Saturday, April 9, 2011

Postpartum Depression - my story

I think I am ready to write about this.


Deep breath.

I'm not at all sure that I am ready to write about this.

I think it is time.

I guess I am just going to have to take a leap of faith here. Not many people know about it, almost no one really, and it's something I have a very hard time talking about. Mostly, I just don't talk about it. Pretend it doesn't exist. That it didn't happen to me.

Because it wasn't supposed to. Not to me. I was way too smart, too strong, too versed in the signs, too prepared for it. It wasn't supposed to happen to me. But it did.

I can feel my chest tightening up, which says to me that even though it's been years I am still very much not over what happened. I don't know that I ever will be. That I will ever really feel in control again.

You see, once something like this invades your life, it changes you. You don't just one day get better and go back to being the person you were before it all came crashing down. You instead are always looking back, wondering if you've done irreparable damage, thinking that you did. Wondering if it will sneak back into your life. Wondering if it might be here right now.
Knowing that it very well could be.

I had postpartum depression. And it damn near ruined my life.

I'm a doula. I'm trained to recognize the symptoms in other women. I should have known better. I suppose that on some level I knew, I just thought maybe I could handle it.

There was the slightest hint of it when Ashley was a baby. She was colicky though, and I dismissed it as normal frustration. It's only reasonable to get frustrated when your baby cries for six hours straight, right? It passed though, and I didn't think much of it.

Then Ally was born. Things were okay for a few weeks. Really. Then we moved away from our family and friends. We moved away from comfort and safe. I don't know that the move was the straw that broke the camel's back, but it sure as hell made it happen faster and more catastrophically.

I was alone. Stuck in the house all the time with three kids. I didn't know anyone. I didn't know where to go or what to do with them. Slowly the panic started to set in. Then, maybe a week or so after we got here, it hit full force.

I had a version of postpartum depression (PPD) closely related to obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). I started to have intrusive thoughts. I would envision myself hurting the baby.

The most frequent thought was that I would see myself drop her down the stairs. The house we were renting at the time was a ranch with an open stairwell to the basement. And I can tell with full honesty that there were entire days I sat and stared at those stairs. I hated to walk past them. I'd grip her tight to my chest every time I had to pass them.

I'd take the kids out for a drive and find myself out on some mountain road, then picture the car sailing off the cliffs.

I'd put her to bed and see myself smothering her.

I was afraid of what I might do. Afraid I might do what I saw. Afraid that I was a horrible mother. No one in their right mind thinks these thoughts. I mean, I knew that I would never hurt my baby....but why was I thinking like this?

It is absolutely terrifying when you are not in control of your thoughts.

The thing with this form of PPD is that it only gets worse with denial, as I learned. I hid it well though. No one knew, not even my husband. To the outside world, I was totally fine. Functioned normally, did everything I needed to do, put on a happy face. But inside I was at the mercy of unrelenting horrible thoughts.

This went on for months, getting progressively worse.

Until one night, just before Ally turned a year old. I was sitting in bed, reading a book before I tried to sleep. I won't mention the name of the book, mostly because I don't want anyone to think poorly of it or that it had anything to do with my condition. By then, I had gotten to the point that my mind internalized everything I did, saw or read and distorted it into some sick and twisted way to hurt the baby.

In this book, a family went to the zoo. Upon reading that, my mind immediately shifted to me, throwing my child over the fence to the alligators. I slammed the book down and started to sob uncontrollably. I knew then that I couldn't take it anymore. Whatever was wrong with me was something that was only getting worse and I couldn't hide it anymore.

I was powerless to stop it.

My husband was, of course, in complete shock. His first and most legitimate concern was whether I was homicidal or suicidal. I wasn't. I just knew that there was something very wrong and I needed help.

I cried myself to sleep that night, my husband's arms around me. He was scared. I was terrified.

The next morning, I called a midwife friend, one I knew to have personal and professional experience with PPD. She was worried. Told me to get help. Now.

