“I figured this was just how things were supposed to be.” {A Story Of Postpartum Depression}

by Birth Without Fear on April 20, 2013

I know that postpartum depression isn’t something that people LOVE to talk about. It’s uncomfortable for so many reasons. Some people like to carry on as if it doesn’t exist and harass and insult women struggling with it. For some reason, there is an extra stigma attached to it. Having depression is ‘acceptable’ but having postpartum depression isn’t, apparently. People dismiss the concerns of new mothers, and miss all of the warning signs. Sometimes, new mothers that are in over their heads are unable to ask for help. This is where husbands, friends and family have GOT to step up to the plate and get a mother suffering from PPD the help she so badly needs! I went through this twice…

In April of 2003, I was 22, marginally employed, uneducated, and my husband and I were forced to move in with my parents. Not what you would call the most ideal of circumstances. So, of course, I fell pregnant straight away. I had no clue about pregnancy, childbirth or parenting, so I called up a local ob-gyn recommended by several older women I knew, who all thought he was fab because he did such a great job on their hysterectomies. I never felt comfortable, but, since I was convinced that I didn’t know anything and he WAS a doctor after all, then I should just go with the flow. My pregnancy progressed normally. I was relatively healthy, and the baby was doing well. I had no friends with babies. I had no family members who had given birth vaginally. That’s right… NONE! I was born via c-section and so, the only advice I got was to schedule an elective c-section, do what the doctor says and that I probably wouldn’t be able to breastfeed. On December 8, 2003, I had my last doctor appointment of the pregnancy. With the holidays approaching, my doctor informed me that he was inducing ALL patients 37 weeks and over. I had no idea just what that entailed and figured that, since he was the doctor, it was for the best. After all, I WAS one whole centimenter dilated (now that I know just what that means, I’m beyond insulted and disgusted)! After a NIGHTMARISH induction that I barely survived, I was just relieved to have my beautiful, healthy baby girl.

hospital birth

However, soon, the bottom fell out. Just existing knocked the wind out of me. Due to postpartum hemorrhage, booby traps galore, horrid small town hospital lactation consultants and severe pain (which I would find out 9 years later, was caused by a lip and tongue tie), I was unable to nurse my beautiful little girl. To this day, I’m convinced that for the first 6 months of her life, there were more tears than formula in her bottles – I was that distraught over it. I went back to work when she was 5 weeks old. I got formula from WIC. That should be the end of the story. It’s not.

I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I tried to get help for my little girl because she was miserable. Everyone just told me that she was a colicky baby and it would get better. It didn’t. It wasn’t colic. She had severe reflux. That, combined with the lip tie, meant that she was quite an unhappy baby. This was made worse by being surrounded with people who ‘did x, y, and, z and turned out just fine’ so encouraged me to give her rice in her bottle, and leave her to cry it out so she would learn who was in charge. I doubted myself and I couldn’t bond with my baby. Life was one constant panic attack after another. I was completely miserable. I honestly wanted to throw my baby out of the window. I wanted to pack all of her things, put them in the bottom of the stroller, and give her to the first nice looking mom that came along, and just jump off a bridge. It’s not that I was suicidal. I didn’t want to die, but I knew that I couldn’t keep going as I was. I decided to reach out for help.

I called my ob and explained what I was going through. He asked me what I expected. He told me that I was a first time mom, and I just needed to rest, get some help, and deal with the fact that things weren’t all about me anymore… basically, I was bratty and having a hard time adjusting to ‘adult’ life. He offered some antidepressants, but those only made me MORE anxious. I went on like this until my daughter was around 18 months old… merely surviving, coping and clawing my way through the days. Every day was a fight. I was literally fighting for my life. My (then) family physician thought I needed to try anti-anxiety meds. I said ok. They didn’t work… they made me feel MORE anxious. She doubled the dose. Things got worse. She referred me to a psychiatrist. He added an antidepressant on top of the anti-anxiety meds. That night I was curled up in the corner, in a townhouse, alone, with my 18 month old daughter, trying to cope with the voices I was hearing. I stayed awake for 4 days straight, chain smoking and convincing myself that, even thought I might be crazy, the voices weren’t ‘real’ and weren’t going to hurt me. I called my husband offshore and told him what had happened.

