May 24, 2022
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Postpartum depression can be a scary and lonely journey. Spreading awareness is an important way to help parents feel less alone and get the support they need.
I sit in a hotel room in the early hours of the morning in January 2022. My husband and our two children are still deeply asleep. I relish these moments of complete intellectual solitude where, despite being surrounded by those I love most, I can think and write.
My eyes lock on our now teen boy. His black hair is untidy. His long legs come off the bed — too small to contain this fast-growing young man. My eyes fill up with tears. Tears of love and pride. Tears of shame for how I felt after my son was born.
The night our son was born in 2008, everything changed. I wanted to die. These are not the words anyone expects from a mother who has just given birth to her second child.
What happened to me? Why am I writing about it now? Why do I wish postpartum depression (PPD) was discussed as freely as topics like prostate cancer screenings for men? These are some of the questions I hope to answer here.
Motherhood was a choice I made in my late 20s. My husband and I were already the happy parents of a 3.5-year-old daughter. She was smart, bubbly, active, hilarious, and making our lives full. She was excited at the prospect of becoming a big sister, and we were excited about making our family of four complete.
My pregnancy was pretty uneventful. Contrary to my first pregnancy, my husband and I had asked for the baby’s gender to be revealed. We felt it would be easier to prepare our daughter if we could tell her she would have a brother or a sister. Finding out I was pregnant with a boy had me just laugh and tell my husband that he would need to tell me how to raise him!
I was scheduled to have a C-Section (our babies are big ones) but my water broke the day before. Yep, exactly like in the movies! I was sitting down for one last afternoon alone at home, ready to read and watch a movie. Let’s just say it took me years to finally watch “Tales of the City.”
Our son was born that evening. It was an event we were excited about as a family. A few hours after his birth, I was in a hospital room alone with my newborn son. Late that night my husband had finally gone home to take care of our daughter. Our son was incessantly crying. I had spent all evening trying to get him to latch to my breasts. Nothing.
I remember this deep feeling of inadequacy that came almost instantly after being left alone in the room. I tried singing, cooing, holding him close to my chest, cajoling him, and caressing his beautiful full head of hair. I was doing these gestures so mechanically. I knew something was off.
“I was searching for that bond I had immediately felt after our daughter was born. I could not find or feel it.”
Nothing rang like I had felt 3.5 years before. After what seemed like hours of crying, I looked up at the window in my room. I remember thinking: “I will call the nurse, have her take my baby to the nursery, telling her I need to rest, and I will jump out of that window. I can’t be a mother again. Nothing feels right.” I was desperate.
I still don’t know how I found the strength to call my husband. I was crying hysterically. He thought something was wrong with our son. I simply said, “No, something is wrong with me. I want to jump out of the window.”
The following hours are blurry. I do remember what seemed to be the very early hours of the morning and a psychiatrist, a nurse, and a social worker in my room.
My desperation and my call for help had been taken very seriously. I was gently questioned about my intentions, my feelings, my pregnancy. I was offered medications, support groups, and therapists. My insurance was checked for the services I could have access to.
I was released from the hospital a couple of days later. I saw the hospital psychiatrist once more before being discharged. I went home with some antidepressants and anti-anxiety prescriptions but I never filled them up, too afraid to take them while breastfeeding.
All of this did not answer the recurring questions in my head: What was wrong with me? Why was I completely numb? Why was I doing everything so robotically? I was remembering the simple gestures that had come so naturally 3 years earlier, and nothing felt that way.
My baby boy was there crying, and I struggled to calm him down. I was searching for that bond I had immediately felt after our daughter was born. I could not find or feel it. The guilt and inadequacy were eating me up. The more I felt that way, the angrier I became. I was failing — or at least that was how I felt.
Everything I did over the following months and year went against all sound advice any mental health professional would have given me. I shifted my gears to being the dutiful and protective mother I was expected to be, juggling an infant, a preschooler, and a freelance job.
I took care of everyone but myself. I gained weight. I found comfort in food. I neglected any form of regular exercise, always finding an excuse.
My mental well-being was in shambles. I was a robot. I was doing everything mechanically and dutifully. I did not address uncomfortable emotions and it resulted in explosive behaviors on my part.
“What was wrong with me? Why was I completely numb?”
