How are you doing?
So, how are you feeling? Everything OK?
Do you need any help?
I've been getting these questions a lot, especially since my post on postpartum depression. It's been so nice to feel loved and more importantly, to know there is help there if I need it.
As this baby girl is 7 weeks old today(!!) I thought I'd do an update about how I've been doing so far. Hopefully this will be helpful to someone out there. Of course I'm no doctor and I'm not trying to pass off my experience as medical fact. This is just me sharing my experience hoping that it may be helpful to someone else out there.
To begin, I'm going to rewind a bit...
Almost immediately after I wrote my post on PPD I started to feel anxious. I'm really glad I wrote that post, as it seemed to resonate with a lot of people, however retelling every little detail also seemed to jump start my anxiety. While walking with a friend one night and talking about my experience with medication after the birth with Lamp she asked, Why don't you just get on medication now? She wasn't the first to ask. I once again recounted how really, the medication probably didn't hurt, but I think it was my friend coming to my rescue for three weeks that really made the difference.
Then I said, It's not like I didn't have difficult things to deal with after those three weeks. I mean Lamp went from sleeping 7-9 hours a night, to waking up every two hours... then she had surgery and was in and out of the hospital... it was all really stressful, but it didn't throw me back into a tailspin. A lightbulb went off... I can't believe I didn't realize it before, but for the first time I thought, maybe the medication did more for me than I thought. I had always assumed that I just had a rough patch that I just needed to clear and that I did clear that with the help of my friend. It almost sounds ridiculous not to have seen it before, but that night I finally realized (or maybe finally accepted) that medication really had made a difference. With that surprising conclusion and after talking to a few people, including my doctor, I decided to get on medication this time around as soon as the baby was born.
So how has it been?
Great. This is the best me I've ever been at 7 weeks postpartum. Just writing that out feels like a dance-by-myself-fist-pump-in-the-air-a-la-Kevin-Bacon-in-Footloose moment. Is it all behind me, has the fat lady sung? I don't know, but I'm going to celebrate the here and now. As I stand right here and right now, I'm feeling great. I'm tired but not exhausted, my plate is full but not overwhelmed. This is no small thing my friends.
If you or someone you know is struggling after the birth of a child and you're not sure if medication would be helpful here are some thoughts I'd like to share. There are many things you can do to fight PPD (I mentioned quite a few things that help me in my post about PPD) that don't involved drugs but since I know I had a lot of reservations about medication (and many people do) I'd like to focus on that specifically.
First, it's all about preparation and in order to prepare you have to be honest with yourself. Honest about your feelings, fears, stress triggers, etc. If you've had PPD in the past, there's a good chance you'll have it again. If you don't have it again that's great! But if you do, you might as well be prepared. Asking for help isn't weakness, especially after having a baby. It's not just about you, it's also about your family. If you have a hard time asking for yourself, ask for the benefit of your family.
However, it can be really difficult to even recognize you have PPD, especially if it's your first baby. Which of course makes it all the more difficult to take the next step of seeking help. In fact you may not even realize you have PPD until after the fact. I know that's how it was for me with my first baby. I also had a friend who recently had the same experience--she had PPD but she didn't realize it until it was over. Another problem might be that you resent the label of 'postpartum depression.' I know I was insistent that I did not have it the first time around and I was upset at the doctor who suggested otherwise. Was I in denial? Maybe a little. But it's also hard to recognize a mental health issue when you've never dealt with it before. My advice is to talk to a friend or family member, and then talk to your doctor or midwife.
My first measure of preparation was getting the people in my world lined up for help and support. It's important to have the people around you who really know you aware of your concerns and past struggles because you might need help recognizing that you need help. Also it was really great having my husband home for almost a month and then having my mom here, followed the next week by my in-laws. I'm really glad I had our parents hang back a bit and come around 5-6 weeks as I know many babies hit their fussy period around that time. And of course I'm glad I emailed my friends ahead of time, giving them a heads up and asking for their support as well. It's not easy asking for help, but it's better than the alternative.
