Not what I expected – but could I have seen it coming? Part II (guest post)
How could I tell that I wasn’t myself and not just sleep-deprived? How could I predict if I would get back to normal within a healthy amount of time? First, I needed permission to admit that I wasn’t “snapping back,” along with the freedom to ask myself if I was indeed suffering from depression. PPD is different for every woman, a factor that made it tricky to recognize in myself. However, when I saw lists of the symptoms online or in brochures, I found myself saying, “yes” to most of the items on those lists. I was identifying with the descriptions and then realized I was in need of all the help I could get.
The following were some of the key signs of PPD for me:
- I felt beyond overwhelmed at the thought of doing simple tasks. Fear was knocking at the door of my mind quite often. Things like going to the grocery store or sometimes taking a shower made me weep. Life felt like it was too much for me to handle. Decisions were paralyzing and anything that felt out of control was frightening to me.
- Occasionally, I imagined my husband coming home to me passed out dead on the floor with my baby screaming and helpless. I feared dropping our baby and had uncomfortably grotesque images of what would happen to him if we did.
- I cried a lot. When I went to my one-week check up to get my stitches removed, I wept uncontrollably the whole time. It seemed like I was either crying or staring off into oblivion while nursing. My mind would kind of go blank and numb, which is not like me at all.
- The lingering effects of the depression were that of feeling badly about myself most days, specifically feeling a lot of shame and dislike of myself. This made interacting with people very difficult. I didn’t want to talk to others and I often felt like I just couldn’t. Normally I am very talkative and engaging, and I love people. But this caused me to want to avoid people and conversation.
- My husband, DH, (who has also suffered from his own version of PPD) was deeply affected by the lack of sleep. He found himself being very grumpy and unmotivated. There were times when he almost felt like our child was a vessel of constant need rather than a person. He needed the emotional and relational support just as much as I did, but felt lonely at times because so much of the focus was on Phinehas and me.
- After having been on antidepressants for a few months, I experienced a week or two in which I felt irritable and grumpy every day. It took me a while to notice this as well as a new symptom of difficulty getting back to sleep after night feedings. I spoke with my midwife and counselor about it and they recommended that I increase my antidepressant dose by a little bit. It has helped tremendously!
At these very first signs, the plan of care became: ask for help, get more sleep, begin meeting with a counselor, and start taking medication and vitamins (2,000 iu Vitamin D and 3,000 iu fish oil). To carry out this plan, I/we did a variety of practical things. On two different occasions we had someone come to our house and do the night shift with Phinehas so DH and I could sleep through the night. I also needed something to look forward to each day, so I had plans to meet with other women either in my home or theirs. I began weekly counseling and medication. Taking a multi-faceted approach at the first signs of PPD has been tremendously helpful. The timing was also very key for me – we caught it soon before too much of my life had been taken from me by the effects of the depression. The plan was put into place within 4-5 weeks of Phinehas’ life.
Everyone always says about newborns, “It gets easier.” I have found that it’s true! Once Phinehas started giving back to us in smiles, giggles, that look that said he knows who we are, snuggles, and the development of his personality, it not only became easier, but more fun as well.
Depression (of any kind) is such a common experience in our broken world, and yet it is so difficult to understand and empathize with others unless you have experienced it yourself. I would never have asked for PPD, but I will now better know how to come alongside others who are struggling or have struggled with depression, something I am grateful for.
Though I still feel that we are at times floating on a life raft after a shipwreck, the sunshine is coming back again … and I am thankful.
Written by Emily Henry – wife of DH, proud momma of Phinehas Turner Henry