I went through a severe perinatal mood disorder after my daughter was born.
I guess it all started when she was being born. Her delivery didn’t go “as expected” – which sounds stupid since one shouldn’t expect anything in particular when giving birth, but somehow I expected my labor to go similar to how my mom birthed my sister and me and how my sister gave birth to my nephew: easy and fast (about five hours).
Five hours into my labor, though, I was still at home, and the midwife didn’t think it was even time for me to come to the birth center. It ended up taking twenty-two hours from the first contractions, which weren’t horrible, but I also didn’t feel like baking a cake or going for a walk like some women do. I threw up about five times and was not a happy camper.
We finally went to the birth center, where my midwife was still not very impressed by the stage I was in. Hours later, I went into the bathtub, hoping it would help, but it actually didn’t bring much relief. After the tub, I was encouraged to walk up and down the stairs a lot, which seemed to increase contractions and was not fun at all. Every time I stopped and the midwife checked how dilated I was, everything slowed down again. By that time, I was pretty exhausted and discouraged. I thought that I should finally be able to get to the pushing stage, since I had been laboring for so long already. But I couldn’t even tell and felt bad that I couldn’t listen to my body. The midwife’s helper encouraged me to try. It must have been a huge waste of energy that I already didn’t have any more.
Sixteen hours after my first contractions, the midwife suggested going to the hospital and hooking me up to an IV with oxytocin to get things going. At that point, I felt like, “Sure! Why not?!” Even though I had wanted to give birth at the birth center.
Once at the hospital, I felt well taken care of and liked the nurses, but the IV didn’t help me that much. I think the contractions felt even worse, but my body was so tired that it just didn’t respond well and still wouldn’t dilate.
I was pretty over everything, so when an epidural was suggested to bring me “three hours of rest, maybe even sleep, and then you push the baby out in ten pushes,” I went for it. Even though I hadn’t wanted to get an epidural before. Another easy change in my “plans.” The relief was amazing. I did feel like a whale that had to be moved around since I of course couldn’t do it on my own any more and also felt pretty hooked up. But everything seemed right at that point. I just wanted the baby out and everything to be over. I ended up not being able to sleep.
After two hours my baby’s heart rate dropped, and all of a sudden things had to happen quickly. We had the choice between vacuum or forceps. I felt lucky not to even hear the word C-section. We decided for the forceps, since the doctor on call that night was very experienced with them.
As it turned out, it was a good decision. The doctor, when checking things out to put the forceps in, discovered that Anna was facing up. I was stunned that my midwife hadn’t figured that out before. But at that point, I was not thinking too much about it. I just wanted the doctor to keep doing what she was doing and my baby to come out. Even though I didn’t feel anything, the whole process of putting the forceps in seemed extremely brutal and violating. Again, I felt very blessed to be taken care of so well and went with the flow, but all in all, it was very traumatizing to me.
I was finally ready to push. Not that I would have known. Being on the epidural, I couldn’t tell anything and had to be told when to push. Without any sensation, pushing was really hard. I didn’t know how to.
I don’t remember how many pushes it took, but I do remember that I actually felt my baby come through with the very last push. That was the best thing about the whole labor, to get that sensation. Even though I must have been glad not to have the enormous pain that pushing brings with it, I did feel like I was missing out.
Then Anna was there. A girl! And since it was all somewhat risky, she got whisked away to make sure she was okay. Apparently, her umbilical cord was wrapped around her twice too. And she didn’t cry or wail immediately. I didn’t actually mind her not being with me immediately. I felt like the right things were being done and that that was the most important thing.
I remember just being so glad that it was over. I wasn’t overjoyed that she was a girl, that she was here, but that it was over.
I was pretty shocked, I think.
While I was being sewn up (I tore three times), Anna was taken care of and by the time I was done, she was brought back and laid upon my chest. The nursing got started right away and went pretty well actually. I was very overwhelmed though.
There definitely wasn’t joy or great love. It sounds horrible, but at the same time, I still feel like that’s okay since we didn’t really know each other.
