I struggled with postpartum depression to some degree after all three of my pregnancies. I spend the first year of my oldest daughter’s life feeling anxious, irritable, moody, and overwhelmed by life. My daughter was born just over a year after my son (whom we adopted) and I had a beautiful family; a wonderful, supportive, helpful husband and two beautiful children with whom I was overjoyed. I had friends, family, and I had a low stress–part time, mostly work from home–job with a wonderful boss. I couldn’t understand why I felt the way I did. There was nothing on the “outside” that was causing me to feel the way I did. I began to suspect postpartum depression.
When my daughter was five or six months old I finally talked to the doctor who had delivered her and he told me it was basically all in my head, that it wasn’t a chemical imbalance or anything like that and I probably just needed to talk to someone. I remember thinking, “About what? There is literally nothing wrong with my life, except that my emotions don’t match my circumstances. What would I talk about?” It was frustrating and confusing. I continued to look for answers and saw my PCP, who told me it was not all in my head and referred me to an endocrinologist. Just after my daughter’s first birthday (and weaning her) my blood tests confirmed I had hypothyroidism. I went on medication to treat that and felt amazing.
Several years later my second daughter was born and many of the same feelings of being overwhelmed and anxious and stressed hit again. At the time we were in a very small house and all three kids shared a 10 x 10 bedroom, which created a lot of stress, so at the time, I didn’t really think it was post partum depression. Now looking back, it probably was, but it seems to have been my mildest bout with it. I nursed my second daughter until just before her first birthday and soon after I weaned her, I felt fine emotionally.
Within six months of weaning my second daughter, I was pregnant with my third daughter, our fourth child. My pregnancy was uneventful and my delivery was perfect (I credit the prescheduled c-section for her two perfect 10 APGAR scores). Soon after we brought her home (to a new house this time), I began what would be the hardest year of my life.
Not too long after she was born I began to feel the familiar feelings of anxiety and feeling over whelmed. Along with those feelings, a deep depression settled in, sort of like a cloud that always pressed on my head and my chest. The feelings of discouragement and despair that I felt during that time were like nothing I’d ever experienced before. I did not ask for help. I figured I knew what it was, that I’d experienced these feelings before and I convinced myself there was nothing anyone could do for me and that I would just brace myself and make it through the year of nursing and then I would feel better. No big deal.
Except it was a big deal.
There was a huge red flag present in my life almost all year long that should have sent me running for help. As sick as I was, I did not even realize how bad I was until several months after I had finished nursing and the fog of depression had (mostly) left my head and I began to read stories about women who had taken their own lives while struggling with postpartum depression. As I was reading these stories, I cried as I realized how bad I really was and that I could have easily been one of the women who ended their lives.
See, I woke up most mornings not wanting to get out of bed. Actually, I wanted to die. I begged God to let me die. I wanted to go Home to Heaven. I felt there was absolutely no encouragement in this world at all and I did not want to be in it anymore. Every single day I prayed and begged God to end my life and take me home.
As much as I look forward to Heaven, I cannot explain how thankful I am that He did not grant me that request.
I can’t help but wonder if my story could have ended a different way? Of course it could have. As I was going through my depression, my deep belief that God, and God alone, is the Author of Life, and only He has a right to give and to take away life kept me from harming myself. I know, for me, they did. But that is absolutely not to say that Christians are immune to suicide. I mean, what better pull than the promise of Heaven, free of struggles and trials? But, the Bible is true and God absolutely IS the Author of Life and Satan is the one who tries to snuff out a life before its time. (If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please know this: you have deep value and your life is worth something. Please don’t believe the lie that it doesn’t. If you are having suicidal thoughts, seek help immediately!)
Obviously, it’s what I should have done. There are several things, actually, that I wish I would have done differently. First, I think the conversation about depression should be part of every woman’s prenatal care. Once you are in it and sick, you are not thinking straight. I think it would be worthwhile for every woman to make an action plan with her doctor, friends and family to discuss what steps should be taken if depression rears its ugly head.
Secondly, I would have been honest with people around me. I wasn’t . Not at all. Most of the people who know me will be absolutely shocked to know I went through such a struggle. (Sorry, Mom. Don’t smack me please.) I am independent, stubborn and I don’t like to burden people with my troubles. I shared some with my husband, but not wanting to be a “whiner” I didn’t share everything I was feeling all the time and the few times I did tell him about my deepest, darkest thoughts, I scared him so badly that I stopped sharing. Obviously, he knew I wasn’t my normal self and he knew I was struggling, but he didn’t know to what degree I was really struggling, because when he’d check on me, I would just say I was tired.
