula, but I bought more just in case. Well, what if I run out? Or what if the store runs out, and I can’t feed my daughter? I checked and double-checked the bottles all the time. Are they ready? How many do I have? Should I get more? I should probably get more. Let me count them again.
Worry, worry, worry.
When my daughter was three weeks old, I joined a new moms group, thinking getting out of the house might help. I figured it would give me the chance to meet other moms with newborns and make me feel better. It made me feel worse.
When I got to the group, all I could think was, Look at all these moms with their newborns. Why is everyone smiling except me? Why am I not happy?
At one point, a speaker talked about how to adjust to having a newborn, stating that it was very important that all moms breastfeed. It made me question my decision not to breastfeed all over again.
Afterward, I approached the speaker, telling her why I chose not to breastfeed, and asked her a few questions. She reiterated her opinion that breastfeeding was the best choice for the child. I felt bad right away. She recommended that I talk to a lactation consultant and get some information.
When I talked to the lactation consultant, I explained my decision not to breastfeed, but also shared that I was no longer sure it was the right choice. The woman told me that she didn’t think breastfeeding was the true source of my problem. She thought that I was suffering from postpartum depression. I had no idea what that even was, let alone how to treat it, and she gave me the business card for a specialist—Dr. Shoshana Bennett.
A few days later, I called Dr. Shosh and left her a message. She called me back that same day, and we discussed how I was feeling. I was tired, emotional, anxious, and not interested in taking care of the baby. She agreed with the lactation consultant that I was going through postpartum depression and anxiety.
Dr. Shosh explained to me that after women give birth, their hormones fluctuate, which can cause some of the feelings I was experiencing. She assured me that many women have gone through postpartum depression, and it did make me feel a little better to know that I wasn’t the only one. She also assured me that it was absolutely treatable and that I would not only come out okay on the other side, I could become better than ever.
Dr. Shosh suggested I go see a psychiatrist, and specifically recommended one who specialized in postpartum depression. My husband and I talked over the options, but ultimately decided it would be better for financial reasons to go with a doctor that was covered under our insurance.
After several appointments with another psychiatrist, nothing seemed to change. In fact, I felt worse with every passing day. I started to have very scary thoughts. I knew that I would not do anything to harm myself or my baby, but the thoughts were upsetting nonetheless. They would come and go quickly, which, for me, was the scariest part of PPD.
I discussed the thoughts I was having with Dr. Shosh, and she told me that they were common. She made it clear that I would not act on them. I was scared and nervous. I continued to see Dr. Shosh on a regular basis and went to many of her support groups as a way of understanding what I was experiencing and to help me realize that I was not alone. The support groups helped a lot.
Every night when I went to bed I prayed that the next day would be better, and my husband did many things to help. He started reading about postpartum depression to see if he could do anything to help me feel better. He bought things I liked such as ice cream and chocolate, and even brought me tea because he had read that tea could help me relax (it was very soothing). My husband wanted me to feel better as much as I did.
Unfortunately, despite our best efforts into mid-March, my husband and I faced the reality that I wasn’t getting any better. We decided to go see the psychiatrist that Dr. Shosh had suggested.
Since I was already on medication from the previous doctor, the new doctor had me keep taking it while he introduced me to another one—though he told me that he never would have prescribed the medicine I was already taking. With his help, and the new medication, the days started to get a little brighter. Over time, with the combined help of Dr. Shosh and the psychiatrist, I began to see the light at the end of tunnel, and I finally started to feel like a mother again on May, 13, 2001—Mother’s Day. To celebrate, we enjoyed the day together as a family and all went out for a nice dinner.
I am thankful for my family for helping me turn things around. I am also grateful to the postpartum depression support groups, and even continued to attend them after I started feeling better because I always appreciated the opportunity to listen to others who shared the same experience. It gave me hope that I would get through it, and I wanted to help others in the same way. Most of all, I am grateful for the guidance of Dr. Shosh and the Dr. Tanenbaum—two wonderful people who helped me get through this difficult time.
Despite the challenges I faced in adapting to my first child, I went on to have two others, and I am proud to say that everything went fine. It is my hope that in sharing my story of PPD with others, it will give them the assurance that with the right guidance—as it was for me and many people who have experienced the same thing—everything will be okay.
A Note from Dr. Shosh
Laurie’s story illustrates a number of helpful tips:
— There’s no particular personality type predisposed to PPD. It can and does happen to anyone, including the happiest and most easygoing.
— Depression and anxiety often begin during pregnancy. Symptoms can disappear for a while and then return with a vengeance.
— A “regular” new mom’s group isn’t always a good idea when you are suffering. It’s best to first join a group specifically designed for postpartum mood issues.
— You can be a “good” mom and decide not to breastfeed. Choose the option that’s best for you and your family, whether it’s total breast, total formula, pumping breast milk while allowing for some bottle-feeding, or some other combination. The choice is yours.
— As Laurie discovered, working with professionals who specialize in this field is optimal for recovery. Concentrate your efforts on finding a good fit for you.
Image credit: Anne Worner