I was disappointed in the birth – not so much in myself, but in how having had a midwife hadn’t helped matters much. When I had chosen to give birth with a midwife, it was because I had hoped to get more natural help, like natural painkillers, massages during birth for pain. The fact that my midwife hadn’t recognized that my daughter had been facing up meant a big disappointment to me. I guess I felt somewhat cheated that I had to endure way more than necessary and that the midwife should have been able to diagnose my baby being facing up hours before the doctor did. I had been so happy when I found out that the midwife was going to be the one for me that day, since I liked her a lot and she seemed very experienced. So it was very shocking to find out that she had “failed” me.
But my daughter was there and healthy, and I seemed to be healthy, too.
From then on, I couldn’t sleep any more for a long, long time. I didn’t sleep after the birth. I didn’t sleep the next day or night, and so on and so on…
The first day in the hospital was still okay. I felt well taken care of and happy to be catered to. We had the room to ourselves at first.
But after the next sleepless night, things started to go downhill. My anxiety started.
We were sharing a room with another mom and baby, and I felt insecure around them with Anna and anxious to get away. There were a lot of people. I couldn’t sleep. I felt ready to go home and start my new life out of the hospital. I was hoping to feel better and more relaxed once at home.
We had to wait for Anna to pee for a test before we could go home, and it didn’t happen for a long time, only making my anxiety worse.
The drive home was bad. I was so nervous that Anna would wake up and be unhappy and that I wouldn’t know how to calm her down. I knew that a family friend had wanted to come over with food and that totally stressed me out, too. I didn’t want it, but I couldn’t just tell her.
So right after we got home, our friend showed up with her little girl, and it was so hard for me. I was so nervous. I just wanted to be home and show Anna the house, get our dog used to her. I didn’t want to be social. But they ended up staying and having the dinner with us. I felt like I couldn’t take it, but what could I do?
What followed were the darkest moments of my life and a life-threatening time that I am scared to repeat if I have a second child.
I remember lying awake during those first few nights at home, unable to sleep and thinking that having a baby had been such a mistake! I also couldn’t understand how it could be just so bad. It was not at all how I had it expected to be. Instead of joy, I wanted to run away. I didn’t want to be who I was and feel the way I felt. I kept envisioning me running away, but I had a feeling that it wouldn’t really do the trick, that then I would feel bad wherever I ended up. So I didn’t run away. I felt like everything was so bad, because my pregnancy had gone so well and the nursery was set up so well, that everything had just been too perfect up to then. I kept looking at all the cute stuff and how wrong it felt now. I panicked, waking up at one point from a few minutes of sleep with my heart and thoughts racing.
I was, of course, tired all the time, but at the same time, because of my anxiety, I felt really “wired.” I never even yawned.
One of the books I read about postpartum depression talked about how some women get hospitalized, put on medication, and then sleep for sixteen hours straight. While not sleeping, that’s what I dreamt about. But it was never made an option.
Another thing that seemed really wrong to me then was how everyone told me how good I already looked and how I had lost my pregnancy weight immediately. I would have loved to still be big and not look great if that had meant feeling great instead. I would have traded that for the world. Two weeks after Anna was born, I already fit in my pre-pregnancy clothes. In fact, I was even skinnier than I had been for a long time – “thanks” to my anxiety.
I really do think that my condition wasn’t so much postpartum depression, at least at first, as it was postpartum anxiety. But depression might have resulted from that. I also want to say that I had never been depressed before and actually had always wondered what it would be like and couldn’t imagine it. It just wasn’t me at all. I am usually a positive person that tries to turn things into a positive. Now I have a compassion for and understanding of mental illness that I definitely didn’t have before. I so feel for those people with mental illness now! And I am so grateful that I AM a survivor and got through it. There are so many people that don’t get through, but live with it. That is just terrible.
When I was deep in it, I did not believe that I would ever get better – even though people told me that again and again.
