Have you ever wanted something so bad, but then once you got it you found yourself feeling completely different than what you had expected?
The new car doesn’t bring you everlasting happiness and the monthly payment becomes a source of anxiety…
The new job doesn’t provide a stress free life and three months into it you feel depressed as you get dressed for work…
That chocolate cake doesn’t taste as good as it did last time…
Take all those feelings of sadness, disappointment, stress, depression and anxiety and multiply them times a MILLION and then multiply that times another MILLION and you’ll be scratching the surface of how I felt…
Because after WANTING a baby for nine years, I NEVER expected to experience the lowest low of my life after coming home with a beautiful, sweet baby girl in my arms.
Postpartum Depression (PPD)— I had heard of it. All the pregnancy books have a small chapter about it, but I didn’t need to read those sections so I just skipped over them. I was not going to have postpartum depression, I had wanted this baby for a long time. And I don’t have problems like that.
So now, here I am writing this blog post to tell you the TRUTH about what happened to me. The honest, raw, painful truth about the worst time of my life. Also, I’m here to tell the TRUTH about Postpartum Depression and to hopefully offer HOPE to someone else out there that may be feeling desperate.
This time last year was one of the best times of my life. I found out that I was pregnant. After years of struggling with infertility, a miracle happened. For nearly forty weeks I was on the mountain top of life, but I had no idea that up ahead was a dark pit and I was about to spend twelve weeks trapped in it.
As we arrived home from the hospital on a rather cool afternoon in June, my stomach was full of butterflies. Our two day old little girl had screamed in the car the whole way home and I was trying to figure out what I was going to do with her to console her once we walked through our front door. Nursing her was always a sure way to calm her so that’s exactly what I did. But I remember feeling so odd as I sat in her room with her. Everything in my house felt different– it was a weird sensation of surrealism. In my head I just kept thinking it only feels this way because of the newness, it’ll get better.
Everyone says that the first two weeks of parenthood are the hardest. The newness, lack of sleep, crying baby…But everyone also says that after two weeks things would start falling into place. For me, things may have started falling into place, but I didn’t fall into place. Instead I could not sleep even when given the opportunity, I could not eat, I could not think clearly and I could not stop crying and had no idea why I was crying. I called my doctor’s office and concluded that I was experiencing the “baby blues” and that these feelings should subside over time. I kept counting the days hoping that it would be soon when I would start feeling better. Meanwhile I was having a hard time with nursing. No need to go into all those details, but I was having trouble and I made many trips back and forth to the pediatricians office for guidance and baby weight checks. After a few weeks I just could not do it anymore. I was so exhausted mentally and emotionally and desperate for some relief so we decided to just switch to formula all together. At last I had a break from the mental toll that nursing was putting on me– I finally knew my baby was getting enough to eat, she got a full tummy and was so much more content. That evening my mom came to stay the night and to help my husband. They sent me to bed!! For the first time in days I slept for longer than an hour. In fact, that night I slept eight hours straight and when I woke up the next morning I felt like a new person! I was so relieved, I was finally falling into place and the baby blues were subsiding.
Life sailed on for a few days. Then I found myself absolutely HATING to be alone at home with the baby. I would panic. This awful sick feeling would come in my stomach and a burning sensation across my back. I started calling my husband at work a lot and would just cry. I had no clear explanation for my crying. My baby was not doing anything that would cause a mom to feel upset. She ate, she slept, she loved being held, she loved her swing…overall she was a pretty content baby, but for some reason I just COULD NOT feel at peace. I can remember when company would come over and when they were getting ready to leave a change would start taking place in my body. I would feel as if I was coming down with a fever. I had this strange temperature change in my body, my mouth would either get really dry or start watering and I would feel my heartbeat picking up speed. As soon as company would leave, I went into a total meltdown.
