The Elephant In The Room

9 May

There’s a topic in our society that we simply don’t talk about because it’s uncomfortable. A few gathered here or there may discuss it but as a general rule, things are swept under the rug. Out of sight, out of mind. It’s not a happy issue to discuss but most women you know have probably struggled with it to some extent. Some have done small skirmishes; others have had to wage war. Others are still fighting.

This practice is a huge disservice to those around us who are struggling with the very issues no one wants to talk about. It’s not just random strangers on the street, either. It could be our mother, sister, or friend who is emotionally crying out for help but doesn’t know how to ask for it or that help is even available. Some are too ashamed of what is going on and others are afraid of being labeled and thought less of for what they are going through.

What I’m bringing out from under the rug, discussing in the daylight, is postpartum depression.

I’m not a medical professional, a counselor, or a therapist. I’m simply a mom who has been through some very dark times and want to share my story in the hopes that it will help others.

A lot of people assume that postpartum depression happens only to those who have a form of birth trauma, a newborn spending time in the NICU, or breastfeeding struggles. I can assure you that while those situations certainly have the potential of setting the stage for postpartum depression, my birth experience was simply amazing. It was empowering and the single most amazing experience of my life. I had no intervention, no trauma, and a very healthy daughter who took to breastfeeding like a fish does to water.

About three weeks after Ella’s birth, I began to experience severe anxiety. My primary fear was that she had stopped breathing in her sleep, so I started staying awake most of the night to make sure she was okay. This progressed to not being able to set her down on the floor while I used the bathroom.

Things got worse. Not only was I severely sleep deprived, but I began to have horrible mental images of Aaron (my husband) getting into a car accident and leaving me a widow with a newborn. My mind would obsess over the details of how I would manage life after he was gone. I couldn’t bring myself to leave the house because what if I got in a car accident? It was the dead of winter in the Midwest and even taking myself outside was not an option. I began to keep the blinds closed all day throughout the house because I would break down in tears when I’d see a mom drive past with her kids in the car because I so desperately wanted to get out but was too afraid to go.

Reading this in black and white seems pretty obvious what was going on. You have to remember that this crept up so slowly and snuck into my life that I didn’t even realize what was going on. I even thought it was okay and normal and I didn’t want to worry my husband or friends with something that was “obviously not an issue”.

What made me realize that things were out of control and beyond any sense of normal was one night, about 4 months after Ella’s birth, I got out of bed at 2:48 am. For about an hour, I sat on the living room couch, sobbing and thinking how much better off my husband and child would be if I wasn’t in their lives. I was horrible at being a mom, horrible at being a wife, horrible at even just being Dallas Ann. I began to imagine getting into my car and driving off the bridge into the river. I got so far as to put my shoes on to leave when I stopped myself. Still sobbing, I peeled my shoes off and went back to bed.

The next morning, I called my midwife and she saw me that afternoon. Until my appointment, I searched online, trying to find something to explain what was going on. This website is, by far, the one that helped me the most. After I finally admitted to myself that there was a problem, I took the quiz, printed it out, and took it in with me to my midwife appointment. I was at a total and complete loss as to how to even begin talking about this, so I simply handed her the printed quiz and let that do the talking for me.

One of the few pictures I remember taking.

One of the few pictures I remember taking.

To this day, I don’t remember the first 5 months of my daughter’s life. There are a few, brief moments glimmering in my mind that I cling to. For the most part, I look back through her baby pictures and can’t remember a single moment that I captured. It breaks my heart.

The thing I credit to maintaining my emotional bond with Ella is breastfeeding. We simply could not afford formula and I had such an abundance of milk that I could feed a small nation. Breastfeeding forced me to make eye contact with her, converse with her, and interact. If we had the finances to use formula, I can promise you that I would have put her in the swing, propped the bottle, and ignored the entire world.

I didn’t enjoy breastfeeding one bit until my postpartum depression began to lift at around 5 or 6 months when my antidepressants began to rebalance the chemicals in my brain. Even after that, breastfeeding was never something I found totally enjoyable but at least it was tolerable and a neutral experience for me.

Yes, I am scared of experiencing postpartum depression again after Miles is born. At times, I’m terrified at the prospect. Then I have to remind myself that I now have local “mommy friends” who I’ve shared this experience with and they’ve offered to be support me. Aaron now knows what to watch for, what questions to ask, and what to do. My beloved midwife told me at my appointment this week that she will simply not allow it to happen again. I have relationships, safety networks, and plans in place for after the birth of my son. Even if I do hit rough patches, I know – No, I believe that it will never be as bad as it was after Ella was born.

Through this experience, I have discovered a number of in person resources that may be available in your community. There is an abundance of online support groups that are just a Google search away, but I found I needed face to face support.

Le Leche League – Even though the group is dedicated to breastfeeding, all the LLL leaders I have ever spoken to are dedicated to the whole mother. They see more than just a milk machine, I promise. 🙂

Contact the hospital you gave birth at. If you had a homebirth, call a hospital that seems to be the most baby or mother friendly. Ask to speak with their lactation consultant.  One of our local hospitals provides weekly support groups for moms who are struggling with postpartum depression, a free counselor who specializes in grief and postpartum depression, and a monthly “get out of the house” get together at the local mall where all the moms walk around with their babies as a group. I’m sure that if my random Midwest town has these resources, yours will have something.

Check out Attachment Parenting International . HERE is where you will find a listing of all their groups. This will provide you with play groups, parenting support, and a reason to get out of the house. It is because of my local API group that I began to find other women who were willing to share their experiences with me and I discovered I was not alone, a freak of nature, or a horrible mother because of suffering from postpartum depression.

If you live in the United States, there should be a WIC program (Women, Infants, and Children) in your area. They will have information about low cost or sliding scale fee services that can provide you and your family counseling and support to help you get through this season of your life.

If none of these resources are available to you, my favorite place online to get support is at the Mothering.com message boards. Scroll down and you’ll find their postpartum depression forum that is full of women who have been where you are now or are in the same place. It is full of compassion and open arms.

As a final thought, if you are struggling with postpartum depression or know someone who is, please remember that it is NOT your fault. It is not God punishing you. It is an actual medical condition that can be changed. If you and your health care provider decide that being on antidepressants are necessary, please don’t feel like a failure. I struggled with a lot of emotional baggage regarding depression medication.

What finally helped me feel comfortable using the medication is that this is simply a season in my life. I’m not going to be dependent on this drug for the rest of my life. If I’m trying to bake a cake, I can’t do it with just sugar. I need a whole list of ingredients and if you leave one out, it’s not going to turn out well. My anti depression medication is one of those ingredients. I need other elements to help me through this period in addition to the medication, but I need it all to have a whole and healthy Dallas Ann in the end.

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4 Responses to “The Elephant In The Room”

  1. desiree fawn May 9, 2009 at 10:42 pm #

    It takes courage to share something so personal like this, but stories need to be told & I think you will definitely help people by sharing.
    Mamas should always know that they are not alone 🙂

    • Dallas Ann May 10, 2009 at 7:04 pm #

      Thank you so much for your kind response. I was really nervous posting this and felt like I was going out on quite the emotional limb. It’s good to know that it was received well by at least one person. 🙂

  2. Unbridled May 20, 2009 at 11:05 pm #

    Dallas Ann, this is so fantastic and real. You are one cool chick that I am proud to know!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Ponderings about the postpartum period « The Road We Travel - July 27, 2009

    […] about the postpartum period A few months ago, I wrote about my postpartum depression struggles and how they impacted my life. Now that birth is creeping every closer to being reality, the idea […]

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