My Experience with Postpartum Depression

I had my second daughter, Jasmine, on December 10th, 2010 at 1:47 am. She was my VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean) that I had fought tooth and nail for. She was to be my redemption at breastfeeding as well. And while she was both of those things, she also ended up ushering in the darkest point of my life and being its savior. I knew having another child would forever change my life; I never thought that it would have been changed in such dramatic fashion though. This is my story of Postpartum Depression.

After the elation of giving birth to my gorgeous girl, I was on cloud 9. I was happy, validated, and excited. I had proved all my skeptics wrong about my abilities to birth a child vaginally and now I was setting out to prove to myself that I could breastfeed successfully.

When I had my first child Mae, two and half years before Jasmine was born, I had tried and “failed” at breastfeeding. I hate that term- “I failed”. I didn’t fail. The system failed Mae and me. The doctors, nurses and lactation consultants all failed us. They failed to provide a support system, an education system and a knowledgeable staff for us. This time I took matters into my own hands and was prepared to fight for this breastfeeding relationship as hard I fought for my VBAC. That night, while riding a wave of adrenaline and joy, I didn’t sleep a wink. I stayed awake throughout that night nursing and cuddling my new daughter and steeling my resolve to make breastfeeding work.

By the time the sun started coming up I was exhausted and the elation was waning. I was in pain and hungry and missing my oldest, Mae.

It was at this time that I also started to notice an odd feeling. I still can’t describe it very well, but I felt “off”. Mae came and visited, so did some friends and the day turned to night. At around 3 am, after being woken by yet another laboratory tech, I started sobbing. Jasmine wouldn’t sleep, I couldn’t sleep because of the constant interruptions, I was missing my daughter, my breasts were aching, my regions were so painful, and I felt emotionally raw. My husband, Marshall, climbed into my bed to comfort me and tried to calm Jasmine. Unfortunately she wanted nothing to do with him and he handed her back to me. This was the first time I felt it. That sudden surge of resentment and apathy towards her, I didn’t want to hold her again, I wanted to sleep. I was angry that my husband fell asleep barely two minutes after handing her to me and here I was trying to recover from birth and I was EXHAUSTED. I shook off those feelings towards her as misplaced frustration at the situation; expecting to be much happier at home.

In the morning the lactation consultant came in to talk to me. I kid you not, when she spoke, I heard Charlie Brown’s teacher “Blah, blah, wah, wah, blah, blah”. It wasn’t for lack of knowledge, or even her tone of voice, it was just how exhausted I was.

While waiting to get discharged my husband and I were looking at and this is when I pinpoint the full onset of depression. I was looking at the photos and thinking to myself, “This is supposed to be funny. I know I would normally find this funny. LAUGH! You’re supposed to laugh”, and forcing myself to laugh. I should have spoken up then. I should have told the nurse about my reaction to Jasmine in the early am hours of that morning. I should have, but I didn’t. I was embarrassed and in denial.

When we got home I started nursing Jasmine and Marshall was gone filling my prescriptions. He called because the pharmacist couldn’t read my doctors handwriting and needed clarification. I jumped on the computer trying to find him the information he needed, while holding Jasmine (who was screaming) with my boob hanging out, my mother-in-law asking questions, and Mae trying to get my attention.

Overwhelmed does not begin to describe what I felt in that moment. My mother-in-law took Jasmine and Mae into the other room and I was able to get Marshall what he needed. That is the last thing I remember for the next four months.

Don’t get me wrong, I have little snapshots of memories here and there; like five minute clips of memories that will cut in and cut out. For all you True Blood fans, it’s what I imagine being ‘glamoured’ would feel like; your memories just stop and start with no rhythm or reason. When I try to remember those months, my mind still feels heavy; which is the only way I can describe it. I feel foggy and unsure about the memory.

I don’t remember Christmas at all. I have photos of the day, so I can piece it together, but I literally have no recollection of that day whatsoever.