I didn’t understand how people could be so normal. Other people with babies. People that I saw on my walks, that I envisioned having children. I truly thought I’d be doomed forever. I was just so darn uncomfortable the whole time. And I know that no new parent is totally comfortable and that it IS a challenge for every new mother. But my worrying and stressing out just went to a different level.
I felt like there was no way I could be leaving the house for longer than just a little walk on the nearby golf course. I just could NOT understand how you were supposed to do that. What if the baby cried? What if it needed to be nursed? What if it was time to sleep?! Leaving the house was a major stressor.
Going to the birth center on Tuesdays for the weighing and consultation was also a nightmare for me. Seeing all these other moms with their babies and how comfortable and normal they seemed made me feel terrible. I so yearned to be like them! Why wasn’t I like them? Why me? I just wanted to switch it off, whatever “it” was.
But I couldn’t switch it off. And I felt guilty all the time. Somehow everything was intertwined, and one thing I felt bad about led to the next and it snowballed out of control.
There were many factors that played into my feeling the way I did. I do think the hormone changes must have played a huge role. But there were so many others that might have contributed. We had just moved from a really nice house with a big yard where I spent many hours outside gardening into a really dark basement apartment surrounded by huge trees.
I felt like I was living in a cave. The lack of natural light and not being able to see the sun or the sky was bad news. You do spend a lot of time inside with a newborn, and I felt like I was stuck in the middle of the earth. Every time I came back from a walk, I felt like I was retreating into an animal den. To some people that might sound cozy, but to me it sounded horrible. Since we didn’t own the house, we couldn’t change the fixed lights or put in a window. We got a Happy Light, but back then I didn’t believe it would make a big difference so I never sat in front of it.
I wasn’t planning on going back to work soon, and my husband was only making a tiny amount of money. All of sudden, our financial situation completely freaked me out! We had a pretty good set-up for a baby, we had thought, but once we came home with Anna, there were so many more things we had to buy: all the diapers, preemie clothes since she was quite tiny, a lot of pads for me. The whole thing stressed me out so much all of a sudden.
What also stressed me out tremendously were all the things that were recommended for a new mom to do. You were supposed to rest, but to exercise at the same time. To do Kegels. To do sitzbaths. Cuddle naked with the baby. Do baby massage. All that sounds great, but Anna didn’t like to be held or cuddle with us naked in bed. Her not wanting to be held a lot and squirming off me when trying to do the skin-to-skin bonding didn’t help my stage at all. It made me feel unable and that she didn’t like me. Instead of helping us bond, it caused more misery. Later on, I did actually do the massaging a few times, and she did like that a lot.
Every book I had and everyone I talked to gave different advice on things that stressed me out. It was too much. My anxiety was so bad, my constant worries bad. I couldn’t make any decisions, since I was so confused and torn by different opinions and advice. I just couldn’t trust my own judgment. How, when I felt like a total loser?!
The second day at home was when I thought I had the “classic” Baby Blues day. My milk came in, and my boobs were enormous and hard and tight and ached. I was stressed and worried. And then I pooped my pants! I was nursing Anna and felt like I needed to go, but I couldn’t hold it. I just felt so miserable and out of control. I felt like I didn’t know how to do things right and that I did everything wrong. I struggled with everything I was supposed to do, and maybe I tried too hard. I thought if I just do things the way someone else says they are supposed to be done, then everything will get better.
But it was so confusing, and I just had no feeling. There was no natural flow. Just worries and stress, and the guilt from feeling like such a failure and a burden.
All the people that “needed” to be called and that wanted to see Anna were stressing me out, especially since I we couldn’t tell them great news – the way “it’s supposed to be” when there is a new little one.
Once I started seeking help, all the different appointments stressed me out. With the midwives, lactation consultants, eventually with a counselor and a psychiatrist.
My aunt that was living in the same house with us was the first one that showed concern for me and mentioned the words “postpartum depression.” She noticed how I was such a different person. Before I had always been a happy, outgoing person. Cheery. Enjoying life. All that was gone. I felt so miserable and wanted to push a button to change that, but that’s not how it works. Very often, I thought of getting myself hospitalized, because I just couldn’t take it any more. But it was never mentioned as an option by any one, so I didn’t pursue it.
