I consider myself lucky. Maybe not lucky to have gone through the debilitating experience of postpartum depression (although looking back I am grateful–more on that in my next post), but fortunate enough to have recognized something was very wrong within 48 hours of being home from the hospital with my son. Upon this realization, I knew I had to tell someone.
It turns out, if I hadn’t approached my husband and mom, they would have approached me because they noticed something was off too. I had no idea what was wrong, had never really experienced anything like this, and knew absolutely nothing about postpartum depression and anxiety at that time. All I knew was that I needed help because I didn’t want to stay in that hell of tears, anxiety, sadness, and feeling like I made the biggest mistake of my life by having a child and becoming a mother. I didn’t even know what kind of help I needed, just that I had to get better because I felt as if I never would. The help I needed came in many different forms during my struggle that first year.
During my struggle with PPD, my mom and sister were my rocks and my husband was my boulder. My husband really stepped up to take care of our son when I couldn’t. He never forced anything from me, educated himself about what I was going through, and remained a constant source of strength.
If you ask my mom about my battle with postpartum depression, she will tell you that she knew something was wrong immediately. That when I got home from the hospital with my son, I just disappeared. The light in my eyes vanished and her daughter was replaced by a shell of a human being she didn’t recognize.
My friends would all tell you the exact same thing. One close friend said she saw it in my eyes right away after viewing pictures from our infant photo session. Another could see it in my eyes in person on the rare occasion I would attempt to be social at a dinner. The comforting thing about all of this is that the people who know you the best know when something is off, they don’t pretend everything is okay, and they want to help you, even when there is nothing they can do but check in and wait until you get better.
During the first five and a half months of my son’s life, I tried to go through the motions of being a mom–changing diapers, holding him, reading to him–you know, the things you have to do to make sure your baby is healthy and happy. I’m not going to lie to you. I wasn’t very good at pretending. I probably spent more time in bed crying and sleeping than with my new baby. My husband and I ended up hiring our night nurse’s aunt during the day time for these months to care for our son. She was a blessing. My son always knew love even if it wasn’t coming directly from his mother. I’m tearing up as I write this. I will always feel those pangs of regret for missing out on those moments of infancy…moments I can’t get back. I’m just so grateful that he will never remember his crazy momma from back then.
Friends don’t always know what to do when one of their own is suffering from postpartum depression. What should they say? Should they visit often? Should they pull back until they hear otherwise? These situations are different for every mom, but what should remain constant is letting your friend know you are just there for support whatever that looks like… a visit, a meal, a phone call, or even just a text to say “thinking about you.” Knowing my friends were just there in the background, thinking about me and wanting me to get better helped tremendously.
Most of my closest friends still live up North. These are friends who have seen me at the best of times and the worst of times…women who I have known for over 15 years…before they became moms. I never placed any expectations upon my friends during this time. I was way too messed up to worry about others, but whenever my friends reached out, they always made me feel slightly better. They just seemed to know when to give space and when to check in. And I knew they all talked about me to each other behind my back. Sometimes they even checked in with my husband. It’s true that real friends say good things behind your back and bad things to your face. At least mine do. I always took comfort in this.
My family lives up North as well. That meant my mom and sister, my biggest supporters and cheerleaders during this time, couldn’t always be by my side. I was lucky enough to have a mom friend where I live who really became my person during these days of postpartum depression. I can’t even begin to describe how amazing, caring, compassionate, and selfless this friend was during my struggle. She was one of my life lines.
Jewish law states that a newborn boy will be circumcised on the eighth day of his life at a religious ceremony, known as the brit milah or bris. Jewish tradition (at least in my family) dictates that said ceremony take place in front of every single family member and close friend of the new mom, dad, and grandparents and is followed by what marks every Jewish occasion: obnoxious amounts of food. Because who wouldn’t want to stuff their faces full of bagels, cream cheese, lox, cookies, and cake after watching an infant have part of his penis snipped off?
But Jewish law and tradition say nothing about a mom attending the brisof her new son while experiencing the beginning stages of postpartum depression, without having found a therapist yet, and drugged up on strong anti-anxiety medicine. Klonopin to be precise, prescribed by my OB/GYN while it was decided if I in fact did have postpartum depression or just the baby blues, which should really go away after two weeks.
