NB: This is a post about my experience with postpartum depression and may be triggering for some. In my standing tradition of possibly-unpleasant posts, please enjoy this picture of my cat:
I am, by many measures, a fortunate person. I have a wonderful, supportive partner, a strong family and friend network, and a relatively easy baby. Despite the fact that I had what some might consider a difficult birth, I felt empowered, supported, and at peace with it. I have a wonderful, supportive husband who happily took on all the work of caring for all three of us (apart from breastfeeding) while I was recovering.
So why was I sitting in my bed in the middle of the night, cradling my sleeping child, wracked with sobs?
I felt weak. All I wanted to do was take care of my baby and give my husband the full night’s sleep he deserved after the nights he endlessly rocked the baby in the hospital while I slept. I had to be awake to feed him anyway, so why did we both have to be sleep-deprived, right? I’ve pulled all-nighters before. It’s not going to be forever. I’ll miss this when my baby grows up and doesn’t need me. I should be able to do this now.
What was wrong with me?
I felt like I was failing as a parent. Elliot deserved a better parent than I could be and Dan deserved a better spouse. Maybe I should just leave, so they can find someone better.
And then, while I was sitting there sobbing, Dan woke up and told me something was wrong, but it wasn’t something wrong with me.
I was dealing with postpartum depression.
* * *
May is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month, so I thought it would be a good time to write a little bit about my experiences with postpartum mental illness. I’ve dealt with anxiety and OCD throughout my life, so I knew I was likely to have some difficulty postpartum, but I felt like I was ready. I still was not.
Depression isn’t about what is or isn’t good or bad in your life. It’s about your brain and how it’s working. I knew this going into pregnancy and postpartum recovery. But I still find myself thinking that I’m so lucky, that I shouldn’t be depressed. And while I believe in talking about depression as a way to destigmatize it, I still feel odd whenever I talk about my depression, because I don’t have a reason to be depressed. As I tell people who say that same thing to me, “That’s not how depression works.”
Another reason I’m fortunate is because both my obstetrician and Elliot’s pediatrician are diligent about giving me regular assessments for postpartum depression. Apparently, the pediatrician keeps giving them for up to a year postpartum. And I’ve tried to be honest, even asking Dan to help me answer the questions, in case he’s noticing something I’m missing. So when I got a call from the pediatrician at home the day after an appointment, I had an inkling what it might be about. I was still surprised that they followed up so quickly and thoroughly. I talked with the nurse, got some resources, and then set about getting help. I set up an appointment with a local therapist, and made a note to ask my OB about medication at our next appointment. A couple weeks later, I was on Zoloft and doing well in therapy.
Happy ending, right? Not exactly.
You see, depression and anxiety also aren’t static, especially with the hormonal shifts postpartum, and “getting help” isn’t a single event. I continue to have good days and bad days. I have days where I realize the Zoloft helps a great deal, days where I feel like I could go off it with no effect, and days where it feels like it isn’t helping at all. I can be having a great week and then just suddenly melt down.
The important thing that I realized is that this doesn’t mean I’m failing as a parent or spouse. This doesn’t mean I’m weak. I’m not “resorting to meds” by taking Zoloft — I’m getting the medical help I need for a medical condition.
And, the big one: You can have postpartum depression (and anxiety) even if you have a strong support network. Yes, PPD is more of a risk for women with less support, but support doesn’t mean that you don’t have to worry about it. It’s important that your network knows about the possibility for PPD because they can help you recognize it. As one of my favorite bloggers likes to say, depression lies to you, and when you’re in the thick of it, it’s really easy to believe the lies. Having an outside observer say “hey, that’s depression lying to you” is invaluable.
So if you don’t have someone else to say this to you: You are not the problem. You are not failing as a parent.
You’re a member of a really big club and we’re here for you.