I haven't posted in a while and I am so sorry! I honestly have just been busy and living my life, enjoying my family and friends, and my blog has definitely taken the backburner. I did want to share something today that is extremely important and personal to me though...I have decided to share my experience with postpartum depression when I had Ava. This is something I have thought about sharing for a long time, something that I have seriously contemplated whether or not I wanted to share so publicly. I feel like postpartum depression has such a stigma still and because so many do not understand it, those that experience it are suppose to brush it under the rug, not talk about it, not share what they are going through, and pretend like it isn't there or isn't real. It has taken me so long to share this because I was scared of being judged, being told that something was wrong with me, and have stangers comes out of the wood works to try and attack me, but I decided that it was more important to share my story and be there for others who could need the support. Do I still run the risk of people judging my situation? Sure. But I want this to become something we as women are more aware of and more willing to talk about openly because it is so real for so many. I have prayed for the words to come to me easily and to express how I felt in the time, so please be kind if you feel inclined to leave a comment on this post.
Let me start of by saying that before giving birth, I had never experienced any type of depression. I have always been a very happy girl and even my sad moments have been fleeting. I had never even really heard of postpartum depression, and certainly never expected that it would happen to me. I remember my mother in law calling my husband before I had Ava to talk to him about what could happen after I have the baby and to remind him to be patient with me. At the time I thought it was silly, because of course I was going to be on cloud 9 after having a perfect little newborn right? I had no idea how wrong I was.
The day I had Ava, it was THE best day. I remember everything and we were so excited. I couldn't wait to bring this new baby home! But after 10 hours of labor and 2 hours of pushing, I was burnt out. I definitely threw in the towel on being excited and just wanted that baby out. I was so exhausted by the time that she came out that I didn't have the energy to muster up being excited. I feel like my depression set in very quickly. When they set Ava on my chest, it was so strange. Here was this baby that I had been growing inside me for the 9 nine months, been dreaming about every single day, and I literally felt no connection to her. It almost felt like she wasn't mine. I only had a minute or 2 with her before they took her away to be weighed and checked. I remember watching everyone in the room head over to the newborn station to see her while I sat there being stitched up from my cut. The room felt huge, it felt like miles between me and the baby and as I laid there watching all of this, still in shock of everything that just happened, I had never felt more alone. Wasn't I supposed to be over the moon right now? Wasn't I supposed to bonding with and holding my baby? Instead, numb is truly the only word I can think of to describe what I was feeling. It was about midnight when I gave birth to Ava, so my mom and husband took off to the nursery to give her the first bath while I needed to wait in my room for my epidural to wear off. I sat in that room totally alone for 2 hours before I was able to stand, and let me tell you that alone is the very worst thing you can feel after just having a baby.
My time in the hospital with Ava did not improve much from there. I had a very difficult time breastfeeding as Ava was just simply not getting the hang of it, and since my milk had not come in yet, the nurses fed her formula because they said I was "starving my baby". That alone threw off the rest of the hospital experience as I had nurses and lactation specialists coming to my room at all hours trying to tell me what I was doing wrong. There were many times I was crying, feeling completely overwhelmed with everything basically begging for help and I was simply told I was not trying hard enough. I remember one time a nurse came in and simply said to me "you need to figure this out or we are going to feed your baby a bottle." To say I hated my hospital experience the first time is an understatement. I thought things would improve when I got home with Ava and we could finally relax, but I was definitely wrong there too. Because Ava was still not breastfeeding, and she had been given formula in the hospital, she had nipple confusion and so for the first couple day she would cry and cry at all hours of day and night due to be being hungry. Then came the full blown depression. About 4 days after Ava's birth it was Thanksgiving, and we needed to have Thanksgiving dinner with my family who was in town about 30 minutes from where I lived. After dinner we went to visit my sister-in-law and I began to feel panic. As we sat talking to her I felt like I needed to cry. I had no idea why, but I needed to cry and cry now. I tried my hardest to hold it back, but my husband looked over at me and knew something was wrong. We decided to leave and as soon as we got into the car, I burst into full blown hysteria. I couldn't stop crying and I truly had this overwhelming feeling like my world was falling apart. It was so hard too because I knew this wasn't normal. I said to Scott, "I don't know what is wrong with me. I have a beautiful new baby, a wonderful supportive husband, I have everything I could possibly want, yet I feel like I am so alone". That night I spiraled downward into what I now call a black hole. I was convinced that my daughter was going to die, that Scott was going to die. I don't know how or why, but I was certain of it and I could not for the life of me shake that irrational feeling.
