I’ll admit it, I have a past. Specifically, a past history of depression, going back to when I was a teenager. And it runs in the family, too – my mom even suffered post-partum psychosis after my birth. So, really, I should have been prepared for what happened when my daughter was born, and I should have sought help.
Here’s what happened: I had a moderately traumatic birth that resulted in me being left in charge of a perfectly healthy baby who was, nonetheless, completely dependant on me for basic survival. And while I did manage to fall in love with her, I grew progressively more despondent as I rapidly concluded that I was wholly unfit to be a mom. I cried and only ate because I was breastfeeding, I constantly thought about how my family would be much better off if I just died. I didn’t sleep. I struggled to leave the house.
My docs noticed, my husband noticed, but by the time they started hinting that I needed help, my maternity leave had run out, and between full-time employment outside of the home and attempting to reconnect and care for my still exclusively breastfed baby, it just didn’t feel like there was time.
Eventually, I cut down my hours at work, at that helped a little. But then the ball dropped – we discovered that our daycare provider had been abusing and neglecting our sweet little girl, now all of 14 months old and only just walking on her own. I put in notice the next day, and worked from home or used my accumulated leave for my final month of work. The Mister found a higher-paying job in a lower cost-of-living area (because, trust me, it’s impossible to raise a kid in DC on a single income), which meant moving the whole family across the country. My depression, which had only barely waned, came back with a vengeance as we uprooted and I found myself alone, totally responsible for a toddler who now (understandably) had very intense stranger and separation anxiety.
Once again, I barely slept, I struggled to leave the house. And while I worked very hard to make friends with moms and dads who had toddlers the same age as my little one, I held myself back from emotionally connecting with anyone. I was honestly afraid – afraid that if they knew how sad I was, they would decide that I wasn’t worth the effort of friendship. For the first time since I was a teenager, I started cutting again. Somehow that clued me in, and I finally sought help from a charming therapist with a moustache you could hide a sandwich in. Things got better.
Then I got pregnant.
This time, I thought I would be prepared. I warned my midwives, my therapist, and my sister to look out for signs of depression. I asked my midwives to hassle my husband, and vice versa, about warning signs for PPD. I told my husband I’d rather have him check me into a mental hospital than put me at risk of harming myself or our littles.
Naturally, my body threw me a curveball, and I developed severe antenatal depression.
Once again, not sleeping. Struggling to leave the house. Mom friendships struggling because I just couldn’t talk to anyone.
Did you know depression during pregnancy is a thing? I had only come across the occasional reference to antenatal depression in my readings about PPD. And thank goodness I did, because it meant that I had a label and a recommended set of actions to take when I finally admitted that feeling suicidal all the time was neither normal nor okay.
I hadn’t seen moustache therapist in a while – he’d suffered a concussion in an accident and was taking an extended leave of absence while his brain healed. So I talked to my midwives. Turns out there was a therapist they liked to recommend, a gal who specialized in pregnancy-related mood disorders. Oh, and her office was just upstairs from the birth center. I set up an appointment, and I was hooked.
We came up with a game plan – weekly therapy to help me address the psychological issues with fear, guilt, and anxiety that was driving the depression. Because my case was severe, we reviewed the risks my depression was causing for my pregnancy (including my lack of sleep and the fact that I wasn’t gaining weight well) versus potential risks associated with antidepressants, and put me on the lowest dose possible of the antidepressant currently rated safest during pregnancy. And things got better. Within just a few weeks, I was feeling like myself again, feeling like I could make playdates and be more present for my little lady. The whole family was happier.
Here’s the thing: I’m not saying that having a strong network of mom friends can prevent PPD or antenatal depression. But I think that if I had known there was someone I could talk to who had similar experiences, who wouldn’t judge me for not being a happy supermom, that would have helped. Heck, if I had been able to reliably talk to a mom friend online at those times when I was too anxious to leave the house, that would have helped. I was still building my mom tribe when I had PPD. I had more, closer friendships with antenatal depression – and a much better outcome.
I’d like to invite our users to speak up if they are experiencing these problems, and to use Mom Meet Mom as a means to help alleviate the isolation that comes with pregnancy-related mood disorders. Let us help you find the support you need when getting yourself to the park or library story hour is just too much to handle.