This Is What Postpartum Depression Feels Like
I haven’t told anyone outside my close circle of friends and family that I had postnatal depression. I’m not talking about light baby blues — I’m talking about constant suicidal thoughts that required medical intervention.
I want to address this in an open and honest way because I know a lot of moms don't really talk about depression. It isn't terribly funny or fun to chat about over coffee. It’s not something you want to shout out at a Mommy and Me Group because you don’t want to be Debbie Downer. It seems a little embarrassing and it belies the happy, fun, ridiculous photos we post on social media.
But I had postpartum depression and it was terrible. I want to explain the timeline: right after my baby was born, I was elated. I didn’t feel sad at all and recovered from my C-section quickly. My daughter, Moira, and I bonded almost immediately and I embraced and loved motherhood. (I mean … for the most part I did. I also had moments of being terrified of this gigantic life change like everybody does.)
Then, at around four months after delivery, depression hit me like a giant storm of all-encompassing sadness. For two weeks, I was crying uncontrollably, and I didn’t want to get out of bed or leave the apartment. I felt crazy. I was aware that something was wrong but I felt trapped in my emotions. Then something terrible happened: I became suicidal.
Now, I’m not writing this for sympathy but to connect to people. Maybe somebody who is reading this is currently going through the same thing and I want you to know that it is normal, you are a good person, and there’s help out there.
Even when I was having suicidal thoughts — crazy thoughts that told me it would be better to slit my wrists with a razor than to take pills because I didn’t want to be found still alive and then have brain damage — there was a little, quiet voice outside of my dominant, loud depression voice that told me, You need help.
As I was lying awake on the sofa at 3am for the second day in a row without sleep, I knew I needed to talk to someone and fast. I didn’t want to actually die; I didn’t want to actually abandon my husband and my child, but the depression was everything in that moment. It was stronger than any sadness I had ever felt and seemed like it would never end.
And so, I told my husband. I cried, thinking I was the worst mother in the world and he listened and didn’t judge me. He accepted and he loved me. He immediately helped me find someone and we went that next morning to the doctor.
When I called my doctor, I found out she was out of town. I felt defeated, like finding a new doctor would be an insurmountable task, but then the receptionist said she would personally call doctors in my network to make sure I got help that morning. I felt a little embarrassed to share so much with a stranger, but she made me feel comfortable and even normal.
She referred me to a new doctor who I saw that very morning. I was scared to share my “craziness” with another person, but the doctor was lovely, and explained that a lot of women actually get postpartum depression four to five months after giving birth. I didn’t know this. I thought you got depressed right after delivery. Nope. Many women get depression after their pregnancy hormones start changing, returning to pre-pregnancy levels. Those hormones are intense, and sometimes we need help.
Since I’m being honest, I’ll let you know that I needed more than therapy, healthy eating and exercise. I needed drugs, capital “D” drugs. And, since I’m being honest, I’ll let you know that I was already in therapy, eating healthfully, and exercising regularly.
I was healthy by all the standards. I had a great pregnancy. I was breastfeeding. I eat a mostly plant-based diet. And I had terrible postpartum depression.
I think it’s dangerous for women to judge other women who have postnatal depression. (I’m looking at you, Alicia Silverstone.) In The Kind Mama, which a friend recommended after I mentioned my depression, Silverstone says that a whole host of prenatal and postnatal “problems” can be cured with a healthy, vegan lifestyle.
Whatever worked for her is awesome, but I resent the attitude that if you get postnatal depression, it’s because of something you did or didn't do. I’m sorry, but when you are feeling so depressed that ending your life seems like the only rational option, the last thing you need to feel is guilty for one more thing.
Please, if you are suffering from it or know someone who is, don’t judge whether or not they’re breastfeeding. That’s their choice. Don’t judge if they gained too many pounds or too few during pregnancy; different women’s bodies are different. When you or a friend has postnatal depression, don’t judge — just get them help.
Luckily, everyone in my life during that time was kind. My parents understood and listened to me. My husband helped me to get extra sleep knowing that, in conjunction with the medication and therapy I was receiving, this would help with symptoms. My daughter helped by being the cute, amazing kid she’s always been.
And I got through it. I’m happy to say that with help and support, I was able to return to normal. (Well… as normal as a weirdo like me can get.)
If you are feeling isolated and lonely and like nobody cares or understands what you are going through, there are people who want to help. If you are reading this and feel like there is no out other than ending your life, there’s somebody to talk to right now.
There’s a free suicide prevention line that anyone can call: 1-800-273-8255. And almost every place in the country has free help for mothers suffering from postnatal depression. Please, listen to the smaller, quieter voice in your head and accept the kindness of others. Please get help.
If you have postpartum depression, you are not alone. You did absolutely nothing wrong and you are loved. Also —and this is important — you’re a GOOD MOM. Suffering from postnatal depression, doesn’t make you a bad mommy, you are just a sad mommy. With help and time, I promise you, that will change.