The following is a true story of one person’s experience with postpartum depression. Postpartum depression, like anything else, can look differently for different people. For some it is more mild and for others it is more extreme.
For more information on postpartum depression you can visit http://www.postpartumprogress.com/the-symptoms-of-postpartum-depression-anxiety-in-plain-mama-english or http://postpartumstress.com/about/ for a list of symptoms and resources. If you believe you have postpartum depression, please seek the advice of your doctor or midwife to talk about your symptoms and steps to take towards healing.
There’s a hashtag trending on Facebook called #speakthesecret and the goal is to bring postpartum mood disorders some attention. It allows mothers to speak the secrets they kept inside while suffering silently with these disorders and it allows other women to realize they aren’t alone in the way they feel. Furthermore, it allows mothers to realize if they #speakthesecret it doesn’t make them a bad mother. It doesn’t mean their children will be taken away. It doesn’t mean they are “broken”. It means they have a postpartum mood disorder and it breaks the stigma and encourages them to get help.
Women who #speakthesecret have said things like:
“If I admit I don’t feel like being a mother and that this sucks a lot of the time, does that mean I don’t love my baby?”
“I think my baby would be better off with another mother. I think I made a huge mistake. I think I will find my baby dead in her crib. I think my baby will fly out of her car seat and into a ditch. I think I will drop my baby onto the cement when I’m going down the stairs. I think I am unfit to be a mother.”
“I need a home-cooked meal. I need a shower. I need a break. I need some time to myself. I need someone to understand how bad I feel sometimes. I need time, rest, help, food, hugs, support, cookies, quiet, nourishment, help with laundry, cleaning, cooking. I need acknowledgement, understanding, and support.”
Another aspect of this campaign is the “scary thoughts” moms have. Karen Kleiman is an author of books related to perinatal mood disorders. She defines scary thoughts as “the upsetting, intrusive, reoccurring thoughts and images many new moms experience.”
Some of these scary thoughts are:
“Sleep deprived and overwhelmed, I pictured myself throwing my crying baby down. (This distressed me the most because I would NEVER hurt her and I felt like a terrible mother for that image crossing my brain.)”
“Falling down the stairs while carrying my baby and dropping her while walking with her or getting her out of her car seat.”
“If I left our son at any time our bond would be broken and we wouldn’t love each other.”
“After I had my second child I imagined putting them both in my chest freezer so I could get some sleep. That’s when I decided to go on meds.”
Some of these may seem a bit extreme, but as one mother with postpartum depression put it, “You never understand how people can think or do these things to their children until you’ve been there.”
And let me tell you: I’ve been there. From the time I was a little girl I had always wanted to be a mother. My dream was to be a stay at home mother so naturally when I got married and pregnant, that’s what happened. My pregnancy was less than ideal as I was sick for 27 weeks, I had symphysis pubis dysfunction, and I was depressed for most of it because it felt like, to me, that no one wanted the baby except me.
When I had my son I went from sleeping 9 hours a night to only 3. We had breastfeeding struggles and I had had a rough delivery. Nothing was the way I thought it would be and to top it all off my son was later defined as a “high needs child”. I silently struggled thinking this was the way it was. I didn’t understand why people wanted more than one child because this was torture at times. I hated being a mother.
I was angry more often than not and I felt like I was inadequate and not qualified to be his mother. I often felt like my son would be better off with another mother. What’s worse was I was somehow convinced this was normal. I didn’t talk about it with anyone because I thought it was just my burden as a mother an I’d eventually adjust and start liking it.
Only that didn’t happen. I remember telling my husband often something was wrong with me. He kept telling me that I just needed more sleep and not to worry about it. I couldn’t find the words to explain my thoughts so I let it go thinking he was right since a lot of the symptoms of postpartum depression mimic sleep deprivation. At 8 months postpartum I said the same thing to a friend and she told me to seek help. She also pointed me to a list of symptoms of postpartum depression and I was shocked to see I fit a lot of them. Still I brushed it off.
My turning point was when I was getting my hair cut. My son held my hair to fall asleep. The more tired and fussy he became, the more he twisted and pulled on my hair. The brushing and gentle tugging of my hair from the stylist made me want to scream and yell. That’s when I decided to seek help. I called my midwife and made an appointment. I actually didn’t tell my husband about it because I felt he wouldn’t understand.
My midwife gave me suggestions before resorting to medication, but none of them worked so we decided to medicate on a small dose. That’s when I told my husband and he disagreed with medication. He was scared it would change me and that I would need it forever. He didn’t want me to become dependent on something that, in his mind, I didn’t even need. I continued to push the issue because I really felt like I was “broken” and I wanted so desperately to feel “normal”. I knew the medication wouldn’t be permanent and I knew it wouldn’t be an end all be all fix—I would have to work alongside the medication for it to work. We talked about the risks and benefits and the fact that it was not a lifetime commitment to be medicated. Ultimately I decided to try it and he supported me through what I felt was best. Within two days there was major improvement and he began to see why I needed the medicine..
Medication isn’t a cure all. It didn’t make the feelings go away and it didn’t quite make me feel like an adequate mother, but it helped give me more clarity to see things rationally. I was able to process a little better and I was, for the first time, able to see that how I had been feeling wasn’t normal.
That was two years ago. I’m still medicated, but I am doing better. I realize I am a good mother. In fact, I’m the best mother for my son. My husband and I have been learning about postpartum depression and we openly talk about it because we had such misconceptions and lived miserably for far too long. It doesn’t have to be like that. Motherhood doesn’t have to be riddled with feelings of inadequacy and the scary thoughts mentioned earlier. I still have bad days, but I’m better equipped to handle them.
My biggest plea to you if you are struggling is to seek help. These thoughts are common, but they aren’t normal. You won’t lose your children for seeking help. It doesn’t make you a bad mother to seek help and it doesn’t mean you don’t love your children. Quite the opposite is true. Taking care of others means taking care of yourself, too. Loving children sometimes looks like seeking the help you need whether it be medication, coping strategies, therapy, or some combination thereof.
If you are struggling with a postpartum mood disorder, please see your care provider immediately. The hospitals in the area have classes that address postpartum depression during prenatal education so you can learn the signs and symptoms.
You may also contact the following for postpartum support:
Postpartum Support International: www.postpartum.net or 1-800-944-4773. They list out reliable resources in your area that are available for no charge.
Colby Cohen-Archer at The Postpartum Adjustment Center: 859-212-3265. She specializes with women struggling during pregnancy, postpartum, infertility, miscarriage, and parenting.