It wasn’t supposed to feel like this
New motherhood. The reflexive smiles, the sleepy fat cheeks. The fresh smell of baby and the crushing black weight of postpartum depression and anxiety. So far, 3 times out of 3, that’s been our fourth trimester experience.
And it turns out my experience is far from unique.
Who knows what the reason, whether it be the far-flung dispersement of the extended family structure, the breakdown of neighborhoods and physical community, or the manic pace of life a newly-minted mom is expected to resume the day after delivery, but more and more American moms (and moms from all over, but particularly in Western countries) are suffering increasing rates of postpartum depression and anxiety.
And that sucks.
I have always written here about PPD with a lot of transparency in the hopes that if someone else stumbled across a post of mine they might catch a glimpse of empathy or solidarity, or at the very least, feel less ashamed or confused about what was happening to them. Because the only thing worse than suffering from depression is believing that you’re crazy, alone, and somehow fatally flawed for succumbing to something as frequently stigmatized as mental illness.
While we’re doing everything in our power to prepare for a much more peaceful 4th trimester the fourth time around, I’m still mentally and spiritually bracing myself for the possibility of another tangle with it.
In our house, that looks like having a good antidepressant plan in place with my physician (Celexa is my favorite for after baby. Zoloft and, to a lesser degree, Prozac, work decently well for me during pregnancy), a trusted counselor on tap for support, a ready supply of injectable progesterone and syringes on hand (I usually need anywhere from 4-8 shots over the course of the first 6 weeks after delivery) and doing a lot of prayer and mental prep work for life in the wake of baby. And then a handful of more practical things, too, like a freezer full of meals, a 3-month moratorium on any new speaking/writing/social commitments, and the permission to be very, very lax in what I consider a “successful” day, at least from baby’s birth date until the end of this calendar year. I’m talking bare bones here, like even barer bones than getting a shower in. Putting on a clean shirt, perhaps. Answering a handful of text messages. Microwaving oatmeal for breakfast. Stuff like that.
I’ve found it helpful to look back over my own personal reflections on PPD (here and here) so I can refresh my memory of what it looks and acts like, at least historically, for me.
It’s also a great reminder of how much better life is now, 17.5 months postpartum (and 7.5 months pregnant) than it was when each of these darlings were tiny. Perspective is golden.
I’m so grateful that Katherine took the initiative to organize this blog hop, particularly with May being maternal mental health month (and the month of our Lady, to boot.) I hope that our words bring you comfort, clarity, and the support that every new mom deserves to have.
Katherine at Half Kindled
Bonnie at A Knotted Life
Jenna at Call Her Happy
Laura at This Felicitous Life
Rosie at Check Out That Sunset
I struggled with PDD after my first three pregnancies and was on antidepressants for a a few years. I, too, settled on Celexa, but that was after I suffered a psychotic episode during a stint on Zoloft. After hearing from several others about their negative experiences on antidepressants, I started looking into the research behind them and was not satisfied by what I found. As with any drug protocol you want to jump into, do your research first.
After eliminating GMOs and correcting nutritional deficiencies (and lots of prayer, of course), I was able to kick the antidepressants and the depression and haven’t had a major episode in a few years. I used to encourage all my loved ones to treat their depression with antidepressants, but now I look upon their use as an absolute last resort. Get checked for vitamin/mineral deficiencies (a naturopath is a great resource for figuring out what your body is lacking on a cellular level). Test yourself for heavy-metal toxicity. Get the crap out of the diet. If those avenues fail, only then consider tampering (perhaps irrevocably) with your brain chemistry via pharmaceuticals. They can be dangerous and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
I agree! I was placed on antidepressants in college and encouraged to stay on them for about 6 years even though I found them not to be helpful at all. They changed the brand and dosage to no avail. I had some bad experiences with Celexa (involuntary limb twitching, heart of stone). I took it upon myself to stop them and I actually felt better getting exercise and taking good care of myself. I also had a reconversion to our faith which I believe truly healed me from depression. Sometimes I wonder how much mental illness is actually spiritual attack. I heard a priest speak on this before. Very interesting. Hubby and I experienced a lot of spiritual attack during our engagement. I did experience post partum depression with my first two babies. With my third (3 mo old now), I mostly only feel it when she is struggling with feeding. She has very slow weight gain, falling off the charts soon, but is totally healthy. But Once we realized this is just her and she is thriving I felt better. Praise God! But I do still think that when we have joined God, along with our husbands, to create life, bringing another soul into the world with intentions to prepare that soul to return to God someday, it is a threat to the Enemy. I’m not saying all depression stems from his efforts but such a beautiful miracle as new life is just the thing to disgust him.