My aunt mentioning postpartum depression made me start researching and making phone calls. Fortunately for me, I was not acting like a normal new mom and didn’t try to hide that. I did want to find help. Desperately.
The getting help caused anxiety too, though. The birth center offered help, but only so much. When you called, you had to be called back. But after two weeks and many talks, it was strongly advised to take medication and try Zoloft. It was also then when my milk supply dropped severely from everything that was going on. Of course the midwifes and lactation consultants wanted me to keep nursing. They did offer a lot of help with that, and I ended up taking a pump home and trying to get my supply back up.
But it just didn’t work out for me. The constant nursing and pumping with no results was way too stressful and counterproductive. I finally gave up. I figured that with me wanting to try the Zoloft, it would be okay. I wasn’t that sold on nursing and taking Zoloft, since there are a lack of studies. But it was really, really hard to make that decision. I felt so guilty. And nursing – when it stilled worked well and I had enough milk – seemed like the only thing to me that I could actually do right for my daughter, whereas with everything else I felt so incompetent.
As much as I appreciate the help from the birth center, it didn’t make it easy for me to stop nursing and to feel less guilty. Maybe sometimes they try too hard to make moms nurse, when it would be better in the end for them not to. Anna is and has been an extremely happy and healthy baby. She has only been sick a few times and never for very long. I know a lot of nursing moms whose babies got sick all the time, sometimes severely. I can say now that Anna did turned out just fine, that formula is not that bad. Back then thought, it was a hard thing to decide.
But bottle feeding also – surprise, surprise – stressed me out! It seemed like a mission to me. How was I supposed to know how much formula to prepare? I couldn’t believe that there wasn’t more advice on bottle feeding. I called one postpartum doula that was recommended to me and left her a message that I really would appreciate help with the bottle feeding, but I never heard back from her. I felt that was a slap in the face, that I, a bottle feeding mamma instead of nursing one, didn’t deserve her attention. It got better though. And I did try to tell myself that I did well by having at least nursed Anna the first two weeks.
I talked to other doulas though, and I have to say that I appreciate their compassion tremendously. I also talked to the Baby Blues Connection and several of their volunteers. Talking to people who had been there themselves somewhat helped me. They were really nice and, like so many others, tried to convince me that things would get better. I just couldn’t believe them.
The counseling stressed me out too. Not just the numerous appointments, but I also wasn’t sure whether I liked her or not. Everyone told me that it was so important to get the most out of it, but I just couldn’t tell one way or the other.
The first counselor did her best. She made me aware of the tunnel vision that I was having. Like our dark apartment. We still live in the same apartment and it’s still dark, but I don’t notice it the same way anymore. I am not saying I like it, but back then it was all I saw when I was home. Since we couldn’t afford another place though, we couldn’t move and that fueled my depression.
I did figure out that a counselor you like is a good thing. When the first one went on vacation, I ended up with a replacement. Since I felt more of a connection with her, I just stayed with her – of course feeling guilty for having left the first one. The new one was a registered nurse and could prescribe my medication, which to me made a lot more sense than seeing both a counselor and a psychiatrist.
The first medication that really helped me was the Lorazepam that one of the midwives prescribed the same day she did the Zoloft. I still call it a wonder drug and wish it wasn’t so dangerous. I remember taking it in the car after getting it from the pharmacy on our way home and feeling a little peace for the first time. Even my husband noticed immediately. The whole time I took it, I was reluctant to since I knew that it was likely to make me dependent if I were to take it for a long time. I was extremely horrified of that. But it worked so well. Because I was so afraid of taking it, I didn’t take it that much. Sometimes my husband had to pretty much force me to take it when things got too much out of control.
I remember one time in the kitchen where I was just so afraid of everything. Our situation being the way it was, me not getting better, me not believing that I ever would get better again. I got pretty hysterical, and my husband made me take Lorazepam. It helped so quickly, and I was glad for having taken it.
