I was 25 years old, had three very young children of my own, plus was co-nursing Sarah’s son. I’d had a couple of years of therapy when I was 20-22 years old, a diagnosis of depression, helped by talk-therapy only.
So, when I found myself holding the Demerol pills in my hand, considering swallowing all of them while the kids banged on the bathroom door, “Mommmmmmy!”; I had to make a decision.
I started crying when I was 12 (the year I started my period). I cried my way through the teen years, crying about the books I read, crying about the butt of even fake jokes and cried about my loneliness. I also wrote like crazy, pages and pages and pages of unending sadness... where was the end? I rarely seriously considered suicide, but it did cross my mind.
When I was pregnant with Tristan, I felt better than I ever had even though I ended up gaining 70 pounds. My sex drive was insatiable! I was awake, but did cry plenty, though not as much as I had in the past.
After Tristan was born, I felt in a fog for a long time. Having had a mediolateral episiotomy (that went into my thigh muscle), I can blame some of the fog on that... just trying to sit was incredibly painful for about 3 months. I am sure I had a touch of clinical depression, especially as I weaned him at 4 months old. I was perpetually exhausted, not wanting to even attend to his most basic needs. I didn’t know about attachment parenting back then (which would have helped loads), so did the nightly multi-runs to the crib and back, bottles, rocking, soothing a screaming baby; poor Tristan! I still apologize.
During the pregnancy with Meghann, I opened my eyes to attachment parenting and natural birth. I was so high after my UC and my successful nursing experience... and she was born at the end of May, the beginning of the sunny season in Tacoma, Washington... I don’t remember any depression at all.
Aimee’s birth, hysterically funny that she was born in the car, fed me for a long time. As a La Leche League leader and doula, I spent a lot of time with women and babies. I loved helping women! I hadn’t yet learned how to keep some of the energy (spiritual and physical) for my Self and my energy gradually waned over the first year of Aimee’s life. This was also the time when I left my former husband for Sarah, so there was plenty of strife and pain for everyone.
Sarah and I were living together in military housing from the time the babies were 7 & 9 months old. Another stressor was the military’s view of homosexuals; hiding was very difficult and unfair.
I slid into depression slowly, but it did start almost immediately after Aimee’s birth. The reason I consider it postpartum depression is 1) the timing of it (13 months after Aimee’s birth) 2) my history of mild depression 3) my family history of severe depression 4) the gradual slide down into complete despondency over the course of a year. The psychiatrist I saw also stated it was postpartum depression (PPD) – (it really was Postpartum Psychosis – PPP).
PPD for me included complete apathy. I was nursing 3 kids for 6 months and then co-nursing 2; I often wonder if I would have died if I’d weaned the kids. I was a great mom. I could hold the kids, kiss their boo boos, read them stories, make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and even make dinner most nights. Yet I spent nearly every waking hour crying, angry and so, so tired. I always wanted to sleep. I slept 12-14 hours a night. Where I was dysfunctional was in life as a woman. I couldn’t write, read for myself, drive or find any joy in life despite the wonder and beauty all around me.
I also heard those “voices,” the whispers behind my head that said my name or “look!” “you’re worthless” (the voices transform depression into psychosis). I had “ants” crawling on my body, ants that no amount of slapping or scratching would eliminate. I was super-involved in my pain, spiraling deeper into the abyss of darkness and... death?
Poor Sarah didn’t know what to do. She’d never seen depression before and at 23 years old, hardly had the knowledge of where to turn.
The moment I had those Demerol in my hand and had to make a decision, I fell to the ground sobbing and threw the pills into the toilet. I crawled out the door and grabbed the phone, calling Sarah at work. She left immediately and came right home.
I called the Psych department and was given an appointment for the next day. I only had to make it through until the next day. Sarah didn’t leave me alone for days.
Sitting on the psychiatrist’s couch the next morning, I could barely speak through the sobs, yet was able to say enough that he wrote me a prescription for Elavil (a pretty archaic medication nowadays) before sending me on my way. He told me it could take weeks before the medication removed the depressed feelings. I think I took a pill while standing in the pharmacy.
There is a trick we midwives teach mothers who have colicky babies. Take the calendar and circle the 3-month mark and by that date, things will surely be much better... X off the days and know that it shall pass. For me, I used the calendar to mark the days until I felt better. It only took 8 to feel the fog lighten slightly. The voices vanished when I’d been on the meds about 2 weeks.
