My husband and I waited five years to start a family. By then most of our friends were on baby number two, but we favored waiting to work on the home we bought and build an awesome marriage.
Never having been depressed a day in my life, I skipped over the Baby Blues chapter in the What to Expect book. I figured, “Why read such a downer that won’t even apply to me?”
Five days after my son was born, something began to happen to me. I felt like the walls of our house were closing in on me. I was in a panic, thinking I’d made a huge mistake in having my baby. I wanted to give him up for adoption but couldn’t fathom a way to tell my husband. I was experiencing a depression so intense I wasn’t sure I could keep on living, but I knew I wouldn’t actually take my life. I was afraid to live and afraid to die.
Thoughts raced constantly through my head. I felt hyper-aware of everything around me and couldn’t turn my brain off. I woke often in the night, either unable to sleep or needing to feed the baby, which led to severe sleep deprivation. I lost interest in everything I once liked to do. I had no sense of who I was anymore. It had reached the point where I needed to talk to someone.
Waiting in that paper gown for the doctor to come see me was killing me. Panic was rising. I called to the nurse, crying that I wanted the door left open so I didn’t feel so alone. Did other moms feel alone? I wanted this baby so bad. I can’t believe it feels this awful now that he’s here. My OB came in and I told him I couldn’t do it another day. I just felt stuck in my shell of a body. My house felt like a box. The nurse held my hand and I secretly wished she could come home with me so the silence would stop screaming at me.
The OB said he knew how I felt. “My wife cried for two weeks with the Baby Blues,” he said. What? He thinks this dismal abyss I’m living in is just Baby Blues? (I would later make an appointment to educate him on postpartum depression and the harm he had caused me with that comment.)
Upon returning home from the original meeting with my OB, I slumped to the floor of my garage and sobbed. I couldn’t even answer the phone I heard ringing. Then I heard the voice of Dr. Shoshana Bennett on my answering machine, telling me that she was returning my call. I had gotten her number from a flyer I picked up somewhere and called to ask her if she knew anyone who specialized in helping women that were depressed after giving birth. I ran for the phone as I heard her telling me I’d found the right place and that she could definitely help me with this disorder called postpartum depression. Thank God it had a name! I felt better just knowing I actually had something. Without a label for what I had been feeling, I had not been getting much sympathy outside the home.
My husband “got it,” and I’m grateful for that. Sadly, other women in Dr. Shosh’s support group said their husbands told them to “get it together.” That would have killed me. Dr. Shosh was helpful in this regard as she assured my husband that I would go back to the woman I was before, that my PPD wouldn’t last forever. I hung onto those words, because every second with the illness felt like an eternity.
The road to recovery was tough, but it inspired me to help others and left me grateful for every day that I smile.
Dr. Shosh gave me the roadmap for survival. First I hired a nanny. I wanted someone by my side until the Prozac kicked in and did its job. Other women in Dr. Shosh’s support group had said that medication gave them their life back, and I hoped it would for me too, but it didn’t really seem possible. Also, it was scary to take a pill having no idea what it would do to me. But miraculously, day by day, I regained everything PPD had stripped from me. The medication returned me to my former self, one pill at a time.
I’ll never forget the first time I went to the store in a good mood. My favorite cashier said she had missed me, which was huge for me. To actually run errands with no anxiety felt like freedom.
Writing to my family and friends was another recovery tool I used. I detailed the entire nightmare I was living in a letter and mailed it to them. I told them that even though I may not have the outward signs associated with more recognizable diseases, my illness was no less severe. I asked for patience and kindness.
My mother-in-law started coming over once a week so I could get away from the house and enjoy some me time away from the baby. My friends stopped taking offense if I couldn’t come to the playgroup. I also learned that sometimes I should ask my husband about his day before I launched into my stuff. He wanted to be there for me, but once in a while I wanted him to come home to normalcy. I wanted to be there for him, too.
Now I give back to women who suffer like I did. I take calls once a week on the Postpartum Stressline. The callers often marvel at how I sound like I suffered yesterday when it’s been nine years. Together the caller and I work on a plan to get her moving on helping herself immediately.
Suffering postpartum depression, getting the proper help and guidance, and experiencing a full recovery has affected me deeply. To experience something like that and not give back would be like receiving a gift and keeping it all to yourself, not even opening it.
While there was a time it didn’t seem possible, my depression has never returned and I’ve never had another anxiety attack. Here’s looking forward to the day in your life—and it will come—when you know you’ve made it. Then you can fully appreciate the words of the lovely old saying: “This is the first day of the rest of your life.”
A Note from Dr. Shosh
Tami’s story illustrates several important points:
— No one is immune to a postpartum mood or anxiety disorder. It’s easy to think that since you’ve never been depressed before, that it won’t happen to you. Not necessarily.
— Information on these disorders should be everywhere—in birth packets at hospitals, in OB offices (they should be screening too), in pediatricians’ offices, in prenatal and new parents’ classes and groups, and on and on.
— Don’t wait until you are suffering severely before you reach out to speak with someone, preferably a therapist who specializes in postpartum disorders. Find someone as soon as possible.
— For the most part, OBs still are not trained to recognize these disorders in their patients (though they should be); they are trained to be excellent surgeons. Once the baby is born, except for checking any incisions and asking about birth control, they are done. Tami’s doctor did exactly what mine did when I went through it, and what thousands of other women have also experienced. The OB tried to be helpful but confused a serious illness (PPD) with something innocuous (Baby Blues).
— The right help is out there for you, and you deserve to get it!
Photo by Anne Worner CC BY 2.0