I should have known when I found myself crying over a bowl of Cheerios, that things were not ok. This was the day after I came home from the hospital – November 7, 1995. I remember it vividly. I sat looking at my cereal and just broke down into tears. I tried to laugh it off, but deep down, I knew that something wasn’t right.
I was 26 years old and had just given birth to a baby girl who just about killed me in the delivery room. I was in labor for 19 excruciating hours, and it took two hours of pushing to deliver her to the world. As a result, her head looked like a lopsided cone, and I ended up with a blood clot that put me in emergency surgery the next day.
When I finally arrived home four days later, I was in pain, exhausted, and overwhelmed that I had a little human being who relied on me for survival. On top of that, I was trying to figure out the whole breastfeeding thing which stressed me out to no end. Was I producing enough milk? Was she latching on properly? Is it ok to supplement? Is it ok to give her a pacifier? Do I put her on a schedule or just let her nurse 24-7 like she wanted?
I assumed that all these things were the reason I was bursting into tears at the drop of the hat, feeling like I didn’t want to get out of bed, and wondering why I felt such crushing sadness when I had my beautiful baby girl in my arms.
When she cried, my anxiety went through the roof, and I would sometimes have to leave her in the crib, so I could walk away and attempt to pull myself together. I felt like a terrible mother. What about all of those photos that I’d seen in magazines and the commercials I’d watched on TV of beautiful happy moms with their newborns? Those same moms who had makeup on, brushed their hair, and wore something other than pajamas with spit-up all over them? That certainly was not me. I felt accomplished if I showered and brushed my teeth!
Family and friends would come over to hold her, cook for me, or bring food, and I would rejoice in the chance to crawl into bed and take a nap. As soon as they left, a suffocating feeling of dread would wash over me. Every day melted into the next, and I felt like a walking zombie. I literally walked into walls!
It took weeks of this to realize that this was postpartum depression (PPD). I didn’t know a lot about PPD, but when I brought it up to my doctor, she immediately prescribed Celexa, an anti-depressant. I couldn’t believe this tiny little pill would make much of a difference, but within two weeks, it was as if my world went from black and white to color. I felt like myself again.
I truly understood what it was like to have depression. I always thought people who were depressed were just sad and needed to think positive thoughts in order to snap out of it. I was clearly wrong. Depression is real – it’s chemical and biological, and there is no shame in getting help and taking medication.
Each pregnancy is unique. I experienced even worse PPD after my second child and none with my third, so it’s important to be in tune with your body and your feelings. It’s crucial for your partner to understand the signs as well, so they can assist you in getting the help you need.
In 2005, Brooke Shields’s book Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression was published, and she went on a national media tour promoting it. I was so relieved that someone on such a public platform was bringing attention to this little known topic.
Besides a visit to your doctor, if you or someone you know might be suffering from PPD, please visit http://www.postpartum.net/. There is a support line and links for resources.