Note: The content of this post may be sensitive for readers.
Before I start writing about my experience with postpartum depression, I want you to know that this is extremely hard for me to write about. Therefore, I suspect it will be hard for you to read. But I want to be honest and transparent because (most of the time) people are hush-hush when it comes to any kind of depression, and it's important to know that you are not the only one suffering through this brutal time in your life.
I've always been hormonally imbalanced (as I like to call it). I had terrible PMS throughout my teenage years and I always said that when I got pregnant, whoever I was with better watch out because I would probably be a raging bitch the entire pregnancy. Well, that day came and my husband and I were overjoyed to find out that I was pregnant.
Throughout my whole pregnancy, I wasn't a raging bitch -- surprisingly -- although I did have my moments. I was so worried about labor and delivery during my third trimester that I didn't focus on anything related to bringing baby home. I was positive that an epidural was going to be SO painful (it wasn't) and I wouldn't want one, but then how was I going to deal with the contractions? Needless to say, I delivered a perfect nine-pound baby on July 15 with some minor complications, but for the most part my labor and delivery was a total breeze.
I remember laying in my hospital bed when they brought me my son, Carter, in the middle of the night. The nurse came in, looked at me and said, "He's hungry" and left. I stared at that beautiful baby and thought to myself, what the hell am I supposed to do with you? Well, it didn't take long before we realized Carter was having issues latching so I had to start pumping to try and bring in my milk supply. They weren't feeding him formula, yet, but we were getting very close to having to supplement because he couldn't latch. I cried. No, I sobbed. All you hear throughout your pregnancy is things like, breast feeding will make the weight fall off so quickly and breast feeding is best for your baby. I know we've made leaps and bounds with formula feeding and I have heard people say that formula is perfectly healthy for your baby, but sadly I never believed it. I felt this pressure to have to breast feed my baby and now, I couldn't. This was my first failure with Carter, or so I felt it was. So, to all you moms out there that find yourself promoting breast feeding over formula feeding: STOP. Everyone has different circumstances, and a lot of times a mom is unable to breastfeed no matter how much they want to, but all you are doing is causing insecurities in their ability as a mom.
After bringing Carter home and struggling with a lactation consultant, I decided to exclusively pump. If you've ever tried this, you know how hard it is. Breast feeding is hard enough, but to have to wake up in the middle of the night -- every two hours, to be exact -- and pump for milk when your baby isn't even awake is extremely hard. But I needed to do it for my baby, because god forbid he got formula (I laugh at this now when he's 14 months old and perfectly healthy, but as a new mom it was the most prevalent "fact" in the forefront of my mind).
When Carter was only four days old, I went to pick him up off of the floor. The problem was, I was also sitting on the floor and thought that I could stand up while holding him. I didn't realize exactly how much my balance had been thrown off. Half way through standing up while holding him, I lost my balance (shocking) and went tumbling head first into his car seat which was not too far from us on the floor. I broke the fall, so his head didn't hit the tile floor, but he did roll out of my arms after I had landed and was screaming. My husband was in the bathroom at the time, and I can still remember my voice yelling, "GET THE BABY! JUST GET THE BABY!" I wasn't concerned about myself even though I had given myself a black eye and many other bruises down the right side of my body, but this was my failure number two with Carter (or so I thought).
Just five short weeks after I started exclusively pumping, my milk dried up. Out of nowhere. Now, a lot of people don't believe me when I say this, so let me just preface this with: I'm not lying, I didn't give up on pumping, it really did just dry up. Apparently it happens to some women, and I just happened to be one of those unlucky women. Now, I've heard that once you stop breastfeeding or pumping and your milk dries up that your hormones crash, and I'm thinking that may have been the trigger to my postpartum depression.
It wasn't too long after my milk dried up that I found myself sitting in my car in the driveway, frustrated beyond belief that my husband wouldn't take the day off work to stay home with me and our little one. (I know how ridiculous this sounds -- that's the point: normal me would not have done this.) Tears were streaming down my face, my patient and kind husband stood behind my car so I wouldn't leave. I was going to kill myself. I'm sure we caused quite a scene in our neighborhood because I just kept screaming that I wanted to kill myself and that he needed to move so I could. He moved after about 20 minutes, because I told him he was a terrible father for leaving our baby inside to worry about me. This was the first sign, and I ignored it. I thought I actually felt that way, and I'm sure I would have proceeded with the plan had he not texted me and said that he was, in fact, going to work and would get my friend's mom to watch Carter. I had been driving for probably 30 minutes down a windy road with a car following too closely behind me, but I pulled over and whipped my car around so fast. I couldn't believe he was actually still going to go to work.
