"I Didn't Know I Had Postpartum Depression": One Woman's Journey Through Undiagnosed PPD

Friday, August 22, 2014 by Meg   •   Filed under Mom Stories/Opinion

Postpartum depression can happen to any mother. While the symptoms usually occur in the first months after birth, they may start any time from pregnancy all the way through a year postpartum. The symptoms of PPD vary from person to person, but the most common include trouble bonding, racing or scary thoughts, feeling empty or numb, changes in appetite, feeling overwhelmed, sadness, hopelessness and other depressive symptoms. (Find out more in the post: Things You Probably Don't Know About Postpartum Depression: Maternal Investment Theory and The Drive to Abandon.)

There are a number of hormonal and evolutionary reasons that PPD occurs and even more reasons that contemporary women fall victim at such high rates. And with so many suffering every year, there are a number of ways for those symptoms to play out, a huge continuum on which women struggle. So I invited someone who has suffered from PPD to share her experience. Because while it isn't comfortable, it is common. And no one should have to feel like they are going through it alone.

By: Angela Keck

I never thought postpartum depression would happen to me.

If you had asked me during my first year of motherhood whether I was happy, I would have answered, “Yes”.  Partly because I was trying to adhere to the popular idea that having a baby would make me feel complete, a gift that would make me happier than I had ever been in my life.  In hindsight, I can see that this lie was partially responsible for my unhappiness. Because while I was telling people I was the happiest women on earth, I felt empty inside. That was a lonely place to be.

And yet, I still didn’t see it. In fact, I didn’t even realize that I had been depressed until almost a year after she was born and that fog of depression lifted.  

Postpartum depression didn’t look like, or feel like, what I expected it to.  I was entirely too close to be able to see my own thoughts or actions in a rational way, too close to label or identify them.  It was only after I started feeling better that I could see how desperate and depressed I was. It was only in hindsight that I could see how out of character, and to be honest, a little scary my behavior had been. The constant crying. The locking myself in the house whenever possible. It wasn’t normal, but I didn’t see it.

And, if I thought my actions were scary and out of character, then the thoughts that I managed not to act upon were truly terrifying. These thoughts included wanting to drive my car off the bridge that crosses the Mississippi river in St Louis.

I remember driving across the bridge and thinking that I had heard once that a large percentage of suicides aren’t even classified as such because they’re car accidents that no one realizes were intentional.  That thought haunted me. I remember the images vividly, like a high-definition action movie playing in my mind, where I turned the wheel sharply to the right and simply crashed through the barrier. 

No one would ever know that I had done it on purpose.  No one would know that I was so weak I couldn’t even face life.  

I had thoughts of suicide quite a lot, as a way out of the constant feeling of being underwater with the air running out of my lungs. The only thing--and I do mean the only thing--that kept me from doing it was the thought that no one would tell my daughter how much I loved her if I was gone.  No one would be able to protect her the way I could, and no one would love her as much as I did.  

And even then, I didn’t consider myself depressed.

What Contributed To My Postnatal Depression?

My daughter had colic. The first five weeks of her life I lived in fear that she would wake up and scream her head off.  Some days she did, some days she didn’t and I never could predict which was coming. During those long nights filled with her screaming, I walked the floor with tears streaming down my face thinking that I was not cut out for motherhood. I clearly had no idea what I was doing.  Everyone else had this mothering instinct I was apparently lacking. 

I would think things like, “My mother knows how to raise babies and my sister had colic so she can handle this, too.  I should just give her my daughter to raise until she turns eighteen, then she can give her back to me!” 

I mean, that makes total sense.  Because colic lasts for eighteen years, and eighteen-year-olds totally want to come hang out with their mother who gave them away, right? Obviously, I  was thinking very clearly.

For me, I think that there was a perfect storm of hormones, self doubt, insecurity and a colicky baby that led to me feeling completely overwhelmed and hollow. I cried every time she cried. Every time.

When my daughter was five weeks old, I stopped breastfeeding her and put her on special formula for babies with colic.  No one told me that weaning my daughter from nursing to formula could actually intensify the depression I was experiencing. Not that I had told anyone I was depressed, mind you. 

Looking back, I can see that weaning intensified that sinking, drowning feeling of depression and the idea that I was somehow not good enough as a mother.  After all, I couldn’t even breastfeed and even animals can do that, right? As soon as we changed her to formula she slept ten hours a night. She smiled, she snuggled, she screamed less.  

