Part I–(Postpartum) Depression: Let’s Talk

Wordle: Let's Talk PPD

No one wants to talk about depression.  In all of my talking with other moms, in all of the threads on all of the mother- and baby-boards I’ve visited, I’ve encountered little discussion of depression of any sort.   Why don’t we talk about it?  Perhaps it is because depression has no measurable, tangible or visible symptoms, like high blood pressure, a cough or a rash, so why go to the doctor if you’re just in a funk?  Or maybe it’s because so many people, including some of those with depression, feel that it’s just a bad mood, and it should simply be a matter of “snapping out of it”.  But that just isn’t the case.  Depression (see also “clinical depression” or “major depressive disorder”) is a very real and very serious illness affecting millions of people around the world, and is especially prevalent among women.  For example, an estimated 13% of women will experience postpartum depression (PPD).  Think of all the women who gave birth in your town, on the same day that you (or your partner) did.  More than one out of every ten of those new mothers experienced PPD.

Postpartum depression is a particularly nasty bit of work.  Unlike “the baby blues”, which are comparatively mild and last only a few weeks, postpartum depression (or PPD) is an episode of true depression occurring in the first year after pregnancy and lasting more than two weeks.  In addition to the normal run of symptoms associated with depression, a woman experiencing PPD may also feel a lack of interest in her baby, or even have thoughts of hurting her baby!  Then there’s the guilt for feeling that way, or having those thoughts.  And all of this is at a time when the mother is already exhausted, drained, and sleep deprived.  It’s a nightmare, and can definitely interfere with the mother’s ability to care for her child.

I can tell you from first hand experience that depression is a bitch, and PPD is even worse.  I have struggled with depression intermittently since I was a pre-teen.  I can’t tell you how many trips we made from my small hometown to near-by Orlando, visiting different doctors: a child psychiatrist, a counselor, an eating disorder specialist. I’d been on three or four different antidepressants by the time I graduated high school, during which time I acquired a new doctor and a new therapist.  I went off the meds in college, but saw the on-campus counselor for several months.  I went back on the meds after moving to Germany with my husband,   but improved enough during my first pregnancy to leave off of the antidepressants completely. That only lasted until my baby was about a year old, at which point I had my doctor put me back on Zoloft.  A few months after that, I became pregnant with my second child and my doctor switched me to Prozac.  I had a bad spell during the pregnancy, but it was smooth sailing in the months after my second daughter was born.  I stayed on a low dose of Prozac throughout*.

Now, I’m still fighting it.  It can still creep up on me, slow and subtle and insidious.  Life will start to lose its luster, activities that I enjoy will start to lose their appeal.  I start letting the house work slide, and the meals that I prepare become simpler and simpler.  I play with my children less, and lose my temper more.  I lose the ability to moderate my emotions, so that I fall apart at the slightest bump in the road.  Even the simplest tasks begin seem overwhelming. I find myself ruled by lethargy, sadness, frustration, and guilt that I’m not doing what I know I should.  Then I start to realize that I’ve been living for weeks in a gray murk.  I begin to recognize that things are not as they should be, and at that point, I seek help.  That is the important thing, especially now that I’m a parent.  I go back on the meds, or I raise my dosage, or I go back to counseling, and the murk begins to clear.

That’s where I am now in my fight against depression.  I’m clearing the murk and wondering, how many other women are walking this path with me?  How many women are not seeking and receiving help, because they don’t know that they should, because they are ashamed, or because they don’t know who to turn to?  Those are the women who break my heart, and those are the women I want to be talking to right now.  Take a look at some of the links below for information about depression in general, and PPD in particular. Try to evaluate your recent feelings and behaviors.  If you are depressed, there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.  (Should a diabetic be ashamed that he needs a doctor to help him manage his blood sugar?)  If you don’t know where to start, ask your doctor or try talking to a loved one.  But please, do something.  There is no reason for you to suffer.

In addition to being a veteran of PPD, Adrienne is a craft junkie, Navy wife, and stay at home mother to two beautiful little girls near Norfolk, Virginia.  She blogs about it all at http://the-green-world.blogspot.com/ .

*According to the Ask Dr. Sears article on PPD, either Zoloft or Paxil would have been safer during breastfeeding, but I’d not heard that until now.  I plan to ask my current doctor about it at my next appointment.

Sources:

The Mayo Clinic on PPD

Dr. Sears on PPD

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5 Comments

Filed under Birth, Flow, Guest Post

5 responses to “Part I–(Postpartum) Depression: Let’s Talk

  1. SRB

    I’ll raise my hand. The PPD hit me HARD around 10 weeks postpartum, and I struggled badly for months. My husband ended up taking me to the hospital one morning. Meds, in-home nurse check-ups, psychiatrist, social worker, support group. The whole shebang. I was surprised and impressed at how seriously my family clinic took it and how quickly support was mobilized for me. I find now (HGB is 12 months) that although I feel mostly fine, it ebbs and flows. I don’t know how much of it is PPD anymore and how much is residual depression/PTSD from infertility/loss. But I can absolutely relate to the murk seeping back in, like a drop of ink in a glass of water.

    If I could offer any words of advice, it would be to *tell someone*. Help is there for you. There is nothing to be ashamed of. You are not a bad mother, or a bad person. You are worth it.

  2. Pingback: Part II–(Postpartum) Depression: 10 Ways to Triumph | the other baby blog

  3. Thanks, Adrienne, for your really lucid, immediate description of the direct experience of depression (4th paragraph). “Life begins to lose its luster” is brilliant — captures it so well. I blogged a couple months ago about what I call “Covert Postpartum Depression”, and how I didn’t realize till MANY years later that I’d actually been suffering from CPPD. The more of us who speak up about it, hopefully the fewer mothers (and fathers and children!) will have to struggle with it in silence.
    Marcy Axness, PhD
    author of “Parenting for Peace: Raising the Next Generation of Peacemakers”

    • Thank you, Marcy, for taking the time to read what I’d written, and responding to it! Even knowing as I do that there’s no shame in having depression, it can still be hard to talk about–especially in such a public forum. But the writing and the sharing were both therapeutic for me. I read your article as well. Isn’t it amazing how blind we can be in the moment, and how clear things can become in hindsight? It’s like being lost without a map in a valley, then finally making it to the summit and seeing the whole spread out before you in perfect detail.

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