I never thought having a baby could bring on so much pain and sadness long after labor and delivery. You’re supposed to feel nothing but elation, pure joy, and love after having a baby, not sadness. Moms are supposed to be the rock of the family, so there is no room for us to have any sort of feelings of depression. Or at least that’s what we’re taught.
During my first pregnancy, I was nervous beyond belief about getting the ever-dreaded postpartum depression. It was hard adjusting to life with a new baby (my messy, beautiful story is here) but somehow I made it through mostly unscathed. I chalked it up to the baby blues and moved on. It wasn’t until a year after having my first-born that I became comfortable with the brand new kind of me, and I celebrated as any mom would.
Then three and half years later after I had first become a mama, I had my second baby. This time I went through a completely different experience. I fell head over heels in love with my baby boy immediately, unlike I did with my first. Maybe it’s because I knew what to expect and I was a little bit seasoned in the mom department, but there was just something special about that sweet September baby boy.
I was asked in the hospital if I had ever gone through postpartum depression or had experienced depression before, and I answered honestly: yes. I do have a have a history with depression thanks to a haywire thyroid, but it’s been under control since I was first diagnosed with hypothyroidism 10 years ago. The nurse passed me the pamphlet of what signs to look for concerning postpartum depression, and we quickly moved on. I had a new baby to care for, we had just become a family of four, and I was on a love high. We went home from the hospital on cloud nine.
But then something happened around the two month mark. I became lonely, overwhelmed, and felt like I was trudging through mud every single day.
It was also holiday season by this point, and I dreaded every holiday event unlike ever before. I was in a fog, feeling like no matter how hard I tried, I could do nothing right. To make matters worse, I had a sleeping baby, and yet I still felt more exhausted than I ever had before.
Along with the exhaustion came severe anxiety. I would go into panics about any little thing. One day my husband went walking to the mailbox, and he didn’t return for quite some time. I took my baby and my three-year-old outside to look for him, yelling out his name, trying not to scare my children, looking for him to see where he had wandered off to. My heart was racing and my mind imagined the worst case scenario. “Someone kidnapped him. When do I call 911? Do we have enough life insurance?” That’s when I knew I had a problem. He had simply walked to a neighbor’s house to deliver an envelope that had mistakenly made it into our box.
I was crying all the time, usually at the drop of a hat and for no reason at all. When someone would ask why I was crying, I didn’t have an answer. I was also snappy and had the shortest fuse. That’s not who I am. My husband urged me to go get checked by my doctor, so I did.
By this point it was almost Christmas. I went to see my OBGYN, and he explained to me that what I was experiencing was postpartum depression. I was put on medication, but I knew it wasn’t going to be fixed over night. I went through the holidays still in a fog, but I knew there was a light at the end of the tunnel and I was right.
From January to mid-October, I was feeling so much better. I felt like I could get through a day without wishing it away. But then when my baby was 13 months old, I felt it again: that same isolating sadness that you try to so hard to hide from everyone. I constantly felt like there was a weight pushing down on me every day making every single task I needed to do feel like climbing Mount Everest.
My house slowly started to get messier by the day. My laundry piles weren’t my typical laundry piles. I had basically given up on house cleaning and used any energy that I did have on taking care of my kids. Let’s not even talk about work. I did what I had to do to get by, and there was no extra effort to get anything else done. And oh, the guilt! The guilt of not being able to do ALL THE THINGS.
Then there was the weight gain. The scale’s numbers were starting to get a little out of control, yet I couldn’t manage to lose anything because food was my comfort.
I walked around putting on a happy face the best I could because that’s what moms do: we keep it all together. “Do not crack in front of the babies. Hold it together. Keep breathing. Repeat.” That was my mantra. I thought, “Maybe I’m just having a few bad days. Maybe I’m just a tad overwhelmed with life.” So I kept pushing through, barely getting by.
