As the saying goes my family has a "history of mental illness". Bi-polar, manic-depression, social anxiety, depression, postpartum depression (PPD), general anxiety disorder,etc etc. My family also has a history of not talking about it. Or if it is talked about it's in hushed, whispered tones behind the afflicted person's back. So I had no idea what to do when I first was diagnosed with a mild form of Bi-polar and Situational Depression in 1997-8.
I got treatment, sought therapy, turned to alternative approaches to stress management like yoga and meditation and pretty much got better. As my situations changed my depression would ebb and flow much like a tide. More stress, more emotional bombardment equaled more depression, sadness, and melancholy and vice versa. After meeting my husband, leaving my boyfriend, relocating, and settling down, I had such a change in my environment for the better that I went off medication, stopped therapy (actually I never made the effort to find a new therapist upon arrival in TX), but continued the yoga and meditation. After the birth of my 1st child I went normal hormonally induced "baby blues". I was able to function pretty well, got out of bed, went places etc. etc. just had moments of unexplained sadness and what I liked to call "the downs."
At the time I as pretty involved in API and LLL meetings as well as a women's spirituality group at our local Unitarian Church. I had started to make some pretty cool mama friends, and all of that helped so much when it came to getting out of "the downs." My husband was an incredible hands on papa, who would do just about anything we needed done. He went out and bough us our first sling when little man was diagnosed with reflux after seeing how helpful babywearing could be at one of the parenting meetings he attended with me. He then learned how to use the sling and would wear our son doing all sorts of tasks around the house just so I could take a shower or get a moment alone. Our first son didn't sleep well, so we were both tired, and pretty strung out, but we had a good teamwork ethic and I had a ton of support from my new found friends. The baby blues subsided and I put the thoughts of sadness and melancholy behind me as I delighted in being a mom. No one told me that this history of "baby blues" and my prior history with mental illness put me at risk for PPD.
Fast forward about 19 months....I was pregnant with our 2nd child and our world sort of imploded. My husband was laid off from his job. Because of that I was now on state health care and I had to switch from my midwife and the home birth I so dearly wanted that wasn't covered back to my OB and another hospital birth that terrified me because it was paid for by the state. Also in order to keep ourselves fed I went on WIC. Just being in that office was enough to depress me! About a month before boy number two entered the world, my husband got a new job. Joyous occasion right? Well sort of. It turned out that the headquarters for the job was in Baltimore and his training was schedule for 1 week after my due date. He'd be there for 2 weeks. So the best case scenario was I would deliver early and have some time with daddy home with us before having to parent a newborn and a toddler on my own. Worst case was I'd be late like I was with number 1 and daddy would even be there for the birth. I often wonder if what I went through in the next year didn't start right then and there when my husband lost his job. Can it be postpartum depression if I was depressed before the baby was born??
What did happen was that boy child number 2 arrived a week before his due date. The hospital ended up not being so scary, and I got my intervention free birth I longed for. I had another beautiful baby boy, two weeks to look forward to with my husband home all day and night, and friends who were going to take our oldest for a couple of days so we could settle in. I had loads of women caring for me and my family. They brought food and pampering and gifts for my toddler. They cared for us so well! I was happy!
At 7 days postpartum I developed a sudden high fever, body aches, and nausea. I called my OB's office and although she was on vacation they got me in to one of her partners right away. After examining me the doc was pretty sure I had retained placenta and that I still had a piece of the placenta attachted inside my uterus and it had become infected. I had an ultrasound just to be sure, then she gave me a shot in the ass of Rocephin, called ahead for me to go next door to be checked into the hospital and have an emergency D&C.
It was all too much. I hadn't pumped any milk, I was away from my newborn baby, I had just been celebrating a very non medical birth and now I was off to emergency surgery under general anesthesia!! Everyone did all they could to rally around me. Looking back even now I can't adequately express how blessed I was to have the friends I did, to have my husband so willing and able to take care of a toddler and baby on his own. I was so grateful, and yet I felt soo incredibly sad. It was as if this separation from my baby, this surgery somehow negated how hard I had fought to have a natural birth in that very same hospital.