My husband would come home from work and talk to me about what I was feeling. The first few conversations we had went no where. I could not explain to him what I was feeling or thinking, all I could do was cry. Finally one day I told him everything I knew to tell him. I told him that when the baby was asleep I could not relax, I was always worried that she was going to wake up and then what was I suppose to do with her. If she was awake I was always fearful that she was going to start crying at any moment and that I would not know what to do to console her. When she would sleep I would try to take a shower or eat, but I felt like the inside of me was on speed. Everything was rushed and tense. Even though she’d be sound asleep and her pattern was to sleep for a good hour and half solid, I just simply could not relax. I was constantly wanting to go places with the baby and my husband to get out of the house. I did not want to be at home. When we would go out in public I felt completely disconnected, I felt as if I were floating around in a bubble. Conversations were muffled to me and when I did try to engage with someone it was so forced and it felt like I was just talking in monotone and there were no emotions involved. Inside my head were a million racing thoughts. “What’s the baby doing? What if she wakes up right now? What time is it? What time did she last eat? She just made a noise, is she about to wake up? What if she starts crying? What time is it? How long has she been asleep? What am I going to do with her when we get home? Why do I feel this way? Why can’t I just enjoy right now? What am I doing wrong that causing me to feel this way? Am I not trusting God? Am I just a lazy person? Maybe I’m just a perfectionist and I’m expecting way too much? Am I selfish? Why is that mom over there so relaxed looking? Why am I having such a hard time being a mom? I never thought it was going to be like this? God, I need you so desperately! Tell me what I am doing wrong!” These thoughts went haywire in my mind twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. All the while, I knew exactly what to do if my baby fussed, woke up, slept or whatever, but it did not ease my mind at all. All day long, everyday, a million thoughts of worry. Anxiety.
Anxiety is an unpleasant state of inner turmoil, often accompanied by nervous behavior, such as pacing back and forth, somatic complaints and rumination. It is the subjectively unpleasant feelings of dread over something unlikely to happen, such as the feeling of imminent death. Anxiety is not the same as fear, which is felt about something realistically intimidating or dangerous and is an appropriate response to a perceived threat; anxiety is a feeling of fear, worry, and uneasiness, usually generalized and unfocused as an overreaction to a situation that is only subjectively seen as menacing.It is often accompanied by restlessness, fatigue, problems in concentration, and muscular tension. Anxiety is not considered to be a normal reaction to a perceived stressor although many feel it occasionally. (from wikipedia)
I kept feeling so guilty for having all this anxiety. For me it meant I wasn’t trusting God. That I wasn’t content. It was a spiritual matter for me. So I begged. I begged God to help me. I confessed. I confessed my lack of trust and faith in Him. I thanked Him, I praised Him. I said Bible verses to myself throughout the day. Nothing provided relief for my soul. I was so confused. Here are a few excerpts from my journal from those days:
“God, help me to rest in this day, this moment, this stage of my life. Help me to lay down my anxious thoughts, worries and fears to You and to have faith and trust. I beg for You to give me Your grace.”
“Wait patiently in silence, Psalm 38. For you, O Lord I do wait, it is You who will answer. Cause me to hear Your lovingkindness in the morning, for in Thee do I trust. Cause me to know the way wherein I should walk. I lift my soul up to You, Psalm 143.”
“God help me to be content in whatever you ordain for my day.”
“God, why? Why do I feel this way? Why do I feel so alone and scared? Where is your peace? Where is my faith? Where is my joy? I know you have a purpose for this day, help me to take my eyes off myself and my circumstances and help me look to You.”
After weeks of approaching my situation as a spiritual problem, my husband and I agreed that it was definitely a physical, health condition and that I needed help medically. This was something more than a lack of faith and trust. It was a vicious cycle that was out of my control.
It was the week of my six weeks postpartum check-up with my doctor. I could not wait to get there. I had made up my mind that I had to tell her that something was going on with me and that I possibly had Postpartum Depression. I sat in the exam room with her and told her that something was wrong. I began to cry and said, “I just have so much anxiety and it is wearing me completely out.” That’s all I had to say and she gave me a prescription for a low dose antidepressant and assured me that I would feel better. I left her office feeling so hopeful. I was going to take this pill and feel better soon.
