((I’m sorry to say that this post isn’t going to have any witty memes or pictures, and it will contain some dark descriptions of some dark stuff…))
6 months, 100mg Sertraline, and several ongoing visits with my therapist later, I wonder if this is still lingering postpartum, or if this is just a permanent state of being.
Don’t get me wrong, I have far many more good days than bad days nowadays. It’s just that when they’re bad days…well, I get through.
Like many people, I have lived with depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember. So it didn’t come as much surprise that I would experience postpartum depression. In fact, I expected as much. I knew that at some point I would need a little help after birth, and I just kind of accepted it as par for the course, and I’d just cross that bridge when I came to it.
But nobody warned me about antenatal depression…
Antenatal depression, or prenatal depression, is a clinical depression experienced during pregnancy. Normal clinical depression is caused by changes in brain chemistry, which causes the feelings of sadness, anxiousness, hopelessness, etc. Hormone changes during pregnancy also affect brain chemistry, and can exacerbate existing issues.
According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), around 14-23% of women struggle with some symptoms of depression during pregnancy. Often times, this depression is neither diagnosed nor treated properly as most people believe that these feelings are just a part of pregnancy-related emotional turbulence.
That, and the still-existing stigma of postpartum depression make a lot of moms want to keep quiet about their feelings, afraid of being judged or that if they seek help it means that they are inadequate mothers. This can create very dangerous, and very tragic circumstances.
As I mentioned before, I’ve been dealing with depression and anxiety for a while, the worst of which being from late high school through the middle of college. I had severe suicidal ideation, and would write suicide notes and plans daily, detailing how ugly and useless I was and how I didn’t deserve to live and how I might kill myself if I’d had the guts, mainly through running away and throwing myself off of the tallest building I could come across. I thank God that He gave me my friends and my husband, because if not for them, I don’t know where (or if) I’d be…
I was in a bit of a rough place to begin with when we were “trying” to conceive. I was enduring regular panic attacks and thoughts of self harm, but was working through them with a therapist, and my coping mechanisms had come a long way.
When I got pregnant sooner than expected, I was initially ecstatic, immediately turning to Pinterest for early pregnancy tips and reveal ideas. But, this excitement seemed to fade as soon as it came.
Towards my third trimester, these symptoms worsened. I was irritable and despondent during the day, and suffered severe insomnia at night (insomnia is a common occurrence in the third trimester, granted).
I would lay sobbing silently into my pillow to not wake my husband. I had become highly skilled in crying in secret over the years, and the thought of burdening my already overwhelmed husband made me hate myself.
During these restless nights, I found my thoughts darkening more and more. I remember one night visualizing myself walking to the bathroom, turning on my shower, and just standing in the water. I fantasized taking my shaving razor and slitting up and down my arms, shoulders, and back, letting myself bleed out into the running water until I could finally pass out and get a little bit of relief from my running thoughts. Thoughts that would tempt me to jump out a window and save my unborn son the misery of being born into a dying world, worst of all enduring it with a useless shell of a human being of a mother.
This was just one of many examples of terrible thoughts I’d had during these dark times. I would only reluctantly open up to my husband about these feelings, but only after being “badgered” by him, but I would continue to lay awake almost every night, crying angry, self-loathing tears as my son kicked and jabbed in protest.
My grandmother had passed away late into my second trimester. On Good Friday, of all days.
I could write an entire separate blog post on how incredible of a human being my grandmother was. I don’t think there’s even a way to condense into a paragraph just how inspiring, selfless, determined, strong, loving, accepting, firm, fun, and overall wonderful this woman was…and how much of a gaping, vacuous hole her passing has left in my family…
I hadn’t seen her in over a year at that point, as she had moved thousands of miles away several months before I conceived. She had finally been able to retire after nearly 50 years in the workforce, and she was going to finally enjoy the happy, worry-free life she had always deserved…
So when I got that call in January that she had lung cancer, and that call in April that it had taken her life…I just couldn’t accept either.
I was in denial for so long, and I’d be lying if I still wasn’t, to some extent. I would cry to myself on a daily and nightly basis, wondering why God had not taken me instead of my beloved grandmother, who had finally just started to be able to live her best life.
I’d look around at the world without my grandmother and began to notice then more than ever how terminally ill the world seemed. Climate change, corruption in politics, evil, hatred…the world as I’d known it had ended, and it seemed the world at large soon would be, too. How could I be so selfish, bringing an innocent life into this wretched, dying world?
While the prospect of dying in childbirth had initially petrified me, I began secretly hoping, wishing for it. If my son must be born, then at least he could be brought up by his loving father, family, and surrogate aunties and uncles. I would leave him in their capable hands to help him navigate this poisoned planet, and to bring him up to make as much of a difference as possible for good in the world.