If I had to draw what I was feeling, it would have started with scribbly pencil scratchings that gradually turned into charcoal on artist’s paper. The black and white etchings would slowly turn to faded colors, then the outlines would disappear, the colors brightening more with each passing week. By 8 weeks, I could see the world as it was again (despite the enormous hunger for sugar and dry mouth that the Elavil caused). I can always feel my slide into depression by the dimming of the “colors” of life.
Depression sucks, but Postpartum Depression is so horrid because we are supposed to be so in love with our babies. How can we give those babies/children the love they deserve when we don’t even care if we shower ever again? The kids might have their physical needs met (or not), but when emotions are absent, they are denied so much.
I didn’t have the voices that tell people to hurt their babies. My “voices” told me to leave. The urge to run away, disappear, was so great I planned where I would go and what my new name would be so no one could find me. In this sane state I am in now, it sounds absurd and totally bizarre to think I was in such a sick place, but I was – and plenty of women find themselves there, too.
I flat out ask women how they are feeling, do they have thoughts they wish they weren’t having? Do they feel ants crawling on them? Do they have panic attacks that make them want to stay home/crawl into bed/run away/fear for their lives?
I’ve had one woman with such severe PPD I took her to the hospital myself. I was afraid not only for her life, but for the baby’s. Her partner had to work and even though he understood the severity of the situation, there was nothing else he could do. The baby stayed with relatives while she was treated for a few days. Once she was home, I visited her every day for a week, then every couple of days for another week and gradually weaned away from her as she began feeling normal again. She’d had a really nice hospital birth with me as her doula. This seemed to be completely biological and not precipitated by any outward trauma, past or present.
I had another client with severe Bipolar Disorder that required medication during the pregnancy and a sharp increase, and addition of another, medication within 15 minutes of the baby’s birth. While she didn’t avoid PPD altogether, it was much less serious than it could have been/would have been without the medications.
I know there are midwives (and others) who believe PPD can be treated homeopathically, with acupuncture, diet or with herbs and visualizations, but I am not talking about mild depression, I am talking about DO-something-or-this-mother-or-baby-is-going-to-die. There simply isn’t enough time for holistic care to take effect. This doesn’t mean a woman can’t do allopathic AND holistic care at the same time – in fact, I think that holistic support is really important, but to minimize the seriousness of PPD/PPP can cost the loss of a life. I believe the stigma of medication can keep women who need help from getting help. I beg midwives and doulas to learn about serious PPD/PPP and learn about the medications that can save women’s and babies’ lives.
Face your own pre-judgment of medications during breastfeeding (which is almost CRUCIAL during treatment for PPD/PPP); most medications can be used while a woman is nursing. Sometimes the only connection she has to her baby is through breastfeeding. I believe it keeps many babies alive, this invisible maternal/infant bond that runs as an undercurrent through even the worst depressions. If you or women have questions about medications and mothers’ milk, you can always check out Dr. Hale’s website... a marvelous resource for women on medications of all kinds. (My username is “msgardenia” and my password is “midwife”) If you are ever bored in your day, read through this site to familiarize yourself with the different medications and advice about taking them in pregnancy and breastfeeding.
I know my own experience with PPD/PPP has colored my attitude towards helping women, including the use of medications. I don’t have the same phobia of allopathic meds that many in the natural community do. I trust that women will generally get what they need when they need it and if they don’t, I hope I am there to re-direct them onto a healthier path.
I want women to write more about their depressive experiences, both after birth and unrelated to the pregnant or postpartum period. Even though the topic is not nearly as hidden as it used to be, there still remains a stigma that the person with depression is weak, weak-willed or a failure in some way. This is so far from the truth. We need to reach out to those in need so they can find their way out of the pain and sadness that swirls around their hearts.
I remember when I held those pills in my hand... I didn’t want to die, but I wanted the crushing pain in my heart to end. I could not see a way out, but with love, support, therapy, medications and a lot of re-working my psyche, I found that way out, that way back to a color-filled world, the world where I was a great mom and a fulfilled woman.
I want to stand as an example to others who’ve fallen deep inside... you don’t have to feel that way any longer. Follow us. Follow us! Light is right over here.