The next morning my husband was getting ready to leave to head to work. It was a Friday. I was dreading that he was leaving. The day ahead of me seemed daunting. I sat on our bed holding our baby. I called my husband in the room and asked him if he could please stay home. Next thing I know I was in a full blown panic state, crying so hard that I had to hand the baby to my husband. I told him I could not take care of her. Something in my voice and my words told him that he needed to be with me. When he told me he was staying home I felt relieved. We ended up deciding to go out and do a few shopping errands all together.
I had that disconnect feeling that I described earlier, but I was working hard just to push through and feel better. My husband needed to run into a store real quick and the baby was asleep so I said I would just stay in the car with her. What happened next revealed to us that something serious was taking place in my head. David went into the store, the baby slept in the back seat of the car. After a few minutes she woke up and started fussing. I got in the back seat to get her out of her carseat and console her. She cried hard for just a minute or two, but that’s all it took to send me into a complete panic attack. I began crying uncontrollably. As I held my baby in my arms I kept having intrusive thoughts to just set her outside the car in her seat and drive away. I was wailing in terror in the car. When I looked at the baby in my arms it was if I was holding a foreign object. I had no idea what was going on. I got to my phone and called my husband and told him to get to the car as soon as possible that I was so scared. He came, took the baby from me and worked hard to calm me down. After a while I calmed down enough that I could drive. I drove because I did not want to have to tend to the baby. He sat in the back with her. The rest of the day he took care of her completely. All I did was cry and battle my thoughts.
That night as I tried to sleep I had more and more intrusive thoughts and panic attacks. The night was long and horrible and the start of terrorizing days for me that lasted the next six weeks. I ended up having to be separated from my baby. If I was around her my mind was so disturbed. Although when I was away from her the feelings of depression were paralyzing. I could not handle being around the baby, but I also couldn’t handle being away from her. I was so trapped. I could not understand why I could not just be a mom. I was exhausted. I was weary. I was broken.
My husband is incredible. He was my rock during these days. He did not shy away from the problem at hand. Instead, he took hold of it and did everything in his power to fight for me. He called my doctors, he drove me to appointments. He asked questions. He gathered information. He prayed. He prayed. He prayed. He took a leave of absence from work and stayed home and took care of our baby night and day. He kept telling me over and over that he was not going to let me stay in that condition and that he was going to do whatever he had to in order for me to get well. He loved me through the sickness. I am so grateful for his strength, love and dedication.
For the next six weeks I fought the battle hard. I started seeing a psychiatrist and a therapist. I was put on more medications. As time went on some symptoms improved, others worsened. I spent most nights at my parent’s home, because I could not rest at all at home and the panic attacks occurred in my home. I went back and forth between their home and my home during the daytime. When I felt more stable I would go home and spend time with my husband and the baby. In order to do so, I would have to take certain medications to have a somewhat pleasant time. This went on for six more weeks. In that time I hit rock bottom and began have suicidal thoughts daily. There was an absence of light from my world. Here is a journal entry from late August:
“I hate this. Today I have to take medication to even function. Why am I like this? Why? I have no desire to be here at my home. I just want to go away. I’m so desperate. Why is this happening to me? Why does my family have to painfully watch me go through this? I’m so confused. God why did you give me a child and then slay me with this? God where are you? I don’t even remember what normal feels like. I long to feel motherly. I feel so trapped. I just want out.”
One day I was at home feeling so distraught. I secretly packed my bags and made a plan to leave. I wasn’t for sure where I was going. But I kept having this urge to go away. I think I believed that if I could just go away somewhere alone, away from it all that I would get better. When I left my home, I told my husband I was going to go get something to eat and kill some time until time for an appointment I had later in the day. After a few hours of driving around and not being sure of what to do with myself I ended up at the public library. I searched high and low for books on Postpartum Depression thinking I could find something in a book that would give me some sort of relief. I was just so desperate I didn’t even really know what I was looking for, I just felt the need to search. The books did not offer me anything more than what I already knew. I then used one of the public library’s computer and started searching for in-patient treatment centers for postpartum depression. I came across an npr article that spoke about the only in-patient facility for women suffering postpartum, the UNC Perinatal Mood Disorder Unit in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. As I read about this place, I knew in my gut I NEEDED to go there.
