Blindsided by Postpartum Depression
I am an engineer with a type A personality. I am an athlete and your classic control freak. I love data and I firmly believe that "knowledge is power." I thought I had all the facts about giving birth, having a newborn, and what postpartum would look like. I went to every prenatal visit with a list of questions. I took classes on exercise during pregnancy and saw a pelvic floor physical therapist. I took a birthing class at the hospital I was going to deliver at. I bought my ice pack pads and adult diapers. I was confident that I was as prepared as I possibly could be before my due date. I had no idea I was about to be hit by a freight train of depression, anxiety, loneliness, uncertainty, and a total lack of control.
I THOUGHT THE RECOVERY ROOM WAS FOR RECOVERING
I delivered my healthy baby boy at 140 AM on Monday, June 15, 2020. Forty-five minutes (and 28 stitches) later, I found myself eating a turkey sandwich and happily nursing my baby for the first time. Everything seemed to be going okay. We were transferred to the recovery room around 7 AM where I spent the next two days doing next to no recovering. Recovery requires sleep, and that just wasn’t happening. On Wednesday, it was time to go home, see my dog, sleep in my own bed, and see my parents (masked, of course). I should have been excited, right? Well, I wasn’t.
I WAS OVERWHELMED, AND NOT WITH JOY
I was nervous about leaving the safety net of experts at the hospital. And mostly, I was anxious about the precious little life we were now solely responsible for feeding, nurturing, and keeping alive. I almost had a full blown panic attack when we walked in the door of our house. I immediately put the car seat down and couldn’t even look at my baby. I didn’t know what to do. I suddenly felt trapped. I was so overwhelmed, and not with joy. The place I just walked into didn’t feel like home anymore.
IT’S JUST THE BABY BLUES
All I wanted the first night home was to sleep, but had this dread that it just wasn’t going to happen. Well, guess what? I couldn’t have slept more than 1 hour that first night. I had this bad feeling that it wasn’t just a fluke; I was never going to sleep again. From there, the days progressed slowly. We had a great baby. He cried when he was hungry, nursed well, pooped, then slept again. I, on the other hand, was not doing well. My anxiety seemed to be growing by the hour, though I couldn’t quite put my finger on what I was anxious about. Night after night I could not sleep. I got most of my “sleep” from 7-10 PM and 7-10 AM when my husband took the baby 2 floors away from me. I spent my days waking up, nursing my baby, then passing him off immediately so I could go attempt another inevitably unsuccessful nap. I wasn’t bonding with my baby and I just felt drained and empty. I panicked about the future and feared I made a terrible mistake. I felt like a terrible mom. I would talk to my friends and family who would assure me that it was just the baby blues and the feelings would pass.
MY OWN PERSONAL PRISON
During the day, I barely ate and I rarely showered. I didn’t feel like reading, visiting with family, watching movies, or doing any of the things I used to enjoy. Every evening, my anxiety would mount as nighttime approached. Every night as I was crying and nursing my baby, I would google “what’s the difference between postpartum depression and the baby blues.” I’d message my mom friends to see if they were feeling the same. I’d finish nursing and go back to bed and lie awake crying, waiting for the baby to wake up for the next feeding. If I slept, it was so light it was almost like that stage right before you actually fall asleep. Every noise would jolt me awake and I’d start the cycle over again. I started thinking of the nursery as my own personal prison. I couldn’t find peace or happiness. I just kept telling myself, “It’s just the baby blues. Hold on, it will get better.”
IT WASN’T GETTING BETTER
I was about 1.5 weeks postpartum the first time my husband heard me crying so hard that he had to sprint upstairs to make sure we were both okay. Nothing particularly bad had happened. My baby, who had reflux, was just having a bad feeding. But to me, it was devastating. Even though I hated breastfeeding, I truly felt like it was the only thing of value I could do for my baby. I felt like a bad mom in every other aspect. Every time we had an issue or it didn’t go well I felt like a complete failure. This wasn’t the last time my husband had to sprint upstairs to check on us. Sometimes it was a bad nap, sometimes it was breastfeeding, sometimes it was caused by absolutely nothing. I am sure it was exhausting for him, but I couldn’t stop and I couldn’t control it. I felt worthless; I couldn’t take care of my baby adequately and I was creating added stress for my husband. But it was just the baby blues, right?? It will get better...
NO HONEY, THAT IS NOT NORMAL
It was Friday, June 26th, just 11 days after having my baby, that I called my OBs office. I told the triage nurse I was sad, anxious, and desperate for sleep because I couldn’t sleep while the baby slept. I asked if that was normal. I was embarrassed. I thought I was calling too early and that it was probably just the baby blues, and they would wonder why I was calling. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The nurse scheduled me for the next available appointment at 730 AM on Monday (after making sure I wasn’t in danger of harming myself or the baby). I felt this wave of relief. Maybe I wasn’t overthinking this. Maybe I didn’t need to feel like this. I went to the doctor’s on Monday and was diagnosed with postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety. I was put on Zoloft that day and started my long road to recovery. Now, 7.5 months later, I feel like myself again. I enjoy the things I used to. I don’t cry all the time. I can sleep at night. I still get angry and struggle with motherhood sometimes, but I feel NORMAL. Most importantly, I have bonded with my sweet, sweet baby boy.
THE HEALTH CARE SYSTEM FAILED ME
In all my prenatal appointments, no one prepared me for the potential of experiencing postpartum depression (PPD). No one told me that 1 in 7 (or arguably more) mothers experience it after birth. No one told me what the baby blues were or how long they would last (2 weeks or less). No one told me the difference between the baby blues and PPD or other PMADs. I felt that the health system totally failed me in every aspect of postnatal care, EXCEPT that one appointment where I was treated for PPD. Don’t even get me started on the physical aspect of postpartum recovery (and I am not talking about just your uterus). I had to ask for a pelvic floor physical therapy script. Why is it not standard to offer or suggest PFPT after birth?
I now have this newfound passion for maternal mental health and postpartum recovery. I created the instagram account @postpartum_truths to share my story in an attempt to educate expecting and new moms. Most importantly, I want new moms everywhere to not feel desperately sad and alone. You deserve to enjoy your beautiful new baby. You deserve happiness. You deserve to be educated.
IS IT BABY BLUES OR SOMETHING MORE
The difference between Baby Blues and PPD according to the American Pregnancy Association:
A few days to two weeks of mild ups and downs, weepiness, and stress
Postpartum Depression - Some common symptoms of PPD are:
Difficulty sleeping at night (even when the baby is sleeping)
Big appetite changes (usually a decrease)
Lack of emotion
Hopelessness (feeling of nothing to look forward to)
All Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs):
Postpartum bipolar disorder
Ellen welcomed her first baby boy Finley, in the middle of a global pandemic. While the pandemic presented many challenges, her biggest struggle was dealing with postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety. Ellen created an instagram community (@postpartum_truths) to share her postpartum story and provide resources on mental and physical postpartum recovery. Her journey has also inspired her to get her personal training certification. She is working on becoming a pre/post natal exercise specialist to help mother’s.
Speaking from my experience Ellen has helped me as a new mom tremendously. I would message Ellen at all hours of the night my first few weeks home and she was always there for me. Ellen did not have to be there for me like she was. We were friends but more like acquaintances through soccer. However, that did not matter to her. Ellen has helped me continue breastfeeding even when I wanted to quit and SO much more.
Thank you so much Ellen for sharing your story. You are truly inspiring! Remember to check out Ellen’s instagram page (@postpartum_truths) where she shares many good resources!