I healed from surgery, recovered from the infection, and survived the 2 weeks of training my husband had to do on the east coast again with the help friends, family, and much internal will. But after that the reality of what our life was to be like with this new job set in. There was sooo much travel involved. I would be asleep when my husband left in the morning and barely getting the kids to bed before falling in bed myself when he would get home, if he came home that night at all. So many weeks he'd be off to Los Angeles or New Orleans for days at a time. The boys were barely 21 months apart. In so many ways I still had 2 babies to care for. I was tandem nursing, co-sleeping, and tandem babywearing just to keep up with their needs. My friends helped, and I still tried to get to meetings, but getting out of the house with 2 little ones and getting anywhere on time was more and more difficult. The energy it took to go anywhere just wasn't there the longer I was alone with the boys. I spend a lot of time alone at home and became really really depressed. I didn't see it though. And neither did my husband. I would put on a happy face when ever he was home, not wanting him to feel guilty for being way, and not wanting him to worry about me while he was earning the money that kept a roof over our heads. So I kept it to myself.
I would have visions of walking out the front door and not looking back. Just keep walking away from all the crying, stress, poopy diapers, stress, demands on my body, stress.......You get the picture. I would cry at the drop of a hat. I would be instantly angry for the littlest of things. I stopped wanted to be touched by anyone. Even my children. Especially my children. Breastfeeding stopped being a sweet moment between mother and child and started being torture. During this time I also had some severe nipple damage due to a latch issue and contact dermatitis from food left in my toddler's mouth from a meal he had before he nursed down for a nap. So now not only did I not want to be touched or hold my children, nursing them was painful beyond imagination. It took months to finally get our nursing issues fixed, but in my head I still had bad feelings associated with breastfeeding that led to huge amounts of guild and sadness. I hated sharing my bed with little squirmy boys who routinely soaked my bed. Yet I couldn't bear the idea of them sleeping any other place but next to me. There was a constant push pull of emotions. Truly despising my "job" as mom, then absolutely delighting in something one of the boys would do, then the guilt and self loathing that came all to often because of the hate I had felt towards them earlier. And still I told no one. I kept it to myself with the exception of the occasional complaint to my mom or my friends about how tired I was or how much I missed my husband.
Looking back now I really can't say how long I suffered in silence. How long I would despair over my husband's next trip and break down in tears the moment he left the drive. All I know is that it was absolutely the darkest time in my life. Ever. And I was afraid. Afraid I would actually walk out the door and leave it all behind, including my kids. Afraid of what my husband would think, what my family would think or say. Afraid of what my friends (all crunchy natural mamas who didn't so much as take cough meds) would think if I went to a shrink or took meds.
Thankfully my fear was unfounded. Thankfully one of my closest friends and eventually my husband saw what was going on and they convinced me to go into my OB for evaluation. Thankfully my OB was very well aware of what postpartum depression is and how it can affect a mom's life, a child's life, a family's life. Thankfully she was knowledgeable about medications and breastfeeding and she was able to offer me treatment that wouldn't mean I had to wean my baby. Thankfully she told me what I had longed to hear, that it was ok to feel the way I was feeling and that there was help for me. Thankfully I got help.
Sadly though there are many women out there who, like me, don't realize what's going on. So many don't understand why they cry all the time even though their baby is 4 months old because they are told early on, "Oh it's only baby blues! It will pass." I was lucky I had a friend who saw what I didn't see and helped me to get help. Many women out there don't have someone paying that close attention to them and their daily struggles to see when/if it becomes severe enough to need help. Many still struggle with the guilt and stigma associated with mental illness so they remain quite. It is for those women and the people who love them that I boldly tell my story.
If you have any of the symptoms of PPD or if you know someone who does seek help. There are so many mom support groups specifically geared toward PPD, some even online, and so many treatments from natural to pharmaceutical. But most of all know that you are not alone.