When is it More than Just the Baby Blues?
When I was pregnant, women warned me about a lot of things: the lack of sleep, the lack of a shower, the resemblances between you and a milk cow - basically the typical “your life will never be the same” speeches. In many ways, they were right. There was one thing, however, about which no one warned me. They never told me that after having my son, I might feel like I was losing my mind. Yet, that is exactly what happened.
It started as soon as he was born. I had a great delivery, and my husband Matt and I were thrilled to be holding our new son. That night, however, while Gavin slept peacefully in the basinet and my husband headed home and crashed on our couch, I laid wide awake in bed, thoughts racing wildly through my brain like an out-of-control pinball machine. I had been in labor all night and more than twenty-four hours had passed since I had slept, yet I could not fall asleep, even for a moment. The next day was a whirlwind of visitors, nurses, and breastfeeding, and I was more exhausted than I had ever been, but still I lay wide awake all night long. Everyone assured me that it was just adrenaline and once I got home I would crash, but the first night home I, once again, stared at the ceiling all night.
I was starting to panic. A little voice inside of me was insisting that something was terribly wrong, and with each passing sleepless moment, the voice grew louder and louder. The problem was that no one could hear that voice excpet me. They kept reassuring me that everything was going to be just fine. It was simple a case of the "baby blues", and in a few days everything would be okay. Despite the assurances, the defeaning alarm in my head kept ringing and I began to live on the very edge of a nightmare.
What ensued over the next three months was indescribably awful. I, a woman who had taught teenagers in inner city Philadelphia, had debilitating panic attacks when neighbors stopped by to see the baby. I was terrified of the thoughts swirling around my head, and felt unable to be alone with my son. My mother drove up and down the turnpike, hand-holding me through the days Matt had to work. I was desperate to protect my son, but devastated that I had to protect him from me.
Shuffling from doctor to psychiatrist and back again did nothing. I was still told that it was not postpartum depression and I really would be just fine, and here are some more sleeping pills, just keep taking them until you can sleep again. The pills scared me almost as much as not sleeping, but I was so desperate for rest that I took them. And I kept taking them - more and more - as the original dose stopped working. I found a way to separate my mind from my body: during the day I would go through the motions of my normal life, constantly checking myself to make sure I was acting “normal”, but at night all of the fear would come rushing back and I would get caught up again in my own nightmare.
This went on for weeks as I increasingly attempted to pretend I was okay, all the while falling deeper and deeper into the hole inside of me. Then, one Monday, the hole swallowed me up. It was as if I locked in the prison of my own mind, stuck behind massive dark walls that rose all around me. I could see Matt playing with Gavin and my Mom fixing dinner, but I could no longer take part in it, could no longer connect or feel anything outside of my own mind. I began to be unable to move, frozen in place by some force beyond me. Yet into this prison, a voice spoke to me and began to pull me out. “You need help,” the voice whispered. “You are not going to make it.” It was at that moment I looked up and told my husband that I needed to go to the hospital.
That, mercifully, was the beginning of my rescue. It took being hospitalized and the weeks following to return to myself...no, to become a new version of myself, someone who had been pushed to the very edge and yet had been saved. I can now look back on that summer and feel gratitude for my deliverance and for the person that I have become as a result of my experience.
But my struggle has given me another mission - to share my story with other women so that they have won’t suffer in silence and so that they will find help. YOU know when you are not okay, and as a new mother, you have to trust your instincts for your baby - and for yourself. My deepest hope is that new moms who can identify with my story will get help, and not rest until they’ve found it.
Gavin is now thirteen months old and I absolutely love being his mother. The fear and anxiety is gone and I am now able to simply enjoy him. I would like to say that I am completely cured, but that would be a lie. I still need to take medication and may need to for the rest of my life. I have struggled with being so reliant on a pill for my well-being, but it gives me the ability to be me, which is what my husband and son need most. I have even come to a place where I desire to have another child. I know that there are risks, but I also know I have the strength to get through them.
Statistics show that up to 62% of moms will experience some form of mild postpartum depression in the year after they give birth. Only about five percent of these women will develop severe depression, but whether your symptoms are severe or mild, you will need support to deal with your emotions. Use these guidelines as a starting place for getting help:
- Tell someone what you are feeling. The hardest thing that I ever had to do was tell my husband that I was having thoughts about harming our son, but it was crucial that he knew how bad things had gotten. Thankfully, he took me seriously.
- Get medical help. You may need medication to get better, and you need a doctor that you trust to help you make a plan. If you don’t feel that your doctor is taking you seriously, ask to see someone else until you find someone who will. Post-partum depression is not something to be taken lightly. It can become severe quickly, and you need a medical professional to monitor you.
- Let others help you. For me, that looked like supplementing with formula (something that I had sworn I would not do) so that other people could get up in the middle of the night with Gavin. I also had to realize that I could not care for myself and my son while maintaining a spotless house and having dinner on the table every night. We ate sandwiches - a lot - those first few months!
- Have faith that things will get better. Ten months later, I love my life, my husband, and my son. I have a fulfilling part time job, a group of great friends, and, yes, I even cook! When you are feeling depressed, it can seem like things will never get better. But, with help they will! Hold on to that hope when the days are dark.
Becky Cella is Mommy to one year-old Gavin and wife to Matt, a school teacher in Philadelphia. She taught high school English for six years prior to earning her Masters at Cabrini College and becoming a student teaching supervisor at Philadelphia Biblical Unviersity. In her free time she enjoys helping out with her MOPS group at church and writing about the experiences of being a new mom.