Now about medication. To be honest, the only reason I was so open to taking medication this time is because I took it after Lamp was born. It was a really, really big deal for me to take medication for PPD as I've never taken medication for anything related to mental health and there were several reasons why I was hesitant. In a way it felt like a cop-out, like Well life is always hard after you a baby, why should I take a pill to make the hard things go away? I can't just take a pill every time life is hard. My other hesitation was that I wasn't someone who had struggled with mental health before. Sure I'd been depressed and had gone through hard times, but I had always managed on my own. Getting on medication felt like I was admitting to being weak or something. And frankly it's scary to admit to yourself, let alone others, that you feel so fragile you needed help in a big way. Like a lot of things I was also afraid of the stigma, which is strange because I have friends and family who deal with depression and I certainly don't think they're weak. In fact, quite the opposite. But part of the problem of having something like PPD is that the very thing you need in order to reason--your brain--is the very thing that is not working correctly. Lastly, there was a part of me that wondered how it was going to help--I mean it's just a pill, it's not going to take the difficult parts of having a newborn away. The fact that it took me this long to realize a pill could have such a drastic effect on my overall well being tells you how little faith I had in medication.
So what does medication do for me? How does it make me feel?
Normal. Medication makes me feel like my normal, usual self. That's all really. For me, at least. As I mentioned above it doesn't take away the hard things about having a baby, it just releases me from constant anxiety and irrational thoughts that seem to surround me after I have a baby. Instead of feeling overwhelmed I know I can handle it. Immediately after having this little one I was still shaky--and I mean physically I felt jittery and shaky. It took a couple weeks, but once the medication kicked in I no longer felt those sensations. Admittedly this baby is our easiest baby so far, which also helps immensely! But she's still a baby and we still have our difficult times--unexplained fussiness, difficulty falling asleep, etc. In the past a bad day or a bad morning would fill my mind with doomsday thoughts like this baby is never going to nap again or I would imagine a crying, fussing baby all day long for months on end. After Lamp was born those thoughts built up a well of anxiety so deep and crippling I was no longer able to see my way out of it. Now if I have a bad day I can rationally understand that it's just an off day, it's not forever. If baby doesn't stay down for a nap, I know she will another time. Clarity, the ability to reason and the confidence to know I can do it... that's what medication has given me.
Additionally with the mental barriers of anxiety removed I actually enjoy my baby and this newborn stage. In between the feeding, burping, cleaning and napping I stare into her dark eyes, talk and coo, and know that my ability to feel the wonder and joy of getting to know this new little person is a gift from the modern medical gods.
I've talked to a few friends who have dealt with PPD--3 that I can think of specifically. All of these women were seasoned mothers having depression with their 3rd or even 5th child. Yet all their situations were different and like me they each had reasons for not going on medication, anything from wanting a more holistic approach to not realizing they were dealing with PPD. Each one of them said that in hindsight they wished they would have gone on medication... which is why I wanted to share my experience with you today. Perhaps you've thought about medication but have fears and reservations about taking the next step. Perhaps you worry what your friends or family might say or think... perhaps you think you can handle it on your own. Whatever your situation I just want you to know you're not alone and hopefully sharing my experience will give you the push you need to explore your options. Truthfully, medication may or may not work for you, it may or may not be the right decision but it's a blessing to even have the option to explore it.
For me postpartum is hard. And while it will still be hard, I learned that I don't have to suffer.
And even more importantly, the removal of that suffering allows me the freedom to feel joy.
I would love to hear from anyone else who has also combatted postpartum depression with medication. I know medication works differently for different people--sometimes it's necessary to change doses or even the type of medication. Was your experience as positive as mine? Did you even notice a difference? Or have you thought about seeking help medically but have had reservations about doing so? Please share!