When I returned to our house, I went inside and the next couple of hours are a blur. I remember laying in our office on the futon refusing to speak to anyone. My parents called me a couple times each, I'm guessing my husband had called them, and he had tried numerous times to talk to me. I didn't want to have anything to do with it. Later that night, my husband said he was going to take our baby and go pick up some formula because we were running low. I took the chance to sneak into our bathroom and grab one of my razors. The problem was, I couldn't get out of my head. I was drowning in suicidal thoughts that felt so foreign to me. I could have sworn someone came in and took over my brain and was making me feel this horrible way. I thought that maybe, maybe if I felt actual physical pain on the outside of my body, I would have something else to focus on instead of these damn thoughts. So, I cut myself a few times on my leg. I honestly believed that I was doing it to try and get out of my head -- except, after I was done, I was numb. I didn't feel anything. Sure, my leg hurt a little bit but I was no longer thinking anything. I went back into our office and didn't say a word when my husband came home.
He tried to sleep on the floor of the office, I kicked him out. This went on for a couple of days until he noticed my leg when I was changing. His first reaction was trying to talk me into calling my doctor. "Maybe this is postpartum depression, babe, we really should call her and talk to her about it," he said. I didn't want to. I have never been able to admit that something is wrong with me, not when I'm sick, not when I'm hurt, especially not when I'm depressed. So he got on the phone and dialed my doctor, who told him that she needed to hear it from me. Now, I've known my doctor since I was 2 because her son and my brother were friends growing up. I have a more personal relationship with my doctor than most, and I was not about to admit to her that I was having these kinds of problems. I told her I was okay, that I was having some "minor" feelings of depression. She had me come in the following day to take that test that gauges whether or not you are depressed and need to seek further help. The first time I took it, I scored an 8 (anything below 10 means you're fine). This time, I scored a 27, meaning I probably should have been admitted to the psych ward, and I wasn't too far off. She put me on a common antidepressant, and I immediately had every side effect you could have, but she couldn't do much more for me, so she told me I should go to Brackenridge and seek emergency help.
They took me, my husband, and my mom into this cold, white room to speak with us. A small doctor came in with his assistant and starting asking all of the typical questions like, "Are you having suicidal thoughts?" My husband explained my situation to him because I couldn't, I couldn't find words to explain this monster inside my head. He gave me a prescription for a different antidepressant that we could try and suggested that I be admitted for at least one week to monitor me with the new medication in case they needed to change it. Mind you, I had just spent a couple days in the hospital not too long before this, and I had a newborn baby at home that I was not about to just leave. So we asked the doctors to leave so we could discuss this option by ourselves, and asked my mom to leave, too. I looked at my husband and said, "If you take away the one, stable thing I have in my life right now -- which is my home -- I don't know what I will do. That is the only thing that's keeping me the least bit sane." When the doctors came back, he reiterated the exact same sentences and said that he would monitor me at home and if he felt that we needed professional help again, we would come back and admit me immediately.
It didn't take but a couple of weeks for the antidepressants to really kick in, and I started feeling like myself. I had gotten back into therapy, and was seeing my therapist weekly while also consulting with a psychiatrist every other week. My doctor checked in every week for a while, too. My husband was and has always been my biggest support system, but he couldn't stay with me forever. He had to go back to work at some point, and it didn't do either of us much good if he just stayed at home while I wallowed in self-pity.
My mom made some phone calls and had someone at my house each day that my husband was working to take care of Carter so that I didn't have to do anything but focus on bettering my mental health. I am eternally grateful for this. I cannot stress enough how important it is to take time to focus on your mental health if you're experiencing anything remotely close to what I have. You cannot do it alone. One of the best things that I had the privilege of experiencing was a postpartum doula. We hired a doula who specialized in postpartum depression to come and be with me for a period of time. Her name was Brooke, and she was the sweetest woman I have ever met. She genuinely cared about me, Carter, and my depression because she had been through something similar which is how she got into this profession. If you or someone you know is going through a tough time like this, I encourage you to reach out to a doula for help. This was one of the greatest things we did, even though I didn't feel entirely comfortable at first.
Moving on to the healing aspect of depression: How do you know when you're "healed"? Honestly, I still don't think I am. I have my days where I get so overwhelmed I feel like I just can't do it anymore. But, here comes my superhero husband again who reminds me that it's important to focus on what you do have -- which is a roof over our heads, a perfectly adorable toddler, each other, and a wonderful support system that goes beyond anything we could ever imagine. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, even though it may not feel like it right now. It does go away. I'm finally weaning off of my antidepressants and feel more confident than ever that I can do this. Do not be afraid to ask for help, the sooner you do, the sooner you will be on your way to recovery. Most importantly, if you don't have a support system -- I will be your support system. You can lean on me and know that everything will be okay, just take baby steps.
If you -- or someone you know -- need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-DONTCUT for the S.A.F.E. Alternatives hotline.
If you have a story about living with mental illness that you'd like to share with HuffPost readers, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please be sure to include your name and phone number.