Screaming Into Sweaters - Honesty About Postpartum Depression

 

**PLEASE READ: This is a blog post I wrote three years ago for an old site I had at the time.  As intimidating as it is to share one of the most vulnerable seasons of my life, I do so in hopes that someone possibly struggling with the same thing or something similar might feel less alone in the struggle.

Here goes.

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After my first daughter entered the world, I cried for three solid weeks.  These were tears of overwhelming love, uncharacteristic schmoopy-ness, and a desire to keep my new precious baby all to myself.  No sharing.  I was in love, plain and simple.  After the first few weeks of bleariness wore off, I was distracted for a few months with a pretty painful and drawn out healing process after the damage left by my large-cranium-ed daughter and the three hours of pushing it took to get her the crap out of there.  The subsequent months of surgeries and healing and having to return to work to finish out the school year with my high school students distracted me from any feelings of depression or inexplicable sadness I may have felt.  Honestly, I just don't think I experienced those feelings the first time around.  Nor the second.

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My second daughter was born a mere 17 months later, and, after she flipped into breech position two weeks before her due date AND then sent me into labor all on her own, attempting to come out booty first, I ended up having an unexpected C-section. 😳 The recovery from that day of labor plus major abdominal surgery forced me to take things easy, let my family and friends help me, and just ease into becoming Mom of Two.  It took me a minute to release the fact that her birth didn't go like I had thought it would.  However, after I processed that experience, my emotions seemed to level out.  The tears kept flowing, but they were, again, tears of love and overwhelming gratefulness for my new baby.  Tears of happiness.  Not so much with Baby #3.

While pregnant with my third little girl, our lives went through quite the series of stressful events.  My husband was in the middle of his residency year which required a lot of travel and unpredictable work schedules.  He was searching for a job, and the prospects of employment close to home were looking less than slim.  We began to mentally prepare to move far away from our families, when, at the last possible second, I believe God opened up a door for us to stay put.  I won't bore you with details, but let's just say this was no coincidence.  Huge miracle, I believe. 🙏🏼 Anyway, we decided to put our home on the market in search of a new one with a bit more space for our growing family, and if you've ever bought and/or sold a home...while pregnant....with two very small children at home to care for...then I don't need to tell you the stress I was under.  E.X.H.A.U.S.T.E.D.  Not to mention that all of this took place in the summer months.  Pregnant pit stains galore.  Yum.

Finally, we moved into our new home, scurried to get things at least a little bit settled before Daughter #3 made her arrival, hunkered down for the holidays, and then...she came.  This was by far the easiest, smoothest, most predictable, least stressful delivery of them all.  Bless her.  😉  Water broke at home, checked into the hospital an hour later, finally got to experience the true bliss of an epidural for the labor this third time around, and, after a few hours of relaxing in my hospital room with my family, it was time to push.  So I did.  One time.  And...there she was. 😳 GLORIOUS! 😍 We spent days upon days just snuggling and sleeping and recovering thanks to my hardworking hubby and lovely family and friends.  I was in love, IN LOVE, with this new little baby, and I watched as my two precious older girls loved on her, too.  I was in awe of my little family of five.  So blessed. ❤️ It was such a perfect three weeks.

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Baby Three was also my easiest baby.  If you know my kids, you know that's saying a lot, because the other two were super easy, too. 😬 Don't worry.  I get it.  Lucky, blessed, all the things.  I KNOW.  I've been reminded...a lot.  😉  And I'm grateful, because I don't know that I could have handled the ensuing months of depression with an extra fussy baby.  Maybe God knew to throw me a bone.  And I mention this fact to give you some context: I had the world's easiest baby and two older sisters who were handling the change like champs, and I was still so very sad, so very anxious, so very fearful.

