My year with postpartum depression

*originally written on March 23, 2011

I remember the drive to my OBGYN. Snaking through the back roads to avoid the beltway traffic, taking deep breaths to calm my heart, racing in my chest. Blinking back tears as I thought about the conversation I needed to have with my doctor.

It had been months leading up to this visit, but a few days of scary symptoms had forced me to finally make the call.

If I’m honest with myself, the first glimpses of this began just hours after Birdy’s birth. My first night alone in the hospital, unable to sleep. I felt pangs of panic–shortness of breath, a racing heart. I felt alone in my room. Exhausted. Baby number four in my arms. Number four. I should be a calm, collected pro at this. But here was a baby I couldn’t quiet no matter how much nursing and skin to skin coddling, and cooing and swaddling I gave her.

When I came home, the crying continued. Hers. And mine. I put on a chin-up, happy face for everyone. I wanted to believe I had everything under control, as much as I wanted everyone else to believe it, as well. There were no regrets. Everything was fine. I could handle this.

But as weeks gave way to months those baby blues never seemed to disappear. As we shifted and adjusted to life with four, we reached a new normal in our home and things seemed to settle down.

Those hard newborn days were behind me. We were in the swing of things.

Everyone seemed just fine. Everyone, except for me.

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Six months after Birdy’s birth I finally gave in. I was frightened by the symptoms I was experiencing and they were getting worse. Were these panic-attacks? Did I have a heart problem? A blood clot? Was I dying?

I was always in a funk. Deep down I knew that sitting in the dark baby’s room, feeding her a bottle and sobbing was not normal.

Eventually, my period returned and with it raging hormonal ups and downs. I had two okay weeks. I would ovulate. And then my hormones would crash and burn. I would fight with my husband. But not your normal bickering. Emotionally charged arguments that would hit him out of nowhere. “But I don’t understand where this is coming from?”…I heard those words from his mouth more often than I care to think about. Everything was something. And those somethings were always major marital crises.

I had no desire to do anything. Go anywhere. Create. Make. Cook. Clean. Teach. All the roles I normally filled felt lifeless and dull. Nothing interested me.

My patience was a ticking bomb. The littlest mess, sibling argument, chaotic moment, could set me off on an angry spiral that seemed to have nothing to do with the issue at hand.

I knew I was on an emotional roller-coaster but I couldn’t pull the brake.

I prided myself on being easy-going, emotionally stable, happy, strong, confident. There had to be some way for me to pull myself out of this lonely darkness.

But I couldn’t do it alone.

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And that’s why, six months after Birdy’s birth, I found myself sitting in the office of my OBGYN, finally telling the truth. Finally admitting that I couldn’t keep it together. That something was wrong. That I needed help.

She listened, nodded her head, and handed me tissues. And when I finished, she asked me a simple question : How old is the baby?

She went on to explain that it is a myth to think postpartum depression only lasts those first few weeks beyond birth. That it can linger and deepen months beyond baby’s arrival. That it can last even the entire first year. As we talked, I felt like I had walked into the arms of change and answers, relief and hope. Slowly, I felt that cloud of loneliness and darkness lift. It wasn’t just me. I wasn’t the only one.

We discussed my options–taking a more natural herbal approach to my care, or going right to an anti-depressant medication. I chose the later. I wanted to get out of this hole.

And the change wasn’t immediate. And the change wasn’t dramatic. But I felt me return. I felt leveled out. Even-tempered. Calm. Dare I say, happy? It had been quite awhile.

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Today marks Birdy’s first birthday. And I have been off medication just shy of two months. And I feel good. I am cautiously and carefully optimistic.

The funny thing is, this is a story I have yet to tell. At first, I admit to being embarrassed. The thought that I needed to be medicated, that I was depressed, was something I didn’t want anyone, but my husband, to know. Even today, as I write this down, my mother, my sister, close friends will be hearing my story for the first time. But I knew it was something I needed to share. Because I remember how lonely and dark those months felt. I remember what it felt like to be putting a bright face on my sad heart. And I hope that by sharing it here with all of you, someone reading my story, and living my same experiences will realize that they are not alone.

It isn’t just you. You are not alone. There are answers. And relief. And hope. And help.