I went to a La Leche League meeting last night. Its basically a bunch of currently breastfeeding moms, soon to be breastfeeding moms or moms who just support breastfeeding in general. After the meeting was "officially" finished we all broke off into side groups and began talking. And someone brought it up.
Ouch. I sort of hate when it gets brought up in conversation. Mostly because there is so much I'd like to say and so much I don't want to talk about all intertwined in one. According to the Office of Women's Health, an office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 13% of new mothers and pregnant women have depression. I am one of those women. I'm 95.3435% (just a guess) through with my third pregnancy and I've suffered from either prenatal or postpartum depression each time.
I didn't know for a long time. Was it hormones? Was it circumstance? I still don't completely know. According to the Office of Women's Health it appears to be a combination of both. Hormones that work to change brain chemistry along with anxiety about difficult life situations work together to create feelings of hopelessness, lack of motivation and loss of interest in everything in general. The prenatal depression I suffered while pregnant with my first child made sense to me. I was soon to be an eighteen year old single mom, fresh off a difficult break up. I was trying to continue to go to college, being the only pregnant girl in my dorm at Southwestern. I've not always made great choices, but they've always been my own. My circumstances have been a direct result of the choices I've made, that will never change. So I saw my depression as a sort of punishment. I never sought any medical help either in the form of talk therapy or medication, the two typical ways that depression is treated. I basically told myself that I had made poor choices to get in this situation so I deserved to be feeling the way that I was. What I didn't realize at the time though was that my depression wasn't just affecting me. It was affecting my family, my friends, and after my son was born, my baby. I became pretty unlovable. Maybe if I had realized then how difficult it was for the people who loved me to watch me change into someone I wasn't, I would've sought help. I want to point out that I wasn't treated rudely during my pregnancy, either. My wonderful church supported me, didn't judge and even had a wonderful shower for me that I didn't feel deserving of at all. My great grandparents and my son's grandparents did everything they could to support me and make me feel accepted and loved. Many women in my situation didn't have that luxury. Nevertheless, I felt the way I felt. Too many tears, too much anxiety, too much isolation.
I thought once he was born the sun would come back out, so to speak. And it did, for a little while. I loved him immensely, instantly and probably a little too intensely. What I look back and realize now is that your baby should need you that intensely, but it was not as healthy for me to need him as much as I did. My family jokes a lot about how I never let anyone else hold him. Except that its not really a joke. I really did hate letting anyone else hold him. Not only was I so anxious about not having control for those five or ten minutes, but my arms literally ached in an unhealthy way without him. My depression didn't end once he was born. I wanted to sit on the couch and hold him. And that was it. Thank God for my grandparents who did the laundry and the cleaning and cooking for me and making me eat it; looking back I'm not sure what would have happened if I hadn't had them. Breastfeeding was so, so difficult for us. I didn't realize it at the time, but it was too intimate for me. As much as I wanted to hold him, nursing him felt too close for comfort. I tried. And tried. I felt stressed and nervous and he did too. He'd cry while nursing because neither of us could relax. He began losing weight. And then he was a whole pound under his birth weight. And I cried the first time I gave him formula. I even attempted to relactate when he was 7 months old and the fog had lifted. It was too late, but I had finally begun feeling better. I got a great job that I loved. I went on my first date in over a year, with a man who I had no idea at the time would become my future husband.
Remarkably, my second pregnancy was mentally what I consider my easiest. I had a great job, had figured out how to be a Mom, as much as anyone can figure it out anyway, and once the shock wore off I was feeling pretty good. I quit worrying about whether people were judging me for having a second baby out of marriage. I worked hard and had a happy and healthy son whom I had raised to the age of two without too many major complications. I realized there were certainly worse people in the world to be having another baby, married or not. Unfortunately, the loneliness I felt during my first pregnancy came flooding back eventually. Will was deployed to Afghanistan. He did everything he could from a world away, calling often, sending gifts for both kids, it was certainly more than I had expected. Still though, he wasn't able to be there. I dragged various friends to ultrasounds and went to most doctor appointments by myself. Once again I didn't seek help for my depression. Compared to what I had felt during my first pregnancy it didn't seem "bad" enough to warrant bringing it up. And again, I had made the choices that caused my circumstances. This time though, I was living on my own with Jameson and it was easier to put a smile on while I was out and act however I felt once I got home. Despite my depression I managed to take good physical care of Jameson. I carry around guilt for not being the happiest, most playful mom I could have been for him. Once my daughter was born and my hormones truly did level out it was like the fog had been lifted.
