Not everyone believes that postpartum depression is a real disease.
Julia was raised to believe that mental illness was something a person could control, rather than a disease that affects the brain. That’s why she wasn’t concerned about it prior to having her first child.
It wasn’t until after a failed suicide attempt that she learned just how real postpartum depression is.
This is Julia’s story.
*Warning: This post contains graphic details pertaining to suicide.
*This is a guest post and all opinions are those of the author. Due to the nature of the topic, this post may contain graphic details that some may find disturbing.
When I was 14, a girl from my small home town killed herself. She just had a baby a few months earlier and when it happened, not many people seemed surprised. It wasn’t because they all knew she had postpartum depression. In fact, I never even heard the term until I was older. It was because this girl had gotten knocked up by an older, married man and because she came from a broken home. Or maybe it was because she was only 19, never went to college and worked a part-time job bagging groceries. I heard so many reasons why she did it, but not one of them was because she had a mental illness.
I grew up believing that depression was not a real thing.
My family would say that everyone got depressed at times and it was just a normal part of life. It was not a mental illness or a medical condition. I was told that depression was caused by a person’s environment and whether or not they got better was completely up to them. Those who were depressed for years were simply too weak or lazy and used it as an excuse not to do things. When postpartum depression started becoming part of the conversation, I learned that women were spoiled and couldn’t handle motherhood the way they used to.
So when I had my first baby, I didn’t even bother to read the pamphlets I was given about postpartum depression. I skipped those chapters in the baby books and didn’t think twice. I knew there was no way that I would get postpartum depression because I simply wouldn’t allow it. I was nothing like that girl from my hometown. I had done everything right. I went to college, got a good job and met the love of my life. I was financially stable and in love and more than ready to have a baby. I was surrounded by family and friends and had a booming social life. I was too strong to get something like postpartum depression.
When my baby was almost 8 months old, my husband woke me up frantically.
“What time is it?” I asked, thinking it was the middle of the night.
“Are you alright?!?!” He exclaimed, with a sense of panic in his voice.
“What’s going on?” I asked him.
You see, I wasn’t asleep in my bed. I had passed out in the driver’s seat of my car. The car was running with the garage door closed. I was supposed to pick up my daughter from daycare and when I didn’t, they called my husband.
I didn’t plan to kill myself.
I didn’t write a suicide letter and plot out how I was going to do it. I got into the car that day, with every intention of picking up my daughter from daycare. And then, I just didn’t open the garage. Because for the past 8 months, I had been struggling to survive.
I just couldn’t adjust to motherhood. This baby had taken over my entire life, refused to breastfeed no matter how hard I tried, she never slept despite my various attempts at sleep training. I felt resentment towards her, but mostly, I felt like I wasn’t cut out to be a mother.
While I was pregnant, I felt so prepared. I attended classes and read books and watched videos. But the first few weeks after giving birth were nothing like what I imagined. I was SO tired. But I couldn’t sleep because baby needed to eat so often and we were really struggling with breastfeeding. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t get her to latch. I would stay awake all night pumping and could barely get an ounce. I was frustrated and mad at myself for not being able to make milk. I became obsessed about producing breast milk and refused to give my baby formula.
After 3 months, our doctor finally said I had no choice but to supplement with formula because my daughter had lost too much weight.
My own stubbornness had caused my baby to starve and I felt like a terrible mother. I started to second-guess everything I did and became a nervous wreck. I withdrew further and further away from my baby. I became afraid to touch her for fear of what I might do wrong. My husband did everything for her; changed her, fed her, dropped her off at daycare, picked her up, bathed her and put her to bed. I kept myself extra busy with work so that I didn’t have to be involved.
When my daughter was 6 months old, my husband’s work schedule changed and he was no longer home in the evenings, which meant that it was up to me to care for her. But she really wasn’t used to having me around and I had no idea what to do with her.
One night, I gave her a bath and some shampoo got into her eyes. She screamed as if her eyes were on fire. She kept screaming and crying and rubbing her eyes long after the bath and I just sat and held her and cried because I didn’t know what to do. Eventually she fell asleep, but the next morning her eyes were red and puffy. I couldn’t get past the fact that I had hurt my baby.
The next day, when I tried to give her a bath, she screamed and cried as soon as I put her into the tub. I guess she was traumatized from the night before. I got frustrated with her and I walked out of the bathroom to take a deep breath. And then I realized that I had just left my baby alone in the bathtub – the number one rule of things NOT to do with a baby!!!
When my husband got home that night, I told him that I didn’t think it was safe for me to be alone with her, that I just didn’t know what to do and I kept doing everything wrong. He told me I would get used to it, and that I didn’t have to worry so much.
So I continued on for months, feeling frustrated and overwhelmed and generally hating having to take care of my baby, until that dreaded day of my failed suicide attempt.
My husband and I talked about postpartum depression, but I got defensive and upset that he would even suggest it. He knew how I felt about it and I truly didn’t think it was that. I knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t blame anyone else but myself.
I was put on “suicide watch” which basically meant I wasn’t allowed to be left alone, and I began therapy that week. The therapist handed me an assessment to fill out. The questions were an insult to my intelligence. They were better off just asking me if I felt happy or sad because that’s basically all the questionnaire did. If I was happy I didn’t have postpartum depression, if I was sad, then it means I did. What kind of diagnostic tool was this?
I continued therapy despite the fact that I felt like it was a waste of time. My therapist referred me to a support group in my area. I didn’t want to go but it was either that or start taking anti-depressants and I definitely didn’t want to be drugged up.
That was where I met Marie. Marie had a 2 year old son and claimed that she suffered from postpartum depression after he was born. She told us the story about how she slit her wrists in her bathtub one night because she thought that her family would be better off without her. But that she didn’t cut deep enough and therefore didn’t bleed to death. She believed that some kind of divine intervention saved her life that day so that she could help other women.
Over the next few weeks, Marie talked more and more about how postpartum depression was a real mental illness and all the different things that it does to a person’s brain. She talked about how normal it was to be in denial about it, and how the illness tricks us into thinking we are bad moms when really we’re not. Other moms told their stories and shared how they felt. I rarely spoke up in the class, but I could relate to a lot of what they were saying. A therapist joined the group for one meeting and explained about how it was a chemical imbalance that caused these feelings, and by treating that imbalance – we could get better.
I figured it was worth a try, so I went back to my therapist and asked for the drugs.
A month later, I walked up to my husband in the kitchen, gave him a hug and kissed his neck for no reason at all. He looked at me, shocked, but with a smile. “You’re in a good mood” he said. And I was. I don’t know exactly when I started to feel different, I just knew that I was happier. I wasn’t anxious and overwhelmed and worried all the time. My daughter and I were beginning to get along better and I enjoyed getting to know her. For the first time in a long time, I felt more confident and had the energy and motivation to get out and do things. Marie became one of my closest friends and we still talk and get together to this day.
So I guess postpartum depression IS real after all.
I doubt there was any way that I could have gotten out of that depressed slump on my own. I often wonder what would have happened if my husband hadn’t come home that day and saved my life. I would have been just like that 19 year old girl from my hometown, who I think about all the time. It’s so easy to judge someone for committing suicide when you don’t understand mental illness. But the truth is, it really doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, postpartum depression can affect anyone.
I think I was spared so that I could help other skeptics like myself. If you think that postpartum depression isn’t a real illness, or if you don’ t think it will ever happen to you – think again. It can affect you, whether you believe in it or not.