Unfortunately, I was still having big trouble at night, even with Lorazepam. Insomnia was a huge factor in my postpartum depression. Even with the strong doses of sleeping pills and the Lorazepam, I would only sleep for one short stretch at a time each night. It was horrible.
My husband was feeding Anna at that point, and I was trying to sleep in a different room so the situation couldn’t have been set up better. Realizing that I may be able to sleep better at night after I stopped nursing was a big factor for me when I decided to give up on it. But that really didn’t happen at all. I just felt like I was going crazy at night.
I remember one night in particular where I was so afraid that my brain wires were being burnt through and that I would be a nut case for the rest of my life. I really don’t remember what else I did in all these hours that I was trying to sleep, other than feeling like I was losing it.
Sometimes my husband and I would go for walks in the middle of the night. Anna would be in her sling (that she didn’t like during the day, but tolerated at night on my husband’s body under his jacket), and we would walk on the nearby golf course with our dog. My husband thought we needed to tire me out to help me sleep. Of course, that didn’t do anything. I just hated it.
I remember the foggy nights, the wet grass, the stillness of everything (which was how I felt my life was like), me dragging on behind my husband, being so exhausted and wanting to sleep. I didn’t care where we were walking on the golf course. I really was just dragging on. I remember wanting to curl up on the ground and just give up. I remember getting mad at my husband and wanting to hit him from behind. I remember being jealous that Anna seemed so comfortable in the sling with him.
Even though I contribute the golf course with my getting better since I went for walks on it during the day, too, I hated it for a long time.
Yes, I was suicidal. It seemed like the only solution. Since things didn’t get better for quite a while, and the bad times when things were getting better were so bad, it seemed like the only thing to do to escape the misery. I did hate thinking of it and considering it, but I couldn’t help it. I didn’t make any real plans, but accepted the fact that it had to happen. And I had never, ever understood in my old life how people could do it. And then I knew just how they came to do it.
When I talked, mostly cried, to my husband about it, he started crying, too. That was the worst. He seemed so strong and positive the whole time, like I really would get out of it, but when I mentioned suicide, he would finally lose it. That’s when I always felt like I HAD to hang on and not do it. I had to wait. For him, for my parents and sister, for my friends, but mostly for my husband and my parents. A little bit for my daughter, too. But back then I didn’t know her at all, and I actually felt like she’d be better off without me.
The Zoloft took about six weeks to start working: a long, long time when every second seems like an eternity. I started with a low dosage and worked my way up, eventually peaking at 150 mg. I stayed on that dosage for about eight months. Even though it took so long to show any effects, I felt grateful that it turned out to be the right medication. I was scared that it wouldn’t be and that I’d have to find another one that would take another six weeks to do anything.
Almost fifteen months after my baby was born, I was off the Zoloft and so proud. Back then, I couldn’t imagine how I would live without it. It just didn’t make any sense to me that I needed it so bad then. And then later I wondered how I would be able to function without it again. This proves to me that a big part of the postpartum depression are the hormones. They do straighten themselves out again, but I also believe that it’s a cocktail for things that played into my postpartum depression.
The second week after Anna was born, my mom came over from Germany. Even though I have a very supportive and loving extended family in the states, I did miss not being with my own family and also getting the “German-style” support: like a midwife visiting you daily for weeks after your baby is born. In my desperate and confused state, I couldn’t wait for my mom to come and hoped everything would get better once she was there. I cried hard when she and I finally embraced. It is always a very emotional situation, when the new mom sees her mom after having delivered a baby, and then especially when the baby is a girl herself!
But my mom, even with all the support she offered while she was here, couldn’t help me with the postpartum depression. Instead it was hard for me to have her here in my miserable stage. Even though having her to talk to and share my worries with was a great relief, I hated worrying her with it and having her see me in the state I was in. She had looked forward to spending a week of joy here after her granddaughter was born. Neither my mom nor my sister had gone through postpartum depression. But now she wouldn’t sleep at night either, and I could only imagine how hard it would be for a mom to see her daughter go through something like I was going through.
