When I got pregnant with my daughter at 25, I had already been battling anxiety and depression for most of my life.
Pregnancy hormones almost immediately began changing me in ways that I am only now beginning to understand almost nine years later. Per the advice of my OB, I stopped taking all my medications in order to protect my baby from any gestational damage. I felt lost, hopeless and panicked most of my nine-month pregnancy and only truly came to terms with how difficult it was after the birth of my daughter.
My doctor assumed it was just postpartum baby blues, when in fact I was feeling hopeless enough to consider ending my life. The weight of my newly realized responsibility and love for my baby, coupled with the difficulty I was having breastfeeding was overwhelming to the point of devastation.
As breastfeeding became easier, the hopelessness and powerlessness faded away and I eventually found a new normal. Without the support of my family, things probably would have ended very differently. It was only with the birth of my second child, my son, almost four years later that I truly experienced the paralyzing darkness and soul shattering helplessness that postpartum depression can cause. My same OB failed to mention that the second time around postpartum depression can be profoundly much more intense.
It began again almost the second my son was born. The harsh shift in hormones that occurs following birth hurdled me into a sea of panic and uncertainty. This was not my first baby, yet I found myself terrified to leave the hospital and be at home with my newborn and three-year-old. My mother was able to stay for the first four weeks after my son was born, and just like the first time, I had significant issues with breastfeeding.
Every single time I attempted to nurse him, and he screamed and cried in frustration and hunger, I felt like I was failing him and that he would be better off without me. My mother was able to identify that I wasn’t okay, and forced me to go and see my OB. He again attributed it to baby blues and sent me home with a prescription for Paxil, something I hadn’t taken before.
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I refused to take it and continued my exhausting battle, until the day that my mother had to leave and go back to Oklahoma. I was still crying most of the day, every day. I had open wounds on both nipples that were not healing because of a tongue-tie issue, and my husband had to go back to work because his leave was over. I felt defeated, exhausted beyond anything I had ever experienced, and had compulsive thoughts of self-destruction.
The first day I was supposed to be alone with my two children, I spent most of the day crying and begging my husband not to leave me alone at home. He was terrified to leave me, but he didn’t understand what was happening and was afraid to lose his job. I remember taking the Paxil prescription out and taking one because I felt like I had no other options and was desperate for relief. As I sat in our rocking chair rocking our screaming child, I began having visions of throwing him out of window. Not actual thoughts or plans of doing it, but compulsive visions of doing it and not being able to stop myself.
With each impulsive and disturbingly visual thought, the panic got radically worse. I sat and rocked until my son fell asleep. I sat there in the chair holding my sleeping baby paralyzed in fear and unsure if I was hallucinating. My skin was tingling, and my breaths were short and shallow. I sat there for two of the longest hours of my life, reminding myself I just had to make it until my husband got home from work at 10:30. I sat there begging and pleading with a God I didn’t believe in to please help me make it until he got home.
When he walked in the door, I handed him the baby and told him not to wake me up until morning because I needed uninterrupted sleep and I wasn’t sure if I needed him to take me to the hospital. That was my rock bottom. I would like to say that it got easier quickly after, but that would be a lie. The truth is that it did get easier, but over an excruciatingly long period of time. That’s how it felt, anyway. I kept going to my doctor and he eventually admitted this was out of his league and tried to find a psychiatrist that would take me.
Sadly, this was a very difficult process as there weren’t many in the St. Louis area that knew much about postpartum depression and psychosis. About 12 weeks after my son was born, I found a private physician that was able to fix my son’s tongue tie and I began successfully breastfeeding. The open, painful wounds on my nipples began to heal and somehow, I managed to go back to work. When I returned to work, it was almost as though a light switch was turned back on.
I could suddenly remember who I had been before and remembered how strong and confident I had been. At that point, I began healing physically and mentally and the darkness began to fade, slowly. Now, five years later, I feel compelled to share my story in hopes that it will help other women going through similar times. I hope it will help them to see that it does end and there is light at the end of the tunnel. Take a deep breath, hold on and ask for HELP. You are not alone and there is help out there.