(Image Credit: © Sebastian Czapnik | Dreamstime.com)
“I don’t love my baby”, she said to me nonchalantly and with such a straight face that I laughed because I thought she was joking. Still laughing, I asked, “You’re joking, right?” and then I saw it in her eyes, glassy from tears she wouldn’t let fall, and my smile quickly faded. Sitting across from my friend with her days old newborn baby girl, I knew she was suffering from something either of us had barely understood; postpartum depression.
Trying to Conceive
(Authors Note: Nicole’s name has been changed for the purpose of this article to protect her and her families anonymity.)
Nicole and I had been on the trying to conceive roller-coaster together. We shared stories, advice, consoled each other when we were down on ourselves about not being able to get pregnant; and we were equally elated for each other when we found out we were finally pregnant. I was the one who got pregnant first. Our journey’s were so intertwined that I did not believe my eyes when that elusive second blue line appeared on my pregnancy test and to prove that I wasn’t crazy, Nicole took the same exact test so we could compare sticks. Yup. I was most certainly pregnant.
As I stood in the bathroom in pure shock, I will never forget the memory of her doing jumping jacks of joy around me. In turn, about three months into my pregnancy, I was watching television one evening when I received a picture of a positive pregnancy test from her. I was so happy, so joyful for her, that in that moment I cried tears of joy and thanked God for our blessings.
For 30 ovulation cycles, Nicole and her husband had tried, unsuccessfully, to get pregnant. She did everything she was supposed to do. She took pre-natal vitamins and folic acid, she was healthy with no serious pre-existing conditions that might prevent her from getting pregnant, and blood tests indicated that she was nothing but a healthy fertile young woman.
After over a year of trying to conceive with no success, it was discovered through semen analysis that the reason they weren’t conceiving was not because of her, but because of male factor infertility. Her husband was an Active Duty, U.S. Navy, F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighter pilot who had just entered the fleet. Little did they realize that his many hours of flight training had likely been taking a toll on his sperm count all along. Because his numbers were so low, and it was unlikely that he would be getting a desk job anytime soon;they would seek a referral to the infertility clinic.
Another year, and two referrals later, Nicole and her husband finally had their first appointment at the infertility clinic. At which time the doctor told them their only options were IVF/ICSI or a sperm donor, and the waiting time to be on the IVF list was another year. The doctor sent them home with the advice “whatever you do don’t stop trying, anything is possible and stranger things have happened”. Though disappointed about the long waiting list, they walked out of their appointment happy that they were one step closer to having a family. As fate would have it, three weeks later, they would find out that in fact, the strangest thing did happen; they conceived on their own.
That should have been the beginning of their happy ending, and it was, for a time. Though Nicole was one of the lucky ones to have morning sickness throughout her entire pregnancy, it didn’t deter her from feeling grateful for their blessing. Since we were both pregnant, we helped plan each others baby showers, we researched all kinds of parenting and new mother information like breastfeeding and delivery options. We talked about everything; our hopes, dreams, what kind of parents we would be, but never once did we talk about postpartum depression.
But I don’t understand?
As I sat across from my friend, her words sinking in. I couldn’t believe it. I had watched her struggle to conceive, and had been overjoyed with her when she finally did. How could her miracle lead to this? Even worse, I suddenly remembered telling her months back that when I had my daughter I instantly connected with her from the moment she came out. I had loved her from her first breath of life, and I had promised Nicole that she would too.
I didn’t know what to say, I didn’t know how to console her, I didn’t understand why of all people in the world, this had to happen to her. Why? she deserved to be happy, she deserved to enjoy her new family. When I looked at my friend I saw despair, pain, and numbness. She was going through the motions of being a mother, but she wasn’t feeling like one.
I wanted to cry for her the tears she could not. I wanted her to be able to feel the way I felt when my daughter was born. I felt like she had been robbed of something, something that isn’t tangible to anyone else but a new mother.
I watched Nicole’s husband hold their daughter. He was easy with her, happy and relaxed. We talked more, and I felt awkward and fidgety because I didn’t know what to say, I was out of my realm. Then she said something to me, something that I will never forget, ” I feel more love towards your daughter than I do my own”. It took everything in my power to not break down in tears right then and there. My beautiful friend and her beautiful baby, how could this happen to them?