I knew something was wrong when the tears didn't stop after the first few weeks of my baby's life.  Not only that, but they turned into different kinds of tears.  Ones of fear, anxiety, an urge to leave, to hide, to lie to everyone around me and tell them that I was handling it all just fine.  Almost every night for those first few months, I would just weep in my husband's arms when he came home from work, but I never really could pinpoint a reason.  I mean, don't get me wrong.  Three kids three years old and under IS a reason to cry sometimes from the strain of it all 😉, but it was more than that.  Every single morning, my eyes would pop open, and my heart would begin to race.  I had to fight the urge to literally hide from my older girls and the responsibility of parenting them in the face of my depression and anxiety.  In fact, I did hide from them on occasion.  It wouldn't last very long, but it was alarming.  I would shut myself in my closet while baby slept and the big girls were watching a movie and just cry.  Scream into the folds of my clothes hanging in my closet so the sounds would be muffled and not scare my daughters.  Lay on the floor and force myself to breathe, to breathe, to breathe.  Force myself to get up, to stand, to continue...to mother.

The scariest part was the lying.  Under normal circumstances, I am no good at hiding my emotions.  I am not afraid of a bit of necessary confrontation, and I would always rather work through a few minutes of awkwardness in order to express feelings and communicate emotions rather than hide those things away and pretend.

But that's what I began doing.  Pretending.

I finally hit rock bottom when Baby Girl was two months old: I had my husband's sweet family over for dinner one night.  I remember feeling like I was in a trance and like I'd floated up above my own body, just watching myself pretend to be okay in front of them.  It was eerie.  When I couldn't take it anymore, I would make an excuse and go to my bathroom or closet and cry in secret.  Scream in a pillow.  Consider slipping out the window and leaving.  The next day, my best friend came over for a play date, and I did the same thing.  I lied straight to her face that I was doing just fine, and then I went to scream and cry into my sweaters again while she held my baby in the living room and fed my kids lunch.  I felt untethered, I felt like grabbing my keys and driving away forever, I felt like the least capable mother in the history of ever.  It was dark and scary and sad, but I didn't know what to say or how to say it.

The next evening, I had plans to go out to sushi with a group of my girlfriends.  We sat around the table, and finally I couldn't take it anymore.  I had to talk to someone.  I was going to explode from the anxiety and depression.  I burst into tears and began to describe what I was experiencing, what I was feeling, what I was doing.  Looks of sympathy, empathy and grace were exchanged across that table, and I will be forever grateful to one sweet friend who cautiously told her own story of silent suffering after her third baby that finally led her to ask her doctor for help.  Her third-born was six months old at the time, and I will never forget what she said: "I wish I hadn't wasted six months of her life pretending I wasn't depressed."

Done and done.

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The next day, I called my sweet OB, and within the week, I met with her to discuss my symptoms and concerns.  She is not a "over-prescriber," and I appreciated the lengthy time she spent with me delving deep into what I was going through before we even discussed medication.

And here is where my worry about this post comes in.

Postpartum depression, well, depression in general really, is such a touchy subject, and it can be extra touchy within religious communities.  (**EDIT: Which, by the way, I am IN a religious community I love and proud to be there...just stating a fact based on my experience.  Not bashing.  No drama, pretty please. 😉**)  Not here to start any kind of debate: rather, I hope my experience can help someone else, like my friend's helped me.  Whether you believe depression can be "prayed out" as I've heard some tell me, or if you think the first course of action when one feels even the SLIGHTEST bit sad is to pop a pill, please hear me out.... 👇🏼

My personal belief based on experience is that the first line of action when you feel that you are experiencing depression is to examine your life choices and practices.  That's what I did.  Before asking for medication, I wanted to make sure I'd tried everything in my own power to turn the ship around, in a sense.  I started going back to church regularly once Baby was old enough; I began exercising again; I worked in ways to get extra sleep; I found time to read my Bible, which is a great source of encouragement for me; I made sure I was eating healthy; I found ways to help others in more need of it than me.  While those things undoubtedly helped more than I'll ever be able to pinpoint, the fact remained that I began each and every day with tears, an urge to hide, and I always wound up in my closet, screaming my lungs out and crying with such scary depths that I couldn't wait any longer to seek help.

(I'd also like to add here that I truly and honestly never experienced any feelings of self-harm or wanting to hurt my children.  Not once.  At this point, of oversharing my life, I would tell you if I had 😉, but it never went that far.  If it has for you, even once, seek help immediately.  No amount of coffee or exercise can even out a brain that is all swirly from drops and surges of hormones.  Please.  Don't be too proud to ask for help.)

