According to the National Institute of Mental Health, perinatal depression is a mood disorder that affects women during or after a pregnancy. “Mothers with perinatal depression experience feelings of extreme sadness, anxiety, and fatigue that may make it difficult for them to carry out daily tasks, including caring for themselves or others.” We all know it as postpartum depression, and until you have experienced it, it might be hard to understand.
The hard part, having a baby is such a happy time isn’t it? You have spent months hoping and dreaming about the day you meet that little baby that has been growing inside of you for ten long months. I think that is the hardest part of coping with postpartum depression, you feel so much guilt over not just being able to be happy.
When I went in to the hospital in early June to have our baby I was excited and eager to bring home this little girl into our large family filled with love and joy. Her birth was pretty normal, but the events that happened right after began to damper all of those hopes and expectations I had.
Looking back on it, I realize now how naive I was. Being pregnant during the pandemic of COVID-19 had changed things, and I did not understand how much until it was all over. Being masked at all times leaving the house, not seeing friends and family, and not celebrating in the normal ways we are used to was hard. I had not slept well during most of my third trimester, and I think it was underlying anxiety that I left unaddressed.
After spending all week fighting to leave the hospital I returned home worn out and so broken. I couldn’t sleep without a light on for the first few nights. I had shaking chills in the middle of the night, and my legs were so swollen from being stuck in a small hospital room after having a baby all the fluid just pooled. I remember trying to walk down the street and needing to hold onto my husband because my ankles were so bad. It felt like a bad dream that I could not wake up from.
My body was broken and so was my spirit.
I did not want to get out of bed, I did not want to leave the baby out of my sight even for a moment. I felt trapped in a mind and body that was not my own. How had I felt so strong and excited only 7 days prior before having this baby? How had I declined this much? Why couldn’t I snap out of it? Why couldn’t I pray and give it to God? Why wasn’t I happy with this beautiful family I had been blessed with? Why was I dwelling on the trauma from the hospital the baby was healthy shouldn’t I be happy? Why aren’t you being a better mother? Why aren’t you being a better wife?
Those were all the irrational crazy thoughts consuming my mind all day long. I felt like I was stuck in a thick fog with no way out or through. It was so hard. I wanted to feel better I wanted to be happy but I could not force myself to feel it.
I tried everything I knew how to. I started exercising at 2 weeks postpartum. I joined Weight Watchers and started eating a clean plant based diet again. (I have been vegan for about 10 years and feel best when I am plant based which means I don’t eat processed food or oils.) Eating healthy, working out, and even going camping with my family, none of it seemed to work enough to pull me out of the black hole that engulfed me.
At my six week checkup I made a decision. I honestly filled out the PHQ-9, a scale that I administer to clients all the time. I know how to fake it but I knew something was really wrong with me and I needed to be honest with my midwife. She was one of the few people I knew I could trust and I was ready to take her advice. I scored a 16, this is pretty high. As soon as she saw me and saw it she knew. We talked about all of the interventions I was trying on my own at home and how I still felt. She recommended starting Zoloft and I agreed. I was just desperate to feel better and tired of feeling this way.
I know taking medication carries a stigma. I wrestled with it for a few weeks before my checkup honestly I knew medication would be best after my 2 week postpartum check in but I wanted to wait. Looking back, I am sorry I waited. I realized I am not any less of a mother if I am taking medication. I realized I’m not less of a Christian for needing it either. My body was not producing enough seratonin to keep my moods stable. As a mental health counselor I advocate for medication for clients with PHQ-9 scores like mine. I know the benefits of it, but still I resisted it for 4 weeks.
After about 10 days on the medication I started to feel better. Suddenly getting out of bed was easier and smiling could happen without me forcing it. I began to see a faint light that would guide me towards recovery. I knew then that I needed to be on the medication and that it was the right decision for me. Now I could focus on taking care of myself and my children. I could be a better mother who was not overly anxious and depressed every single day. I was not as irritable and I was starting to be able to do other things I know will help me recover.
I know postpartum depression is a journey. I am on that journey to recovery. Everyday is not perfect but everyday I have hope now. I am hopeful that I will continue to improve and I am confident that I am doing the best I can to recover and fight this. I am never giving up. This past weekend I finally got to the mountains again. After a long 9 months of missing hiking in the New Hampshire White Mountains I was back. It was hard, and it was amazing.
Progress, not perfection, that is all I seek.
If you or someone you know is struggling with perinatal depression or anxiety please reach out! It is not easy to do this but you are not alone.
There is a national organization dedicated to supporting mothers 1-800-PPD-MOMS Post Partum Support LinksHere