Friday, September 18, 2015

This thing called postpartum depression: One mother's experience

I have debated for almost 2+ months about posting something so intimate, real, and raw as postpartum depression has been for me.  I have no interest in airing my grievances and this is not an attempt for attention or sympathy. Let's be clear- this is NOT me throwing myself a pity party. This is being real, honest, and hopeful about something that I believe many mothers struggle with at some point along this journey of bringing babies into the world and the trial (yes, trial) of raising them to become well-rounded, useful, happy adults.

I am very sensitive to the fact that no one is the same. Every person deals with their struggles, such as postpartum depression, in their own way. What may work for one, may not be ideal for another. I also want to point out that I FIRMLY believe in doing what's best for your family and your situation. This is not a cookie-cutter issue, so we shouldn't expect cookie-cutter answers and results for relief in suffering. I will say, though, I have a strong faith in a loving Heavenly Father and Savior who understand us PERFECTLY and know EXACTLY what we need to find peace in our trials. I will always advise prayer and/or communication with God as a requirement for enduring or overcoming a struggle, such as postpartum depression, successfully.

It will be 3 months next week from the day I held my sweet baby Kate for the first time. I remember how tiny and soft she felt against my skin. She immediately latched on to my breast to nurse for the first time and I was ecstatic, to say the least. With pre-mature twins, I wasn't able to have a successful breastfeeding experience and I was determined this time around would be different. We were off to a good start!

For 4 days (recovery from a C-section requires a longer hospital stay), we loved on our new baby and welcomed visitors to do the same. The day I was scheduled to leave the hospital, my milk still hadn't come in and our pediatrician was worried about Kate losing more than 10% of her birth weight and recommended we try supplementing with formula. I was very hesitant, but B and I decided it was probably the best thing. I cried as I fed her the little bottle and watched her guzzle it down in a matter of minutes and that's when the anxiety entered my body.

I remember it so vividly, because it was like a 2x4 hitting me in the face and I felt completely crippled. I struggled to keep it together the next few hours up until the moment the nurse shut my car door and waved goodbye to us as B drove us out of the parking lot. I felt like I couldn't breathe. Things became heavy, dark, and discouraging. The entire drive home, I tried to shake it. I tried to speak positively to myself. I prayed. I focused on the joy I felt with my new baby. I prayed again. I thought about how excited I was to see my boys again. And I prayed again. But, the minute I entered the house, intense fear filled my body and I struggled to fight back a full-blown anxiety attack.

Anxiety is nothing new for me. I've struggled with it for many years. I had it when the twins were born, but I assumed it was because of how stressful that whole situation was. 6 weeks before my due date, my water broke. I was transported to a hospital I was not familiar with so my babies could spend a few weeks in the NICU, and I had postpartum preeclampsia, requiring me to be on magnesium, which, to put it nicely, makes you feel like death. B and I spent our days downtown at LDS hospital, stuck in a little room down the hall from the Special Care Nursery. It was hard. It was really hard. But, we survived.

Fast-forward almost 3 years later and I have a full-term, healthy, beautiful baby girl without any major struggles and I'm feeling debilitated again. What is wrong with me? I think many new moms would agree that hormones are all over the place after giving birth and emotions are like a roller coaster...along with your life! A new baby means a new family member, a new routine,  and a new list of responsibilities that require less sleep and personal time. Not to mention your other littles that are experiencing a huge change and are trying to adjust. It's stressful. Period.

But those of you who have experienced PPD (postpartum depression) may agree that it's more than just stress. It's more than just a week of bouts of crying and exhaustion, which is rough enough! It's much more. And it's terrible.

For me, my PPD was extremely painful- physically and emotionally. My anxiety plagued my body so badly, I couldn't eat. I was down 25 pounds after almost a week and a half of giving birth. Don't get me wrong, it's always nice to see those numbers go down on the scale, but I knew the way it was happening wasn't healthy. B would constantly ask me what "sounded good" and I could never give him an answer. When something sounded ok, he would rush out and bring it back. But I was usually only able to take a few bites before putting it in the fridge. Sleep also evaded me. Not only was I getting up to nurse and supplement Kate with a bottle a couple times during the night, my anxiety would peak around 4:00 am and insomnia would set in. After sitting in my bed for an hour, trying to ignore the pain, I would get in the shower and start my day. I remember looking in the mirror one early morning and my eyes were dark and sunken. I looked sickly pale and empty inside. It was someone I didn't recognize.

