The long road out of postpartum depression: you don’t need to be brave

Finn was born crying and didn’t stop for six weeks. I used to joke that if he was awake, he was crying. I spent six weeks shushing and swaying and swaddling and trying ANYTHING I could find to stop the crying. I remember taking him into a little boutique baby shop and the owner said, “Does he have colic?” I felt insulted. No, he didn’t have colic. He just cries a lot. Ugh.

And then one day, I eliminated soy and dairy from my diet (since I was breastfeeding) and all of a sudden he opened his eyes and said “a goo.”

It was like a dream.

The crying stopped and he was a happy baby. I felt like the sky opened up and the sun shone down on us.

Only I still felt in the dark.

I felt like I had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I was depressed, agitated, quick to startle.

My baby’s crying stopped, but mine was only beginning.

I woke up in the morning with my heart racing for no reason. I cried all day long. One day, we were lying on my bed– Finn was about 6 months and Charlie was almost 3 and I couldn’t hide the tears that were rolling down my face. Charlie, who has been an old soul since birth, asked, “Mommy, why are you crying?” I didn’t know. I couldn’t give him a reason. I just couldn’t stop.

I would park Charlie on the couch and Finn in the Bumbo in front of TV just so I could go in the other room and cry.

The boys were doing adorable infant and toddler things, but I couldn’t see them because I was staring off into space and crying.

The rational side of me could see that I was depressed, but the depressed side of me felt like the world was ending. There was nothing good. Only darkness. It was like a heavy suit of armor that kept me from feeling anything but sadness.

My sister called me every day and later told me she knew before she even said the words, “How are you today?” that I wasn’t good. She said it was an unmistakable tone, almost a shake, in my voice. She never wanted to hear my voice like that again. She convinced me to call my OB-GYN and ask for help.

I felt like I should be stronger than this. I felt ungrateful to be depressed. I had two amazing boys who were happy and healthy, a husband who loved and supported me– we had a great life. Why couldn’t I snap out of it? The pressure to force myself out of the depression was only making me feel more hopeless.

Reluctantly, but with every ounce of courage I had, I called my OB and told her that I thought I had postpartum depression. She said, “Honey, your baby is 7 months old. You can’t have postpartum depression.” She suggested I seek psychiatric help, which only confirmed my suspicion that I wasn’t depressed but actually crazy. I didn’t even listen to the rest of what she said. I fell into a puddle on the floor and hung up the phone. My OB wouldn’t help me and didn’t even believe I had postpartum depression.

I felt like that was my one lifeline– my life preserver before I drowned– and she didn’t believe me.

Here’s the tricky thing about PPD. It’s not just the depression. It’s the paranoia. I was scared to admit that I was depressed because I thought someone was going to come take my babies from me. Deep down, I was unraveled. Unnerved. Shaken to my core. And that made me unfit to care for these two souls. I could barely care for my own.   Looking back, it seems ridiculous, but at the time, I was convinced it was true: I was crazy. I felt like the most pathetic person in the world. I thought that everyone hated me– even my closest family and my husband. I didn’t think I was worth saving.

Despite “all I had to be happy about.” I couldn’t find the happiness. Despite breastfeeding and getting an abundance of the (so-called) happy chemical oxytocin. I was drowning in sadness.

I was inconsolable.

I called my sister and told her my OB didn’t believe me– that she made me feel crazy and told me to go to a psychiatrist.  My sister said, “Who is your primary care doctor? I’m calling him. I’ll call you right back.”

She saved my life that day.

I cried on the floor of my bathroom while the kids banged on the door outside.

My sister talked to a nurse at my doctor and told her my story. The nurse said, “I’m so sorry that happened. We are going to get your sister help.”

The doctor called me a few hours later and he said, “I’m going to take care of you now. Can you come in tomorrow?”

The next day, I sat on the chair in the doctor’s office. Charlie climbed on my back and I nursed Finn while I sobbed to the doctor that I didn’t want to stop breastfeeding to take an antidepressant. He explained that my health came first, but he would find me a drug that was ok to breastfeed with.

I agreed and I started taking Paxil the next day.

It was a long road to recovery.

My doctor checked in with me every three months and made me promise to stay on the Paxil for at least a year. I hated that drug, but it saved my life.

Three months after I started taking antidepressants, I started seeing the fog lift. I didn’t feel like myself again, but I was getting glimpses of her. At 6 months, I told the doctor I was feeling better, but I still felt hopeless. He told me that was usually the last symptom to go. I was just happy to not feel crazy anymore.

I kept taking the Paxil and putting one foot in front of the other. Eventually the hopelessness went away. I started enjoying things again. I started seeing myself as loved and worthy of love again.

I stand here today lucky to have people in my life who would fight for me. People in my life who knew that wasn’t who I am. People who knew I was worth fighting for even if I couldn’t see it.

I even had the bravery to get pregnant two more times after that. And we have our beautiful twins as a result.