My niece died of SIDS when she was 3 months old during one of her naps. It was traumatizing to say the least. So when I was experiencing this depression, I somehow convinced myself that Ava was going to die from SIDS as well. I couldn't sleep at all. Ava was currently waking up every 45 to an hour to eat at this time, and I was never actually falling asleep because I was checking to make sure she was breathing every 20 minutes or so. I would start to drift off and then startle awake, jump out of my bed, and scream because I thought Ava was dead. When I would realize she was alive, I would start to fall back asleep only for her to wake up 10 minutes later to eat. It was a viscous cycle. My husband tried to move the baby bassinet to his side of the bed so I couldn't check constantly, but instead I would just wake up and lean over him at all hours of the night. When Ava was born my husband was also working a job that required him to get up for work anywhere from 3-4 am, so I decided to make the commitment to take care of the baby alone at night instead of asking him for help. Every night I went through the same torture, convinced that the world was crumbling around me, while my husband slept soundly next to me. I started to fear the nighttime. During the day I was somewhat safe, but as night would creep in, my panic would set in, and I would feel like the walls were closing in. I would cry every single night knowing that I was going to be alone again. Alone with my thoughts and the little baby who I still didn't connect with.
It was heartbreaking to me to know that I didn't connect with her. It wasn't that I didn't love her, but everything had been so different than I expected it to be that I just didn't establish that motherly bond. I blame part of that on my experiences right after her birth that set the tone. I also didn't feel like I could talk to anyone. Everyone around me who had had babies would tell me about their amazing experience and how truly happy they were. I would fish for information, just a little bit, some hint that someone knew how I felt, but no one did. I felt like I was in a black hole, screaming and screaming, but no one could hear me. It makes me sick just thinking about it now.
My life the first month was just a whirlwind of emotions and feeling numb. I would be awake all night, and then sleep all day. I would still be in bed when my husband got home at 4 pm every day. I hardly showered, I didn't put on makeup. Everything became painful for me to do. Just getting out of bed became a task that I had no energy or drive to do. 2 days before Christmas everything came to a head. Ava had only slept a total of an hour that night and Scott was already gone at work when I started having thoughts of hurting my baby. I won't go into details of what the thoughts were cause those are too painful to share, but it was terrible and makes me shudder to think of it now. It makes me cry just to say that, but after a month of hardly sleeping, I was at the end of my rope. Ava kept crying and I just wanted to run away. I finally screamed at the top of my lungs for her to shut up and the look on her face of pure terror, I will just never forget it. I crumbled. I felt like a failure and THE worst mother in the world. I didn't know why this was happening, but I knew it was not normal and there was something very very wrong. I knew I couldn't be alone with the baby anymore and I needed to call my husband, which in retrospect I am glad I had enough sense to seek out help. There at 3:30 am, I put my baby in the car and drove to my husband's work hysterical. He got into the car with me and sat in the back trying to comfort Ava as I drove around sobbing. It was at that moment I knew that I needed help and I couldn't do this on my own anymore. I went to see my doctor the next day and he informed me that he would give it one more week and if it did not improve it was time to go on medicine to balance out my hormones. I was afraid since I had never been on any type of medication, but knew if it helped me and my baby then it would be for the best.
