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
Tasha and Max’s Story
Postpartum depression (PPD) affects up to 25% of new moms AND dads. This is my (and my husband’s) story; we are part of the 25%. While I don’t believe there is a set “norm” for what postpartum depression is supposed to look and feel like, I’ve felt at times like my experience was atypical. If you are questioning whether you do, in fact, have PPD/PPA (postpartum anxiety) or if it’s simply exhaustion and sleep deprivation that has you frazzled, I hope you’ll take the time to read this.
It didn’t take long for me to begin feeling worn out and ragged following my son’s birth. While I had an easy labor and delivery, I couldn’t relax in the hospital; I was “wound” up. I didn’t sleep for a second the entire time I was there (3 days). Once we made it home I became obsessed with being the perfect breastfeeding mom. Although exhausted, I refused help from my mother and mother in-law; I wanted to prove I could do it all, by myself.
My son and I had kind of a rough start to breastfeeding. Although I was told his latch looked fine in the hospital, the lactation consultant helped me learn to use a nipple shield in hopes of minimizing trauma to my already cracked, bleeding nipples. After leaving the hospital the pain only worsened. It took everything I had in me to push through the pain and the tears, but I did it.
Nursing wasn’t the only thing that caused tears to well up in my eyes; more than anything else, I was upset because “my baby didn’t sleep like all the other babies,” at least not from where I was standing. It seemed everyone else had it figured out; their babies took long naps, slept alone, and even slept several hours in a row over night. Not my baby! Almost to the point of delirium, I set out to fix my baby’s sleep problems. I took him to the pediatrician (several times), I asked for help at every “mommy and me” group meeting, I read at least 6 books on infant sleep, and nothing helped. I felt like a failure.
Soon, well-meaning family and friends began suggesting breastfeeding was our issue. My own husband suggested “maybe if we fed him formula he would sleep more.” Now, not only did I feel like I had failed at ensuring my baby was well-rested and peaceful, it was probably MY fault too. “I had caused this,” I thought to myself. My determination to breastfeed was the reason my son only took 1 nap a day and woke up 5+ times a night. All of this was too much. I was beginning to break down.
Nearly every evening, after spending hours trying to nurse my baby in to a deep enough sleep to move him, I’d pour a glass of vodka, draw myself a bath, and go cry in the bath tub alone. Some nights my husband would come sit on the floor beside the tub and cry along with me. He’d ask me, “Baby, what’s wrong?” And I’d tell him, “I can’t do this anymore. I am tired and I don’t know what to do.” He would nod and tell me it wasn’t my fault. He told me how much he and our son needed me and how he, too, felt hopeless.
While nights were always the hardest, some days were difficult too. I experienced several panic attacks. But I wasn’t the only one suffering, my husband wasn’t happy either. We were both exhausted and dumbfounded by our “bad luck” with a baby who was “allergic to sleep.” Max and I tried the extinction version of cry it out sleep training when our baby was 13 weeks old, but we quickly realized that was not the right choice for our family.
Nearly 4 months postpartum I began to question if crying so often and feeling so hopeless was abnormal or if it was simply the result of being so incredibly sleep deprived. In search of answers, I Googled the symptoms for postpartum depression and compared them with my own symptoms. Ironically, I found that while I had many of the symptoms, my husband had even more. This was confusing to me because I thought, “Well, if we both have all these symptoms it can’t be PPD, it has to be the result of not sleeping for months on end. Anyone who hadn’t slept in months would be miserable.”
Soon after, I was on a business trip for work and found myself bored in my hotel room without a baby to care for. In between panicked phone calls from my husband who was not faring well without me, I read more about PPD and discovered that it doesn’t just affect women, men can suffer too! A light bulb went off and while I didn’t want to admit that I might actually be depressed, I realized that it was possible that we BOTH had postpartum depression. I decided to write a note to my midwife expressing how I was feeling so I could ask for her opinion. When I returned home, I scheduled an appointment and read the note to her out loud. I felt better just getting my feelings out on paper and then out into the open. She comforted me and helped me come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t OK. I was prescribed Zoloft to treat my anxiety and depression and I began taking it immediately.
Within a week of starting the medication I could feel myself easing up. I felt more relaxed, less anxious, and far less emotional. I felt like myself again and I even had more energy. I told my husband how wonderful I was feeling and encouraged him to at least go talk to his doctor about how he was feeling. My husband was not interested in talking to anyone about how he felt. My husband had been on anti-depressants on and off for 10 years and feared his physician would send him to a psychiatrist if he admitted to being depressed again.
When my son was around 5 months old, we contacted The Baby Sleep Site® for help and ended up purchasing one of the unlimited packages for constant support. My consultant really helped me to re-set our expectations in terms of night wakings and night feedings. I was happy to hear that it was OK to continue to nurse my 5 month old at night, when other books made me feel bad about nursing my baby after 4 months of age. I was able to work on my son’s independent sleep without unrealistic expectations making the whole process worse and ended up consolidating his night feedings from every hour to where they should be.
As my depression disappeared, my husband’s grew worse than ever. One day, while I was at work and he was home with the baby, he called me in tears. He said he couldn’t take it any longer. I hurried home, terrified at what I might come home to. Thank goodness, he and our son were fine. It was then that I convinced him he needed help. He agreed and went to see his doctor that day. He began Zoloft also.
Soon, we were both feeling so much better. The tears had all ended and the hopelessness we felt was replaced with happiness and optimism.
About 4 months later I discussed weaning off my medication with my midwife and together, we decided it would be worth a try. I successfully weaned off Zoloft over the course of 1 month and have not had any symptoms return. My husband continues to take his medication but has since lowered his dose.
My son will be a preschooler this summer and I could not be more proud of the energetic and curious little boy that he has become. Our nursing relationship lasted 18 months and I am so glad I was able to find a resolution to my depression that was compatible with breastfeeding.
Recently, I learned that my son has both a lip and tongue tie and that this was likely the cause of our struggles with breastfeeding in the beginning. I also feel that the undiagnosed ties contributed to my PPD. I hope that in sharing my story, someone else will be encouraged to seek help if they’re questioning whether or not their feelings are normal. My only regret is not seeking help sooner.
Next in this series is Bonnie and Shane’s story. Read it here.
Considering sleep help? Learn more here.
Quick Facts about Postpartum Mental Health
PPMD does not discriminate; as many as 1 in 4 new dads suffer from postpartum depression.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 11 to 20% of women who give birth each year have postpartum depression symptoms.
Approximately 600,000 women get PPD each year in the United States alone.
More women will suffer from postpartum depression and related illnesses in a year than the combined number of new cases for men and women of tuberculosis, leukemia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, lupus, and epilepsy.
Women who miscarry or whose babies are stillborn are also susceptible to postpartum depression.
Multiple studies have confirmed that in high-poverty areas the rate of PPD is as high as 25%.
Only 15% of women with postpartum depression ever receive professional treatment.
When women are not treated for PPD, research shows they are less able to bond with their children or care for them properly.
Women who do not seek treatment are more likely to medicate themselves with alcohol or drugs. And they may end up with lifelong chronic depression or anxiety.
Where to turn to for help – Resources for parents experiencing symptoms of Postpartum Mood Disorders