Well, sure enough, his birth went perfectly. Peaceful, yet empowering. He came into the world like a lamb and would grow like a mighty lion.
I had a fleeting moment of optimism as I recovered in the hospital as I was bombarded by questionnaire after questionnaire regarding my mental health. I was more or less honest, but promised that I would be okay.
Maybe, just maybe, I could do this on my own.
Things started off okay, more or less, until nearly a week back at home. I began feeling miserable again, even worse than before.
I would look at my postpartum body through tears of rage, furious that I had “let myself” “get like this.” I was livid with myself for not getting sick “enough” during pregnancy, and began hating myself thinking back on all of the times I had indulged.
I saw my raw, still very much healing post-birth form as that of a grotesque monster, my emotions as signals of an incompetent and incapable parent, and decided that I needed to be punished.
I had little to no appetite as it was, but when I did feel like eating I would only allow myself limited portions, in hopes that nursing my son would cause me to shed excess weight faster. I knew that producing breastmilk required extra calories, but I figured as long as I allowed myself the 500 “extra” that it would go to making the milk and I would wither away and look “decent” again, while still being able to give my husband’s son that precious, precious breastmilk he so needed and deserved.
Needless to say, my supply dwindled, and I had to supplement my son at barely 2 weeks.
This fueled my self-loathing.
There were days when I didn’t even feel like my son was mine. I would look at him, in the arms of my friends and family, and just see him as some alien being. Some type of benign parasite that was once sapping energy from within me, that needed to be painfully ejected from the most delicate part of my anatomy, and that now demanded nutrients from another painful, delicate part of my anatomy. I would go through the motions involuntarily wondering when his true parents would come from whatever planet they were from to take him away.
Looking back, maybe my hatred for myself made it hard for me to attach myself to something that was half of me…
I began to start planning my suicide. I began looking into life insurance policies, to see if my son and the rest of my family could further benefit from my death, how many ibuprofen it would take to kill a 190 pound woman, and crafting the will for whatever it was of value that I had to give away, and how it would all be dispersed.
As it turns out, life insurance won’t cover suicide, it’s more difficult to overdose from ibuprofen than I’d thought, and I didn’t have much to offer, aside from my wedding and engagement ring that I had willed to my son.
My husband eventually found out what I was doing, and talked me off of the ledge, so to speak. Eventually, I had to come clean to my doctors and let them know what I was feeling, and my worst fear had come true–I was prescribed sertraline for post partum depression, and had to see a Psychiatrist for further evaluation.
“But I’m breastfeeding…” I explained to my OB in my zombified state. Or rather, I was struggling to.
He explained to me that zoloft is one of the safest medications for nursing, and I later found that you can even donate breastmilk if you’re taking zoloft.
It was a bumpy few weeks between increasing doses and working through feelings with my therapist and the psychiatrist, and finally reaching out to my friends and opening up to my husband, but eventually I got through the worst of it.
Life Goes On
Today wasn’t the greatest day. I had some scary thoughts. But I’m not a slave to them, and I won’t be force-choked out by them anymore.
I will fight back. The Force is strong with this one.
I can see the road to happiness from where I am, and the woods don’t seem as deep.
Postpartum Depression is a real and scary thing, as is prenatal depression. Although not as heavy as in the past, the stigma is still very much there.
We feel like bad mothers for being depressed. We feel a pressure to forget about ourselves and pour our whole depleted energy into a small being we may not even feel that same overwhelming love that we see televised and written about everywhere, and wonder what is wrong with us. Self care is a thing of the past, we think, so we suffer in silence.
“You can’t pour from an empty cup.” I have seen this quote everywhere. I would sometimes rephrase it to myself, “You can’t nurse from an empty breast.”
I realized after I had gotten help that by not taking care of myself, I was affecting my ability to really care for my son. My suffering caused me to drastically lose supply, and make it difficult to feel attached to the thing that attached himself to my sore, bleeding, cracked nipples, desperately trying to pull nutrients from the drooping speedbags that hung from my chest.
I eventually had to exclusively formula feed because my PPD had warped me so much that I sabotaged my vision of exclusively breastfeeding until my son was a year old.
Once I was beginning to come to, I went from Post-Partum Depression to involuntary weaning depression. He is still thriving, and I will always believe that fed is best, but I had failed my son in my eyes. But more on that later…
What I want to say through all of this is, is that if you are suffering, you are not alone. It is nothing to be ashamed of. I know that you want to take care of your baby, but your baby needs you to take care of yourself. Your baby needs their mama, above all else. Please reach out to your loved ones, and your doctors. It’s hard at first, but it gets better. You can do this.
If you need help, but aren’t sure how to go about getting it, this website may be of help.
Thanks for reading! Tune in next time for a more light-hearted post on ways to repurpose formula cans and scoops!
Until then, thank you so much for reading, my Gals! Talk soon!