2 days later was Christmas and we went to my in laws house for the holiday. It was a wonderful time for me to just refuel. My mother in law took Ava from me for the night and only brought her to me when she needed to be fed. That night of sleep was SO important to my mental health. She also suggested that I try co-sleeping with the baby and feeding her in bed laying down on my side. I wasn't sure how I felt about it since I had heard that was dangerous, but I was willing to try anything by then. That was turning point for me. Ava was SO receptive. For the first time in her tiny life she slept. She didn't fight breastfeeding. She was finally happy, and in less than one week my postpartum depression lifted and was gone. Almost like it had never happened It was incredible that as fast as it had come, it had also left and I was finally starting to feel like myself again. I didn't end up going on medicine, but had it continued I definitely would have. Around month 2 I finally fully bonded with Ava and it was such a special experience. For the first time I felt this unbelievable love for her and it felt right. I knew she was my daughter and I was so grateful I was able to finally feel that motherly love they talk about. Lucky for me Ava she has been my best buddy ever since.
I put off having another child after Ava for fear of the depression again. I was so afraid because even though my sweet husband was so supportive, no matter how I explained it, he would never understand. When we would talk about having another baby, I told him I wasn't sure if I could do it, and I would start to cry. I told him the only way that I could have another baby is if I had one in the summer so I could at least go outside (unlike the dead of winter when I had Ava). When I became pregnant with William, it was an accident. I was NOT ready and I was terrified of being in that black hole again, especially because if you have postpartum depression with one, it is more likely you will have it again and it be more sever with each child you have. I decided to talk to my OB and tell him what had happened to me and ask him what I needed to do to prepare this time. We decided to go on a low dose of Zoloft 6 weeks before he was to be born so that by the time he was born, my brain would already be adjusted to it. It was the most WONDERFUL experience for me. This time with William I was SO happy. I enjoyed my labor, every minute in the hospital, and truly enjoyed my newborn when he came home. It was a complete 180 experience from Ava and I attribute all of that to being prepared and doing what was best for me by going on medication early. It finally felt like how I pictured it would feel, how it should feel. Now some people have very strong feeling about anti-depressants in general, and especially while pregnant and breastfeeding. I say do not let anyone tell you what is best for you. There will always be people who believe that you can treat your symptoms by just being healthier and trying to actively be happy. That can be true to some point, but only YOU know what is best for you and your baby, and if you feel that medication will be the safest option, PLEASE do it. There are far too many cases of women who hurt their children or themselves because they did not get treatment. The minimal side effects can far outweigh the risk of danger for untreated postpartum depression.
That is my story in a nutshell, and I am so glad I decided to share it with everyone. It is something we need to be aware can happen to ANYONE no matter if they have experienced depression before or not. I also want to share a few tips and ideas to help with postpartum depression, some of which helped me, and hopefully some will help you.
1. GET OUT OF THE HOUSE- This was HUGE for me. I felt so alone during that first month, and being alone only made it worse. Get out of your house! Even if it is to the mall, a friends house, a lunch date, a party, or just some sunshine! Whatever will help you get out, get ready, and be able to socialize with other adults. The only times I felt ok were when I was surrounded by other people. My favorite things to do were to go to dinner with my husband or visit with friends. Even just walking through the mall can remind you that there is life outside your 4 walls in your home.
2. GET DRESSED- Try your very best to get dressed for the day and take a shower. Put makeup on. These little things can help you feel more accomplished and make you feel more like you. When you look more like you, you feel more like you.
3. TALK ABOUT IT- PLEASE talk to someone about it. This was one thing I didn't do and I could have helped myself so much more. Even if your friends or family have not experienced what you have, it is important to find someone who can listen and will just give you the support that you need. If you do not have any one who is willing to listen, there are a lot of forums online that offer internet support or phone support. This is a good one HERE. Anyone is always welcome to email me directly as well, I would be MORE than happy to listen and talk to you about your experience. I am of course not a doctor so if you are experiencing thoughts of suicide or hurting your baby it is best to get professional help, but if you need to just vent or need someone to just understand, feel free to to email me at email@example.com :)
4. EXERCISE-Just a little activity can help regulate your hormones and help you to feel more balanced and happy. Of course if you have had a c-section or episiotomy it will take a little longer before you can really work out again, but maybe just a little walk or going for a swim can help relieve a little bit of tension.