So how does not eating and not sleeping affect your breastmilk production? Not well. Kate was getting hardly anything from me and I was becoming more and more frustrated. I tried to nurse her as long as I could to get everything I had and stimulate production, but that was taking almost an hour and then I was supplementing after that for another 20-30 min. I tried pumping, but again, I would still produce hardly anything. Women talk about engorgement when their milk finally comes in. I have no idea what that feels like. Nursing was increasing my stress and anxiety, which would affect my milk production, which would increase my stress and was a bad cycle. Eventually, after a lot of thought, discussion, prayers, and tears, I decided I was done nursing. For me, I needed something to give and that was what I chose.

I'm being completely honest when I say it was a very painful decision for me and I still feel pangs of sadness and regret every now and then. Every time I walk into the mothers lounge at church to change Kate and greet my mama friends nursing their sweet babes, I feel a little guilty and heartbroken. I believe breastfeeding is such a beautiful and important thing and I highly recommend it. But I also recognize everyone's circumstance is different. My experience is an example of that. There have been many times I've cried to B "Maybe if I tried a little harder...Or maybe if I did this...Or maybe if I was stronger..." and he always comes back to "It was the right choice for our family. It was the right choice for you. Kate is not suffering." And she isn't. For our family, the health of the mother was placed ahead of any extra benefits breastfeeding offered. It was more important my family had a functioning mom and wife. That doesn't mean it was easy. Nor does it mean it's the right choice for everyone dealing with PPD or otherwise.

Even after the stress of breastfeeding was eliminated, the anxiety didn't go away. I still suffered daily, especially when B went back to work. Every time Kate would cry, fear would race into my heart. It got to the point, every time B would leave the room when he was home, I would start to worry and follow him. I knew there wasn't a quick fix for what I was dealing with, but I knew I needed to do everything I could to help myself. I incorporated certain things into my daily schedule that helped alleviate some of that pain and allow healing to take place. I wanted to share these things, understanding, again, that not everyone is the same and what helped me may not be the answer for you.

1) First, I had a schedule! I am someone who thrives on routine. That's just part of my personality. I'm a stickler on sleeping and eating schedules with my kids and it's served us well so far. Sticking to a schedule helped me know what was coming and when. It alleviated some of that anxiety that came from feeling out of control. It also has helped Kate sleep longer through the night, which leads me to...

2) Sleep. I went to bed early and woke up early. When my PPD was really severe, I was dealing with insomnia. But at the end of the day, my anxiety lessened and I would get a few hours of good sleep before I needed to feed Kate or 4:00 am would hit and I would be up for good.  I also had B feed Kate her last awake feeding at 9:30 or 10:00 pm so I could get to bed earlier. (Another factor that affected my nursing decision.)  Something that also helped me to relax was taking some melatonin before I went to bed. My mom shared with me a spray that I still use to help me relax, fall asleep, and sleep soundly AND it's not addictive. I've also tried gummies with melatonin. There are lots of options that you can find in any grocery or drug store. (NOTE: Make sure to talk with your healthcare provider when considering taking any medications, vitamins, or supplements, especially if you're breastfeeding.)

3) Third, I increased my B vitamins and started taking fish oil. Vitamins B12 and B6 have shown to help with depression and anxiety and my friend recommended the fish oil supplements for the role the omega 3 fatty acids play in brain health and neurocommunication. Of course, eating foods that contain these valuable vitamins and fats is the best way to get the amount you need, but I needed extra supplementing, especially since I wasn't able to eat a whole lot those first couple weeks.

4) Along with eating healthy, exercise is a major for me! I called a couple teenage girls in my neighborhood to come over once a week and stay with my kids for 30 min while I took a morning walk by myself. It was summer vacation, so it worked out. I can't tell you how refreshed and better equipped I was to take on the day emotionally and physically after getting out in the fresh air, by myself, listening to some uplifting music, and moving my body! Exercise. It's a good thing.

