Why Don’t We Talk About Postpartum Depression?

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I recently blogged a bit about my postpartum depression (PPD). It is the beginnings of an essay I plan to write, and possibly part of a future memoir. There are still a number of moving parts to my life right now, much of which I am not ready to make public, so the post is purposely ambiguous. But I hope it gives you an idea of how PPD feels, even if depression manifests in different ways in different people.

Your questions in the comments, however, are helping me understand what it is I have to address in subsequent revisions and essays on PPD, when I share my process. For the record, I’m scared shitless writing about my PPD. But I know it helps more than it hurts me to do so.

But mostly, I’m glad I’ve got people talking. The thing that mystified me most about having PPD was the total isolation and lack of rescue/help/resources/education. My friend S also survived PPD and interviewed me for a story she is writing on the subject. One of her questions was, “What can we do to change the landscape for mothers with PPD?”

We can do so much. Because right now, there is so little. Here are some of my thoughts on the taboo nature of PPD–of discussing PPD, of addressing PPD, etc. I welcome you to join in on the discussion…

1) Other women don’t want to relive their PPD experience:
When I started to suspect I had PPD, I reached out to other mothers who I knew had had a hard time with their babies–I knew at least one of them had had PPD. “I think I have postpartum depression,” I wrote via email. But the response was underwhelming–the responses ranged from complete silence to “I hope you get help.” The dearth of empathy was shocking. That I wasn’t invited to talk about it further, was debilitating.

One of my closest friends, after I got treatment and my PPD was behind me, told me, “I couldn’t relive it.” And it turned out she wasn’t the only one; women whose postpartum period was horrific don’t reach out, because it’s too uncomfortable. Because they never want to be reminded of that period in their life, ever again. I understand this. But it has to change.

And let’s face it–many of us hobble out of PPD, and don’t know how we did it. And many women are afraid it will happen again. Depression–and particularly the creature called PPD, is horrific.

2) Shame:
No one wants to admit having postpartum depression or even having baby blues, because there is a singular acceptable image of motherhood. We are supposed to be happy. We are supposed to adore our children. We are not supposed to regret anything.

I love my kid–I would die for her, but I  motherhood is so so hard it is impossible to love at times. There is a difference. I clawed my way back from postpartum depression, largely for my daughter. My daughter has made me a better person. And I hope I am the best mother to her. But this has come with great pain. I’m not ashamed to say that.

3) The details are horrific:
No one wants to discuss the details of postpartum depression, because they are so dark and ugly and socially unacceptable. The details include not only OCD and anger and wanting to die and believing you are dying, but in most cases wanting your beloved baby to die, even as you hold and cherish your baby in your arms, even as you are unwilling to let your baby go. It is horrific. I did not want my kid to die, and that’s why I got help.

4) Lack of education:
My husband explained to his boss that I had postpartum depression, and his boss had no idea what PPD was. He had to describe it as “clinical depression,” which honestly made me bristle. So many men don’t know what this is. So many women don’t know what this is. The ignorance prevent partners from truly helping out–from lack of community support so they can take time off to support partners to the fact that my husband didn’t even recognize the signs; he said he thought what I had become, would be forever. And that was a contributing factor to irreparable harm.

Nevermind the fact that when I finally called my OBGYN’s office, the receptionist literally responded, “PPD? What’s that?” Ugh.

5) Who can help:
The pamphlets on PPD say “Call your doctor.” WHICH doctor?! In my OCD-postpartum state, I literally obsessed about WHICH doctor to call. In the end, I called the person whom I trusted most, my old therapist. He isn’t a PPD specialist, so he told me to call the pediatrician, who told me to call my OBGYN. I made four calls that first day I decided to get help. The OBGYN’s office didn’t return my calls that first day. I called every 2 hours the next day, and finally got a Nurse Practitioner to call back. She sent me a prescription right away. Thank goodness. But man, I had to make a lot of calls, and persist. Not right.

In the end, because I’d waited 10 months for help, they told me that I would eventually have to ring my primary care physician. Jeebus. And ultimately, I ended up back with my old therapist.