Over the next week I talked with my husband about the idea of me going to North Carolina for help. We decided to pursue it. Here’s what drew me to this place: It would be aggressive treatment. It was in-patient, that meant I would have around the clock care and trained professionals to help me at any time of the day. It’s specially geared towards women with postpartum depression. I would get one-on-one therapy daily. My husband and baby get to come visit and be there on the unit for extended hours. I just knew in my heart it would be my healing place. My psychiatrist agreed to refer me to the program. On September 18, I got the call from UNC that they had a room for me and wanted to know when could I be there! That day we packed our bags and my husband, baby, my mom and I drove to Chapel Hill. Friday morning I was admitted to the Perinatal Psychiatric Unit and by Sunday I already started to feel better. I want to tell more about this facility, but I am going to do that in another blog post. Here’s what I will say for now, it was exactly where I needed to be and I am so very grateful that God made it clear for us to GO! I stayed there for a total of six days. I left there feeling like what I had hoped to have felt like the day I left the hospital after giving birth– I was excited! I was ready to find out what being a mom felt like. I had some reservations about the unknown, but knew that it was all going to be alright.
Today I have been home four weeks. I am grateful to be able to say that I am doing wonderful! My husband has returned back to work and I am the stay-at-home Mom that I’ve always wanted to be. I am so grateful to God!
To be more exact, what I was diagnosed with was Postpartum Depression Disorder, Postpartum Anxiety Disorder, OCD and Panic Disorder.
Here is a list and brief description of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders: (from Postpartum Progress)
- Postpartum Depression can feature appetite and sleep problems, difficulty concentrating and making decisions, lack of interest in the baby, irritation or anger or rage, withdrawal from interacting with others, sadness and crying, the constant feeling of being overwhelmed, and/or possible thoughts of harming oneself or running away and escaping.
- Antenatal Depression has symptoms similar to PPD but instead occurs during pregnancy.
- Postpartum Anxiety is marked by excessive worries and fears that are often centered on the baby, difficulty sleeping or eating, and sometimes physical symptoms like diarrhea, headaches or nausea. There is some discussion in the medical world that postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety are actually one in the same illness, and that some moms may have more depression-like symptoms while others’ experience of PPD is more filled with worry, fear and anxiety.
- Postpartum OCD is characterized by obsessions – scary intrusive thoughts or mental images that come into your head that you don’t not want that are often related to harm coming to your baby – and compulsions – doing things over and over to reduce the fears and obsessions like cleaning or counting.
- Postpartum Panic Disorder involves recurring panic attacks, which can include shortness of breath, chest pain, heart palpitations and numbness or tingling in the extremities. Some women having panic attacks feel like they’re having a heart attack.
- Postpartum Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, usually brought on by a traumatic childbirth (or the perception of one), is similar to other forms of PTSD in that sufferers re-experience the trauma they experienced in thoughts and nightmares.
- Postpartum Psychosis is a rare and dangerous illness that is considered a psychiatric emergency and features delusions and/or hallucinations and mania.
So, here’s the quick lowdown on Postpartum Depression/Anxiety. First, it is a real thing. Regardless of what you may have heard, read or thought, it is real. It’s real. It’s painful. It’s awful. A woman that has PPD/PPA hasn’t done something wrong that’s caused her to get it. It’s not her fault. It’s not something she can just push through. She needs to get under the care of a trained professional as soon as possible.
If you are reading this and you think you may have Postpartum Depression, please get help immediately! If you need someone to talk to that’s been there, then please feel free to contact me.
Here is a wonderful resource: Postpartum Progress
I plan to write more in the future about the specific treatment that I got in North Carolina. It was an incredible experience!
Also I plan to write more from the spiritual aspect of things. How I battled anger towards God and how now on this side of the battle how good has come from such a horrible time.
Until then, please feel free to ask any questions. I am no expert and I just speak from experience and out of a passion to help others going through it or family members having to watch a loved one go through it. Contact me at (JillceDenton@gmail.com)
More information available on my POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION page.