I only remembered what the LC said to me the day of discharge when I was taking a lactation course almost two years later. It was like getting slapped in the face, a rush of memories coming back and describing how I had flat nipples and what to expect as far as pain. She even handed me a card! Previously when I thought back at that memory, again all I heard was that Charlie Brown voice and looking up that ceiling of my hospital room and staring at the lights. However, when it all came flooding back in class, I was able to remember her face and voice and everything she said to me.

Even in writing this article, I have to concentrate very hard in order to recall the events that I do remember.

I remember feeling dread when my husband would bring me Jasmine. My skin would crawl and I wouldn’t want to be near her at all. One night, as I was nursing her, I looked down on her sweet face and tried to feel something-anything-and I didn’t. I thought to myself, “Could I give her up for adoption? Would I be strong enough to do that?…yes. I think it would be rather easy to do.”

The next couple of nights, she refused to sleep at all. I kept a nursing log to monitor feedings, it indicated for a week straight she was awake from midnight to 5 am. At the end of that week, after I had just spent 45 minutes nursing her, I laid her down in her bassinet and she woke up. I was instantly filled with rage and I found myself very angry at her. I walked away and walked down stairs clenching my teeth so tightly that my jaw hurt. That was the first night I wanted to kill myself. The thought of “hurting” myself made me sick; I was in so much pain already-emotionally and physically. I didn’t want any more pain. I idealized the notion of taking all of my sleeping pills, lying down and never waking up. It sounded so peaceful and freeing-restorative, almost.

The following weeks I tried to convey the peril my life was in to my husband. I would routinely tell him, “I just want to go to sleep and never wake up again” but he didn’t understand the depth of what I was telling him. Though I didn’t ever want to hurt my daughter, the fact that I felt any anger towards her made me hate myself even more. It made me feel inferior and like I had already done something wrong. As I began to slip deeper into the depression, I began to supplement with formula because I wanted her away from me. I would take as much time away from her as I could get.

Finally the day came that I found myself sitting in the car with both girls, their bags packed, in front of my husband’s work. I say “found myself” because I do not remember packing the bags, I do not remember getting in the car and I do not remember driving to his work. I remember sitting in front of his work, trying to figure out how to drop off the girls and get back into the Jeep and drive away, and never come back, before anyone could grab me and stop me. It was like I was planning a bank heist. Eventually Jasmine became hungry and refused the bottle, so I drove home to nurse her.

When that situation happened a second time, I felt broken and scared. I needed help. I was scared to ask for it though. I was scared if I was honest with how I felt that I would be taken away from my girls and I was breastfeeding dammit! Even though in the next breath I wanted nothing to do with breastfeeding, it was that dedication to it for myself and Jasmine that kept me at it. Those “hot and cold” ideas flooded me every second of every day. I couldn’t make up my mind one way or the other. I was also petrified that if I were to be honest with how I was feeling, I wouldn’t be taken seriously.

With a trembling voice I told my husband that I think I had postpartum depression and that I thought I needed help… obviously trying to underplay the seriousness. I remember crying softly and keeping my eyes downcast, I couldn’t bear to look at him; I was filled with so much shame. How could I even think the thoughts that I have? Just admitting I had a problem meant I failed in some motherly way.

In an effort to not throw him under the bus, I will just say his response was underwhelming, but it gave me courage to call and make an appointment.

The morning of the appointment things fell apart quickly. I could hardly get out of bed, I didn’t want to nurse Jasmine but she wouldn’t take a bottle, Mae was asking a million questions and I was late for the appointment. I called the office crying, but they were generous and said to come whenever I could make it. I don’t remember much else except crying in the doctor’s office and walking out with a prescription. I started taking the medication, which was safe for nursing moms, right away.