5) Support. Support is huge. I know this is one thing that varies from person to person, depending on where you live, you're family situation, etc. But the more support you get, the better. I am so lucky to be married to the most patient, understanding, loving, and gentle man. He is my rock. It was so helpful when he could tell I was having a hard moment to ask "What are you feeling right now? Let's talk about it." It didn't matter if it was the same thing over and over, he let me talk. He didn't disregard my feelings as illogical or nonsense, even if they were. That's the thing with PPD- your thought process doesn't always make sense. You're fears are illogical. You know it, yet it's real. It's super, super frustrating, so it's helpful when a loved one can sit next to you and let you talk out what you're feeling and why you feel that way. I am also incredibly lucky to have family and friends that came over to visit, bring meals, hold the baby, play with the kids, etc. If people offer to help- let them!! It's so hard for me to accept help, let alone ask for it. But when I let myself be okay with that, it made all the difference.

6) I am a classic "Elephant Eater". What I mean by that is, I tend to want to eat the whole "elephant" at once. It was helpful for me to not think of everything I had to do or the task of getting through the next month, week, or even day. Sometimes, I had to tell myself "Just get through the next 30 minutes. That's it." Breaking things down into smaller, more doable parts is helpful. Things don't seem as overwhelming that way.

7) Because I have dealt with anxiety/depression in the past, I was already taking a daily prescription medication to help. I know there are lots of opinions, research, etc. about medication and it's not for everyone. But for me, I needed it increased for a little while. For a long time, I was apprehensive and even a little embarrassed I required prescription help to ease the symptoms of my anxiety, but I have since learned that, for whatever reason, my body deals with this issue. Just like it wouldn't make sense for someone with cancer to be embarrassed about taking medication to help with their disease, no one suffering with a mental illness should choose not to use medication based solely on feelings of embarrassment, shame, or because it seems taboo.

8) Faith. I really should've put this first, because it's the most important to me. I can't tell you how many times I prayed during the day (and still do!) for relief, comfort, peace, gentleness, calmness, and strength. I also made sure to study my scriptures, church magazines, and/or church conference talks EVERY DAY. I found that the more positive and uplifting things I read, listened to, watched, or surrounded myself with, the better. Life can be really dark when dealing with PPD. Letting as much light in as you can is important. I held on to the hope that God knew I was suffering, that He loved me, and that He would not leave me. That doesn't mean I always felt good or didn't struggle, but I was made stronger than I was. I was given abilities I didn't know I had.

I could do hard things. 

So, how am I doing now? I still struggle, but the severity of my PPD is much less. When Kate was about 6-8 weeks old, I could sense some relief. Things seemed a little easier. A little lighter. For some women, their PPD lasts much longer and is much more severe. And sometimes, PPD may not hit until later. If that is you, please know my heart goes out to you and you are NOT ALONE. It's a daily battle and I know, sometimes, it's hard to even breathe. Keep going. Don't give up. I know I felt so bad that I had this beautiful, perfect baby and I couldn't enjoy her like I wanted. I felt guilty for not feeling the happiness that you think should accompany the birth of your child. Be gentle with yourself and know it does get better. Reach out. Ask for help. Most importantly, remember you are a child of God. And just like your desire to love, comfort, and nourish your little one, He wants nothing less for you. You are His.


  1. Megan, I love you so much. Thank you for sharing this; I know it's not easy. I admire and look up to you. I had to be on magnesium after Hattie's birth. It was so horrible. I was grateful that she was my second and I sort of knew what I should do because I had no desire to hold or nurse her.

  2. I just have to say thank you for writing this. You don't know me but I found your post through a friend. I feel like you spoke the feelings of my heart-word for word. You're brave for sharing your story. I wish more of us had the courage to be this honest. Thank you!

  3. I just want to thank you as well on behalf of women with PPD everywhere. My post partum depression was more like "post partum bipolar disorder", and I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but I at least know somewhat what it's like.

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