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about the depths of that depression and how my mind got away from me. I hope and pray that everyone out there who is suffering can find their way back.

There is no shame in asking for help. And sometimes we need others to ask for us.

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Happiness came once again. It was a hard road, but I am better for it.

If you are a mom who thinks she is experiencing postpartum depression, get help! Don’t give up on yourself! This isn’t your fault. There are resources to help you, but many of them don’t speak of how long PPD symptoms can last. In my case, it was well past the first 6 months. And that is ok. Check out this amazing website run by a mom who has been through it: postpartumprogress.com  That link will take you to the “Symptoms of PPD” post. Read it. It’s in language you will understand. You will not be made to feel broken or ashamed.

There is also a lesser talked about kind of postpartum depression that Dads experience called paternal postpartum depression (PPPD). It’s real and it’s just as scary. Twenty Six percent of new dads experience it and there’s no shame in admitting it. Check out these resources: postpartummen.com,  “Sad Dads” on parents.com, “Depression in Men…” on postpartum progress.com. 

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5 thoughts on “The long road out of postpartum depression: you don’t need to be brave

  1. Thank you Shannon for sharing your story. This is a story so close to my heart. I walked out of my house with my hands up in the air after slamming them on Vincent’s high chair because he was crying when he should be eating at 4 months old. I was OVERWHELMED. I frequently threw things, slammed things, yelled, and cried. I called my employee assistance program hoping for some free or discounted therapy. They asked me 7 times in that phone call if I wanted to kill myself until I finally said “I’m gonna kill myself if you ask me that again”. They referred me to a therapist that just asked for an hour “why are you crying” I had a 4 month old, it was clearly PP depression . My next step was my primary care provider who took three phone calls, and 4 interruptions from his office staff during my visit. He heard me long enough when I said “I think I have PP depression”. He wrote me a script for Zoloft and sent me on my way. No follow up.
    Thankfully the medication helped fairly quickly. I went off of it maybe 5 months later after I was feeling better for a while. I know that I was one of the lucky ones. I caught it early. My husband didn’t see how bad I was while he was at work. My mom said, “everyone goes through this”. I knew if I didn’t get help I was going do something I regretted. That day in the kitchen I wanted to hit that baby, I wanted to shake him HARD. I’m so thankful that God intervened. That I am a maternity nurse. Thankful the part of my brain that was working well knew what was happening.
    With my second child the minute I felt it happening I went back on Zoloft for a little while(also safe with breastfeeding) and I’m so glad I did. There are so many hormones and physical changes that happen after pregnancy it is truly a MEDICAL condition and I’m NOT ASHAMED.
    PP DEPRESSION takes on many different forms. anxiety. OCD, depression, anger, etc. check out PPPROGRESS.com. It is a wonderful website that I learned about years after my struggle. I tell every patient that I discharge from the hospital that PP depression can happen at any point in that first year, and is typically after the first 3 months. I make the dads listen and promise that if mom doesn’t look good that they will call moms OB or primary care and promise they won’t take no for an answer.
    Thanks again for sharing your story. You have an amazing sister that did the right thing, so many people don’t want to step on toes or are afraid to intervene.

    • Dana, thanks for commenting. Isn’t it nice to know we are not alone? It’s easier to admit once we’ve lived through it, but at the time it feels so shameful. Like we aren’t strong enough. Thanks for sharing your story.

      I love that site ppdprogress. That’s the site I linked to at the bottom of the post. It’s the only one that isn’t to medicalized. That’s so great that you tell moms about it. That post partum screening before you leave the hospital is useless. It’s after getting home that reality hits.

      Keep doing what you’re doing, Momma! You rock!

  2. Shannon, thank you for sharing your experience! I truly feel like this is so important to share. I started feeling extremely overwhelmed at everything as soon as Suzy went back to work, after being home with me the first 12 weeks with the twins. I was lucky, having a wife who is a nurse, she told me to call my OB as soon as I started getting frustrated, crying at every little thing, and saying awful things to her. She didn’t hold it again me! I remember the night she took care of the kids while I spent 45 minutes on the phone with my doctor who was wonderful! I started taking Zoloft and it worked pretty quickly. I stayed on it for a year and decided I was in a better place at that point. I know a lot of women think everybody goes through it and they just have to deal, or its just the “baby blues,” but for so many of us it’s much more than that! Thank you!

    • Cyn, thanks for sharing your story! I’m glad you got the help you needed! Your wife is awesome! I’m glad you didn’t think it was something you just had to deal with. You know yourself, but sometimes it takes someone we love to help us get help. 🙂 xoxo Thanks for sharing!

  3. Wow Dana–so brave of you to share. We’ve all been there. I can’t remember ever learning about PPD during my childbirth education classes, but it should be mandatory education for all pregnant women. SO glad you got the help you needed too. Definitely no shame!!!! xoxo

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