Coming out of the darkness
The birth of a child is supposed to be one of the happiest times of a woman's life. Sadly, for approximately 15% of women, it can be the exact opposite. Postpartum depression is a recognized mental health disorder that has gained greater awareness in recent years. Here is the story of one new mother's struggle with postpartum depression.I sat in my hospital bed, cradling my newborn son, with tears streaming down my face. However, these were not tears of joy. I was in despair, afraid and miserable. Wasn’t this supposed to be the happiest day of my life? This child was planned, eagerly anticipated , and very much wanted. At least that’s what I thought.
My first pregnancy had been relatively easy, once the morning sickness subsided after the first trimester. I went into labor a few days before my due date, and I hoped for an easy delivery and a wonderful birth experience. Thirty hours later I was undergoing a C-section for failure to progress. My son had some respiratory issues and was whisked away to the NICU.
Nothing had gone as I anticipated. My baby was fussy and wouldn’t nurse, my incision was extremely painful, and I was exhausted. Everyone kept telling me I would feel better once I got some sleep. But I couldn’t sleep, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had somehow failed.
A feeling of heaviness descended upon me, and I couldn’t eat or sleep. I didn’t want any visitors and I didn’t want to see my baby. I didn’t know what was happening to me, but I knew something was wrong and I was scared. Hospital staff and my family brushed it off as exhaustion and the “baby blues”. Everyone assured me I would be fine and said these feelings would soon pass. This was 21 years ago and I had never heard of post partum depression.
However, these feelings only got worse once I was home. I was anxious, I couldn’t stop crying, and I wished I had never had a baby. I felt so guilty about having these feelings, and I tried to make up for them by being excessively diligent about caring for my son. I obsessed over how much he ate and slept. I made charts tracking when he ate, slept, peed, and pooped that covered the refrigerator and counters. I felt my emotions were completely out of control and I wanted my old life back.
Meanwhile, I still was having great difficulty sleeping and eating. That heaviness I first felt in the hospital was growing worse. It felt like I had been attacked by the Dementors from the Harry Potter books. All the joy had been sucked out of my world. No one could tell me what was wrong with me. I started to notice family and friends exchanging worried glances when I would dissolve into tears over nothing. My grandmother told me to grow up and “snap out of it”. Nothing relieved this darkness that I felt was swallowing me whole.
When my son was 4 weeks old I decided to go visit my mother, who lived about an hour away. I felt I had to get out of the house before I lost my mind. I was driving on the interstate, crying, and found myself thinking about letting the car cross the median into oncoming traffic. I wanted relief from this depression and pain, and I was desperate enough to consider ending my life.
Fortunately, my son was with me and I could not fathom hurting him. I made it to my mother’s house and told her what I had been thinking. She told me to go take a nap, and to stop being so dramatic. I had a beautiful baby and had absolutely nothing to be upset about.
Meanwhile the depression continued and I struggled through the days, caring for my son but watching the clock til my husband came home, and I could just crawl into bed and cry. My OB was shocked when she saw me at my 6 week postpartum visit. I had lost the 25 lbs I gained during the pregnancy plus an additional 10 lbs. I was a small person to begin with and now I was gaunt. I had big dark circles under my eyes, my hair and skin were dull, and I sobbed through the entire appointment.
I begged her to admit me to the hospital, so they could find out what was wrong with me. Instead, she sent me right over to a wonderful psychiatrist who specialized in women’s mood disorders. He told me I was experiencing postpartum depression (PPD). Finally! My feelings had a name. I wasn’t being weak and I wasn’t crazy. I had never heard of PPD before. It was never discussed in pre-natal classes and my OB had never mentioned it to me.
My psychiatrist prescribed an anti-depressant and saw me twice a week for therapy. He also steered me towards a peer led support group of other women who had had the same experience as me. I no longer felt alone. Within 3 weeks my mood started to brighten and I felt a part of the world again. I will never forget the day, 5 weeks after first seeing the psychiatrist that I fell in love with my baby. I had just finished feeding him when the flow of tears started. This time, they were tears of joy. I couldn’t stop hugging and kissing him, saying “I love you, I love you” over and over again. I finally felt like a mother, and not a failure.
