I’d read all the parenting magazines and new baby books I could get my hands on. Mine was a planned pregnancy. I was excited and, I thought, ready to become a mother. My husband and I had been married for four years and together for eight. We were young, twenty-six, and happy.
When my daughter finally arrived after a complicated pregnancy, I felt two things: exhaustion and fear. What I didn’t feel was happiness or joy.
*See “RAISING BADASS BOSSY BROADS”
There is much more awareness and information available today than there was 17 years ago about postpartum depression (PPD) and the majority of published media relating to mothering and childbirth was still of the “best experience/day of your life” variety. The fact is over 20% (one in five) of new mothers experience some degree of PPD. In the United States, that’s approximately 950,000 women a year. That’s more than the number of people who sprain an ankle or suffer a stroke in the same time period.
Even though I had many of the risk factors PPD (a diagnosis of depression at the age of 19, preterm labor, preeclampsia, a history of sexual abuse, anorexia/bulimia, and a violent rape) not one of the doctors I saw during the course of my pregnancy (and I saw a lot of them) expressed concern, offered advice or recommended pre-emptive treatment for this debilitating and sometimes deadly condition (PPD is the second leading cause of death in postpartum women).
In addition, and possibly due to, my pre-existing conditions and past traumatic experiences, I also had a very difficult delivery. Four weeks before my due date, my blood pressure had reached very dangerous levels and it was decided that labor should be induced. I was given pitocin to speed things up and magnesium sulfate to manage the preeclampsia. My daughter was positioned “sunny side up” (facing up rather than down) and after pushing for three hours, a vacuum extractor was used. When this failed to work, an experienced OB/GYN was called in. I was given a second degree episiotomy after which she performed a very risky forcep procedure that involved turning the baby before pulling her out.
Three days after Alison was born, despair and anxiety hit me like a tidal wave. I felt like I was literally drowning in it. I was both terrified of her and terrified for her. I fantasized about leaving her on the doorstep of the hospital with a note that said “Please take care of her because, even though I love her, I can’t. Thank You”. I became convinced that if I wasn’t watching her, she would die. I stared at her constantly and yet could not bring myself to touch, let alone care, for her. I was still bleeding and leaking out of both breasts and I weighed more than I did before the delivery.
Ten days after she was born, I experienced a thirty-six hour panic attack. I couldn’t breathe, my heart raced, I couldn’t sleep, and I couldn’t sit down.
Thankfully, I was lucky enough to have a very caring and supportive husband and mother who took action by getting me to a doctor who spoke in depth and listened to me before prescribing Xanax and Zoloft.
My mother took me straight to her home and settled Alison and I into her guest room. Because exhaustion is a huge factor in PPD, she decided we should assume care for the baby in shifts. I was on duty from 10am to 10pm. Mom covered the night shift. Because I was on medication, I was advised to discontinue breast feeding and begin using formula. This allowed my mother to do all the night feedings.
My husband came over every morning for breakfast and every evening for a family dinner. On weekends, he took over the day shift. On Saturdays, we had a “date night”. I began to feel better a week into our new program and three weeks later, once the Zoloft kicked in, I emerged from the blanket of despair, anxiety and hopelessness that had shrouded me since the birth.
Alison (named after my mother) and I stayed with mom for three months. By that time, Alison was sleeping through the night and although I was still scared and anxious about my new role as a mother and my ability to perform it, I was ready to move back home.
When my second daughter Eliza was born (yes, unbelievable, I did it again) and despite another case of preeclampsia and a prolapsed umbilical cord, I was as prepared as one can be to combat PPD once again.
Because I had begun to take a decreased dose of Zoloft during my third trimester (I had gone off it three months prior to becoming pregnant for fear of health risks to the baby) and I knew what symptoms to look for, my second time around was much easier.
The day I was released from the hospital, mom said that because the night shift was such a bonding experience between she and Alison that she didn’t want to miss out on it with Eliza. I think she was making sure I got some sleep too. So every evening at 10pm on the dot, mom showed up at the door to pick up her second grandchild. She also insisted that my husband and I continue or weekly date night while both kids stayed with her. For all of these reasons, I suffered no more than the “baby blues”.
For me, the “cure” was a very strong and caring family support system. Getting medicated and discontinuing breast feeding with my families help was essential and I don’t underestimate the effect of knowing I always had 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep ahead of me.
Having been the child of a severely depressed parent and with the fear that I too would become one, I began doing some research into the topic shortly before Alison was born. In Time magazine, I came across an article about the brain development of babies with depressed mothers that included actual brain scans. The brains of the babies whose mothers were not depressed were more than twice as “active” as the brains of the babies with mothers suffering from depression.
The study explained how depressed mothers don’t make as much eye contact with, smile or play as much with their babies as “healthy” mothers do. I swore I was not going to deprive my children of every “peak-a-boo” game and loving grin they deserved.
Effectively handling my depression along with the endless help and support of my mother, I believe, are what has made my marriage last this long and my parenting a thousand times better.
If any part of my story rings true to you, please continue to read more about the treatment options, causes and effects of PPD that I have provided below.
You may be suffering from PPD:
- If you are feeling sad or depressed.
- If you feel irritable or angry with those around you.
- If you are having difficulty bonding with your baby.
- If you feel anxious or panicky.
- If you are having problems with eating or sleeping.
- If you are having upsetting thoughts that you can’t get out of your mind.
- If you feel as if you are “out of control” or “going crazy”.
- If you feel like you never should have become a mother.
- If you are worried that you might hurt your baby or yourself.
Any of these symptoms, and many more, could indicate that you have a form of perinatal mood or anxiety disorder, such as postpartum depression.
PPD can affect a mother’s ability to function in everyday life and increases the risks for anxiety, cognitive impairment, guilt, self-blame, and fear.
PPD can lead to difficulty in providing developmentally appropriate care to infants; a loss of pleasure or interest in life, sleep disturbance, feelings of irritability or anxiety, withdrawal from family and friends, crying, and thoughts of hurting oneself or one’s child.
PPD can be particularly problematic because of the social role adjustments expected of new mothers, which include immediate and constant infant care, redefining spousal and familial relationships, and work role.
Children of mothers with PPD can become withdrawn, irritable, or inconsolable; display insecure attachment and behavioral problems; experience problems in cognitive, social, and emotional development; have a higher risk of anxiety disorders and major depression in childhood and adolescence.
Women of every culture, age, income level and race can develop perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. Symptoms can appear any time during pregnancy and the first 12 months after childbirth. There are effective and well-researched treatment options to help you recover.
It should be noted that postpartum depression is much more serious than the extremely common "baby blues." The baby blues will affect between 70 to 80 percent of women after childbirth, with symptoms usually developing within the first four days after delivery.
The symptoms of the baby blues include sadness, irritability, frequent crying, and exhaustion. But these symptoms typically only last a few days.
If you think you have the "baby blues" but the symptoms persist, you need to see your doctor immediately.
Article by Anna Quick Palmer