Third, I would have gone to the doctor and asked for help. And if that doctor didn’t help I would have continued to look for one who would listen and help me. Looking back, I believe I would have found help with the female OBs at my OB/GYN office. I should have talked to them and found out what I could do to get better.
Finally and I know I may get beat up here, but, I would have stopped nursing my baby. I was determined to nurse her to a year as I did with my other nurslings, but I paid too high a cost for sticking to that decision. Since my symptoms went away when I weaned my first two daughters, I fully expected that to happen with my third (and it mostly did). I should have stopped nursing and regained my mental health, which would have been a lot healthier for me, my baby daughter and my entire family.
Now, on the flip side, if someone you know is struggling with depression, I’ve thought about what may have helped me. I am certainly no expert, but here are my humble suggestions based on my personal experience:
Be a friend
Pray for them. Lift them up in prayer every single day. And check on them. Bring them dinner, go and visit them, clean their house. Do something to relieve some of the feelings of being overwhelmed. Call them and keep tabs on them. I don’t know if everyone experiences what I did, but during my year of depression I did not want to be around people. I just sort of hid in my house. I didn’t want to talk to anyone or see anyone. It was exhausting to keep up the façade of being my normal “happy” self all the time and I just couldn’t do it. It was easier to just stay home and be real. If your friend never wants to leave the house, come and be with them. Or offer to give them a break. One of the best things a friend did for me was offer to take my three older kids to Chuck-E-Cheese so I could rest and relax. That meant so much to me that she would care enough to think of that—and taking three extra kids to Chuck-E-Cheese? Well, now, that’s an amazing woman right there! It doesn’t have to be Chuck-E-Cheese, of course, but the point is they may be feeling lonely and forgotten. Let them know they are not. Give them reasons to smile. During this year I had playdates with two girlfriends and they were lifesavers. Getting together with them to laugh and smile for a few hours was a wonderful break from my normal doledrums.
I know for a fact I was a miserable person to be around that year (many apologies to my husband). I was moody and impatient and negative. Whew. Not pleasant at all. Please be patient with your friend. I know this sounds strange, but if they are being “real” with you, it is because they consider you to be a real friend and they feel safe with you. My husband is a saint and put up with a lot. I am thankful he responded to me with extra grace. It definitely helped.
Take time to listen
This is good advice for everyone. If you ask someone how they’re doing stop and listen to their answer. Take the time to really listen to how they are doing. Then, if they are not well, pray with them and continue to pray for them and then maybe help them with some of the suggestions I’m giving. Most of us have a tendency to rush on by people without really seeing them or hearing them. Slow down and be the one to look into their eyes and seek the truth about how they really are. You will be such a blessing to them.
Don’t let them stay where they are. Help them get help!
If they are like me, they will probably not recognize that they need help, or maybe they recognize it, but their thoughts are muddled up by the depression fog. Help them find a way to the doctor. If you know who their doctor is, call and make them an appointment. Drive them there, if necessary. Stay there and offer to care for the baby while they talk to the doctor. If they are having suicidal thoughts, don’t wait for a doctor’s appointment, take them to the hospital for help. I will fully admit that I would have physically hurt my husband (sorry, but it’s true. All the kicking would have surely connected with his flesh at some point) if he tried to do that, but now that he knows how bad it was, he would have found a way to get me help. Do that for your loved one. Find a way. I would have been furious with my husband, but I would have been thankful (eventually) for the help.
Some final words
Know that if you are in a depression of any kind, you will not just “get over it.” There is a chemical imbalance in your brain that is causing the depression and it needs to be fixed. I struggled for another year after I finished nursing my daughter and finally realized there was still something wrong with me. I FINALLY talked to my doctor and very reluctantly went on medication. In my experience within a week I felt better than I had in years! It was a miracle for me and literally changed my life. Please consider your options and talk to a trusted doctor if you are struggling mentally. It might be that you need medicine and there is no shame in that.
So, that’s my story. I am not a doctor, counselor or any kind of expert. The things I’ve shared in this article are 100% my opinion and only my opinion. I wanted to share my perspective, in case it were to help someone, but, please if you are struggling with depression, do not stop here. Seek a professional for help. I wish I would have.
Also, if you feel comfortable, please share here, so we can pray for you and support you while you seek help.