It is though that postpartum depression affects anywhere from 10%-25% of all women after childbirth. Most women have some sort of transient depression, more commonly known as postpartum or baby blues, which passes within days or a week. Postpartum depression is characterized by mood changes, sleep and eating disturbances, frequent crying, detachment from the baby, and feelings of hopelessness. PPD responds well to both pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatments. It can be mild or severe. Screening and education are key to recognition and prompt treatment of this disorder. No woman should suffer through weeks or months of depression and anxiety following the birth of a child.Last edit by Joe V on Apr 29, '13
BCgradnurse is a family nurse practitioner who was a late arrival to the nursing profession, having attended nursing school in her 40s. She is an avid reader, cook, and gardener, and is mother to 2 children, 3 cats, and 2 rabbits.
BCgradnurse has '5' year(s) of experience and specializes in 'primary care, allergy and asthma'. From 'New England'; Joined Sep '07; Posts: 3,087; Likes: 8,576.4Apr 28, '13 by ShinnichiThis was me. Exactly. Completely. Only difference is that my baby was born in 2009, but the OB and relatives were the same. It wasn't until I failed 2 semesters of school and passed out 4 different times from dehydration/nourishment that I was able to get the help I really needed.
...I loved the article. Wonderful. Thank you for writing it.8Apr 28, '13 by VivaLasViejas, ASN, RN GuideTears sprang to my eyes as I read this story....it evokes so many memories of the PPD I went through with my own babies. It got progressively worse with each one until I reached the point of psychosis with my fifth and last child.
Now, back in those days mothers really didn't talk about PPD, didn't really even know it existed......we just called it the "baby blues" and hid the fear and sadness inside. All I knew when I was suffering through that last episode was that I was an evil human being and a terrible mother for even thinking the thoughts that raced through my mind. I had horrid, grisly fantasies of taking my precious son out to the train tracks behind our apartment complex and kneeling down in front of an oncoming train with him in my arms; in fact, there were several scenarios I imagined over and over again, each of which was very graphic and ended with both of us dying in a spectacularly violent manner.
In retrospect, I realize that this was the beginning of a long road that eventually led to my bipolar diagnosis in early 2012. It took me that long to be able to speak of this, even to my husband. I was that ashamed of it. I never would have lifted a finger to harm my son, but for those awful months I was so fearful of doing so that I wouldn't even touch him if we were alone in the house....thankfully, that was almost never.
Now, doctors and nurses talk to women about PPD and psychosis every day as part of their patient education. Celebrities such as Brooke Shields and Marie Osmond have stepped up and talked about their experiences, and so have brave women like our own BCgradnurse. There can never be too much information or too much help for new mothers struggling with these disorders. Thank you, BC, for sharing your story, even though it must have been gut-wrenching to tell. Bravo!!!5Apr 29, '13 by marydc"Nothing relieved this darkness that I felt was swallowing me whole". I suffered from PPD after the birth of my second child 20 years ago and this describes exactly how I felt. I even work in psychiatry and was reluctant to seek help. I was never suicidal but I did reach such hopelessness that I finally understood why people kill themselves; anything to end the misery. That realization was what sent me to my doctor.
I was started on an antidepressant which was effective. After a few months I literally felt like a 100 lb weight had been lifted from me. I had 2 more children but thankfully only dealt with "the blues" after their births.
The blessing through this was it made me a better psych nurse. I never before understood how someone could be so selfish as to attempt to take their own life. When you are barely grasping a high wire by one hand, letting go and ending the pain can seem the only way out.
One of our docs was recently feeling a bit...burned out. He was telling me he wished he had become a fireman like he had always wanted. I told him "You help bring people from the darkness of such despair, that death beckons as a welcome relief. You've probably rescued more people than any fireman has". I meant it because the doctor who rescued me from that pain and darkness is my hero.
Beautiful article, thank you for sharing.
3Apr 29, '13 by prnqdayThank you for sharing your story. I'm a nurse that recently started working in Postpartum. I will think of your story when assessing my patients. I don't want to miss any pertinent info. that may signal post partum depression. I want to make sure they don't feel alone and have all the resources they need.1Apr 29, '13 by NurseDirtyBirdThank you for writing this. I also had PPD, albeit probably a result of my later diagnosed bipolar disorder, but the feelings of hopelessness and failure as a mother were there. I had problems breast feeding as well, and that compounded the problem. I'm happy you found the help you needed and are willing to share your story in hopes that other mothers won't have to suffer as you did.1Apr 29, '13 by cienurseThank you for this wonderful article about post partum depression. While I am fortunate enough to not have experienced it, there are those who will benefit from your experience and be able to relate to what happened to you. I applaud you for your bravery and candor so that others might avoid the pain you have gone through. Bless you!