6) Depression isn’t always obvious:
Depression manifests in many forms. And if people didn’t know you from before pregnancy or motherhood (as many healthcare professionals who see you in the postpartum haven’t), the onus is on you and your village to spot the signs. I’m a very energetic, positive person, and when I’m depressed, I’m subdued, but very much within normal range of behavior. I cried a lot, but my friends chalked it up to exhaustion.

My PPD made me restless. And angry. My energy was spikey. I was in bed, or I would get a burst of energy and do something, and then I’d collapse and crawl back into bed. Also, I’m good at faking it. And (read: shame above) wanted to fake it. My OBGYN asked about postpartum depression as part of regular postpartum screening, but who’s going to admit the above things (read: details above).

7) Isolation:
I was alone all day everyday for a few months. There were days I saw no one but my mother’s helper–and she didn’t know me from before motherhood (read: depression isn’t always obvious). No one saw how despondent I was.

8) Not knowing what to say:
The few people I told about my PPD suspicions (“Hey, I think I have postpartum depression”), tried to shift focus. “But your child is so beautiful and amazing!” they would say in response. “But I’m dying,” I would think. “I’m dying, and no one cares.” Yes, my child is beautiful and amazing, but that has nothing to do with postpartum depression. And it’s not cheering me up. Because I have postpartum depression.

Some of things I wanted people to do was to hug me. To say, “Hey, that is awful.” If you’ve had PPD, share your experience. And if someone suspected I had PPD, I’d have appreciated something  gentle and discussion-opening along the lines of, “Hey do you think this is baby blues, or more than baby blues? What do you think?”

9) Education:
It’s not only mothers who have to be educated about PPD. The entire village must know what this is. That mothers have the responsibility to self-diagnose is atrocious. That I had to self-diagnose was horrific and overwhelming. This is something about which the village should know and understand how to approach. Only one person in my social circle asked me if I had PPD, and she said it in such a condescending way (“i don’t know you very well, but I hope your doctors are helping you out”), that I retreated.

10) Waiting/Not realizing PPD is a Different Creature than “Regular Clinical Depression”:
PPD can lift, but even then, not really. It lingers. Waiting is a killer. Help must be as immediate as possible. PPD is chemical. It’s hormonal. For people who are anti-depressant averse, help takes much longer. Because we wait for the PPD to lift, before we concede to anti-depressants.

Don’t wait. PPD is a different creature than “regular clinical depression.” Be open to all the treatments. They can be life-changing. Save your life.

*************

UPDATE (Resources):
There are resources out there–here are a couple, which the Postpartum Resource Center of New York, provided me this morning:

You are not alone. You are not to blame. With help, you will be well.

Postpartum Support International (PSI) is dedicated to helping women suffering from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, including postpartum depression, the most common complication of childbirth. They also work to educate family, friends and healthcare providers so that moms and moms-to-be can get the support they need and recover.
Helpline:  800-944-4PPD (4773) or email support@postpartum.net
www.postpartum.net

In New York:
Postpartum Resource Center of New York provides emotional support, educational information and healthcare and support group resources for New York State families.  Free and confidential support including Moms on Call and Family Telephone Support available
Helpline:  Toll-free and State-wide at (855) 631-0001 (Hablamos Espanol)
www.postpartumny.org

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10 Comments

Filed under Motherhood, Parenthood

10 responses to “Why Don’t We Talk About Postpartum Depression?

  1. Thank you for sharing information and experience here. I especially appreciate the note about PPD presenting in different, less obvious ways.

  2. Soul Genius

    I cannot wait to see what you write. I plan to tackle my depression in my next few blog posts…I want to make sure I share links to your blogs discussing PPD. We’re silent bc it’s not something that is often talked about. With my first child I wasn’t diagnosed until she was 1! All the signs were there but no one noticed. With my 2nd bc I had already experienced it I knew to talk to my OB about it pretty early on. Your voice needs to be heard…I fully support.

  3. Maybe it should be a standard part of the pregnancy/childbirth healthcare process to follow up with new mothers at set intervals to look for signs? I guess that is naive, but preventative care reaps benefits and is less costly in the long run. And it would be nice if our society did not stigmatize mental health issues. You seek help, you get labeled. Not constructive.

