Postpartum depression. It’s real. It’s debilitating. It’s scary. But it’s really common. Anywhere from 11 to 20% of all women in the United States alone experience postpartum depression symptoms, though many don’t get the help they need. I was lucky. I knew what to look for, knew it was probably coming, and got help immediately. It’s not possible to predict depression, though. So how did I know? I suspected. A study was published earlier in the year that linked the use of synthetic oxytocin and postpartum anxiety and depression, showing that the release of oxytocin from the pituitary gland during labor and delivery is necessary for developing maternal emotions and connections with the new baby and that the introduction of the man-made version can interrupt that process. Now, that’s not to say it’s GOING to happen, but it makes it more likely. With the anxiety and self-image issues I was already experiencing during pregnancy, mild though they were, I figured the prolonged exposure to the Pitocin (remember it was almost 30 hours of the IV drip), I would be more susceptible.
I had been warned about it. I have friends and family who experienced the same issues and they were all extremely supportive and checked on me regularly. And then it hit when I was least expecting it. I had this feeling of overwhelming inadequacy because I couldn’t move around like I wanted to. I was still recovering from major surgery and I logically accepted that, but the emotion wasn’t going away. I felt like a failure because the baby couldn’t latch for breastfeeding and I was tied to a pump that was inconvenient and left me unable to take care of my child while I pumped. I felt like my body failed me because I couldn’t give birth the “right” way, I couldn’t breastfeed the way I was “supposed” to, and I wasn’t up and back on my feet days after giving birth. I was tired and sore and sad and it didn’t matter how much my amazing husband told me otherwise. I saw myself as unattractive and overweight, flabby, and ineffective. I thought about leaving because I was a horrible mother in my own mind. I was upset about the mounting medical bills that I couldn’t pay immediately. I was overwhelmed by the amount of clutter in the apartment that I could do nothing about. I even thought, fleetingly and never with any real intention, of ending it for the betterment of everyone involved. I have NEVER been suicidal, but I considered the possibilities and I knew, in those moments, that this wasn’t me. I was NOT okay. And I told my people, talked to my husband, and got help.
So now I’m on Zoloft and I’m better. I stopped pumping, which means no more breastfeeding, but she’s happy and fed and it’s healthier for me mentally and emotionally. She’s on formula and has transitioned easily. I have a better appreciation for my body and the changes it’s been through, I mourned the loss of my ideal birth and rejoiced in my body’s strength and speed of recovery, and I allowed people to take care of me while I recovered from having the front half of my body cut apart. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’ll be paying medical bills for a while, and my apartment is much tidier and more organized (largely thanks to my amazing mama). I’m back facing the light with the dark firmly in its place. I’m still tired, but not exhausted, and I have moments when I see the shadows sneaking back in, but I can overcome them now, like I was always able to before the chemicals in my brain got out of whack. I’m a very strong-willed, stubborn person, with a ridiculously optimistic streak that keeps me positive and my head high.
I even have accepted my stretch marks (my husband calls them tiger stripes), the weird hair growing all over from the hormones, and the first gray hair I found just days after my 30th birthday and right before my first Mother’s Day. That sweet face makes it all worth it.
I was one of the lucky ones. I have friends, an amazingly understanding husband, a safety network, and enough self-awareness to see when something isn’t right. If you know somebody who had a baby in the past year, check on them. See if they’re REALLY okay, not just getting by on the surface. And if you’re the one who gave birth, it’s okay to ask for help, both professionally and personally. Ask for medicine to get your balance back, ask for a sitter to catch up on your sleep, and ask for a shoulder to cry on and an ear to listen. Sometimes talking things out is enough. Don’t underestimate the power of sleep, either. Sleep deprivation is a torture technique, and that exhaustion will wreak havoc on your psyche. There’s light at the end of the dark tunnel that is postpartum depression. I promise. I’ve found it.