Do you remember how you looked and felt at eight days postpartum? I do—still pregnant. Fat, swollen, and pregnant…maybe even more swollen than when I was actually pregnant. I didn’t have anything bris appropriate, which actually fit me, to wear in front of 80 of my family members and closest friends. Postpartum depression or not, I strongly doubt any new mom is ready to greet this many people so soon after the birth of her baby.
For the month of December, I will be re-posting my postpartum depression story. Check in every Monday and Wednesday for another part of my journey. xoxo
I wasn’t happy anymore…not like I was in the hospital. I didn’t want to harm my baby or myself. I didn’t have those type of thoughts. I just didn’t want to take care of my baby…I wanted to sleep and stay in bed…forever. I didn’t want to be a mom. What was I thinking? I made a terrible mistake. What was wrong with me? This wasn’t normal…I needed my mommy.
Lucky for me, my mom, also a licensed therapist of the Jewish helicopter persuasion, moved in for a week after the birth of her first grandson. By day two of being home, I knew something was wrong. I cried all the time. Anxiety crippled me and prevented me from wanting to ever leave my bed. I couldn’t be a mom. I couldn’t handle this. I needed someone else to take care of my child.
I was so confused. Why was this happening to me? I was so excited to be a mom during my pregnancy. I was a happy mother in the hospital. Why wasn’t I in love with my son and motherhood like everyone else I knew? Why didn’t I want to hold my child and love on him all the time? Why wasn’t I looking forward to being home all day with him, reading to him, talking to him, playing with him, watching him smile for the first time. Every mom I knew or met told me this would be the most amazing experience, that becoming a mom is magical. It didn’t feel like that…not for me. I felt broken and ashamed and guilty. I was a failure at something that I was told comes naturally to women.
Postpartum depression (I’m including all postpartum mood disorders that fall under its umbrella) doesn’t discriminate. No new mom is exempt. It doesn’t care about your skin color, ethnicity, religion, economic status, how amazing your husband might be, or how much of your family’s love and support you have when the baby comes. It can happen to anyone. It happened to me.
At eight months into my pregnancy, a close friend (already a new mom) asked me if I was worried about any “postpartum depression stuff” after I gave birth. I quickly replied, “Of course not. That would never happen to me.” Conversation over. I never gave it another thought. I don’t think I even realized what postpartum depression was at that time. The subject never even came up in the maternity classes I took at the hospital.
The joke was on me because at day two of being home from the hospital, it came to greet me, like a category 5 hurricane.
My name is Jen Schwartz, and I’m a medicated mommy. Yes, I take antidepressants as a result of suffering from postpartum depression when my son was born. Two days after arriving home from the hospital as a new mom, I realized something was very wrong. I began to wish for a reason, any reason at all that would take me back to the hospital where others could take care of me and I wouldn’t have to take care of my new baby. I started crying all the time, became paralyzed by anxiety and wanted to stay in bed and sleep forever. I didn’t want to be a mom. I couldn’t take care of a baby. I thought I made a terrible mistake.
Three weeks into motherhood, I still didn’t believe I would ever get better, but with the support of my husband and family, I found a therapist specializing in postpartum depression and began taking the right combination of antidepressants and anti-anxiety medicines. To my neighbors, I was just the lady walking laps around the block while sobbing on the phone to my mom because moving around calmed the anxiety. I tried to go through the motions of bonding with my baby with help from my husband. At five months, I took my first solo outing with my son and by month six, I spent even more time with him and I started to see my old self again. I began to socialize and exercise again too. Most importantly, I smiled and laughed more. Finally, at a year, surrounded by friends and family, I looked around at my son’s first birthday party and said to myself: “I got this. I’m his mom. I love him, I can do this, and I’m happy.”
Rather than feel guilt or shame for having postpartum depression, I choose to celebrate my recovery. My son recently turned 3 and I love being his mommy. I may be a medicated one, but I’m also a fighter and a survivor. Here are nine reasons I’m grateful for my year-long battle with postpartum depression.
