postpartum depression - a personal story

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I thought about writing a post on this subject for some time. While I share a lot about myself through stories, thoughts and musings, I try to keep the intimate stuff to myself. But I kept thinking about this topic and wanted to put it out there in hopes of inspiring other women to break the silence.

It was March. I was mindlessly browsing my Instagram when I saw it. I'd been following Chrissy Tiegen for some time. I found her to be entertaining, self deprecating and she unapologietically spoke her mind. So there it was, a photo of her with the caption that she's opened up about her postpartum depression. I feverishly googled her article - an honest story she shared about her experience. Tears streaming down my face I read nodding along and decided that day it was time to say something. I don't particularly rely on celebrities or Glamour magazine for advice but this was a sign. 

Not every woman experiences postpartum depression after giving birth. It's certainly not something that's talked about in the hospital or birthing classes. Pregnant women receive the utmost care during pregnancy. Everything is about the health and wellness of them and the baby, which it should be. However, no one tells you what happens when you abruptly go from having built an identity around being a pregnant woman for 9 months to all of a sudden being a swollen, hormonal mess with a child outside your body who relies on you for its existence. It's heavy shit if you ask me.  

My first delivery was a traumatic one. I will spare you the details but needless to say I was in bad shape for a good while. I went through some baby blues shocked at the new responsibilities I was faced with but over all managed quite well. My attention was fully set on my son. I got out regularly, went for walks, even in the cold, and kept myself in check. 

My second delivery was surprising but enviable in some respects. A sunny June day, a little over an hour of laboring, no time for meds, 2 pushes and there she was. Born 4 weeks early, I held my nearly 8 lb ball of flesh and bone. She was perfect. But I hadn't mentally prepared myself for her arrival. Things were chaotic, emotional and very, very real. 

From the start, thoughts such as: "How will I ever love another human as much as I love my son?" and "How will I nurse around the clock and still be able to be a good mother to him and her?" kept circling through my head. But I did it and I found the strength and the energy to give to the best of my ability, separate but equal love to both of them. I loved them so much it caused me physical pain thinking of life prior to them. 

The months wore on with sleep deprivation mounting. Then November rolled around and things got a little dark. Inexplicable bouts of crying, angry outbursts at my husband, anxiety and a feeling of hopelessness moved in like storm clouds. And they stayed and stayed and pressed on me more and more each day. My body no longer able to tolerate most food I was putting in it was rebelling against me. Everything caused me pain. The only thing that kept me going was my love for my children. 

In extreme moments of sadness it felt as though things would always be that way until that very day when I stumbled on the post. A fortuitous moment, really. 

I decided to say the words. "I have postpartum depression". Saying it out loud was akin to dreams where I stood in a crowd of people naked and exposed. It felt vulnerable but feeling vulnerable far outweighed staying in that place. I needed to do it for my family...for myself. So I did. I researched everything I could about postpartum depression, sought out resources, found a therapist and started taking medication for several months. It changed my life. 

Postpartum depression is heavily stigmatized in this country. When walking into my doctors office, I felt judged and uncomfortable. I immediately announced that I don't hate my children and I most certainly don't want to jump off any bridges. I just want my life back and want the crying and extreme moods swings to stop. 

Now that I got the personal out of the way, I want to focus on the symptoms of postpartum depression and what to pay close attention to. It's often hard to notice the subtle changes because after all you are still you and it seems a little crazy that hormones are making you feel that out of control. But they do. 

While I'm a firm believer that hormones are much to blame for the disruption, I can't help but wonder if our modern day lifestyle doesn't have an effect on postpartum depression. The average woman doesn't live close to her family. There is little help after a baby is born - no guidance or respite from the new demands suddenly placed on her. So with that said, let's look at some of the symptoms of baby blues and postpartum depression.

Typically baby blues occur right after a woman gives birth and last for roughly 2-3 weeks. This is due partly to hormonal changes and also due to sleep deprivation and life with a new baby. The good thing is, hormones tend to balance themselves out after that period of time.  

Symptoms of baby blues

  • anxiety
  • crying spells
  • irritability
  • mood swings
  • sleep disturbance
  • appetite changes
  • overwhelm
  • sadness

Some women will find that these symptoms don't go away and they seem to morph into something bigger. Weeks and months go by, expecting a return to some sort of normalcy that never arrives. 

Symptoms of postpartum depression

  • irritability
  • mood swings
  • anger
  • insomnia
  • loss of appetite
  • anxiety 
  • guilt
  • feelings of hopelessness
  • fear 
  • overwhelm
  • intrusive thoughts
  • crying 
  • restlessness
  • loss of interest in activities
  • thoughts of harming oneself or the baby

These are just some of the symptoms that can be experienced and most of the time they occur in the first year after birth. 

I used to think that postpartum depression was something I could overcome, something I could just handle like I did everything else but it wasn't. I needed professional help. 

Treatments for postpartum depression

  1. Support groups - whether these are online or in person, support groups are invaluable. Finding someone who's struggling just as much as you are can make all the difference in the world. When I heard the first "me too" it was as if I could breathe again. 
  2. Talk therapy - Going to see a therapist was scary for me. "What would she think?, Will I really be able to open up?" But it ended up being one of the best decisions I made and several sessions with her created a shift in perspective. 
  3.  Medication - Despite hesitation and stigma around anti-anxiety and anti-depression medicine, I decided to go for it. I had reached such a low point that I was willing to try anything to get back to my old self. After several months on medication, I was able to wean off of it and use more natural approaches. Be sure to always wean under the guidance of an experienced practitioner.
  4. Herbal supplements - Research has focused attention on herbal supplementation and found that St. John's wort is often used for natural postpartum depression treatment. Though if breastfeeding, caution should be used. Always do your research. 
  5. Stress management - While this is often coupled with either medication, talk therapy or support groups, doing something stress and anxiety relieving can make a big difference. Meditation, yoga, exercise or any other stress management technique will be helpful.
  6. Community - Don't underestimate the power of having support around. Let family and friends pitch in and help you in every way possible. You can't do it all. 

My hope for those who struggle, is the ability to realize that there is a better way and you don't have to silently suffer hoping it the situation will rectify itself. It's something so prevalent and yet remains undiscovered and untreated in many women. If you feel something that isn't right, get the help you need. It will change your life.