What is Postpartum Depression?
After I left Nicole’s house, I went home and did what I always do when I don’t know something, I googled it. Up until this moment in my life, I had only heard of postpartum depression(PPD) via the now infamous debacle between Brooke Shields and Tom Cruise, circa 2005, in which he criticized her for taking antidepressants to treat her PPD. I wasn’t even close to being a mother then, so I didn’t pay too much attention to the debate at the time.
My Google search provided me with the following definition:
“Postpartum depression is moderate to severe depression in a woman after she has given birth. It may occur soon after delivery or up to a year later. Most of the time, it occurs within the first 3 months after delivery.”- U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institute of Health
I then looked up the causes for PPD:
- Are under age 20
- Currently abuse alcohol, take illegal substances, or smoke (these also cause serious medical health risks for the baby)
- Did not plan the pregnancy, or had mixed feelings about the pregnancy
- Had depression, bipolar disorder or an anxiety disorder before your pregnancy, or with a previous pregnancy
- Had a stressful event during the pregnancy or delivery, including personal illness, death or illness of a loved one, a difficult or emergency delivery, premature delivery, or illness or birth defect in the baby
- Have a close family member who has had depression or anxiety
- Have a poor relationship with your significant other or are single
- Have money or housing problems
- Have little support from family, friends, or your spouse or partner
One line that specifically stood out to me was, had a stressful event during the pregnancy or delivery. Nicole had a very traumatic delivery experience. She had intended to have a natural vaginal delivery, but as with everything else thus far, things did not go as planned and she ended up having an emergency Cesarean section. Other resources that I read relating to PPD also indicated that it was possible for women who dealt with infertility issues during the trying to conceive phase might experience depression as well.
What happened to Nicole?
This month marks one year since Nicole brought her beautiful baby girl home. She has come a long way in that time. I did a Q&A interview with her for this post specifically so that she could share with you the journey from recognizing she had PPD to finally seeking treatment for it and advice for those who might find themselves in the same position one day.
Q&A, in her words…
Q: How long did it take postpartum, before you realized you had PPD(admitted or not)?
A: A couple of days… I didn’t admit it to myself for much longer but I didn’t even want to hold or nurse my baby and I knew that wasn’t me. I loved all babies, how all of a sudden did I feel absolutely nothing for my own?
Q:Is there a history of PPD in your family? Or, did you ever know anyone who had PPD before you had a baby?
A: Yes, my maternal grandmother. I was told she actually had to go to the mental hospital for a while shortly after each of her five deliveries. One of my friends had it too, but shortly after her delivery her husband got stationed somewhere else. She talked to me about it a little bit while we still lived close but at the time neither of us knew it was PPD. I would say I knew the condition definitely existed, but I didn’t really know what it was.
Q: When you first saw your daughter, how did you feel towards her?
A: I didn’t really feel anything I remember immediately thinking “oh that’s my baby”, but not really feeling anything, and thinking maybe it’ll be different when I get to hold her. It felt like it took a long time to get stitched back up and then sit in recovery but oddly at that point I didn’t really care that I was separated. Maybe I was just too exhausted from labor.
Q: Do you think your traumatic birthing experience contributed to your depression? Do you think it would have been different if it had happened naturally?
A: Honestly, I have no idea. I would like to think that I would have had the rush of hormones with that immediate skin to skin contact and have the overwhelming pride of “that’s my baby!” None of which I felt after my C-section. I do feel like my bonding would have been slightly different, but I don’t know if it would have had any effect on whether or not I experienced PPD.
Q: What were your emotional and physical symptoms?
A: Loss of appetite, feeling sick (nauseated) all the time, actually getting sick a lot (due to weight loss probably), weight loss (lost all the baby weight plus an additional 12% of my pre-pregnancy body weight), feeling numb/indifferent about everything, difficulty bonding with baby, nonexistent sex-drive, constant graphic images playing in my head like scenes stuck on a loop.
Q: Were you honest on your well baby check-up questionnaires and your six-week postpartum check up about your mental health?If no, why not?
