Tuesday, July 29, 2008

It's More than Just the Baby Blues

  • I have postpartum depression. There. I said it. I initially tried to hide the fact from everyone around me (except my husband) but it’s too exhausting, not to mention counter-productive, to keep doing so. After all, isn’t the first step to recovering from anything admitting its existence? I’m sorry if this makes you feel awkward. It makes me feel awkward, too. Yet I’ve come to realize that every time I tell someone about my PPD, I feel just the slightest bit better. (And here’s a little tip for you: you don’t have to know what to say or how to respond. Usually I’ll speed right along into another topic. I’m not asking you to fix things; I’m just giving you an honest update on how I’m (we’re) really doing.) You know what the most difficult question is? It’s the “are you just loving motherhood” question. No, I’m not. But that’s ok because it doesn’t mean I don’t love my son; I love him immensely. Don’t feel guilty for asking. After all, society has trained us to do so. I’m sure I’ve asked the same question tens of times before.

    My depression is mild compared to some and I have to be thankful, not only for that, but for the fact that I allowed myself to recognize I was suffering, and for a very supportive and encouraging husband and doctor. My symptoms actually started about two months before the birth of my son. In my gut, I knew what it was but tried to brush it off as normal anxiety about becoming a new mother. During this time I’d get what I could only describe as a “twinge of sadness” most every time I felt the baby move (essentially any time I had a physical reminder that I was pregnant).

    My son’s delivery was difficult. There was meconium present when my water broke so we knew that this technically classified us as a high risk delivery. Four and a half hours of pushing later (I’ll skip the other details), my baby was whisked away to be suctioned so that none of the meconium could make it into his lungs. My husband didn’t get to cut the cord and I didn’t get to hold my baby, or even really see my baby for probably twenty minutes. Yes, I know, that’s not an eternity but it affected me, immensely, and only contributed to my feelings of sadness. Something just didn’t feel right.

    We brought baby home and, as in the hospital, nursing was difficult. He was tongue tied and more interested in sleeping or screaming than latching on. I cried every night. No, make that sobbed every night, for weeks. We had his tongue fixed and he eventually picked up the nursing thing but I kept crying. The lack of sleep was literally painful and exhausting yet I often had trouble falling asleep when baby would sleep and would frequently only begin to finally drift off just as he would awaken.

    I went to my six week postpartum appointment and told my doctor that I had been having a difficult time but, at this point in time, really felt that I was better and that I just had a really bad case of the baby blues. Johnathan was nursing great and I was learning to get through the day even though he was immensely fussy (we’d recently found out he had reflux and would later find out he fits the definition of a “high needs” baby). I know she was skeptical but she didn’t push me to admit I had anything more. She just gave me some good advice, not only as a doctor but as a mother of three, and a reminder to call her anytime I felt I might be sliding backwards emotionally. Later this week, my son would decide, literally overnight, that he didn’t want to nurse anymore and would scream every time we tried. By the time he was about two months old I was back at my doctor’s getting a prescription for anti-depressants.

    I spent about four months on the medication before I felt well enough to wean off of them. I don’t like taking any medication unless I absolutely have to so I was anxious to come off the meds. It has been about a month since I took my last pill. Am I well? No. Am I better than I was? Yes. Sure, I wanted to believe that as soon as I was done with the pills I’d be normal again; that I’d instantly enjoy motherhood and be this happy, well-adjusted stay-at-home-mom. I’m not there yet. The key word here is yet. I’m learning that recovering from PPD is a process. It’s a process I’m learning more about every day. I’m educating myself, talking about it, and (as of this moment) writing about it. I’m confident I will recover. I don’t think I need to go back on the medication but I do know that every day is still a challenge. Some days are good; some days are horrible; others are just in-between. Perhaps the strangest thing is that while having PPD probably means I could use a little extra help around the house or with baby or that I should be leaning on friends and family more, it also makes it more difficult to ask for help or to reach out. I think about my friends and family every day. Sometimes I pick up the phone but can’t dial. I hope they have the patience to accept that reaching out, and re-connecting, is difficult for me even though they don’t understand why. Of course, I don’t really understand why either; perhaps it’s too much of a reminder of how I used to be.

    I’m learning to remind myself every day that having PPD does not make me a bad mother or a bad wife. It may make mothering more difficult but, who knows, maybe in the long run I’ll be stronger for it. This isn’t easy on my husband either but he’s doing the best he can to understand and support me. (Even when he’s out of white socks because I haven’t figured out how to fit laundry into my day for a week and a half.) I’m continuing on the road to recovery and I know I’ll get there. I don’t know yet what tools I’ll need as I go through this process but I’ll figure it out along the way.

    PPD Quick Facts (some snippets of info I've read along the way)
  • PPD affects 30% of mothers (probably more since many go undiagnosed) and can even affect fathers and/or adoptive parents
  • PPD is really an extremely generalized term encompassing many different mood disorders - most of what you see on the news is extreme, known as post partum psychosis (e.g. the mother who drove her car into the lake). Just because someone has PPD doesn't mean they want to do harm to themselves or their baby (in case you're wondering, NO, I never felt the need/desire for either; thank God) and even for those that think it, most wouldn't act on it.
  • PPD depression doesn't occur because of something the person does or did. It's likely hormonal and there is often depression in the person's family somewhere.
    It's curable when acknowledged and treated (treatment options will depend on the person)

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