I called a therapist and met with her that day. After talking to her for a few hours, she came to the conclusion that my self diagnosis was spot on. She thought I needed medication. I told her I would do anything to avoid it. She said sometimes there is no other choice. I said I knew.

I did know. That's the problem. I knew and I still hid it.

Then something happened. I could breathe again. Turns out that in my case, telling someone was enough to stop the downward spiral. Hiding it only made it worse, and admitting that I had a problem, not just to my husband and friend and therapist, but to myself was the best thing I could have ever done.

I had to face the truth that I needed help. From that day forward, I would still think about things, but in a different way. They weren't the brutally violent and vivid visions anymore, more like hazy memories. With time, they stopped completely.

I did a lot of research on the subject once I admitted to myself what was going on. Turns out I fit the description almost perfectly for women who suffer from this version of PPD. Intelligent, balanced, in control.

I was too smart for this. Too aware. Too on top of everything. Or so I thought.

It took me months to tell anyone besides my husband. I didn't want anyone to worry. I didn't want anyone to think less of me as a mother, as a woman, as a doula. I felt shame not just for having it, but for not getting help sooner.

I feel like the entire first year of Ally's life was a blur. I don't really remember her being a baby. I look back and I wonder what kind of mother I was when I was in that place. It can't have been a very good one. I feel like I've done a disservice to my kids. With time I have somewhat forgiven myself. I know I need to be better about that.

When Ally weaned, I feared it would return. In some women, PPD resurfaces when nursing ceases, since there is a dramatic decline in hormones when that happens too. I never had to cross that bridge since I ended up pregnant almost immediately after she weaned. Again, I feared it would come back with AJ. It didn't.

But he's still nursing. I have another bridge to cross yet.

I know there are many who read this that will probably be shocked to hear my story. Who had no idea. I hid it well. I know there are some out there who question whether this is a real condition. I can tell you first hand, it is. I am sure some people will wonder why I am writing about it now.

I guess I am writing to be honest. I am scared it will come back. I am better equipped now to recognize it and I know to get help right away if I need it. That doesn't take away the fear.

Mostly, though, I am writing this for all the women out there who know where I've been. Who may be there now. If you need help, get it. You may need medication, and that is okay.

If you know someone who needs help, please make sure they get it.

There is a more severe condition known as postpartum psychosis. Before I dealt with it, I thought the mothers who drowned their children were just using that as an excuse. Today, I know that left to it's own devices, the postpartum brain can turn dark and evil. I know the path those women walked. I can see what happened to them and their children.

For more information, please see:

I'm not afraid of storms for I'm learning to sail my ship. -Louisa May Alcott-

1 comment:

  1. Kelly, thank you so much for sharing your story! I, too, had postpartum depression after Jasper was born. A mild case, but that didn't make it any easier.

    My mom had told me she had PPD with both my brother and I. Actually, she told my husband first as she didn't want me to get scared or be worried, but gave Nathan some signs to look out for. Luckily, I was able to know very quickly that I was suffering from it. I thought it would pass, just my hormones needing to level out, I didn't need medication, etc.. Like you said, it's such a bizarre feeling to have terrible thoughts, know where they're stemming from, but feel completely out of control.

    I tried talking to my husband, but I was embarrassed, mostly for fear of judgement -- why wasn't I strong enough to NOT get PPD? Of course he never would think that, but it's tough admitting weakness, and that's how I felt.

    I never had thoughts about hurting Jazzy; all my thoughts were focused on me, what I could do to hurt myself... thoughts that kept getting darker and darker. Once I hit the "how painful would it be if I drove my car in front of a train" thought, I immediately called my doctor.

    The day before I was to start an anti-depressant, the PPD cloud lifted and I felt good. I proceeded with caution, knowing the drug was there, but each day got better and better, and within a week's time, I felt like ME again, albeit with one amazing child that made me feel complete.

    It's scary how prevalent PPD is, and I hope women do realize they are not alone. It's a terrible, awful thing to experience... and I do have the fear that I will have it again whenever we get pregnant with #2. However, I realize I'm not alone, and help is always a phone call away.

    Thanks again for sharing your story -- from one PPD survivor to another.


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