Recovering from Postpartum Depression/Anxiety and the Light at the End of the Tunnel
Meet Gary (She’s one of my closest friends and this is her nickname)….
July 12, 2018 Journal Entry:
“Every night I pray for strength. I ask God and anyone listening to please continue helping me in my journey to full recovery. I write this now with some apprehension. Part of me does not wish to revisit this most painful time in my life, but the other part of me feels I should document this to remind myself of my strength. My refusal to give up. My refusal to give in to this monster that has its hands wrapped tightly around my neck- taking my breath, taking my mind- all without my permission- all when I woke up on Day 2 of my son’s birth. My beautiful first baby boy….All love and innocence…my creation…all my love in one little boy. I just wish I could feel it the same way as everyone else.”
Today is August 10, 2018. 57 days after my son’s birth. 55 days after waking up with a mental illness. 53 days after seeking treatment and being diagnosed with Postpartum Depression & Anxiety. 52 days after receiving medication management intervention.
Before discussing this further, you must first understand me “before.” People who know me would describe me as “always smiling.” I would describe myself similarly. I won the “Most Cheerful” superlative in high school. I was on the “Sunshine Committee” in my college sorority. I am naturally energetic and I love to wake up every morning and look forward to the day ahead. Friends and family have described me as quite funny. I have many friends and family whom I love and with whom I spend a great deal of my time. I have a loving husband and wonderful marriage. I would describe myself as passionate about life.
I loved being pregnant and had a very easy and enjoyable pregnancy. I’ve wanted to become a mother all of my life. I was living my dream. When my husband and I found out we were pregnant with a baby boy, we were ecstatic. Our due date was June 7, 2018. 41 weeks of pregnancy came and went. It was June 13th and our baby boy had not yet made an appearance. On the evening of June 13th, I noticed the baby was not as active as usual. I remained calm as I felt some movement through the night. When I woke up on June 14th, I was still feeling a decreased movement from him. I became very concerned and asked my husband to take me to the hospital which he did.
The nurses and doctor hooked me up to machines to monitor my heart rate, his heart rate, and his fetal movement. After about 2 hours, they were confident he was okay, so they agreed to induce me that day. After about 10 minutes of inducing at the smallest dosage, my son’s heart rate was dropping to a concerning point. They stopped right away. The nurses and doctor continued to monitor the heart rates and movement before telling us I’d need a C-Section pretty immediately due to his drop in heart rate and prediction of “not being able to handle the stress of labor.” The C-Section was unexpected, but I made peace with the possibility well before that day just telling myself that all I wanted was safety for my baby and for me. The C-Section process was scary, but I remained as calm as possible.
Then, in what seemed like no time at all, our beautiful baby boy was born at 3:46 PM on June 14, 2018. 7.3 oz and 19.5” long. He came into the world with a presence- loudly and arms and legs sprawled outward. All I could do was cry, smile, and say how cute he was. Life stopped for that moment, and I couldn’t believe our son was here. I was so happy. What I didn’t know right then was how quickly that happiness would be stolen from me—like a thief in the night—and how 2 days later I’d wonder if I’d ever feel happiness again.
On June 16, 2018, 2 days after my son’s birth, I woke up with a mental illness.
I have always struggled with panic attacks all of my life, but they were manageable. I’d learned to cope on my own without seeking treatment. They were not all the time, and when they happened, I knew what to do to help myself. I’d later learn in therapy and through my own research that women with anxiety disorders are more prone to have Postpartum Depression/Anxiety (PPD/A).
On June 16, it was our 3rd day in the hospital and we’d be going home the next day, Sunday, June 17th, Father’s Day. How perfect, right? For me, it was anything but perfect. It was a nightmare. It was sheer terror. It was paralysis.
When I first felt the sadness and anxiety, I recognized it and attributed it to lack of sleep, the C-Section trauma that my body had just endured, a baby who happened to cry a lot and did not sleep easily, and the general “baby blues” that I expected. I’d read about that and also came across articles on PPD/A, but I never thought it would happen to me. Me? The happiest gal I knew? Me? Yeah. Me.
By that night, I could not stop crying and did not really know why. Every time I looked at my baby, I became crippled by panic attacks. All I could do was stand there, cry, full body shake, and I was unable to speak. I stared at him in complete terror. I’d recognized these as panic attacks immediately since I’ve been coping with them my whole life. But these were different. These were paralyzing. I felt like I was going to die. They were so bad that sometimes I wish I would just die because it would be better than living like this forever. Then there was the sadness. But it was more than sadness. It was a state of nothing-ness. It was like a dark room. I couldn’t see my way out. There was no light switch to be found. I felt like I was searching the darkness for some light, but all the windows had been boarded and light switches removed. It was all darkness. I hid the panic attacks and sadness from my husband that day because I thought it would go away. It didn’t. It only got worse from here.
Early morning on the 17th, the morning we were to go home, I cried to my husband and told him I can’t do this and that I think I had Postpartum Depression. He was very concerned but expressed that he knows once we got home, ate, and got some sleep, I’d probably feel better. I hoped so, too. The whole ride home I had panic attacks and could not even look at my sleeping baby because he’d continue to trigger them more. When we got home, my husband unpacked the car and I was left alone in the house with my sleeping newborn baby in his car seat sitting in the kitchen. I stared at him in terror from across the room. I said to myself, “Why don’t you want to go to him? Why don’t you want to pick him up out of the car seat? Why don’t you want to hold him?” I forced myself to go to him and take a photo because I knew I’d want it later. I waited for my husband to take him out of the car seat.