Well put, Cami. It’s good to hear someone talking about the spiritual-warfare aspect of depression. I think it’s too often overlooked in favor of an entirely psychobiomedical approach. But we Catholics know that Satan is active in this world and that he will attack us body, mind, and soul in seeking our destruction. So let’s keep our minds sharp, our bodies healthy, and our faith strong. (:
There’s no doubt that spiritual warfare and hormone imbalances and health problems and toxins all play a role in depression. . . . But someone in a dark, depressed place doesn’t have the time to get a bunch of toxin testing and nutritional analysis and gut healing and get all that figured out. She needs help *right away* and for most people, antidepressants help. It has adverse effects for some people, but that’s pretty rare. Antidepressants (and/or professional therapy) are an important stepping stone to get to a point where you can be stable enough to address underlying health issues. . . Also, the fact that depression can have a spiritual dimension does NOT mean we treat it just as a spiritual issue. For most people, brain chemistry is a big factor, and all the confession and prayer in the world is not going to be enough help. . . .If you’re not right with God, you may never be healed of depression no matter what medicine or therapy you use. BUT just because you have depression does NOT mean there’s some problem with your spiritual life that needs to be addressed spiritually. It’s not a necessary correlation.
I don’t want to speak for Cami, but I did read her comment and it said, “I’m not saying all depression stems from his efforts…” And I certainly did not claim that all depression is spiritual in nature. I was simply commenting that it’s refreshing to hear someone speak out loud that it’s a possible influence. I’m glad antidepressants helped you. I said only that they should be taken with caution, which seems pretty reasonable to me.
No kidding! The gut has tons of serotonin receptors! GMOs and processed foods wreak havoc on that stuff. Got to keep the second brain healthy to have a healthy first brain. (: Probiotics are really great for maintaining the gut. So is bone broth. Happy gut = happy life. (:
Yep, we’re pretty all inclusive in our house, and we’re lucky to have access to some incredible healthcare providers who treat the whole person – like really, really whole: spiritual care, physical care, and emotional care. For example, one doc in our practice is super charismatic and will lay hands on you (if you’re comfortable) and pray with you at the end of an appointment and kind of listen for the Holy Spirit’s guidance on whatever your presenting ailments are. Also, he’ll whip out the prescription pad. People are wonderfully and complexly a system of many parts, and satan certainly works through physical and mental illness to wreak havoc in our lives, and God certainly works through the Sacraments and modern medicine to heal.
This ministry, Healing Hearts (a subsidiary of the Alexander House) is a fantastic resource for anyone looking to do some deeper digging into the area of deliverance ministry/spiritual warfare/healing of families:http://thealexanderhouse.org/our-outreach/)
We’ve had tremendously powerful healing in our own family through our work in this area, because yep, it’s all a piece: meds, prayer, healthy lifestyle choices, etc.
That is sooo awesome. Can you spare a few whole person healthcare providers and relocate them to Ohio? lol
Amen! Thank you so much for sharing – this is something that is so important and not discussed often enough.
I just love you so much! You are able to put into words precisely what is floating around in my head. Shockingly, post partum month 5 was the mood crusher with little darling #3. I really appreciate that you specifically identified several of the cultural factors making modern motherhood positively insane.
Me too! We have 2 kids so far and with both of them I am super happy for the first few months then somewhere between 4 and 6 months its like a dark cloud of “I suck at being a mom, maybe I should get a job and pay someone else to do this, I just give up, let’s live in a pig stye and never leave the house again.” For me sleep, vitamins, exercise, alone activities, long term goals, and for some reason getting breastfeeding scheduled and down to 5 times a day helps me a ton. (We are heading into month 8 right now).
Katherine ~ HalfKindled.com
Thanks so much for sharing this Jenny! “Because the only thing worse than suffering from depression is believing that you’re crazy, alone, and somehow fatally flawed for succumbing to something as frequently stigmatized as mental illness.” This. Exactly this.
Jenny, thank you for posting this. I think it is immensely important. I never understood depression and anxiety until I experienced it first-hand. There is no shame in calling your provider to make an appointment. There’s no shame in doing it for your consenting partner. And, taking an antidepressant might cause side effects (usually just at first), but it can save your life, your sanity, and it can rescue your family. I am so glad that I did. Natural methods are commendable, but to someone who is clinically depressed, researching and navigating that road feels like Everest. If you have a friend who is depressed, bring them meals, watch their kids for an hour, empty their dishwasher, take them for a walk, and pray for them.
thank you so much for speaking out about this issue. every day i work with people who have lost loved ones to suicide. the pain they bear on a daily basis is staggering. no one would expect to deal with diabetes or cancer by ‘trying harder’. depression is just as real and can be just as deadly if you don’t get treatment. program the national suicide hotline phone number into your phone. 1-800-273-8255. if you never need it… that’s great! if you do need it… you have it. make yourself a plan… check out the MY3 App at http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/gethelp/my3-app.aspx