He was home two days later and I was sitting in a GOOD doctors office. I didn’t want to go. I figured this was just how things were supposed to be. I’d been through the ringer and was done. My husband made me go. Made me get up, get dressed, and go out into the world, where I learned just exactly how screwed up the past 2 or so years of my life had been. I had to process through an unplanned pregnancy, a horrible and devastating birth experience, the hurt of not being able to breastfeed, and the horrible depression I was living with. That I could love my baby and yet not be able to bond because of her association to all of these things. That I wasn’t a bad mother because I wanted to lay down and wish it all away… because I deserved better than what I got. Because ALL moms deserve better! With LOTS of therapy and lots of hard work, I finally DID start to get better. It was a lot of work. It was hard to get through all the birth trauma and the feelings of violation and loss, but I did it. I started to feel again, which was incredible. However, I was resolute in the fact that I didn’t want to have any more children. I was not willing to suffer again and to have a child old enough to actually ‘get’ how screwed up her mom was. I wasn’t careful enough.

In March 2008, I was 27 and, once again, dealing with an unplanned pregnancy. I decided this time would be different. Boy, oh boy, did I have NO idea just how different it would be. I tried to see a midwife… but she turned out to be horrible. She knew the doctor that delivered my first and defended his actions by saying ‘well, he’s old, what do you expect’. Um, I expect GOOD care and a compassionate bedside manner! I got my records and left. I found an ob-gyn through co-workers and was pleased with her and her practice. However, it was a very difficult pregnancy. I had my first bout of bedrest at 8 weeks. This continued off and on until I was put on modified bedrest at 6 months. I had horrible anxiety throughout the pregnancy but couldn’t sort out why. Until the day I took my daughter on the hospital tour. I lost it! I realized that, at some point very soon, I would have to deliver this baby and I was terrified. What if it was another torturous experience? What if he had reflux? What if? I couldn’t cope and I excused myself until they got to the cutesy part of the tour where they showed all the little kids how to put diapers on dolls and reminded them to clear up their legos.

On October 27, 2008, I went to my last doctor’s appointment of the pregnancy. I was just at 37 weeks (I found out later by looking at the charts and ultrasounds, that it was actually 35 weeks, which explains the health problems my son had immediately following birth). I was 6 centimeters dilated and strep positive. I was told to go straight to the hospital and would be induced in the morning. I was terrified of induction… I wanted to do this on my own terms. Thankfully, I went into labor on my own that afternoon. The birth experience was much better the second time.

hospital birth postpartum depression

However, within days of being home, I started to feel scared and on edge. I was terrified and called my ob. I needed to sort this out, NOW. Something was wrong, and my baby wouldn’t nurse. I had problems nursing him in the hospital, but everyone said it was fine… his latch was ‘great’ and so I just needed to toughen up. When he was 3 1/2, I found out that he had a lip tie and a posterior tongue tie. I was struggling with pain and my supply and wasn’t sleeping because he was having such a rough go. I was pumping and eventually stopped getting any milk at all. When I managed to pump anything out, it was blood. The nurse called me… the doctor was prescribing meds, but I would have to stop nursing. I took the meds for two days. I changed my mind. I was GOING to nurse this baby. However, it was too late. I later figured out why – I had PCOS and autoimmune thyroid disease, both untreated so had completely devastated my milk supply. Then things got ugly.