The truth is I had no idea of the severity of prenatal/postpartum depression until my current pregnancy. A month after moving here, right before Will returned to work from time off for our move, another two pink lines. Right after FINALLY getting the baby weight from my daughter off. Right after FINALLY completing Insanity. All the sudden I was home alone with the kids from 6 am to 9 or 10 pm every night. Nauseated. Watching the scale climb. Isolated. Again. And the depression was back. Except it was darker than I had remembered. Each time before I always knew it would end. This time I wasn't so sure. I wasn't used to waking up and not having to be anywhere in the morning. I started finding it difficult to get out of bed to feed the kids breakfast in the morning. I always did, but it was literally dragging. The difference this time was that I had someone around to really notice that I wasn't myself. I started hating to be touched. Not such a good thing for newlyweds. I started being sarcastic and snarky and just plain rude because I was angry about his hours away from home. Hours that weren't his fault. I was becoming pretty unlovable, pretty fast. But he still did. He even felt guilty because he was the reason we left everyone and everything we knew and I felt so isolated. Some days were okay. Some days were really, really bad. I'd go sleep on the couch at night so I didn't wake him up with my sobbing. I'd never considered self harm during any of my other struggles with depression. And even this time I never truly considered it, but did for the first time realize how someone can get in that mindset. When I thought clearly about that I decided it was time to get help. You see, my family has been through this before. My uncle committed suicide several years ago. A smart, talented, funny guy with some difficult life circumstances made a choice that shook our whole family. Not only did I have my own beautiful family to feel better for, but I knew that I couldn't continue to let these thoughts spiral into something that would hurt my family who had already been through it once before. My midwives were incredibly supportive. I was frustrated because I knew I needed PEOPLE not PILLS, but meeting anyone in the mood I was constantly in was seeming impossible. I was scared to take anything during pregnancy. I didn't want to harm our baby and I'd learned enough in college to know that there were no truly completely safe medications to take during pregnancy. I realized though, thanks to my midwives, that I had two already born children who needed me to be at my best. A husband who needed a wife who could handle this lifestyle. This person I was during depression was not me. I always did what had to be done, but I knew my kids were missing their happy mom and I knew my husband was definitely missing his happy wife. They recommended a medication that has been extensively studied in pregnancy. I was still scared, but realized it had to be done. It wasn't an immediate change, and I can't even say that all the changes were the result of the medicine. It did help me get out of bed. It did help me feel like I wasn't in a bottomless pit. In turn feeling this way allowed me to show my real self more often and get the confidence back to meet new people. Most days I wake up feeling pretty great. I have made the decision to wean off as delivery time draws near to avoid any possible withdrawals (although these are extremely rare, and my midwife told me it was completely unnecessary.) I've also been learning new ways of working through my depression. Its a sad thing that in our country it costs 90% less for me to take medicine than it does for talk therapy (counseling) that works just as well. I "practice" yoga and meditation and am totally awful at both but keep trying. I exercise when my hips don't feel like they are going to fall off and I make a list of what I'm grateful for often.
I didn't write this post because I feel the need to get this all out. Been there, done that. I wrote this post because I hate the stigma that comes with depression. No one wants to talk about it. Especially moms. We think we aren't good moms if don't feel blessed and happy every minute of every day. So not true. Chemical imbalance in the brain is a real thing. Having trouble coping with difficult life circumstances is a real thing. The worst thing though would be not to talk about it. If I can encourage one person going through this to seek help and not have to spend another day feeling the way I did, its worth it to me to put my personal life out there. We all see the happy times. We all see when people have it all together. What we don't often see is this.