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May is Postpartum Awareness Month. I know I'm a little early, but I wanted to kick off PPD Awareness Month by sharing my own story.
So here it is:
depression suffered by a mother following childbirth, typically arising from the combination of hormonal changes, psychological adjustment to motherhood, and fatigue.
NO ONE TALKS ABOUT THIS.
I’d seen celebrities talk about it all the time, but I’d never actually known anyone that had experienced it. I never had anyone tell me what to look out for. I never had anyone tell me how it would feel, or how I would know if I had it or not. There were no right and wrong answers; no 100% black and white symptom checker.
I didn’t realize I had postpartum depression until I was already spiraling out of control.
The first two months after we brought Olivia home were overwhelming but wonderful. Yes, I was stressed; Yes, I was sleep deprived; Yes, I was anxious; but, I internalized. I was fine. I was excellent. I was super Mom. After 10 blissful and baby filled weeks I made my return to work and our “new normal”. That was the point where I started to realize that maybe things weren’t so normal.
While on maternity leave, I would put Olivia to bed, and even if she slept through the night, I would wake up every single hour and have the overwhelming urge to go into the nursery or watch the baby monitor until I was sure she was still breathing. I quickly found that this compulsion did not mesh well with a 40-hour work week. I also had excruciating guilt over leaving Olivia to go to work every day. I was absolutely exhausted and irritable. I’ve always had a hot temper, but the constant, deep, underlying rage and anger I would feel every single day was all consuming. The littlest thing would send me over the edge. I would get angry to the point where I felt like I was having an out of body experience. I could see myself over reacting and completely melting down, and I could recognize that it was an overreaction, but I could not stop myself. I was continuously on high alert. If things did not go exactly the way I felt that they needed to go, I couldn’t handle it. I was obsessive and irrational. I would sit in the Nursery with Olivia in my arms and just cry for no reason. I felt like I could crawl out of my skin at any moment.
After weeks of this, my husband finally said something about it. I didn’t even recognize myself anymore. I felt like I was drowning. Everything was so heavy. I felt this overwhelming weight on top of me every second of every day. I felt like I was just going through the motions; Like I was watching a movie of my life with my new baby, but I was alone in the dark theater watching. I felt like I was a terrible mom, and Olivia was suffering because I was such a bad parent. I thought I was doing everything wrong and that I should let someone else take care of her. Someone better than me.
I knew something was definitely wrong, but I was still terrified to say anything to anyone. I was so embarrassed and ashamed. Was it all in my head? Was I making this all up in my mind? Am I blowing this out of proportion? Will people think I’m faking? If I talk to my doctor, will she think I’m crazy? Do all Moms feel this way; is this normal?
I reluctantly made an appointment with my doctor to discuss what was happening to me. The thought of wanting to cancel and forget everything was in the back of my mind every second of every day. I must have called the doctor’s office half a dozen times with plans to cancel only to hang up once someone answered.
I showed up to the appointment barely holding myself together. I got in the room waiting for my doctor and once I heard the knock on the door as she entered I just crumbled. Tears instantly fell as I tried to explain to her all these torturous thoughts I’d been having. The first thing she said was that I wasn’t alone. What a novel concept. Something so simple that I refused to consider before she said it out loud. I explained the dark thoughts and compulsions. I even told her things I promised myself I’d never tell another soul. Like how I crawled in bed alone one night and stared at the ceiling while I pondered if my husband could take care of things without me. If I could just stop all the thoughts and anxieties.
The diagnosis? Postpartum depression coupled with anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder. The treatment? Antidepressants and an unbiased person to talk to.
It’s been almost a year now, and everything has gotten so much better. Everyday is a new challenge, but every day gets better. I firmly believe that reaching out saved my life. Am I still embarrassed and a little ashamed? Of course, but if writing this and being honest can help someone else who is struggling feel less alone, it’s worth it. If you feel like something is wrong, it probably is. 1 in 7 women will experience some form of postpartum depression, while only 15% of those women actually receive treatment.
Postpartum depression is real. Just remember that it can and does get better.
**If you are looking for more information, or for more stories about Postpartum Depression, here are a few resources that I found really helpful.