Guest Post: Unashamed by Jennifer
Good morning friends. Our support of Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month continues today with a guest post from our good friend Jennifer.
My name is Jennifer, and I struggle with depression.
I have a family history with mental health issues and a personal history of depression from before I had children. Because of my risk factors, my husband, Nate, and I were proactive with a plan to ward off postpartum depression after the birth of my first son. Our efforts paid off and we were successful. Unfortunately, after my second son was born I developed post-partum depression. He is almost two years old and I still struggle.
I think that because I did well mentally after the birth of my first son, Jacob, I let my guard down with my second son, Andrew. I did not have a plan in place for the post partum period when he was born. Andrew was born at 36 weeks gestation and this was a factor that contributed to my PPD. Though I was technically in labor, the hospital let Nate and I choose whether to go home or have my water broken. For various reasons we chose the latter. Andrew’s birth was very quick and he was small so he ended up being born with fluid in his lungs (Transient Tachypnea of the Newborn) and became a NICU baby. He spent a week there before being discharged. Sometimes I still catch myself playing the “what if” game. I know it’s an exercise in futility but I can’t help it. I will never know if his NICU stay could have been avoided had I’d just gone home that day instead of having my water broken. The guilt over our decision was something that really ate away at me when Andrew was a baby.
I turned 30 when Andrew was not quite two months old and I was not feeling it. Not because I was dreading turning 30, but because I was just starting to admit to myself that perhaps I was experiencing more than baby blues. I just wasn’t in a celebratory place. I remember telling Nate that I feared I had PPD but as I told him I also tried to minimize my feelings. I was ashamed of the place I was in. I think our conversation alerted my husband to the fact that I might be having a problem but we both were in a state of denial over it.
The height of my PPD was when Andrew was four months old, both boys were sick, Nate was working 80-hour work weeks, and Andrew would not take a bottle. I think his refusal of the bottle, and my subsequent inability to get a break, was a big factor in the severity of my PPD. Part of me began to resent nursing Andrew because I felt leashed to him and, as vicious cycles go, I would then be consumed with guilt for feeling that way. As I took care of my sons I alternated between constantly wanting to take a nap (something my well intentioned mother encouraged until I told her it was because I was depressed) and envisioning myself getting up and walking out the door while leaving the boys behind. I never wanted to hurt them or myself but the vision of walking out was so very real that I could practically feel the action of doing it. And that scared me. A lot. It was my sharing this impulse that made Nate truly understand that I was having a problem. Once he saw this, he immediately went into action mode and together we changed things to make sure I was getting a break, getting exercise, and other little things that did make a difference. Having the number to a Postpartum Support International coordinator ready on my phone helped too though I never ended up calling. In a strange way, simply having the number at my fingertips was enough.
December 2013 was my low point and through a lot of work and support from Nate, family, and friends, I am doing better. I still have days and weeks where I am inexplicably sad but I’m a work in progress. I have my list of things that help ward off my depression (exercise and duty free time are most helpful) and I know my red flags that signal the clouds are rolling in. I’ve also decided that I need to see a counselor. I’m doing these things to keep myself healthy and to help my family be happier. But I’m also trying to be proactive about my mental health because I have a strong desire for a third child and I am afraid I’ll have PPD again. I’m not ashamed of my history, but I don’t want to be caught unprepared again.
I also want to say this. If you think you may be experiencing PPD, don’t try to downplay it. Your feelings are important and you need to be heard. Tell people, a lot of people. I ended up telling a lot of people what I was experiencing and I’m glad. Sharing my story created a new village for me to lean on and be part of. On the flip side, if someone you know tells you they “may be” having baby blues or PPD, drop everything and listen. Take them seriously and get them help. Don’t assume someone else will.
The struggle is real but we do not need to struggle alone.
If you need immediate help, please call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
If you are looking for pregnancy or postpartum support and local resources, please call or email us:
Call PSI Warmline (English & Spanish) 1-800-944-4PPD (4773)