Unable to cope – my story of postpartum depression
After a somewhat rough end to our pregnancy with Elijah, we were thankful to take our new son home with us. We enjoyed him, but there were definitely unexpected circumstances that became part of our lives during this time. Elijah had developed jaundice. Because of this, we had come home from the hospital with a “bili-blanket,” a type of phototherapy that would help clear the jaundice. We were to keep him wrapped in the blanket as much as possible, which meant we could not hold him as much as we desired. Several weeks after he had been born, I noticed on numerous occasions that the skin around his mouth was blue. We soon found out that his oxygen levels were low. He then had to be put on supplemental oxygen, which included an oxygen tank that had to be toted around everywhere we went. At the same time, he was having trouble learning to breastfeed, but we needed to feed him every 2 hours because he weighed only 5.5 lbs. when we brought him home. So every 2 hours, I tried to breastfeed him, pumped, fed him the pumped breastmilk, then supplemented with formula. It was, to say the least, exhausting for all involved.
When Elijah was around 2.5 weeks old, I began to lose my milk supply. It was recommended that I begin taking a medication that had the side effect of increasing a woman’s milk supply. [side note – whoever discovered such a side effect of a medication? Weird …] I was desperate to do just that, because I was definitely going to be a breastfeeding mother, I had decided. While it did increased my milk supply, I began to notice myself getting a bit more fearful and anxious, and found that I had a hard time focusing on things other than the fear and anxiety. I also didn’t want to be alone with Elijah.
After a few days, the anxiety grew worse. I don’t even remember what I was anxious about, but recall experiencing such incredible fear and panic that I felt it could swallow me up. After a few days of feeling this way, I realized something was wrong. I remember praying and pacing around a nearby parking lot, repeating to myself what I knew to be true about God, what He says about me, and how He says I do not need to be afraid. However, my mind would not be calmed and I realized I needed help. We called a local hotline and I explained my symptoms. The woman I spoke with had experienced postpartum depression and recommended I see a MD as soon as possible because she thought I had probably developed it as well.
I saw a MD that same day and sat in his exam room, weeping uncontrollably. We decided that I needed to begin some medication to bring me to a place where I could again cope with everyday life. Although I began to feel much better after the first week of being on the medication, that first week was hard. I was exhausted, I struggled with anxiety and fear that threatened to spiral out of control, and at times I felt like I was losing my mind. I didn’t want to be alone with Elijah and felt little interest in caring for him, a reality that contributed to feelings of guilt and shame. Along with starting medication, I began seeing a counselor who had worked with many women with PPD and I also met with my midwife.
PPD is such a complex thing that I have no idea what caused mine. Was it the medication (which quite possibly causes depression in specific instances)? Was it the additional stressors of Elijah’s low oxygenation levels, jaundice, and feeding struggles? Was it my fluctuating post-birth hormone levels? Actually, it was probably a combination of all of it.
After beginning the medication and counseling, I began to feel much better all-around. I grew to understand PPD much better. We took steps to make life easier in the midst of all of the normal stresses that a new baby brings. I stopped breast-feeding. This was a huge one for me and I really struggled with feelings of failure. However, I appreciated a local lactation consultant telling me that I had done the right thing by stopping (and they of all people are definitely pro-breastfeeding); that my baby needed me to get better. That’s when I realized that Elijah needed my presence more than he needed my breast milk, a realization that really put things into perspective. I delayed the cloth diapering that I had wanted to do with Elijah. I focused on resting when I could. And I must tell you that my husband was incredible during all of this. After the fact, he admitted that he had been scared to see me in the state I had been in, but I never sensed his fear. He was my rock and I am grateful for everything he did for our family during that time. Also, my parents arrived in town the day I was diagnosed with PPD (coincidence? I think not.) and also loved on us and helped care for me and Elijah while Shun-Luoi had to work – what a gift!
I was blessed that, as a result of God’s grace through quick treatment and people who loved me in the midst of my PPD, I arrived at a place where I could not only cope with life, but give my baby (and those around me) my presence. Since then, I have made it a point to openly share to my experience with PPD and intentionally reach out to other women who have been diagnosed with it. I have also made it a type of personal mission to educate others on PPD; on the fact that it does exist, the ways it can manifest itself, the interventions used to treat it, and how to love those around you who are experiencing it.
Because if it’s true (and I believe it is) that 10% of women in the postpartum period develop PPD, then chances are good that you know someone who has developed or will develop it. And they may need your presence to help them walk through it.