Cassandra on battling postpartum depression, OCD and PTSD

mom holding her toddler at a pumpkin patch - battling postpartum depression

Content warning: Discussion of postpartum depression, birth trauma, domestic abuse or other tough topics ahead. If you or someone you know is struggling with a postpartum mental health challenge, including postpartum depression or anxiety, call 1-833-9-HELP4MOMS (tel:18009435746)—The National Maternal Mental Health Hotline This free, confidential service provides access to trained counselors and resources 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in English, Spanish, and more than 60 other languages. They can offer support and information related to before, during, and after pregnancy.

After a molar pregnancy and five years of infertility, I was finally pregnant again. This time everything looked normal. Before we even got to the “safe period” to announce to people, my father got diagnosed with oral cancer. I had a horrible time with it. I thought the reason I got pregnant was because my father was going to die. You know, the circle of life.

I would be washing my floors sobbing with the Lion King circle of life song playing on repeat. During my pregnancy, my father had one surgery and my mother scheduled a hysterectomy two weeks before my due date. I had little mental support from my family. After my son was born, I had what I thought to be normal baby blues. I had a hard time looking at pictures of my son from the previous week because I felt he was growing up too fast. I cried all the time.

Related: How to cope with postpartum ‘baby blues’—from a clinical psychologist

My father had radiation and another surgery. I talked freely about postpartum depression with the people around me and about how I thought I had it. How I had all the risk factors. No one suggested speaking to my doctor. I lied on the postpartum questionnaire at the pediatrician, thinking this was normal. Crying turned into anger. I couldn’t handle everyday life with a baby. I yelled. My marriage was at its lowest point.

I openly talked to my mother about how I wasn’t handling my emotions and my father’s cancer. I really needed her. She told me she couldn’t deal with me because of my father’s cancer. I stopped sleeping. I feared going to bed because of the awful night anxiety and non stop panic attacks. I feel people throw the panic attack phrase out and it’s diluted it. They need a stronger word for what I was experiencing. A more volatile word—because what I was feeling was volatile.

At seven months postpartum, I finally started reaching out for help to my doctors. My primary physician finally diagnosed me with postpartum anxiety, postpartum depression, OCD and PTSD. He prescribed me Zoloft and said to see a therapist immediately. I scheduled an appointment and I had to wait a month for it. I started the Zoloft. I lost four pounds in a week from being so sick. My panic attacks were constant and the depression really set in. My doctor told me it would take six weeks to adjust.

Related: How motherhood myths impacted my struggle with postpartum depression and anxiety

Everyday I called him crying from the side effects of the medication. At day five, I hit rock bottom with the Zoloft as I sat with my baby and said to myself, I can’t live like this. It wasn’t like in the movies. It didn’t even feel suicidal, but it was. I started bargaining—if I could get through the week, the weekend. And finally I bargained that if I could make it through this hour, I could go on.

I stopped the medication and finally started therapy. I wish I could say it was an easy fix. Six months of therapy and I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. Six months of night panic attacks, of a terrible feelings of dread. I hated my life. I had my rainbow baby and I hated life. It wasn’t fair. The fear of this being the rest of my life was unbearable. Bit by bit, I found myself again.

While my postpartum anxiety is gone, I still have anxiety. It’s not the same, but it’s there. A new part of who I am. In all of this, I have found how strong I am. I still cry thinking of the hell I went through, but can’t help being so proud of pulling myself out of the absolute darkest part of my life. I also learned, you are your best advocate because others don’t always step up to help you.