My son is 9 months old, and I am still not entirely sure I am ready to talk about my struggle with PPD – although I am healing. However, being that I am expecting number 2 in a few months AND I’ve talked to a few other moms who said they would benefit by a post about it, I am putting it out there. I am going to start with some medical facts and information about PPD and then I’ll talk about my personal experience.
(As a disclaimer, when I get to sharing, I might say things that will offend people who I know. I will undoubtedly have people saying “I didn’t know” or “I’m sorry”. This post is NOT trying to make anyone feel bad, it’s trying to help other moms who are struggling. Please don’t take this personally.)
– Postpartum depression is a serious illness that occurs in women after childbirth – and can occur after a stillbirth or miscarriage as well.
– Postpartum depression IS NOT the “baby blues”. Many women have the “baby blues” – feeling tired, overwhelmed, weepy, moody. Baby blues go away in a couple of weeks. PPD does not.
– Postpartum depression is hormonal. It is not situational. It is not your fault. It is due to a hormonal imbalance.
– You have a greater chance of developing PPD if:
o You’ve had depression or PPD before
o You have poor support from your partner or family
o Marriage or financial problems
o You have a sick or colicky baby
o You have a lot of other stress in your life
o Someone in your family has had PPD or depression or anxiety disorders
– You may have PPD if you feel:
o Very sad, hopeless, angry, empty or anxious
o Lose pleasure in everyday things, have no desire to do things you used to love
o Not feeling hungry, no appetite, losing weight
o Having trouble sleeping
o Like hurting yourself or baby
o Suicidal or harmful thoughts
o No interest in your baby OR a sincere anxiety when your baby is away from you
o Withdrawing from family and friends
o Feeling worthless or guilty
o Crying a lot
o Short temper or inability to control your temper
It’s important to note that these symptoms can happen a couple days after your baby is born or they can happen a couple weeks after. I didn’t start to see my signs until about 6 weeks.
If you think you have PPD, please tell someone you trust. You are not a bad mom for your feelings. You need help.
If you know me in real life, or if you read my blog, you know that I had a lot of extreme circumstances after Matthew was born. My labor and delivery was very tough – and while everyone was safe and healthy, it was emotionally disappointing. Ten days later my Dad passed away unexpectedly and never got to meet my son. When I was 4 weeks postpartum, I had emergency gallbladder surgery and what was supposed to be an outpatient procedure turned into a 3 day hospital stay.
At my 6 week postpartum visit with my midwife, I told her everything was fine. I told her I was dealing with everything fine. But I honestly thought I was. It wasn’t until I started noticing how often I cried, how often the things people did (or didn’t do) angered me, how much I snapped at my husband. My doula kept telling me to get out; she kept pushing lactation groups and going to the park.
I specifically remember the day I knew I needed to get help. Scott was at work and I sat on the couch planning how I was going to leave him. I was a wreck, and he was a saint. He should not have to be married to someone like me, and have to deal with the drama of my family. The only thing that kept me from leaving was I couldn’t decide if I should take the baby (would break his heart) or leave the baby (would be too much for him to handle).
I also had several times of wishing that something would happen so I could go back to the hospital and have pain medication because that was the only way I could stop feeling. I had a bottle of Vicodin on my nightstand calling my name. I wanted to check out.
We had moved to San Diego only months earlier, I had two friends. I couldn’t tell them how I felt. I couldn’t call them and say “Please come over and sit with me, unshowered, in my pajamas, that I’ve been wearing for 3 days, and listen to me cry.” I had a few close friends from our old town that came to visit, but even then, I didn’t know how to tell them what I was thinking and feeling. I was a little bit mad that people didn’t just know.
I was going to a small women’s group at church, and all the ladies promised and promised they’d be here to help me, knowing I didn’t have family around. Two of them brought meals. Once they brought by flowers. And I never heard from them again. Not a call. Not an email. Nothing.
The “Let me know if I can do anything” and “I’m praying for you” promises I got from people began to come back empty and when I needed things the most I didn’t know who was really my friend, and who was just saying it on Facebook because it was the right thing to do.