  4. Pingback: Miami’s Alvarez takes painful path to Olympics – Sun-Sentinel | Depression Survival

  5. Christine – Thank you for being such a brave soul and sharing this very pointed and raw information. THANK YOU. I’m a mom of 3 and looking back, I definitely had PPD after my first child was born. It took a huge hit on me after my 3rd stopped nursing. I have only been able to understand this through my own knee scraping and logical self coming up for air from time to time to know I couldn’t just lay down and die. Once I caught a glimpse of the definition PPD, something inside me perked up and I knew “either get it together and fight for your life or your a dead woman” I can cry just thinking about it.
    It WAS painful trying to explain what I thought was going on to my husband. Tons of shame and guilt that I brought this into his life and my children. But life I said, I thankfully came up from air from time to time and knew, when I had those moments, I needed to take action whether someone understood me or not.
    Each day I take it as it’s own. Focusing on the present. I commit to working out most days which is a huge help for me personally. I try to eat as clean and natural as possible which goes a long way too. And presently, I’m a birth doula in NYC. The greatest work I could ever harness outside of being a mother. And while I am a birth doula, I do a lot of training and education on pre & post natal health & wellness, and post partum education. I teach a free class at Babies R Us (Staten Island) called “Birthing Prep – everything you wish someone told you” And I try to focus on the REAL stuff outside of baby showers, and baby names so that people have the opportunity to become educated and empowered for their journey. THAT’S what it’s all about. Sonia Murdock of the New York City Postpartum Resource Center is amazing! A Trail blazer ;)
    I plan on sharing your blog on my page because it’s just so perfect! Thank you again for your loving kindness. Keep up the great work! Renee

  6. I am actually working on a blog post of my own, regarding my PPD. I read your first post and it got me to thinking. Other than my parents, husband and a professional, I had not spoke much about my PPD. Even then, I didn’t go into much in the way of details regarding it. I was very guarded about what I was going thru and felt that to bare my soul at that time would land me in a place I really didn’t want to be. I already felt so alienated, by my own doing, I didn’t want to risk pushing people even further away. I thought that to let them in, that’s exactly what it would do, run them off! Thank you for your posts and getting me to the point that I think its okay to share what I went through personally. I am hoping to have my post proofed and posted this weekend! :)

  7. This is an amazing post and I really hope that you do continue to write about PPD. Personally, I find that the harder something is to face, the more important it becomes to face it. That said, we need as much support as go through this. there will be ups and downs, and then those memories. The wonderful thing writing has availed me is perspective. And I am not at all a writer. Thank you for being so amazingly brave and honest. I actually told my mom. if I get pregnant one day, and act funny after I deliver, get someone to talk to me. No matter what I say. It can’t hurt to have another perspective early. Why would I say this? Because the instinct to want to maintain an “everything is okay” front is natural in all of us. Even when we try to tell others to get help and lastly, tolerating discomfort.

    Time and again, I have noticed this in myself and others. It’s really uncomfortable when someone is in pain or upset. There is this impulse to want to shut it down or deflect. Or avoid. This has something to do with our inability to just be uncomfortable and stay in that moment and be with that person who is sharing with us. They are reaching out and we are running away. I am learning to deal with it and not let my fears creep in. Hopefully, we all slowly learn to. Thanks again. I didn’t expect to write quite so much. What can I say? I was inspired.

  8. This post is wonderfully (and painfully) honest, which is what I love about your writing. It also makes me want you to write a book about PPD – not a memoir but a nonfiction book that includes the stories of other women (I can put you in touch with a couple if you decide to interview others), research, etc. Meanwhile, I’m so glad you’re writing an essay about it – and I’d love to read your memoir too, of course. Virtual hugs.

  9. shespeakslove

    I think this is what I’m suffering. I go through and have gone through tha same things. I did get help because I knew this was not my normal self. With medications and therapy I’m getting better. Thanks for sharing. This is a very lonely place and it nice when you know there’s others who understand.

  10. I’ve heard of PPD and I’ve seen it in TV series before. But I’ve never really gone into looking it up and understanding it. Now that I’ve read this, I’m going to read it up because it’s shocking how some people have never heard of it, especially the receptionist at your OBGYN. Thank you for sharing. Good to see that you’re doing a lot better now x

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