In 2002, I suffered from post-partum depression following the birth of my second child. I knew right away that something was wrong: lying on the operating table after an emergency C-section, I felt virtually no connection with my newborn son. Where was the joy of the miracle of birth that I felt with my first delivery?
In almost every way this experience was the complete opposite of becoming a mother for the first time two years earlier. My first child arrived after a relatively easy pregnancy, labor, and delivery; she was a happy, predictable baby who slept through the night at two months. I felt euphoric about this beautiful baby and our new little family. How else could I have hosted a dinner party for 40 people when she was only three months old!
My second child arrived after a brief but frightening labor and emergency surgery. He cried more, slept less, and ate more. His screams ripped me from sleep and interrupted the nice routine I had with my daughter. I was sleep deprived, irritable, confused, and hopeless. On good days, I put the garbage in the laundry basket, forgot my own last name, and wondered how I was going to survive the next 21 years with this screaming baby, let alone the next twenty minutes. On bad days, I yelled at my children to stop crying, tried to run away from home, and told my husband I wanted a divorce.
It was easy to see that something was wrong. The hard part was getting help.
At my six-week postpartum checkup, I told my doctor that things weren’t going well. With no discussion about symptoms, she asked if I wanted Prozac. I still remember thinking: Why are you asking me if I want medication without even asking what is wrong? I left her office with nothing more than a business card for the mental health experts in our HMO.
Two weeks later, after a particularly sleepless night, I called the number on the card. Thus began one of the worst days of my life. Even though I was distraught, I was told to call back during normal business hours. I was passed from person to person, each time crying as I retold my story. I overheard a health care worker tell her supervisor that I was homicidal. I was warned that I would be reported to child protective services if I had hurt my children. The doctor’s recommendation was sleeping pills. I wondered if he meant for me or for the baby.
All I wanted was a verbal hug from someone – anyone – who could tell me that I was going to be all right, that there was help available, that others had been through this and had survived. Instead, since I had seen both the nurse and the doctor, I got a bill for two office visits.
All right, I thought, I can find help myself. Internet research turned up no referrals in my area. Several psychologists I called were not accepting new patients. Local hospitals advertised postpartum depression support groups; none were available. By the time I would log onto the Internet or make a phone call, one of my children would be awake and crying and needing attention. Doors were slamming in my face despite my best efforts.
I tried other therapies – massage, acupuncture, counseling, exercise. But the stress of arranging childcare, especially for a high-maintenance baby who refused a bottle, outweighed any benefit I received from these outings.
Eventually my husband found a doctor who specialized in women’s mood disorders. After six months of trying to get help, I got the reassurance I needed: others had been through this and there was a solution. Anti-depressant medication quickly returned me to my old self.
Two years later, in 2004, my third child was born. With support from my doctors, I remained on anti-depressants during the entire pregnancy and while breastfeeding. When I reminded my OB/GYN that I had raised concerns about depression following my son’s birth, she apologized for not being more sympathetic and said that the medical community had learned a great deal about PPD since then.
This time, at my six-week postpartum appointment, I received a screening questionnaire about depression. The medical community has indeed come a long way.