My son was admitted to the hospital at 6 weeks with a UTI. Watching him go through a battery of tests, all while coping with my feelings of fear and inadequacy was brutal. This time, the postpartum depression took a VERY ugly turn. This time it brought along a friend, in the form of OCD. It got to the point where I couldn’t prepare bottles for my son, because, due to my overly aggressive and obsessive handwashing, my hands were always bleeding. I scrubbed the master bedroom from top to bottom and locked my son and I inside. It was the only room that was ‘uncontaminated’. The only ‘safe’ space. I didn’t take him out of the room, and no one else was allowed in. I was angry and devastated and scared. I also found out after the fact, that it was noted on my chart to KEEP breastfeeding… that the meds my doctor prescribed for me were, in fact, compatible with nursing. I stopped sleeping, I stopped eating and I didn’t want anyone or anything around me. Everyone told me to suck it up. I was ok, the kids were ok. I just needed to pull myself up by the bootstraps and get on with life. That I was just ungrateful and needed to learn to deal with having two children. If only it were that easy. I was terrified of everything. I COULDN’T leave my house… I could barely leave my room. I arranged to have someone take my daughter to school in the mornings and pick her up in the afternoons.

Again, I called my husband and, again, found myself sitting in a doctor’s office. This had to stop. And, with a LOT more therapy and MORE hard work, the fog started to lift. I started to actually feel like myself and come into my own. I could finally enjoy my children, and get on with my life. It was hard though… people SAW what was going on and dismissed it, ignored it, or outright questioned my ability to be a good mother. People who, after the fact, would come up to me and comment that they were so glad that I got help because I had obviously been in a very bad place.

Why did these people never mention that or never ONCE offer to come help or check on me?! Because of the stigma attached. They feel like if they help, then they are ‘enabling’ the behavior. A mother with PPD is NOT a brat with a problem that can be enabled. She is suffering and she needs HELP. Compassion. A hot meal. You shouldn’t withhold those things because you’re worried that it will prevent her from seeking help! Go over there every day! Check on her, as often as possible! It’s devastating to go through postpartum depression and to stumble about through the misery, all while feeling like a crap mother because you have no bond with your baby. Then to find out that people SAW you suffering and chose not to help is even worse. This isn’t something that ANY mother should have to cope with.

It’s important for a mother to be prepared, but PPD feels like the ultimate curve ball. So, it really is up to friends and family to take notice and find help. Call a doula. Call the mothers midwife or ob. Call local lactation consultants to see if there is a new mom support group AND a postpartum depression support group. Drive her to it. Go to her house, put on the coffee, take her a hot meal, and tell her it will get better. Because, it will get better. It does get better. There is light at the end of the tunnel and you don’t always have to feel this way. And to all the women who feel ashamed and unwilling to take medication for it. DON’T BE. IT’S OK! If medication works for you and helps you, then TAKE IT!! I wish I hadn’t been so stubborn about taking medication. It’s not the end of the world to take a medication if it can help to give you your life back. You wouldn’t think twice about taking insulin if you were diabetic, would you?! If anti-depressants, anti-anxiety or mood stabilizers are NEEDED, then please, take them.

I should note, that the story ultimately served a wonderful purpose. I educated myself. I learned a LOT about pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. In July 2011, I found myself pregnant again. I refused to settle on ANYTHING this time. I finally found a wonderful midwife at around 20 weeks and had a beautiful, healing, empowering unmedicated hospital waterbirth at 40 weeks and 5 days. I had done the ‘impossible’. I was told I would never carry a baby to term and that I couldn’t have a baby with no drugs. I let my beautiful little girl pick her birthday and, on April 4, 2012 was able to accept and heal from all of the other birth experiences, because she had redeemed them and proven that I was capable… of anything! I came home, worried because breastfeeding was, again, not working out. This time, though, I refused to stop searching for an answer. I found a GOOD lactation counsellor and found out that she had a lip tie and posterior tongue tie. I pumped and worked with her until, at 3 months of age, we ditched the bottles and the supplements and she was exclusively breast fed! Today, she is a happy, healthy, breastfed 11 month old. I had no PPD after her. Only a bit of pulling my hair out while coping with going from 2 children to 3! :) Education and preparation can go a LONG way. So, please mamas, get educated, get prepared and, above all, give yourself a break!

{Thank you Jaime for sharing your story of Post-partum Depression and Anxiety}

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