But my depression deepened. And two weeks later, I returned to work.  

I felt as though my child and I hadn’t really bonded because I went from being terrified she would start screaming to leaving her.  I hated returning to work while she stayed with a babysitter.  I obsessed about every daycare horror story that had ever been covered on the ten o’clock news.  Calling to check on her during the day made me miss her more, not calling to check on her made me feel like I was neglecting her.  

I couldn’t win, in motherhood or in my image of myself. My body wasn’t the same, my whole world had changed and it was a little too much for me.  I think I had secretly waited to have children until I was in my thirties because I was terrified that I would be one of those women who never lost the baby weight.  When people told me stories about wearing their pre-pregnancy jeans home from the hospital I looked at my stretched, worn out and irritatingly snug sweat pants with a dirty glare.  

I had absolutely no desire to leave the house, or to be social. I felt like everywhere I went people were whispering about how I hadn’t lost the baby weight, about how I used to be thin but now I’d really packed on the pounds.  All the really awful things you hear people whisper behind the backs of anyone who doesn’t look like a Victoria’s Secret model.  

Plus, I really wanted to stay home anyway. I didn’t want to share the little time I got with my baby with anyone else. From the moment I got home from work until the moment I went back to work the next day, all I wanted to do was hold her and try to convey how much I adored her. 

My husband would try to get me to go with him, but I would always opt to stay home with the baby instead. I was fiercely jealous of anything or anyone who tried to steal that time away from me.  I didn’t accept any offers to babysit, I had no desire to do a date night with my husband.  Instead, I soaked up every nuance that was my daughter.  

Looking back, it might have been a little (a lot!) obsessive, or maybe anxious. But I didn’t care. I would sit on the floor watching her learn to crawl, chew on a toy, or gurgle to herself and I would eat.  

And eat.  And eat.  And eat. I was trying to fill the emptiness I had inside myself with cookies and chips.  

It didn't work. 

Getting Back To Me: Healing After Postpartum Depression

By the time my daughter turned one year old, I had recognized my depression for what it was. I decided that I needed to figure out  what would make me happy because if I couldn’t show her how to be happy then nothing else I did as a mother would matter very much.  I returned to my love of writing because if I gave up on my dreams then I could never teach my children to reach for theirs. Writing, the rush of creating a character and breathing life into them, was the perfect ticket to snap me out of my postpartum depression.

Okay, Meg would say that the hormone levels in my body began to return to normal and that’s what started to lift the fog, but I’d like to think that it was my desire to inspire my daughter that kick started my passion for life again. Either way, the hopelessness lifted, slowly but surely, and I could finally move on.

Looking back at the first year of my daughter’s life I want to shake my head in disbelief.  Who was that woman and what was she doing occupying my body?  What on earth was I thinking?  I am not a person who considers suicide. I am not a person who gives up, throws in the towel, or wrings her hands in worry.  I’m a person who stands up, says what I think and screw the consequences.  Sure, I tend to care a little too much what people think of me, and I try a little too hard sometimes.  But I don’t give up.

I never thought it would happen to me. But it did. 

If I could go back in time and talk to the woman who occupied my body during that period, I would tell her to ask for help, to tell someone she was feeling overwhelmed and that she secretly cried in the shower every day.  I would tell her that it’s okay to not know what she’s doing as a new mom, and that really none of us ever know what we’re doing.  We just love our children and try our best each and every day. That’s all we can do. 

If you are feeling overwhelmed and anything I have shared here today speaks to you, even if only a little bit, pick up your phone and call someone. Tell them you need help.  You don’t need to suffer the way that I did. You don’t have to do this alone.

Angela Keck is an online community and social media expert who uses her blog as a means to return to her love of writing. She is proud to be a contributor to the anthology, The Mother of All Meltdowns as well as several websites. You can find her at Writer Mom's Blog, or on her Facebook page.

 

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Topic-Relevant Resources

The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding
Information on breastfeeding practices, including how to do it and advice for breastfeeding problems

This Isn't What I Expected [2nd edition]: Overcoming Postpartum Depression
A great guide on combatting postpartum depression. You're not alone.

The Postpartum Husband: Practical Solutions for living with Postpartum Depression
A concise, practical guide full of useful information for the loved ones of those suffering with PPD

The Mother-to-Mother Postpartum Depression Support Book
A book on postpartum depression written by mothers, for mothers.



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