My husband came home one afternoon after work and asked me the most caring, loving question, “Are you okay? You seem sad.” I was caught a little off-guard and immediately told him no. It wasn’t until he brought it to my attention that I took a second to think about how I was feeling. And then I knew: I wasn’t okay.
I blamed it on my thyroid, but my levels came back fine. My endocrinologist suggested that maybe it was postpartum depression again. I didn’t think that was possible 13 months later, but I listened to her, and we came up with a plan to get me back in tip-top shape. She changed my medication, and we were good to go. I wanted to make sure we were 100% dealing with PPD again, so I scheduled an appointment with my OBGYN a week later to discuss what was happening.
I know medication for PPD isn’t a quick fix. It takes time for it to work into your system, so the week between seeing my endocrinologist and OBGYN was the worst. This time around, my PPD was the worst it had ever been.
It finally was time for my visit with my OBGYN, and as I settled into my exam room, I started talking to the nurse about how I had been feeling. I finally faced what I had been denying all along: I was broken. Tears started to roll down my face as she handed me the questionnaire to fill out on the iPad.
Here was my exact questionnaire:
Over the last two weeks, how often have you been bothered by any of the following problems?
- Little interest or pleasure in doing things
- Feeling down, depressed, or hopeless
- Trouble falling or staying asleep, or sleeping too much
- Poor appetite or overeating
- Feeling bad about yourself – or that you are a failure or have let yourself or your family down
- Trouble concentrating on things, such as reading the newspaper or watching television
- Moving or speaking so slowly that other people could have noticed? Or the opposite — being so fidgety or restless that you have been moving around a lot more than usual
- Thoughts that you would be better off dead or hurting yourself in some way
The responses I had to choose from were: not at all, several days, more than half the days, and nearly every day.
How did this test know my life? Who told? You mean all of these things were actually symptoms of something other than me just being a lazy slob? Why didn’t anyone tell me?
As I answered every one of the questions as honestly as I could, I started to sob. I asked my nurse, “Why do I feel so ashamed answering these?” She lovingly gave me a hug and said, “Nothing is wrong with YOU, it’s just postpartum depression. It’s so normal.” She also told me a shocking statistic. Seventy-five percent of new moms experience PPD but only 25% are diagnosed and treated. That’s when I knew I had to share my story with you.
The Journey Back to Me
I’m sure many people think that depression looks like someone staying in bed all day crying, but when you’re a mom, you don’t get to do that. For me, postpartum depression was a lot like running on autopilot. I had three things I would focus on each day: keep kids fed, keep kids safe, make sure kids feel loved. It used up all the energy I had, so any other task that needed tending to was left undone.
I wore a mask every day of the happy mom, but I was much more like the duck in the pond who looks calm and peaceful floating around the lake, but under the water, its feet are in a frenzy to stay afloat.
After getting treated and working with my doctors very closely to get me back on track, I am feeling like my best self again, and I have cried happy tears of relief. I feel like I have my life back. I enjoy things again. It’s like I had been living in the land of black of white much like the beginning of The Wizard of Oz, seeing only gray days, but now life is in Technicolor somewhere over the rainbow.
My energy is back, I’m losing the weight I had gained, and I’m more productive than ever. Goodbye foggy days, hello sunshine!
To the Mom in the Thick of It
If you are one of the 75%, I feel your pain. I see you, and you are not alone. We are actually the majority. I’m so sorry that you’ve had to go through the lowest of the low days, but you’re doing the best you can, and you are not crazy. Your babies are loved and will continue to be loved by you, but they need you to be your best you. Talking about it helps, and having a support system makes all the difference, but going to the doctor is crucial. It feels like some days you’ve been to hell and back, but you will have better days again. You will.
We cannot be silent about it any longer. There is no need for us to feel shame or guilt, and we can’t keep lying to ourselves that we have to hold it all together, when deep down, we know better. We can and will get through it. I’ll be here to celebrate with you when you do.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.
Be blessed, friend. You are not alone.