I always dreamed of being a Mom. At thirty-seven years old, the dream became a reality. Our precious baby girl was born. I thought something magical would happen. Everything I read, heard someone talk about, said I was supposed to feel a deep connection with my baby. A connection beyond what I have ever experienced before. I didn’t.
Instead, I sat frozen. I felt disconnected from my baby. I just knew I was a terrible mother. How could I look at her and feel only emptiness? The crying came in waves. I barely slept, not because she kept me up, but because I couldn’t. I didn’t eat much. I just didn’t feel motivated to. I took care of the baby and kept her safe. I held her when she needed me to. I didn’t want to hurt her.
Eventually, I returned to work. It didn’t take long for my co-workers to notice I wasn’t quite right. It may have been the regular crying fits. A friend at work pulled me aside one day. Gently, she suggested I might have postpartum depression. I blew them off at first. I didn’t think it could be possible. I heard the word “depression” and panicked. I wasn’t sad, I was just scared. I would know, wouldn’t I?
According to the Office on Women’s Health, if you are feeling overwhelming sadness, emptiness, or are lacking in emotion for more than two weeks following the birth of your child, you may have postpartum depression. It involves how your brain functions, can alter your behavior, and can affect your physical health. Symptoms can be mild to severe. An example of severe symptoms would include a mother who doesn’t feel they are the baby’s mom, or they are unable to care for the baby at all.
All the symptoms I experienced after the birth of my baby are examples of things to look for. Other symptoms may include restlessness and trouble with memory. You may find yourself having difficulty making a decision or being able to focus on tasks. Withdrawing from those you are close to and losing interest in the things you have loved doing in the past is not uncommon. It is, also, possible to have thoughts of harming yourself or the baby. Physically, your body might ache. You could, also, experience headaches. Stomach issues may become a problem that doesn’t go away.
Statistically, one out of nine mothers has postpartum depression. MedlinePlus asserts “the cause is unknown” and “can begin anytime within the first year after childbirth.” The Office on Women’s Health makes a point that there is a higher risk in women who have had depression or have family members who have depression. Many women, like me, don’t understand what is happening to them and rarely seek treatment as they attribute it to the lack of sleep from taking care of the baby. If they believe something is wrong, feelings of unease, shame, fear, or guilt can cause them to avoid seeking treatment. Postpartum depression is not something to be taken lightly and requires treatment.
There are three treatments available for postpartum depression, according to the Office on Women’s Health, therapy, medication and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Therapy helps a person to process and develop strategies to cope with how they think, feel, and act regarding depression. Medication can be used alone or in tandem with therapy. There are several medicines available to help manage postpartum depression, antidepressants being the most common, and there are a few available that can be taken while breastfeeding. They only use ECT in severe cases.
For me, treatment looked like weekly therapy. It helped to talk about the overwhelming feelings I was experiencing. The therapist was supportive and asked engaging questions. I never felt judged, which was important to me. I needed to feel safe. In my case, therapy was not enough. My therapist suggested I contact my primary care physician to discuss medication. It was possible to be referred to a Psychiatrist. However, the wait where I live was significant. My primary care provider was supportive of me, and they put me on an antidepressant. I noticed a slight difference within two weeks. After about a month, I felt more stable and able to manage my emotions. The bonding and connection with my baby happened. It was just a little later than expected.
You are not alone. Don’t suffer longer than you have to. I started with therapy. When it wasn’t enough, I took medication. I was glad I did. The process was slow, partly because of my lack of knowledge. In part because of my resistance to treatment. After about four months of torment, I felt more like myself. I could interact with my baby the way she deserved. Those feelings, the ones I was supposed to have, finally hit me. In a knock’em out of the park kind of amazing way. We have a strong, healthy, and loving relationship. Having postpartum depression does not mean you are crazy or a terrible mother. It means you are sick. Asking for help doesn’t make you weak, there is nothing to be embarrassed about, and they will treat you with respect and kindness. Seeking help is the strongest thing you will ever do for yourself and your baby.