June 5, 2013

Postpartum Depression Advice – How to Deal With Baby Blues


This isn’t an easy story for me to tell. It’s really hard to admit that I suffered from postpartum depression after the #littlebabies were born. But, I got through it. And in order to share how I got through it, which is something I wanted to do to help others, I knew I had to share the details about what I endured.

I initially wrote this for the Mind:Share Project blog and had planned to post here after it ran there. The site’s owner is a bit behind on posting, so I decided to post here first. It’s a big long, but I hope you’ll read it and share my postpartum depression advice with anyone in your friend/family circle who is pregnant. 

No one ever expects to suffer from depression. It’s not one of those inevitable life events, like turning 30 or losing someone you love. Even if you live through something that you know could induce depression down the road, there’s no way of knowing if or when it will hit you…and how hard.

Since May was Mental Health Month, I thought it was a fitting time to share my experience with postpartum depression. I wanted to share my story in hope that it will help others who find themselves in a similar situation, but I’ve also been dragging my feet. I consider myself to be a strong person and have survived many challenging obstacles in my life, so it’s not easy to admit that I experienced something that I couldn’t handle as well as I would have liked. I’ll get to this later in the story, but admittance and acceptance are the first steps toward recovery, and it’s so important to recognize when you’re depressed and to take the necessary actions to combat and control the illness.

Here’s my story. I learned I was pregnant with identical twins in the fall of 2012. My husband and I were a combination of ecstatic and terrified (two at once for our first go-around with pregnancy…what?!?). My pregnancy was fairly typical (at least for twins), until I was diagnosed with a condition called vasa previa at my 16-week appointment in November. Fast forward to January 2013. I was admitted to the hospital for monitoring at 28 weeks, with an expected delivery date of 32 weeks.

What I didn’t realize until I got there was that “monitoring” including being poked by more needles than I had in my entire life (needles induce major anxiety in me, so you can imagine how well I didn’t handle being poked constantly). I had also developed a minor case of gestational diabetes, so I had to have my fingers poked for sugar testing daily at first, then three times a week. Long story short, everything went really well and I ended up delivering two very healthy boys, Nolan James and Evan William, on February 22 at 33.1 weeks.

My doctors talked to me numerous times about postpartum depression throughout my six-week stay in the hospital. They also gave me literature to read on the issue, constantly asked if I was experiencing any symptoms and reminded me to let them know if I started feeling depressed. While I experienced an array of emotions in the hospital, ranging from fear and exhaustion to hope and gratitude, I never felt depressed.

However, I quickly realized my doctors were preparing me for developing postpartum depression because of everything I had and would be experiencing – a long hospital stay that forced an always-on-the-go person to severely cut back on activities, a condition that potentially could have negatively affected the health of my babies, premature babies who would have to stay in the NICU and then bringing home two premature babies without any experience taking care of one baby, let alone two.

At the time I thought I would not face depression, partly because I had already survived a very difficult period of my life, which resulted in an estranged relationship and then sudden loss of my mother, without getting depressed and without needing any type of therapy to deal with it. Please note – I am not saying there is anything wrong with people who do get depressed or need therapy or medication due to life’s challenges. I just assumed that because I had already gotten through one very difficult and emotional situation without those support mechanisms, I would be able to do it again.

I have never researched the probability of this so let me preface this next statement by saying this is total assumption and not fact based. While I knew I could get through trying times without falling into depression, part of me also has anticipated experiencing it at some point in my life because the disease is part of my family history. My mother suffered from depression and bipolar disorder, and her mother suffered from similar mental illnesses. I have worried for many years that because two generations of my family have experienced severe depression, my day would eventually come. And, I thought a difficult pregnancy could be the life experience that would take me down that path.

Back to the pregnancy part of the story. Within a day or two of coming home from the hospital while my twins were still in the NICU, the postpartum depression came out of nowhere and leveled me like an F4 tornado taking out an entire city. I was an emotional and physical wreck. I experienced side effects of having a C-section that I believe contributed to the depression. I was being pulled in multiple directions that left me feeling like a yo-yo while I tried to balance taking care of myself, coming to terms with the fact that I was a new parent to twins and getting back to the hospital each day to be with my babies.

The word that I can best use to describe those first few days when the postpartum depression hit is fog. I felt like I was in a 24/7 fog. I couldn’t think clearly (I partly blame the Vicodin). I felt no emotions other than sadness and anxiety.