I finally decided to join a breastfeeding support group because breastfeeding was important to me and I wasn’t going to give that up. I walked into the room and the Lactation Consultant asked “Does anyone have any questions?” She called on me, and I burst into tears. I sat in a room full of strangers and felt more comfortable sharing my heart’s deep pain than I had in months. Going to that group every week was one of the things that kept me going.
Thankfully, once I reached out and decided I needed help, I had wonderful support from my midwife, Matthew’s pediatrician, and our doula. I saw a therapist, and eventually decided I needed to take some medication to get me over the hump. I am still going to counseling, although I have stopped taking medication with the pregnancy. Matthew’s pediatrician encouraged my breastfeeding and helped me find a medication that was safe for breastfeeding (Zoloft – for those of you who might want to know).
The most important factor in my healing is my husband. If he had not been so understanding, so willing to help and so strong I could have never coped. If you think you have PPD, talk to your husband. Please be honest with him. If he doesn’t understand at first, which he likely won’t, have him read some articles or blogs about it.
If you are reading this and relating to any of the things I talked about, number one please do not feel ashamed. You are not a bad mom. You are not a bad wife. The dishes can wait. Ask someone else to pick up milk. It’s okay to let things slip for a few weeks. Your health is more important than perfection. Please find at least one person, other than your husband, who you can talk to honestly about how you feel. Find a support group – there are plenty out there. If you can’t find one, find an online group. Email me. Seriously. Get out of the house. At least once in a while, take a shower (even if it’s 3 minutes long and the baby is in the bouncer outside the shower while you do it). Put on a bra and some mascara. It will help you feel better. Take a walk, go to the park. Find a library story time or a mom café.
Ask your husband to budget some money for you to get your hair done, get a pedicure or buy a new pair of jeans. Feeling ugly does not help! If you don’t want to leave your baby long enough to do those things, get a Moby wrap and sit in the pedi chair with baby strapped to you. If you want to be away from baby for an hour, it’s ok!
If you are reading this and you see signs of PPD in someone you love, please try to understand that YOU cannot fix postpartum depression. And it’s likely that if you say “Um, you’re kind of moody, I think you have PPD” it’s not going to go over well. No one could have convinced me I had depression. Even the psychiatrist. I sat in her office saying “I am not depressed.” She said “Do you feel angry?” Yes. “Do you feel guilty?” Yes. “Okay, those are signs of depression” No, no, I’m not depressed.
Please don’t tell her to “think about all the good things she has going” or “this is normal, all moms feel overwhelmed” or “just relax”. Those things sound really nice in your head, I know, but telling them to a hormonally imbalanced mama… not a good idea.
Try these: “What specifically are you overwhelmed about?” “Can you find a group of other new moms to hang out with?” “Here is a few links I found about being a new mom – maybe they will help.” “Can I bring you dinner/help with the baby/run an errand for you/meet you for coffee?” (I know it’s tempting to say “If you need anything let me know” but I heard that so many times I didn’t even know how to respond any more. I preferred when people gave me examples of what they could do for me, because I really didn’t know if they were offering to do my chores or “pray for me”… big difference).
If you live too far away from someone to help them – send a card (like a real one with a stamp, not a Facebook message), send a Starbucks card or dinner certificate or set up a pizza delivery and let her know it’s coming, call, send flowers, send an old photo (“Hey, came across this! Remember these days! Love you lots”). These things mean “I am thinking of you enough to not just click on your Facebook page.”
I want to add quickly that I did have a few good friends who cleaned my house, folded my laundry, treated us to dinner and helped with the baby. There were those who stayed with me in the hospital, sat with my son while my pain meds made me dysfunctional, let me cry on their shoulder and prayed with me when I openly admitted I wasn’t talking to God. There were those who came by with a coffee or a Coke, who took walks with me, or just let me yell at them because I was angry in general and never took it personally. I wasn’t as alone as I felt, and I appreciate those people and know them by name. There were those who disappointed me for sure, and it’s much easier to gripe than be grateful, but please know that I appreciate you.
To close, yes, those who have had PPD once before are more likely to have it again. But this time, I have a plan. I will not let it creep on me. I will conquer PPD and I will be a happy mommy!