99. So I Had Postpartum Depression
"I was so happy with the way I was handling the new addition that my following depression blew me out of the water. My husband was away on a trip, and I got a new car. Sounds like a good thing, but somehow I found driving a new car with its new buttons and pockets in different places to be overwhelming. To be fair, it was also a nine-seater. I’ll let you sit with that."
I am a mother of eight. My youngest is 16 months old and my oldest is expecting my first grandchild at 22 years of age. I am extremely blessed. I am also a woman who has experienced multiple episodes of Postpartum Depression (PPD.)
I’m told I’m predisposed to anxiety, which resonates with me. As far as I know, I didn’t experience PPD with my first two births. For what it’s worth, all of them were normal, healthy births. After my third, a lot of things irritated me. A lot! I found my fists clenched all of the time and it took a bit before I realized that wasn’t normal. I wanted to enjoy my baby, husband and other kids but everything set me off. I got a psychiatrist referral from my doctor who promptly prescribed psychotropic meds. I started getting debilitating headaches and was concerned that they were a side effect of the meds. My kids were making a lot of noise when I reached out to the psychiatrist by phone and had my concerns dismissed. He surmised that if he had as many kids as me, and it was so noisy around him, he too would have a headache and hung up. Imagine what he’d say about the five more kids I have now!
Needless to say, I deleted his contact, and told my OB to take him off of his referral list. When a person is in a vulnerable state, she needs understanding and empathy; not cruelty and sarcasm.
Then came baby number five. I had a bit of a bumpy ride leading up to the birth because my parents had divorced a year earlier and my dad was getting remarried. It was a bit dysregulating, (read: one of the hardest experiences of my life emotionally). I mention this because at that time I may have already been in a high stress situation and standing at the edge of the cliff. Maybe, who knows? I had the best time with my baby for four weeks. I was present, my other kids were excited, and they were in camp during the day so I had some time alone with the baby. I even had my dad and stepmom over for the first time. The higher you are, the harder you fall.
I was so happy with the way I was handling the new addition that my following depression blew me out of the water. My husband was away on a trip, and I got a new car. Sounds like a good thing, but somehow I found driving a new car with its new buttons and pockets in different places to be overwhelming. To be fair, it was also a nine-seater. I’ll let you sit with that. When my husband called that evening, I told him I couldn’t breathe because that’s how I felt. I hadn’t realized at the time that I was having a panic attack. I actually think I only figured it out recently.
When he returned home, and I was clear that something was horribly wrong, I tried to find a psychiatrist that I could trust but they all had a minimum two week wait. At this point I was getting desperate. I asked to be hospitalized and was turned down because I wasn’t a danger to myself or anyone else. I did not feel like I could be left at home. All I knew is that I needed to be “fixed” ASAP.
My OB prescribed Xanax to tide me over until a psych appointment. I took one pill and slept for 17 hours straight. When I awoke, I couldn’t follow anything with my eyes. That’s when it all started to fall apart. I couldn’t sleep, even for a minute. You’d think having a one month old would’ve made me tired but I physically could not close my eyes. I couldn’t eat, never mind drink, and I’m usually a stress eater not a starver. My closet seemed too overwhelming for me to choose an outfit so I stayed in pajamas. I couldn’t go near the baby and then I couldn’t even leave my room. Everything seemed so frightening. I felt like the walls were going to cave in, literally. If I hadn’t experienced it myself, I wouldn’t believe it. Now I feel like it’s just a movie I once watched. I was afraid to do things I had been doing for decades because they all seemed overwhelming. The future seemed scary and bleak. Does this mean I can’t have any more kids? Will I ever be able to take care of the baby? Leave the house? Get dressed?? What will my other kids do? It was a dizzying spiral. And then, a friend of mine brought over her friend who had PPD with her first child.
I knew this woman. She had a full life, a normal life. She had a second child after her episode and it all went well. We spoke and she gave me hope, even if it was the tiniest bit. I had some old meds (I do not recommend trying this at home) so I took one. And the world was different. It was so different. I don’t think it’s common for people to turn around as quickly as I did, but I’m grateful. I felt like I could see a way out, and once things were a bit more stable, I was able to wait for my doctor appointment with more ease. I met my superstar psychiatrist, Dr. Jennifer Yashari. She focuses only on the woman’s cycle, so things like PPD, infertility, pregnancy, adoption, menopause etc. She wanted me to get more out of the medication so she made me a cocktail that I’ve been taking ever since.
When the baby was 15 months old, I found myself with a surprise twin pregnancy, yes I know how that sounds. It scared the living daylights out of me. Dr. Yashari reminded me that this time was different. I had knowledge, I was prepared, I had her, my meds, and we were watching. I stayed on the meds throughout the pregnancy, as research has not concluded that it’s dangerous, but unstable mental health definitely is. As far as I know, one of the babies was a bit sleepy for a day and that was the extent of the effects my meds had on the pregnancy. When my life was at its most hectic, with three kids aged two and under, plus another four above them, I was at my most stable.
Eight years later, we went for one more, just for fun. It was the most amazing pregnancy and an awesome postpartum experience. Since then we have also married off a child, are expecting a grandchild and I have been open and honest about my challenges with my kids. My pregnant daughter finds comfort in knowing that I am looking out for her and will do everything to keep her safe. PPD should not be stigmatized; it’s not a guarantee, and it’s treatable. We need to educate our partners and family members to keep their eyes out for anything that seems unusual and have them bring it up in the most gentle of ways. If you or anyone you know is questioning their mental health after giving birth to a baby, reach out to a professional and get evaluated. You are not alone and you won’t be like this forever.
This post is written in memory of my superstar OB, Dr. Jay Goldberg. Like many of his patients, I considered him a cherished friend. His days were too few, his accomplishments many, and his loss devastating to those who knew him. He helped bring my lights into this world all the while emanating his own bright light and he is missed by many, every single day.
Resources for Postpartum Depression:
Sarah Goldberg is a licensed life coach in private practice. She is on sabbatical while she immerses herself in the joys of raising a toddler and a family of 10. She lives in Los Angeles, where she can be found at a different public playground every day!
She welcomes any questions or opinions on pregnancy, labor, or child raising and can be reached through email@example.com.