1. I realized my own strength.
Today Dr. Thorne discusses postpartum depression and anxiety and the importance of therapy as well as what husbands and other family members can do to support mom, and how we can lessen the stigma attached to this illness.
The Necessity of Therapy
I want therapy to help my patients to stop being self-punitive and really understand how they got here. If there is a good part of PPD, and this is something we work on in therapy, it usually makes women more flexible. Their personalities become more flexible and it helps them to cope with more things. Believe me, I don’t want any new mom to suffer like that but sometimes going through it and having children, you have to learn to be more flexible. I work on this with my moms and get to see a lot of it happen in a positive way. I also try to meet my moms where they are at. Sometimes moms feel like the only thing they can give the baby is their breast milk, especially if the baby is in the NICU or there are bonding issues. So I will just say, let’s see how this goes. Especially when they are in the beginning just trying it out.
Another thing is that women, career women are having babies later. They go from thinking they want to stay home no matter what when what they don’t realize is so much of their identities are tied to their occupation, getting a paycheck, and talking to other adults. Sometimes going from work to home is totally devastating. It’s not anything like people think it’s going to be. And some women need to go back to work earlier. The schedule and the structure helps them. You just have to know your self and learn not to judge yourself for what you need. Therapy can really help with this. Even myself all those years ago–I was working a 60-hour internship, gained 52 pounds, was the at the highest productivity level, worked until 10pm every night and I thought, “What can be harder than this?” It was a devastating difference. I just didn’t think that would happen to me, just like all my women don’t think it will happen to them. I mean I had my doctorate in this field when I got mine.
Welcome back to part two of my interview with Dr. Thorne. Today Dr. Thorne goes into great detail about the beast that is postpartum depression including the risk factors and how to find the right therapist.
The Risk Factors
The number one risk factor is having postpartum depression with a previous child. A big non-biological factor is husband or partner issues. Yet, most of my patients have great husbands and great babies which makes them feel even more guilty. I’ve had doctors say to me,” I never thought that one would get PPD.” Those are the ones that get it. Those type A, high functioning women. They are shocked because they’ve done everything right and achieved everything in life. I always say, if you are that personality type (and other personality types get PPD too), and this is to be understood and not judged, but those mechanisms and coping skills that you put in place got you this far in life–to be in control, to be organized, to do, to accomplish–they aren’t bad, they got you this far. But when that baby comes, those coping mechanisms don’t work anymore and you are emotionally naked. The baby is running the whole show. You can’t make a list and feel better. There can be a genetic component if you have mental illness in your family. Risk factors will be different for everyone. You can have one, three, or seven risk factors. It’s not one size fits all.
I spent my first year of motherhood in therapy (crying hysterically during most sessions) thanks to postpartum depression. My therapist not only helped me get better, but taught me how to accept, embrace, and celebrate the mom I am, not the one I had envisioned I would be before I actually became a mom. She helped me realize that I was normal, not alone, not a horrible person for feeling the things I felt, and that I would get better in time.
Now it’s time for me to give back. I want all new moms to know that postpartum depression can happen to anyone and there is nothing to feel guilty or ashamed about. That education, recognizing the risk factors, and talking openly about this sickness is the best way to reduce the stigma so all women feel brave enough to ask for help and seek treatment.
This is why I’ve decided to interview my therapist. Our talk had so much valuable information that I had to break it in to three parts, posting today, Wednesday and Friday. Trust me, you don’t want to miss any of it. And it if you know someone this interview might help, please pass it on.
So here she is, the amazing Dr. Thorne–a clinical psychologist specializing in perinatal mood disorders and the woman largely responsible for my recovery from postpartum depression.
A Clinical Psychologist Specializing in Postpartum Depression
The way I got here was that I had postpartum depression with my first child and that was 20 years ago. I also watched my best friend suffer through postpartum psychosis four times—four pregnancies, all four times. Back then, no one knew what I had so I pretty much suffered silently. No one really knew what was going on with me. I also had a really difficult birth. I probably had more of an adjustment disorder.