The following post was written quite a while ago. 86 days ago to be exact. It will be the first of a series of posts that I will be sharing about my own journey through Postpartum Depression. PPD is real and can be difficult to recognize in yourself. The past few months have been a difficult, emotional journey but I believe that in life, we are only given what we are strong enough to handle, and that there is always something positive to derive from every experience. My hope is that by sharing my own story, I can help others recognize the signs of PPD in themselves, in their partners, their sisters and their friends. Approximately 10% of mothers experience some form of Postpartum Depression but it is suspected that this number could be closer to 25% since so many cases go untreated and undiagnosed. Please read. Please share. Let’s break the stigma together. Xo
Today was the day. Today I was going to see my doctor for my 6 week postpartum exam and I was going to be truthful and open about what I have been feeling. I was going to take control. I was going to face the beast. I was going to define the “darkness” that I’ve been feeling instead of allowing it to define me.
Just as I was planning out the day with my 3 year old and 2 year old munching on toast on either side of me as I breastfed my 11 week old, the phone rang. It was the doctor’s office. You have got to be kidding me. If they were cancelling my appointment again, I was going to lose my mind. They were rescheduling my 1:30pm…to this morning. My immediate reaction was “Awesome! The sooner, the better!” My secondary reaction saw a baby, 2 toddlers and myself still in our pajamas. We needed to get moving.
Obviously toddlers are always so cooperative and easy to get moving… (I couldn’t even type that with a straight face!) I decided to bribe them with drive-thru muffins on our way to my mom’s. She was going to watch them so that I only had one baby to worry about at my appointment.
After far too much begging, pleading and forcing unwilling heads into hats and feet into boots, we were on our way. Because of all of the chaos, we no longer had time for muffins. I know, it was tragic. My 2 year old screamed “I LOVE muffins! Muffins, Mommy!” the whole way. Hopefully missing out on this round of muffins will make him a little more cooperative for our next outing. I doubt it. I tried this same tactic 2 days ago and it turned out the same way. My poor 3 year old was upset that once again, she got ready and cooperated but again didn’t get a muffin. I gave her an upbeat talk about working together as a team as I tried to bury the anxiety that was burning in my stomach and bubbling up into my chest. I was feeling extremely overwhelmed and anxious about sharing my feelings of depression and anxiety with my doctor.
It’s hard to determine whether your feelings are “normal” or not. It’s even harder to decide if they are real. I feel tired and overwhelmed all the time but I also have 3 kids under the age of 3.5! Just getting them dressed, fed and out the door to get to the doctor is a nearly impossible undertaking.
The “darkness” seems to come in spurts and at random. It strikes me most nights when I try to settle in and get some sleep. My mind starts racing. I start worrying and questioning things. I start panicking. I start to feel like I’m slipping away and try to shake it off and get back on track. I find myself feeling so overwhelmed that I shake and I cry. Sometimes I even vomit. It’s absolutely awful. I’m exhausted but can’t sleep.
During the day, I feel overtired but can never decide if it’s a symptom or a side effect. Is my fatigue a symptom of postpartum depression or is it the result of not getting enough sleep? I honestly have no idea. What I do know is that the heaviness I feel in my head and shoulders is not just exhaustion. I feel like I need a long, hot shower to perk up. But I get frustrated when I leave the shower feeling exactly the same. I feel like I need a rest. But I can’t get enough sleep to ever feel rested. I feel alone even though I’m never alone and like no one cares even though I’ve been overwhelmed by how many people have reached out to support me.
I need to define this thing and kill it before it swallows me whole.
My doctor walked into the examination room and with a smile, asked how everything was going. “Great for the most part…” I said. Before I could work up the courage to admit to the “darkness,” I could feel my heart racing and my eyes well up with tears. “For the most part… What does that mean? What’s happening when it’s not great?” he asked.