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So, after a couple of months of trying to fix things on my end, that is just what I did.  My doctor, my pharmacist husband and I all decided on a low-dose course of anti-depressants, and I began them immediately, also continuing the lifestyle changes I mentioned before.

After about a week, I noticed that the daily bouts of weeping and screaming and wanting to grab my keys and drive away had faded.  Things weren't all rainbows and glitter and bursting into happy songs as if life were suddenly in a musical.  No.  It was more that I gradually felt I could face my day without fear.  I could wake up in the morning and not feel my heart race so fast that I thought it might jump out of my skin.  I found myself bypassing scream-fests in the closet for story time with my girls.  I realized that instead of crying on my husband's chest in the evenings, I was cooking dinners again.  Cooking!  Can you believe it! 😉 I had the presence of mind finally to put together healthy meals for my family.  I could look my best friend in the eye and be honest about my struggles.  I could speak to my Mom and MIL without the urge to lie and cover up my depression.  I put on jeans and flattering tops and makeup every so often.  I scheduled playdates.  I breastfed while reading stories to my big girls.  I decorated a room.  I volunteered my time.  I attended exercise classes.  I planned and hosted a women's Bible study.  I traveled to see family.  I made baby food.  I smiled and laughed and breathed deeply and didn't scream into sweaters.

And then, finally...I wrote this.

I've been taking low dose anti-depressants for four months now (**EDIT: at the time of writing this post**), and it has been a night and day difference.  While I was pretty certain I was struggling with postpartum at the time, I didn't want to have one bad week and run right to my doctor and ask for "happy pills."  Instead, I wanted to try all that I could on my end to perk up, and, when that didn't work either, I knew it was out of my hands.  It was so helpful to me to have my pharmacist husband explain the inner workings of the brain and how the depletion and resurgence of hormones during and after pregnancy can truly wreak havoc on the mind and emotions of a woman.  Hearing the science behind postpartum depression and anti-depressant medication really demystified it all for me.  Depression is not something that one can always control or prevent or fix.  Sometimes it requires medical intervention.  Research it a bit.  Really takes away the mystery and opens one's eyes to the reality of this medical issue.

If you've known my story for awhile, you know that I lost my dad to suicide a few years ago.  He battled severe depression and other mental illnesses his entire adult life, and it was heartbreaking to watch.  We had many discussions about how he felt he didn't actually need his medication, because he thought he could just handle it on his own.  He couldn't.  It eventually cost him his life.

The context of my childhood and the loss of my dad has led me to conclude that depression is not a small thing.  It is not something to be shameful of, to hide, to ignore.  No.  Instead, think of it as a real and serious medical issue.  One can no more control the incongruous workings of an imbalanced brain than the imbalanced blood sugars of diabetes or the imbalanced white blood cells of cancer.  For whatever reason, depression is quite the polarizing topic.  It seems that society thinks we either have to swing all the way to one side of the issue or the other.  "Pray it out; it's not a real disease; if you were a better Christian, you wouldn't be suffering"...or..."If you've made and continue to make poor lifestyle choices that leave you distraught, just go get a pill and continue the way you've been going."  These two extremes make me heartbroken.  There does exist a middle ground.

Mental illness and depression isn't a choice sometimes...but it IS a choice if you choose to remain in it.

If you are struggling, talk to someone.  Stop lying, stop trying to hide your imperfections, and just talk.  You'll be amazed at how many people around you have struggled or are struggling right along with you.  You are so so so not alone.  Neither was I. ❤️ If you are specifically struggling with postpartum depression (which sometimes doesn't even set in until baby is six months or older...didn't know that!), please talk to a friend, your Mom, your doctor.  You don't have to take medication forever, either.  It is sometimes just a short-lived band aid to get you over the hump of the HUGE life changes and hormone swings of bringing a new baby into the world.

We owe it to our little ones to help ourselves be the best Mommies we can be.  They deserve it.  Let's swallow our pride, hitch up our big girl panties, and get some help when we need it.

I'm right there with you.
❤️

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(NOTE: I am not a medical professional nor am I qualified to answer or aide in any medical diagnoses or treatment.  
Please speak to your doctor regarding questions about mental illness and/or medication.)