A: Yes I was honest, but the questions didn’t apply to me in the same way. They are so generic… I really didn’t feel “sad” and I wasn’t “crying” more. I felt numb and I didn’t cry much if at all. Crying seemed like too much effort. I was just existing. Also, the questions ask if you want to harm yourself, and I didn’t want to. I had constant graphic images in my head, but I didn’t want to make them a reality.
Q: What kind of support did you get from your partner, friends, and family?
A: Initially, as new parents I think my partner just thought I was hormonal and had the baby blues, but everything was generally normal since we really didn’t know what normal was. After several months he started asking why I was acting so strange and basically said I needed to try harder to snap out of it. He didn’t understand, but he doesn’t understand anything about mental illness in general, as he has never had someone close to him struggle with it. When I did tell him I needed help because I couldn’t “snap out of it” he said, “well I don’t want you happy just because you are on drugs, that’s like only being able to have fun if you’re drunk”. I told him it’s not the same, and that I just wanted to feel like myself again, not someone else. That going to the doctor didn’t necessarily mean starting “drugs”, but talking about how I felt and see what she suggests. Eventually, he said,”I support you and whatever you need to feel better”.
Q:How long did it take you to finally seek help?
A: 9 months.
Q: How long did it take before you felt a bond with your daughter?
A: About a month and a half in I started feeling a stronger protective instinct toward her. Looking back, I wouldn’t say I was bonding but I thought that I was. My husband kept telling me I was bonding because of how protective I started getting over her. I didn’t want anything bad to happen to her but there wasn’t an actual connection until much later. My love for her continues to grow daily but I would say it really started to develop at least minimally when she was seven months old.
Q: What did you believe about PPD before delivery, and what do you believe about it now?
A: My knowledge of PPD before delivery was naively thinking that basically there were two kinds: 1. the survey kind given to you at the doctor’s office which is easy to diagnose and/or work through, and 2. the women you hear about in the newspaper killing their babies. Now I know like any other sickness it can have a range of symptoms unique to each individual and different treatments or treatment combinations work differently for everyone (exercise, sunlight, therapy, more sleep, and/or Rx medications).
Q: If you could go back and change one thing since giving birth, and in relation to PPD, what would it be?
A: I would have gotten help sooner. I look back at pictures from my baby’s first few months and can’t recall actually enjoying her in any of them. I can’t ever get that back. If I could do it over I would have given myself the gift of being able to enjoy my baby much much earlier.
Q: Do you think the topic of PPD is still taboo, or have you found society to be generally accepting?
A: Taboo, there are still people I don’t like to discuss topics like this with because they have strong opinions against any depression diagnosis and/or medication use when they honestly don’t know anything about mental health.
Q: Lastly, what do you want people to know about PPD? Do you have any words of advice for women who may be struggling with it or who are afraid to seek help?
A: Make an appointment with your doctor and be honest. If something doesn’t feel right but the boxes you are checking aren’t fitting, talk about it. Write it on the bottom of the paper if you have to. Don’t allow PPD to rob you of one more day of joy you could be having with the baby you carried for nine months and went through several hours of labor.
To the women who are trying to conceive, to the partner of the first time mom, and to the friends and family making house calls to see the precious newborn, I say this to you:
Educate yourselves on postpartum depression. It isn’t just something that happens to people in the media. According to womenshealth.gov, between 10-15 percent of women who have given birth will suffer from postpartum depression. She could be your wife, your daughter, your best friend, and she could even be you. Encourage her to seek help if that is what she needs, and don’t make her feel bad about needing it. Support her decision, no matter what it is.
Lastly, to the woman who is already suffering from PPD and isn’t sure what to do, I say this to you:
It’s ok. It’s normal, and you are not crazy. No matter what you may be thinking, and believe me, I know some of those thoughts are “out there”. It doesn’t matter because it isn’t your fault. Please don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Even if your partner or family doesn’t understand and doesn’t support you, it isn’t about them. It’s about you fighting for the right to be the best mother that you can be, and seeking treatment for your depression is one of those rights. If you aren’t sure where to go or what to do to seek treatment, please call 1(800)-PPD-MOMS(800-773-6667) and they will connect you with the proper resources.