I don’t remember how long it took to take affect but I do remember when the medication started working. One day, early in the morning I sat in my rocker nursing Jasmine. I looked down at her and it was like I saw her for the first time all over again. I felt love, joy, thankfulness and instantly bonded to her. I was overwhelmed with emotions as I watched this beautiful child nursing from me. I became a little confused because the last time I saw her, she was a newborn and here she was, four months later, a larger infant. As I held her close, giving her hugs and inhaling her sweet scent, I whispered into her ear, “I’m so sorry. I love you more than you know. I will forever work to be a better mom to you. You deserve better. I will love you until I die.” That I remember very clearly and vividly.

That is the day I started getting better.

That morning as she napped, I walked into my closet and looked at all her newborn clothes that she had outgrown and I wept. I huddled on the floor, holding those clothes to me and wept. I missed her entire newborn period. I grieved for that loss of time, just as someone would grieve a loved one passing. It’s the only way I can adequately convey my feelings of loss for that period. When my brother passed away, many years before Jasmine was born, I felt the same level of grief. I walked out of that room, picked up my napping child and held her to me as I wept. The full enormity of my situation became suddenly so clear. I made her the promise I had made in the early morning hours while nursing her, all over again. To this day, I still grieve for that period of time lost.

For many years, going on almost four now, I had no idea why I never tried to commit suicide or why I never actually left. I just hadn’t really wanted to think about it in too much depth.

Then it hit me: nursing.

My daughter’s refusal to quit the boob and my dedication to it before I plunged into darkness had imprinted something so deep into my brain that it refused to let me quit. It was too exhausting or troublesome to think about how Jasmine would be fed if I was not around. I felt bad for her and I didn’t want to be defeated in nursing again. Though I didn’t think those specific thoughts at the time; they were vague, like when I drove home to nurse her after I had packed our bags to run away. My life was saved by nursing… nursing literally saved my life.

Going through my own personal hell, only to be saved by something as natural as breastfeeding (and glorious meds), made me so passionate about breastfeeding. My experience with Jasmine is what started my interest in the lactation field and why I became a Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC). And it’s why I’m working to become an IBCLC (International Board of Lactation Consultation Examiner). My life and its direction changed course in those months, I found my purpose and calling.

When I found out I was unexpectedly pregnant again (the pill doesn’t always work), I was beyond scared. I cried in Target for a half hour while talking to my best friend Rachel, on the phone. I didn’t want to go through PPD again and the ravages it took on my soul and marriage. I didn’t tell those whom I hold dear to me that I was pregnant again because I had not come to terms with the fact that I would have to battle PPD again. I didn’t know if I was strong enough. What if I actually went through with suicide or running away this time? I had anxiety about this throughout my pregnancy. It took me almost to the second trimester to tell close family and friends that I was pregnant. The entire pregnancy did not feel real at all, as I was still in a clear case of denial.

But when that little boy was placed on my chest, I knew it was going to be different. Something inside of me was healed; parts of my marriage that had still been broken were mended and restored. A beautiful awakening happened in my soul and I knew this would be different. Instead of weeping out frustration with my son, I wept with love and admiration. I felt a lightness that I hadn’t felt since Jasmine was born- a literal weight came off of my shoulders. I consider him my Rainbow Baby because he came after I lost the infancy period with Jasmine. I did end up feeling the familiar tug of depression about three weeks after he was born and instead of letting it get too far, I recognized the signs and got help right away. My PPD is well under control and our family is finally complete.

My struggle with PPD, and what I later learned was PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) brought on by the PPD, brought to light the stigma our culture places on postpartum mood disorders. Women are bombarded with images of beautiful motherhood: celebrities looking thin and fantastic a month after giving birth, an iconic picture of a mother gently rocking her newborn, dinner done and the kids clean and happy.

None of these pictures tell the truth.