I have one vivid memory of one of my kids spilling some milk on the floor — something totally harmless that every child in the world has done. Instead of laughing and grabbing the towel to clean the spill, I started screaming, rambling about how I was always the one doing everything. I remember my kids looking terrified at that outburst.
I was so overwhelmed I could not even recognize it. I cried with no warning. I slept for hours during the day while my kids were at school and day care, neglecting my work, which forced me to work long hours during the nights when my kids were asleep and my husband was back from work.
I felt so lonely. A couple of my friends told me years later they had guessed my depression was much deeper than I let on. They admitted they did not know how to help me. I had mastered the art of hiding my pain. If I am completely honest, I would say my PPD lasted well over 2 years.
In 2010 I briefly sought out the help of a therapist. I followed through on a number of sessions. When we started to scratch the surface of the roots of my recent PPD, I started to panic and slowly retreated into my silence and solitude.
Anyone who knows me will be surprised to read these words. I am an outgoing extravert. I love people. I love listening to people’s life stories. I ask many questions… probably too many for some people’s taste!
During these therapy sessions I started to understand that my natural curiosity and affinity to other human beings was a way for me to avoid my own story.
What was contained in my story and my past that I was working so hard to avoid? I knew it. I had verbalized it to one person only years earlier, my husband. I did not think the rest of my world was ready to hear my secret, what I perceived as my shame.
When I was a 9-year-old, my best friend’s older brother (he was 17 at the time) raped me. Once. At age 34, when I became a mother for the second time, but to a boy, I panicked. I could not separate my own trauma and my perception of what some men are capable of doing from the idea of raising a son.
Close friends and family have asked me: Why share my story now? Like most old wounds, mine were not healed up properly. My PPD morphed into a semi-constant state of depression that, again, took me years to recognize and seek treatment for.
In my professional life, I know the power of words and stories. It was time I applied this power to a cause I deeply care about.
Postpartum depression is a treatable disease. It can be recognized and if not prevented, at least treated. Although not every person treated for PPD has known risk factors, they do exist.
Sharing my story is also a way to destigmatize how people experiencing PPD are viewed in society. Parenthood is supposed to be a pinnacle in the lives of those who choose that path.
When the actual reality is a lot more challenging than expected, these individuals can be judged harshly. If they speak up, they can be misunderstood.
Here is some data to ponder:
Greater disparities exist among Women of Color in both rates of PPD and access to PPD treatments. Some studies emphasize troubling racial and ethnic disparities in receiving care for PPD.
In a 2011 study, Black women were 57 percent less likely than white women to start treatment for PPD, and Latina women were 41 percent less likely than white women. The most common obstacles cited for these disparities were socioeconomic and cultural, like income-status, cultural beliefs, and communication barriers.
The silence surrounding PPD is deafening and tragic. Every year, people experiencing PPD take their own life.
A 2005 study found suicide as a leading cause of death for U.S. women in the postpartum period.
According to a Canadian study from 2015, the most at-risk time for suicide among postpartum women was 9 to 12 months after giving birth. The same study showed that over 60 percent of women who took their own life after giving birth had not seen a mental health professional in the month leading up to their suicide.
Finally, some studies suggest that suicide attempts during and after a pregnancy nearly tripled over the past decade.
These numbers do not even take into account women who have miscarried or had a stillbirth. According to the resources provided by the website Postpartum Depression, when including these women in the general postpartum statistics, the number of women living with PPD in the United States reaches 900,000 every year.
This staggering number alone should convince everyone that PPD is a serious medical condition requiring not only the attention of medical and mental health professionals but also broader public awareness.
I am speaking out in hopes of starting or stimulating these conversations. I am lucky to be alive. I wanted to die in 2008.
I would have never seen my son become the incredibly intelligent, gifted, caring, loving, and funny young man he is becoming. I would have never witnessed my daughter blossom into the extremely smart and talented young woman I wish I had been decades ago. I would have deprived the love of my life of that partnership we promised to each other for as long as we shall live.
I still work on the shame I feel almost daily for having felt that desperate call to end it all.
Now, each word I string morphs into a journey rather than a battle. Speaking out eases the loneliness I have felt for years. The words I share open me to a new community of people and families with whom I share a similar experience.
Sharing my story reminds me I am not a failing mother. I may be a woman with flaws and shortcomings, but I am also a woman with accomplishments and victories — one of which is being a woman who survived PPD.
Medically reviewed on May 24, 2022
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