From PPD to Sunshine: My Story of Overcoming Postpartum Depression and Finding Joy in Motherhood
After my daughter was born, I didn’t think I’d have any more children. Despite my best-laid plans, reading “What To Expect When You’re Expecting,” and scouring mom message boards, my postpartum experience with my eldest was bewildering. I lived hours from any family and barely knew anyone where we lived for my job. We had no “village;” it was just us, and my husband had to work to support us. I had no idea how grindingly exhausting it could be to wake up to nurse every few hours, and I felt clumsy and dangerous handling this tiny, fragile creature. I lay awake, staring at my sleeping infant, anxiously awaiting the next time she would wake up and need me.
As you might have guessed, my subsequent discovery would be that I had postpartum depression. Though most new parents have periods of strong mood swings called the “baby blues,” postpartum depression is a different, longer-lasting experience. While the baby blues go away after a few weeks, PPD can last a year or more after your child’s birth.
According to Henry Ford Health, irritability, exhaustion, and depression areall signs of the baby blues. Aggression, intense stress, and a possible sensation of disconnection from the infant are only some of the more severe symptoms of postpartum depression. I didn’t experience aggression or rage but was extremely anxious and depressed. I spoke to my doctor and started treatment, and things got a little better. However, I was never completely frank with my doctor about how bad I felt because I feared my daughter being taken away from me. I know now that those fears were irrational and that they would not have taken her away because I truly never considered harming her. Our relationship and being able to breastfeed her carried me through some very lonely hours.
Unfortunately, instead of resolving, my PPD turned into regular old depression. Because I felt so much compassion and empathy for others going through the same struggles, I volunteered with postpartum mental health organizations, and when I honestly shared my feelings with my peers in one organization, they encouraged me to be candid with my doctor. That led to me admitting myself to a behavioral health wing of a nearby hospital. And that – that changed everything.
I spent three days missing my family, pumping breastmilk while under supervision from a nurse, increasing my meds, and developing a plan of care with my doctor.
Shortly after being released, my family and I moved back to my hometown, where I had significantly more family support. Things weren’t always perfect, but it got easier and I was in a much better place. I can’t begin to express my gratitude to those fellow “Warrior Moms” who encouraged me to get help.
Then, in 2019, I complained to a coworker that I thought I was either pregnant or dying because I felt so ill. Surprisingly, I was pregnant again.
I was understandably nervous and I discussed my medication with my psychiatrist, as I was concerned that I would need to taper off of it while pregnant. After showing me studies and data explaining that staying on my dose was safer, we made the decision together to continue my medication.
I felt much less anxiety throughout this second pregnancy, partly because of my medication and therapy and, I think, partly because I was by now a more experienced mama. My family worried due to the fallout from my last pregnancy, but I truly felt like I was on much steadier ground this time around.
Because I was back in my hometown, I saw doctors and nurses at the hospital where I was born. My cousin, who is a nurse and who has loved babies as long as I knew her, was there at the appointment when I discovered I was having a son. Despite testing positive for gestational diabetes, I managed it well with medication and a careful diet, and I was able to maintain healthy blood sugar levels throughout my pregnancy.
At every ultrasound, the tech checked my kiddo for “practicing breathing” and often remarked that he was being lazy about it. I didn’t think much of it, to be honest – I was trying to get everything ready. I kept working as long as possible and had several false alarms, thinking I was going into labor. I was huge, I was crabby, and I was ready to have my son!
I was scheduled to be induced on Friday, March 15. My appointment got bumped, but I noticed that I was having constant contractions at home. I did a lot of bouncing on my exercise ball, stretching, and deep breathing to cope. The contractions got stronger and more regular Saturday night, but I was suspicious. I drove myself to the hospital, not wanting to disturb my daughter, now 6, and my husband from their rest for another false alarm. I confess that in hindsight, I do not recommend driving while having contractions!
After an hour of bouncing on a ball and walking through the quiet maternity wing, it became clear it was time. Labor went smoothly and much faster than my first experience! When my son arrived, the nurses had to jostle him a little bit to get him to breathe because he still wasn’t convinced breathing on his own was what he wanted to do. The delay lasted just long enough for me to get nervous, but soon he was breathing, crying, and in my arms – a 6-pound, 7-ounce bundle with the lightest dusting of hair so fair it almost looked red.
I call him my sunshine baby for a two reasons. One, he had the brightest blonde hair; and two, he was always such a happy baby, and still is just as sweet as a four-year-old! Though I had to supplement with formula with both of my babies, I was still able to breastfeed and truly enjoyed that bonding time with my little ones.
When my maternity leave ended, I decided not to return to my job as a reporter. I instead found a job where I had my own office and could pump and provide milk to my son’s daycare in order to keep nursing him despite returning to work.
After my serious and scary experience with Postpartum Depression, I didn’t expect that I would ever have more than one child. But now, years after the darkest times, I couldn’t imagine our family any other way.
Postpartum Mental Illness Resources
If you are experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression, please reach out to your doctor right away. You are not alone, you are not to blame, and you will get better!
Postpartum Support International PSI Helpline: 1-800-944-4773
In 1987, Jane Honikman established Postpartum Support International (PSI) in Santa Barbara, CA. The group’s goal is to raise public and expert awareness of the emotional challenges women face during pregnancy and the postpartum period. This organization offers a wide variety of intersectional resources for parents, including online and in-person support groups, peer mentor programs, and specialized support. They offer support for moms, dads, partners, adoptive families, queer and trans families, and military families, among others. The organization also provides educational materials to medical professionals to prevent people from going without treatment. HRSA Maternal and Child
Health National Maternal Mental Health Hotline: 1-833-943-5746 (1-833-9-HELP4MOMS)
The Maternal and Child Health Bureau of the Health Resources and Services Administration funds national, state, and community organizations and academic institutions to improve public health. In addition to the national maternal mental health hotline, the MCHB provides grants for programs, home visits to families in areas with low health outcomes, and much more.