My road through postpartum depression was like a mystery / horror movie.
In 1994, in Hawaii, I really felt alone, and crazy too. My son was almost five years old when, after a bit of a yucky pregnancy, I had an awesome birth, bringing his little sister into the world. A GIRL! We had one of each! Despite declaring I wasn’t one to dress a girl in ruffles and pink, we stopped at Sears on the way home from the hospital (!!!) to pick up some ruffles and pink.
At first things went smoothly. My sister came for two weeks and we hung out, chose names for my daughter, and baked a Valentine’s cake and a birthday cake. We went to my weekly moms’ playgroup with my son’s friends, as we had done for over 4 years. The other moms were happy to have an infant to dote on – I was happy to hand her off occasionally.
Fall arrived and our older kids went off to kindergarten together, marking big shifts in our mamas’ group. The group splintered for a while and in self defense, I started a new mama and baby group, for my daughter’s age.
I started getting quite stressed, sleeping less and less. I tried stress reduction techniques – muscle relaxation, breathing, mindfulness, journaling – that had worked before. I looked through my old psychology textbooks, drove to the library to check the mental health diagnostics manual – but could find no answers. Thus began the mystery. The tiny internet held no answers.
I slid slowly into a sleepless craziness–a horror movie began. I worried about every little thing. I “smelled” smoke. I woke up too early or the garbage trucks would wake me at 6 am; their sounds seemed sinister. I tried to “play” my way back; lighten up; be less rigid. We finger painted with yogurt on the plastic-covered dining room table. My son thought it very strange. My daughter, nine months, thought it great fun.
I saw visual flashes of horrible things happening to my baby. They scared the daylights out of me. I could NOT tell anyone because I’d be thrown in the state hospital forever, and not know what happened to my babies. But treatment finally started after a “Sunday drive” to ER. It took a few weeks to get up to speed with medication, but what a quick difference it made! The meds, psychiatrist and family got me through this horrible period. It was only 1994, and no one ever said the word “postpartum” in relation to my major depression. I continued to think I would just “go crazy again” at any time. Not until early 2001, when Marie Osmond was on Oprah, did I heard the phrase “Postpartum Depression.” The symptoms, including “intrusive thoughts,” fit me perfectly. I was shocked to find that about 20% of new moms get PPD. I’d heard NOTHING about it. I’d felt so ashamed of my experience until that show. I’d NEVER discussed it with anyone, especially the gory thoughts. Finally, the mystery was solved.
I’ve been grateful for the experience for many years now. One of my most treasured gifts is how my judgments of others have fallen away. Compassion has taken its place. I no longer hope I can help just one other mom avoid this plight – I know I have, and will continue to do so for many years to come. It is such a privilege.