In my last post, I talked about my experience with postpartum depression after my first baby was born. It took around three years before I finally started feeling like myself again. Because of how difficult that time was, my ex-husband and I decided to wait a bit longer before trying to have another baby again. My plan was to wait for our daughter to turn four, and then stop using birth-control. However, a few months before her birthday, I got pregnant. Yes, it was an accident. Don’t worry, I won’t gross anyone out with the details.
When I found out I was pregnant with my first, I was nervous, yet excited. It was a fairly easy pregnancy—so much so that I actually liked being pregnant. Crazy, right? This was not the case the second time around. When I found out I was pregnant, I was not happy. I didn’t want to be pregnant yet. I hadn’t prepared, I wasn’t ready. Finding out I was having a boy was even more depressing. I didn’t want a boy. I wanted another girl. I knew nothing about boys or what to do with them. It was a difficult pregnancy, too. I was sick most of the whole nine months—like violently-throwing-up-all-the-time sick. I had heartburn, indigestion, constipation. And the kid never rested! He was always doing somersaults and jabs and kicks. It was like a constant martial arts competition was going on inside of me! I rarely slept, I was always exhausted, wasn’t active like I was during my first pregnancy. I was miserable. And I was also terrified about getting postpartum again.
Eventually the big day came, and I delivered my baby boy naturally just like I had my first, and it was just as amazing the second time around. I instantly fell in love with my new baby. He gave a single cry when he came out, then promptly fell asleep. He slept all the time! I guess he wore himself out so much inside of me that he had no energy left after he came out. He was an angel baby—so easy-going, so mellow, hardly ever cried. And I didn’t get depressed.
Those first few weeks after he was born were wonderful. My baby slept well, I slept well. He took a bottle so his dad could actually feed him. (My daughter refused a bottle so I had to breastfeed her all the time.) I got through those first few weeks feeling absolutely great. It felt amazing knowing that I didn’t have to suffer the way I had the first time. And then, three weeks to the day after my baby boy was born, I crashed. That overwhelming sense of darkness closed in around me, like all the light and life had been sucked out of me. The next week was hell. I cried all the time, feeling depressed and alone and worthless. When I went in for my four week checkup, I told my midwife what had happened.
“How do you feel about medication?” she asked.
“Give it to me,” I said. This time, I wasn’t going to be stupid. This time, I had learned. My midwife prescribed me an anti-depressant. I could feel the effect within weeks. It didn’t cure me, it didn’t completely take away my depression and make me happy, but it helped so much. So much. It honestly made a world of difference. I was able to function so much better than I had after my daughter was born. I was able to enjoy my new baby in a way I hadn’t been able to before.
After about six months, I slowly tapered myself off of the medication, hoping it would work better than going cold turkey. Yet within weeks after completely going off of it, I was back to that same world of darkness and depression. That’s when I knew it was more than likely that I would have to be on medication the rest of my life. And I was okay with that. If taking medication gave me a fuller, happier life, why shouldn’t I take it?
The thing I think people don’t realize, however, is that medication doesn’t always “cure” mental illness. I have a friend who calls her anti-depressants “happy pills” because they do make her happy. She functions like a totally normal person on them—has a job, hobbies, is a wife and mother, a great friend. But it doesn’t work that way for everyone. Being on medication made a huge difference as far as making normal living more doable, helped me enjoy life, my kids, neighbors, friends more easily, but the struggle was still there on a daily basis. My anxiety wasn’t as out of control, but it never completely left me, and my OCD only seems to get worse as time goes by. The winter is especially hard. I have seasonal affective disorder, and those long winter months fought back against the medication, dragging me down.
So, did my postpartum depression ever go away? I think it just flowed into an ongoing, lifelong struggle with mental illness. The difference this time was my willingness to admit that I needed help. I think sometimes, as a society, we view that as a sign of weakness, when really it can take great strength and courage to admit that you can’t do something on your own, then accept help from others. I think the key is experimenting, keeping your mind open to many possibilities, until you find what helps you. And there is help out there!