I took a deep breath (trying to gain control over the tears that were trying to escape from my eyes) and told him that I think I am battling some form of depression and anxiety. I didn’t want to sugarcoat it. I didn’t want it to be swept under the rug. I felt ashamed and embarrassed but at the same time, I felt free. I had released the words to someone who could tell me if it was real or normal. Someone I trusted. Someone who could help me.
“What is it you are feeling? What makes you think that way?” He asked in a soothing tone. I took a deep breath and tried to speak but couldn’t. The tears were taking over my and I felt a lump in my throat. “Well… For example, I want to cry my eyes out right now just thinking about it,” I said. “And that’s perfectly okay if you do.”
I cried as I told him about feeling down, anxious, overwhelmed and tired. “Do you get out of bed in the mornings?” He asked. Yes. I do. I don’t really have a choice…but I don’t want to. I want to sleep.
I told him that I naively wake up each morning hoping that I will feel better and vowing to make it a better day. When I still feel the same, I feel like I’ve lost the battle without even getting a chance to fight it and I spend the rest of the days just going through the motions. Some days aren’t like that. Like yesterday. Yesterday, I felt great all day. I was my normal self. I had energy, I was happy, I felt fine.
However, the day before, I had felt so low that I found myself asking Hubby to watch the kids so I could shower and I ran the water while opting to curl up in a ball and cry instead. I didn’t know why I was crying. I just was. Hysterically. I couldn’t get on my feet. I couldn’t plan out the day. I couldn’t make decisions. That’s the weirdest part. Feeling like I can’t make decisions. And by “decisions,” I mean Should the kids wear ponchos or winter coats? Should I bring the stroller or the baby carrier? What should we have for dinner? The stuff that normally just happens without even realizing it was a decision to make becomes difficult.
“We need to get you some help,” my doctor calmly stated. “This isn’t you. Seeing you throughout 3 pregnancies, I know that this isn’t you. You don’t deserve this. You don’t deserve this dark hole.”
It was so comforting to hear these words. To know that it was real. That it wasn’t nothing. And to know that there was a way out. Calling in a “dark hole” resonated with me. That’s how it felt. Like I was trying to climb my way out. Sometimes I could see the light at the top and sometimes I couldn’t.
He asked if I had considered antidepressants. I said that I had only just started to see this darkness as being something that wasn’t normal and wasn’t sure what the next step would or should be. “We need to treat it so it doesn’t get worse. I don’t want to see you get stuck in that dark hole and not be able to get out. You don’t deserve that.” His words were so comforting. For the first time, I felt like this wasn’t just in my head. And I felt like there was hope.
I asked if there were any antidepressants that were safe while breastfeeding. He said that he wanted me to discuss my options with my family doctor as he would be far more familiar with these types of drugs but said that even the most mild of drugs would find their way into my breast milk and into my baby.
My heart and head sunk. Before I could convince myself that I was fine and that I would just wait until my baby had weened himself, he interrupted my thought and said “Don’t slip away. You don’t deserve that dark hole. If you have to make the choice, make the choice. There are all sorts of ways to feed your baby and keep him healthy. There is only one of you. If you have to make the choice, make the choice. Promise me that you will look after yourself and if you have to, make the choice.”
I promised him I would. I’m heartbroken at the thought of having to stop breastfeeding over this but know that I also have to look after me. My babies need me. And I need me. I’ve been trapped inside my own head for so long and it’s getting harder and harder to push through without me.
My next step is seeing my family doctor. It may not seem like a big accomplishment but I am proud of the steps that I took today. It’s not easy to show what feels like a weakness. It’s difficult to bring up. And it’s even harder when you’re not sure if it’s even real. This is my third baby and these feelings are all very new to me. I’m going to find my way out and make whatever choices I need to make.
This too shall pass…
The photo displayed was taken around the time that this post was written. I don’t know if it will be apparent to others but in it, I can see the darkness in my eyes, and under my eyes from complete and utter exhaustion. This was the start of my journey. Stay tuned for more… Xo