May is Maternal Mental Health Month, readers, and we’re bringing you true, but touching, stories from moms just like you who have shut down the stigma of postpartum mood disorders (PPMD) and shared their experiences with us in hopes of bringing awareness to this important topic. We’re sharing some obvious and other hidden symptoms and facts about PPMD and including resources for support. Stay tuned all this month for these stories and more.
Me, Too – Defeating Depression Series
Bonnie and Shane’s Story
My husband and I couldn’t wait to have our first child. We had always wanted to be parents. Actually, in my 4th grade autobiography I wrote, “I want to have 6 or 7, 8 or 9, 10 or 11 children.” Ha! So, being a mom was always in the plans for me. I was diagnosed with depression in my early 20’s, and on an anti-depressant when I got pregnant. I weaned off the medication with the help of my doctors and sailed through my pregnancy. While pregnant, I didn’t feel “depressed” and only felt true anxiety when I tried to take a nap (my heart would race!). So, I avoided napping my entire pregnancy (not an easy feat).
My husband and I planned a beautiful birth. We took a hypnosis for birth course and practiced hypnosis every night together. Preparing for our daughter’s birth was quite beautiful and peaceful. When I went into labor, I felt as ready as I could be. However, I wasn’t prepared for most of the delivery to not go as planned – 36-hour delivery and baby in distress led to a lot of physical pain. The experience was pretty traumatic for both my husband and I. However, our daughter was perfect. 🙂 I tried to sweep under the rug how I felt about my delivery. We had a healthy baby and that’s all that should’ve mattered (or so I thought).
In the maternity ward, my husband would take our daughter for walks in her rolling crib while I “slept.” He even set the alarms off once by going too far, silly guy! Unfortunately, I never really slept. I would just lie there. I nursed my daughter but nursing was extremely painful. What was supposed to be “natural” sure didn’t seem natural to this new mama and baby (come to find out she had a tongue and lip tie). Yet I was determined. Stubborn. Persistent. And in love.
Each day went on and I still didn’t sleep, but I actually felt fine. By day 6, even the thought of sleeping made me anxious. My family and husband would suggest I take a nap. I tried. But I just couldn’t sleep. By day 8, I started having panic attacks when I would try to sleep. I finally went to talk with my midwife and she told me how concerned she was for me. Then the tears started… And they didn’t stop. She referred me to a psychiatrist who prescribed me an antihistamine to help with sleep and a low dose of an anti-depressant. I sat there for over 2 hours contemplating taking the antihistamine. I was convinced it was going to dry up my milk. The doctor said my stress and lack of sleep would definitely dry up my milk. I felt stuck between a rock and a hard place. I finally took the antihistamine for 2 nights. And I slept like a dream! It was wonderful. Then I started taking a quarter of the antidepressant. I was too afraid of harming my sweet baby through my milk to take the recommended dose.
So, I went about my days with my new baby who didn’t sleep. She was up every 2-3 hours at night and took 30 minute naps during the day. Once the 4 month sleep regression hit, she was up every hour at night. My husband and I were delirious. And my depression and anxiety were getting worse. I remember calling my sister a few times saying, “I’m having an ‘I wish I didn’t have a baby’ day.” She’d remind me it wasn’t the baby I didn’t want. It was that I needed SLEEP.
After much thought, I contacted Nicole from The Baby Sleep Site® and we started sleep training. Things got a lot better when the baby and I started to sleep. Yet, I still felt heavy. Like something wasn’t right. I was doing all of the “right” things. I was exercising (when I could), trying to eat right and making sure I slept. But I still felt depressed. I contacted a doctor who specialized in breastfeeding and medications and I had a consult with her. She gave me a lot of information on breast milk and this medication (a quarter of a pill wasn’t helping me at all) and it calmed my fears. I started taking the medication as prescribed and I started to feel better. In a week or two it was like a cloud had lifted and I felt like a “normal” human being. I remember feeling like, “Oh, this is what I’m supposed to feel like.”
Dealing with my postpartum depression also included grieving the birth I “wanted” and acknowledging how scary my birth experience was to my husband and I. Acknowledging my truth around my first birth helped me heal so that I could fully embrace and even enjoy the delivery of my second child, without fear or sadness. My life has changed a LOT since my daughters came into my life, and while they (and my husband) will always remain the most important people in my life, I know it’s important for me to embrace the other parts of me, too. I try to make a date a week (or every other week) with another mom and their kiddo(s). It does something for my spirit to get out of the house and talk with another woman who knows just what I’m going through. I’ve gotten back to songwriting and performing. It’s not easy balancing my passions alongside my family and work; however I am a much better mom when I’m making time for my own needs. I want my daughters to know that being a mom is awesome! That being a mom means you love your family, but you also do other things that make you feel alive.
I’m grateful that I faced my depression and dealt with it so that it didn’t zap any more of the joys being a mom brings. My kids and husband deserve a happy Bonnie. And I deserve to be happy, too. 🙂
Missed the last post in this series? Read Tasha and Max’s story here.
Considering sleep help? Learn more here.
Quick Facts about Postpartum Mental Health
Postpartum depression is the most common complication of childbirth, putting American families at risk each and every year.
Mothers are often told that in order to care for their babies they must take care of themselves first, just as we are told on a plane prior to takeoff that we must put our oxygen mask on first before we put one on our child.
Postpartum depression is now often referred to as perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, or postpartum mood disorders (PPMD).
There are four subtypes of PPMD: depression, anxiety with or without depression, panic attacks, and obsessive -compulsive disorder.
Symptoms [of PPMD] can start to show within a few weeks of childbirth, but sometimes it can take up to a year.
Mothers with Postpartum Depression may not wish to engage with others or their babies, lack concentration and focus, and may feel worthless, hopeless, guilty, and sad.
No one is ever at fault for having a Postpartum Mood Disorder. There is nothing a new mother could have done to prevent it, and she most certainly did not ask for it. And she cannot simply will it away.
Where to turn to for help – Resources for parents experiencing symptoms of Postpartum Mood Disorders