The days to follow involved me crying for hours on end a day, telling my husband I thought I needed to go away…that I didn’t want to ruin our marriage and I was sorry, but I knew he’d take good care of the baby. I am not ashamed to tell the truth of the “scary thoughts” this illness provokes — I never thought about hurting my baby. I did, however, look at him sleeping and think if something were to happen to him in his sleep, I would feel relief. In my warped mind, I was fine before him. I was happy. I was myself…not this person I didn’t even recognize anymore. He did this. If he would just go away, maybe THIS would go away. I didn’t know who I was anymore. I couldn’t stop crying, I couldn’t get out of bed, I wanted to leave my family, I confided in my husband that I didn’t think I wanted my baby. I didn’t think I loved him. I said over and over that he doesn’t feel like he’s mine. I didn’t feel love. I felt numb. I felt nothing. My anxiety took on a whole new level, too. I developed an agoraphobia where I was terrified to leave my house. I could not even turn on the TV or hear loud noises as all of these things triggered those crippling panic attacks. I couldn’t eat or sleep. I wound up basically having my mother in law and mother live with us until I could better take care of myself and, in turn, take care of my son. All I basically did the first 2 weeks of his life was breast feed him. Many people said that this was causing too much stress and I should consider formula. What I explained was that breast feeding was the only thing forcing me to hold and interact with my son. I needed that time. I prayed for bonding between my son and me. ‘Til this day, I felt it really helped me progress in this journey.
On the 5th day of his birth, I was in therapy. By the 6th, I was taking an antidepressant- Zoloft- a low dosage. I was in a place of desperation. I was conflicted with taking medication and breastfeeding, but I was reassured by the Doctor and my own research that Zoloft is extensively studied and considered safe to take while breastfeeding. I cried uncontrollably as my husband sat with me and I took my first pill. Looking back, that was the first step in my recovery and one of the last times I’d cry like that.
For the next few weeks, I’d begin to have more and more lucid moments where I saw myself peeking through. I finally had the feeling that this could be getting better. The more of myself I felt, the more I forced myself to take on more responsibility for my son. I yearned to be independent…to be able to take care of him a full day and night by myself without my live in help. I no longer wanted to feel like my husband also had to take care of ME. He was so supportive in this journey, and I honestly wouldn’t have been able to progress as fast without him.
As of today, I am still taking the Zoloft and am in therapy for medication management and sessions. I am writing this to not only create awareness and take away some of the stigma associated with honesty about PPD/A, but also to educate anyone reading on symptoms so you can intervene as soon as possible with yourself or someone you know. I also read the book “Postpartum Depression & Anxiety: A self-help guide for mothers” by Pacific Post Partum Support Society over and over again through this journey. With every page I read, I felt less and less alone. I felt less and less “crazy.”
Reflecting on this journey, I see how far I’ve come. I am very proud of my progress. It is important to note that my progress did not happen overnight nor did it happen on its own. I played a very active role in my recovery and took the necessary steps immediately to help myself. I pushed myself every day and engaged in a lot of self talk and reinforcement. I wrote in a journal and put up notes around my house saying positive affirmations such as, “You are braver than you know.” “This is only temporary.” “This isn’t real.” “I WILL BEAT THIS.” I forced myself to go outside of my comfort zones to show myself I can do this. I am now fully able to take care of my son on my own. I feel the love for him I’ve always wanted to feel. I finally feel like “he’s mine,” not some stranger in my house. I not only want to hold him, but I sometimes wake him up just to hold him not even caring if he cries. I feel the love of a mother. I feel my happiness. I found my joy. I found “Me.”
It is important to note that I have background training in the area of Psychology, and I am practicing in the field of Psychology. This means that I was lucky enough to have the knowledge to not only identify the symptoms immediately, but also seek the proper help as soon as possible. Many other new mothers may not know what is happening to them. If it was terrifying to me, I can only imagine how terrifying it might be for someone who does not have the knowledge, resources or support system to obtain the proper help needed to recover from this illness. There are also support groups for PPD/A in all areas. While I did not attend these groups, I would have if I didn’t start feeling better.
If you or someone you know sounds even a little like me in this entry, please urge them to get help. Without proper treatment, as I’ve read in my own research and have also been explained by my therapist and Doctor, depressive symptoms will likely only worsen significantly. Please also know that this illness is fairly common, and you are NOT alone although that is exactly how you may feel. Lastly, please know that this gets better. My therapist who has worked with many women affected by PPD/A reassured me in the first session that there has never been a woman in her history of treatment that DIDN’T get better. That was one of the first glimmers of hope I had, and please let that be your glimmer. With my closing thought— Please know that with identification, treatment, and the correction of your own chemistry in time, the windows in that dark room will shine in the sun, and you’ll be able to turn on all of the lights.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I wish you the best of luck on your own new Mommy or Daddy journeys. It gets easier every day.