This trend continued once my boys came home. They were superstars and had no breathing or eating issues while in the NICU. Even though they were born at 4 pounds 2 ounces and 4 pounds 11 ounces, they thrived in the NICU and had a shorter stay than my family and I expected. I knew deep down inside that I was happy they were coming home, yet I couldn’t experience any joy. I so desperately wanted to feel joy and happiness. I asked MAL several times through tears why I couldn’t feel happy. I wanted him to tell me why everyone else in my family who spent time with the boys could laugh and experience joy, yet I couldn’t. He, along with several others, helped me understand that it was due to the postpartum depression, and while it was normal that I was feeling this way, I needed to do whatever I could to get past it.

I truly was an emotional basket case. I burst into tears immediately if someone said the wrong thing to me, or if I felt like I was doing something wrong related to taking care of the babies. I rarely smiled. I often sat alone in a catatonic state crying, or worse, showing no display of emotion whatsoever. My highs were few and far between. My lows were frequent and painfully raw.

It’s also important to point out that I’m a person who likes to be in control of situations. I plan ahead, I am detail oriented and very Type A and things go well in my personal and professional life when I can lead the charge and have at least some control of the outcome. All you parents who are reading this are probably shaking your heads laughing because you know you have very little control when it comes to babies! They dictate how things are going to go in the beginning – not you. My strengths actually turned into my weaknesses in this case because not being able to control things or predict how my babies were going to behave was like pouring gasoline on a fiercely growing depression fire.

I talked to my doctors about what I was experiencing, and they suggested I start on a low dose of an anti-depressant. As one of my doctors described it, I was teetering on the edge of falling into a deep, dark hole, and we needed to do something to move me away from the edge before I plummeted further into the darkness. While I very much was against taking medication, I finally gave in and took the low dosage for a month.

I took the medication for me, but mostly for my babies and MAL. I couldn’t take care of myself, and until I could, I knew I could not provide my babies the love and care they need and deserve. Plus, I didn’t want MAL to have to learn how to be a parent on his own without the support from his wife.

MAL is my rock and stood by my side through this entire experience. He came to the hospital to see me every single day for the six weeks I was there. He held me while I cried uncontrollably. He constantly reminded me that I was a good mom and I would get through this, with him helping and supporting me every step of the way. Several other family members and friends have also supported me through my journey. While I know the medication helped, I truly believe it was their unwavering love that got me over the postpartum depression hump and moved me toward happier days.

Whether you experience postpartum depression or any other form of depression, I have two important pieces of advice for you:

Accept it. Do not fight depression. When you go through something in life that knocks you off your feet and severely impacts your emotional well being, accept that it’s happening and do something about it. Do not ignore it or think you’re a stronger person if you try to get through it on your own. We all need help at times. Admitting that you need help is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength. You have people in your life who love and depend on you. When you suffer from depression, so do others around you. Never forget that.

Find coping mechanisms. I realize that some forms of depression are so severe that creating your own coping mechanisms won’t do a darn thing. But in cases where you have some control over your mental state, coping mechanisms can really help. I listened to music. I started exercising as soon as I got approval from my doctor. I repeated certain phrases to myself (“This too shall pass” and “Left foot, right foot, breathe”) when I started feeling myself spiraling.

I am grateful that I overcame my postpartum depression within two months of delivering my twins and feel fortunate that I did not experience more severe symptoms. While it seemed like a long time while I was dealing with it, I of course realize now that it wasn’t. It was merely a blip on my life radar.

However, it gave me a glimpse into the life of someone who suffers daily with the disease, and it scared the hell out of me. I now know went my family members went through. I now understand how a close friend of mine with the disease feels when his depression sneaks up on him time and time again. I will never pretend to completely understand what someone who has suffered from this disease for a long time feels like, but I wanted to share my story because I want people to know that we can’t be embarrassed or think we are any less worthy of human beings because we experience depression.

One last thing – If you have a friend or family member who experiences something traumatic in life, please be there for them and watch for any red flags that indicate they may be heading down the path to depression. If you know them well enough, you’ll know when they’re lying to you if they say they’re fine, but their actions are telling you a different story. Help them. Be there for them. Encourage them to follow doctor’s orders. Show them that you love them. You could be their lifesaver.

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