Since she knew me so well though and had never experienced me depressed or anxious like this, it was hard for her to believe that my case was as severe as it was. I guess part of her just wanted to hang on to the belief that I would get out of it soon and that I was just having a little bit of a harder time than the average new mom. She kept saying how it is hard for every new mom. And I kept saying how I believed that, but how I was really convinced I was having more of an issue.
The whole situation peaked when her flight back neared, and she realized it really was more severe. Her best friend’s husband is the head of the OBGYN department at a German hospital, and she talked to him several times. He urged her for me to seek serious help. She and I weren’t sure what to do. She was ready to cancel her flight and stay, but I wasn’t sure that would be helpful. So there was another situation where I didn’t know what to do, how to decide. It was extremely stressful and heart-breaking for both of us. Finally, my husband convinced me that we should go through this as a couple, a new family.
It was very hard to send her home. I felt so bad for her. Again, I could only imagine how hard it must have been for her, and I didn’t want her to suffer. I definitely felt very guilty for making so many people that cared for me hurt so bad.
One of the things that was actually positive about the whole experience was to see how many people do care for me and wanted to help. It was very refreshing. The only problem was that I didn’t know how they could help me. There really wasn’t anything I could think of! I hated that. I knew I didn’t want anyone to help with Anna, since I felt so incompetent with her already and wanted to get any opportunity to bond more with her. My aunt kept offering to baby sit, and I would turn her down. During the day I wouldn’t let my husband do anything with her just so I would feel more bonding with her.
So what did help me get better?
Who knows for sure. There are some things I am pretty sure of that they did. Others are only guesses. The Zoloft definitely helped. Sometimes the sleeping pills helped, and sometimes they didn’t. My hormones leveling out helped. Time helped. New friends with new moms helped, and knowing that people were there for me. Finding a new hobby helped. I joined the YMCA to do yoga and enjoy the sauna. I started sewing and absolutely fell in love with it. For me, a person who thrives on productivity, sewing was a great boost for my self-esteem.
Routines also helped. After putting Anna on a routine, I felt so much more in control of the day and knew what to expect. I knew when I could run errands with her in a stage that she would be happy. The not knowing what to expect at first was a huge factor in my postpartum depression. Putting Anna on a routine and making our life together more predictable was huge.
Also, I had my own routines. I planned out all my days in advance, so I wouldn’t fall in holes. I would have a friend over every Wednesday for lunch, and we’d try to knit together. On Fridays, I would always go walking in the morning. On Tuesdays, I would go hiking in the morning with another friend at Mt. Pisgah. And so on. Later on, we took our aunt up on her offer to baby sit and went out every Tuesday night.
A very supportive husband that believed in me and never judged me was also instrumental in me getting better. He understood I had a medical condition and not a stage I chose to be in.
Plus, once my daughter got older, I found it a lot more fun to be a mom. The interaction started and helped me a lot to enjoy mothering more.
The counseling may or may not have helped. Once I saw the second counselor that I liked, I started to enjoy going, and it made me feel better about myself.
I also recommend the book The Mother to Mother Postpartum Depression Support Book by Sandra Poulin.
I am very glad there is a support group in Eugene now. There wasn’t when I went through postpartum depression, and I missed that. I really hope it’ll do a lot for everyone that seeks help there.
I want to be available to women that think they might benefit from talking with me. I would do anything to rid the world of postpartum depression, but unfortunately I feel like it is just something some women have to go through. But with help it can be a shorter ride!
Thanks for reading my story and hopefully becoming more understanding of this illness.
Blog Author: Kerstin Lind. Kerstin Lind, originally from Germany, is a stay-at-home mom who has been living in Eugene for more than nine years. She has two young girls. Kerstin loves snow, mountains, skiing, hiking, gardening, sewing, cooking, her dog, her family, and the fact that she is still alive. She went through postpartum anxiety with both her daughters, but the anxiety wasn’t as severe with her second as it was with her first. Among other things, having one child already to be there for and having gone through anxiety before helped her the second time. Kerstin is very, very glad that she can help others going through similar experiences.