In the days and weeks after the birth of my first child, I felt a complex mix of emotions. Here, finally, was the baby boy I had carried inside my body for 9 months but had carried in my heart for much longer. He was the manifestation of the love that I had for my husband and the hope I felt for the future. He was perfect, beautiful, full-term, with a full head of hair. We could see the traits of my husband’s family and my own mingling in his sweet newborn face. He was exactly what I wanted. Everything was perfect.
As we left the hospital behind and headed home as a family of three, I knew there would be major adjustments ahead. The responsibility weighed heavily on me as I sought to redefine my life. My son was the center of my world now. My working life and my career would take a back seat now. This was my job and it was beginning to look larger than life.
It’s hard to admit that the next few months were among the worst in my life, but it’s true. My son was everything to me and yet as I tried to become absorbed in the day to day care of my infant son, I began to lose myself. I spent hours alone with my son, caring for him and neglecting myself. My ability to relax fell away as I spent every moment afraid of the next time he would need something from me. I was isolated from friends and from family – mostly because I had neither the energy nor the desire to pull myself together enough to leave the house.
I realized that this was depression, but it still felt as though I could do little to alleviate it. The anxiety I felt kept me from sleeping. The lack of sleep made it hard to focus. The inability to focus left me feeling completely spent. It was a vicious cycle and I felt helpless – completely unable to ask for help. I noticed that the pain medication that I was taking for the c-section also had the effect of calming the anxiety. I started rationing it – taking it only when I knew I would have some time to sleep. It became the only way I could get a good amount of sleep. This realization scared me – I didn’t want to become addicted – but it also reassured me – I’m not going crazy, this is actually chemical.
When my son was 7 weeks old, I received a phone call from my mother informing me that my grandmother had died as the result of a car wreck. The ensuing trip – the first our infant would take on a plane – was an emotional roller coaster. I was both sad and relieved. The sadness at my grandmother’s passing was tempered by the relief of being surrounded by family. My son would have plenty of loving arms to cuddle him. I could sleep without feeling like I would be awakened immediately.
I feel like this period marked the end of the worst of the postpartum depression, but I know that it took longer to emerge from it completely. It wasn’t until I went back to work 2 years later that the veil of depression lifted completely. As we contemplated having one more child, I considered this carefully. We talked about it openly – and agreed to call it what it was, postpartum depression.
When our second child was born under extremely trying circumstances, I was as prepared as I could be for the resulting emotional turmoil. This time, I would take action. A call to my OB set the wheels in motion and I went on an antidepressant as soon as my mood started heading south. It worked. I felt the depression leave first. I could function. It took a few more days for the anxiety to dissipate, but it too subsided.
Postpartum depression doesn’t affect everyone. It doesn’t affect everyone who develops it in the same way either. Please know that help is available and that it’s nothing to be ashamed of. There are wonderful resources on the web and your doctor is ready to help you as well. The best thing you can do is to be kind to yourself. You didn’t ask for this – nobody does. It is treatable and can be overcome. If you feel overwhelmed, anxious, unable to sleep, or have negative feelings such as resentment or anger don’t try to handle them on your own. Call your OB. Make an appointment