The truth is that motherhood is hard. It’s hard and messy and frustrating. Showering is a luxury, going to the bathroom alone is like a day in the spa, and sleep? Well that’s just as elusive as the unicorn. We idealize this notion of motherhood and when, for some reason, some part of it doesn’t live up to snuff, we immediately feel shame and guilt. Why is that? Would we, as mothers and a culture as a whole, feel the same shame and judgment if we were diagnosed with diabetes? How about cancer? Cancer is an ugly, pervasive disease that can kill. My PPD almost killed me, yet it’s talked about in hushed whispers or with quick reassurance of “I’m totally fine now!” The care of the mother stops at birth, even though these societal and cultural ideals are so high. The care of the mother needs to continue well into the first year of life of the infant. In countries where maternal care does not stop at the birth, their rates of postpartum mood disorders are significantly lower. Untreated postpartum mood disorders not only affect the mother, but it affects the child as well. It has been shown to have negative impacts on cognitive, developmental and growth in the infant. The impacts do not stop in infancy either, those children with mothers who had depression issues are shown to have more behavioral problems and lower vocabulary scores in elementary school. This is why it is vital to make sure that all mothers feel that they are well supported in getting the help that they need.

My struggles have given me a unique opportunity to better understand and sympathize with mental illnesses. We need to break this silence and repressive attitude we have towards them. We have the unique opportunity to make postpartum mood disorders better understood and not a taboo subject for our children’s generation. We can foster an atmosphere of love and community amongst mothers. Motherhood is hard, but it is also so beautiful.

Being a mother is one of the scariest and most rewarding things I have ever done with my life. It’s taught me what it truly means to be brave and what it means to truly love. I’m eternally grateful for those lessons-they (my babies) make me a better person. Jasmine and I, thankfully, did not have any lasting negative effects on our relationship due to my PPD. We are extremely close and share an incredible bond that is so deep and meaningful, it’s unfathomable.

So how can you help the person struggling with a postpartum mood disorder?

Make sure they are getting the medical and therapeutic help they need. Don’t sweep their issues under the rug or tell them to “snap out of it”. Allow them to vent and feel validated and reassured. Don’t say “call me if you need anything”, they might not be able to pick up that phone. Ask them bluntly, “how are you doing today? I’m coming over, so think about the things I can do to help you”. If you are the praying type, ask them if they would like to be prayed for. Don’t tell them “you don’t need medication. Jesus will heal everything” (yes, I’ve been told that in an online support group). This is not helpful-even to the devout. If they are devout, just a simple, “I’m praying for you” will bring loads of comfort.

Do not be scared to ask them how they are doing with their depression, talk about it and get it out in the open! It’s ok, it’s not a big scary monster that will infect you too. It’ll feel awkward at first, but trust me, it’ll be appreciated.

Most of all just be there for the person suffering through a mood disorder. Love them and continually let them know you are there for them.

5 Responses to My Experience with Postpartum Depression

  1. Thank you so much for sharing the rawness of your experience. I’m so proud of you for allowing others to share in this experience with you. I struggled with PPD with all of my pregnancies as well, and understand the things you were feeling. May you be blessed for sharing this experience with moms who have experienced it, moms who will experience it, and those who want to know how to support moms dealing with it. You rock!

  2. Thank you so much for sharing. I have friends and acquaintances around me struggling with the same or similar issues. It’s hard for an outsider to completely understand it, but you described it so well and it’s so powerful.

  3. Your story is so similar to my own. I also failed to breastfeed my first child and also lost my brother. The only difference is I am living it as I type this. I am so scared I’ll never laugh again, but you’re story gives me hope. I just started medication and therapy… I’m hoping they both help soon. Thank you for sharing and giving a little light to guide me.

  4. MrsR,

    I hope that you are starting to feel better as some time has passed. Please let me know how you’re doing or if you’d like to talk. Much love and light <3

  5. This is so beautifully and thoughtfully written. While I’ve read about and know many mamas who’ve suffered from PPD, I’ve never read it described so clearly and so well. Thank you so much for sharing. I expect it will help future mamas who are going through the same thing.

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