5. GET MEDICATION- Like I mentioned above, this is not for everyone, but it can be super beneficial for some like myself. Talk with your doctor to determine what will be best for you.
6. GET AN ANGELCARE MONITOR- This is something that helped me SO much, and I suggest it to ALL moms. If you are afraid of SIDS or are just having issues sleeping because you feel like you need to keep an eye on your baby, this can give you that piece of mind you need. This monitor monitors the baby's breathing and movement through a sensor pad placed under the crib mattress. While it is not fullproof, and does not prevent SIDS and other crib accidents, it can help relieve that immediate stress and help you actually get some sleep! This is the exact model I have, and you can read reviews as well HERE.
7. TAKE TIME FOR YOU- This is so important for new moms to just have time alone. Mom's have a very hard job of having their babies attached to them basically 24/7. While dad goes to work, mom is left with baby and finding time to just be alone without someone touching you is difficult. Have your husband help you! Give him the baby at least once a day for at least 30 minutes so you can shower, take a bath, go for a walk, go see friends, or just run to the store alone. This free time will help you feel more like yourself again (pre-baby). If you are a single mother, ask a family member you trust or a good friend who can come over and watch the baby while you get some things done. Just a little time to yourself can make all the difference.
8. DEMAND TIME WITH YOUR NEWBORN- If I could go back to the hospital, I would do things so different. Nothing can change what might happen for your birth process, but you can request how you would like it to be before you get started. Demand one on one time with skin to skin contact with you baby right after birth. That contact has been proven to be SO needed in the initial bonding with your baby. Let the hospital staff know your birth plan before the baby is born. There may be issues that ride after the birth that will prevent this in some cases, but if everything goes well it should not be a problem. When Will was born this time, I told the nurses ahead of time that I NEEDED the baby on my chest with no one touching him for the first few minutes after he was born. I needed that for bonding. Hold that baby as much as you can those first few hours. Even if you don't feel that bond immediately, the more you hold the baby, the more likely it will come sooner.
9. ASK FOR DIFFERENT HOSPITAL STAFF IF NEEDED- My few nurses and lactation specialists after Ava's birth were a pain in my ass. I say that as kindly as possible. They were unkind, treated me like I was stupid, and talked down to me. They made my frustration with nursing a newborn even worse. Do not let ANYONE make you feel dumb for being frustrated or overwhelmed. You just gave birth and it was a big deal! You are in pain and probably need as much loving guidance as possible. If you are unhappy with the way you are being treated, demand a new nurse or lactation specialist. There should be several on staff at one time, and they can switch rooms if needed. You should feel as comfortable as possible with people who are going to be patient with you.
10. ASK FOR HELP- This is probably the most important thing you can do and something I wish I had done sooner. I am notorious for being prideful and unwilling to ask for help. I try to do everything on my own and feel embarrassed when someone tries to help me. This can put way more on your plate than you need. If you need help, ASK FOR IT! There is no shame in knowing your limits and being humble enough to ask for assistance. If someone offers you help, take it!! Your mom wants to come clean your house? Let her. Your best friend wants to take your other kids for a few hours so you can sleep? Send em off! Your neighbor wants to bring you dinner? Take that dinner! Having a baby is a huge deal, and this may be one of the only times in your life that help is so readily available to you. Let others serve you, and when someone is in the same situation, you can repay the favor or pay it forward. It takes a village people!
I hope that my story and my tips can help at least one person out there, and if nothing else, I hope it has opened the door for postpartum depression to be a topic we aren't afraid to talk about. This is something so many of us suffer from and we shouldn't have to suffer in silence. This can be such a scary thing and can make you feel so alone. Turn to those you trust the most. The health of you and your baby are so important, and everyone wants to see you happy. You are loved, you are important, and there are people here for you.