How long does postpartum depression last?
Seven years. That’s how long I have personally battled postpartum depression. I’ve tried all kinds of different treatment options over the years and it regularly fluctuates between better and worse. There was a time in my life when I thought I was cured. But now I know better. I know that it will never go away. I have accepted that managing my mental health is going to be a lifelong journey.
Yes, postpartum depression can last longer than a year or more. Here’s what you need to know.
Postpartum depression is a form of a major depressive disorder that happens to women after they give birth. Something along the journey into motherhood triggers the brain to revert into a depressive state. Sometimes the cause is obvious, such as a difficult labor or a history of trauma, abuse or mental illness. In other cases, the cause lies much deeper and is harder to pinpoint. Regardless of the cause, a mental illness has now been triggered and that means it’s here to stay. While similar in symptoms, there are a few differences between depression and postpartum depression.
Hormones have a lot to do with it.
Creating a life is unlike any other event in the world. Women’s bodies go through immense changes that we can’t even begin to understand. We’re all too familiar with the hormonal changes that happen during pregnancy, causing an expectant mother to feel everything from uncontrollable weepiness to pure rage. After giving birth, those hormones now have to work overtime to regulate themselves and it’s not an easy process.
The majority of women will experience some form of the baby blues, which is not a mental health disorder, but rather a normal response to the hormonal and environmental changes. It’s easy to blame all these new and scary feelings on the baby blues, but those only last for a couple weeks. Postpartum depression can begin anytime in the year after giving birth, and long after hormone levels have regulated.
Depression can be triggered by trauma.
In addition to those 9 months of changes, there is the trauma of childbirth. No matter what your labor and delivery story was like, it was traumatic on your body. Like a soldier going to war, you will come out of it a changed person. For some, their body adjusts to the trauma and they are able to move on, at least to some degree. For others, however, the trauma leaves it’s mark.
Bear in mind that what is considered traumatic to you, may not be considered traumatic to others. Just because you had a smooth delivery without any major problems doesn’t mean you’ve escaped unscathed. Birth has a way of uncovering deep feelings and vulnerabilities that we didn’t even know we had. Speaking to a therapist or using cognitive behavior therapy can help to discover the root cause of your postpartum depression.
Maternal postpartum care sucks.
There is no elegant way to put this, it just plain sucks. A lot of emphasis is put on prenatal care, but not nearly enough on postpartum care. Once a mother becomes pregnant, she is seen by a doctor monthly, then bi-weekly, weekly and sometimes even daily until she gives birth. Then there is a whole lot of commotion surrounding the birth and the 3 or so days afterwards.
And then she is sent home with a follow up appointment for 6 weeks later. She’ll have to haul that baby in to get checked out on the regular, but now that the baby is on the outside, her body doesn’t seem to matter anymore. Unless there is a physical postpartum complication, then she will get the care and attention she needs. But mental postpartum complications are never treated with the same sense of urgency.
What [actually] happens in the 4th Trimester?
Here is a woman who’s physical, mental and emotional state has just gone through the roller coaster ride of it’s life. She is in pain everywhere as she’s literally just been ripped open and had a part of her removed. A brand new person is now completely dependent on her for their survival but there is a major communication barrier.
Despite feeling the highest levels of exhaustion, she’ll be unable to sleep for longer than a 3 hour stretch… for months. The pressure to breastfeed weighs heavily on her. She will feel vulnerable, exposed and judged every time her baby is hungry, and that will be a lot. She will lose all confidence in herself as a woman if she is unable to produce enough milk.
The first three months postpartum (or 4th trimester) should be the time when a mother rests and gets to know her newborn. She should have support and help. She shouldn’t need to worry about anything other than herself and baby. But this rarely happens. A lot of people will “visit” but only the odd few will actually be of any real help. Many mothers even have to return to work before they have time to properly heal.
Years Later and Still Depressed.
When we take into account the terrible state of maternal mental health care, it’s no wonder that more and more women are battling depression long after giving birth. Postpartum depression and other perinatal mood and anxiety disorders should be treated with much more respect. Mothers need time to heal, they need help and proper support. The level of care for a new mother should be just as important as it is for a newborn baby.
But the blame is not solely on the health care system. Take my story, for example. I am fortunate that I live in Canada and was able to take an entire year of paid maternity leave. I also delivered by midwives and the postpartum care that I received from them was far superior to anything I got in the hospital. They came TO. MY. HOUSE. for days and weeks afterwards just to check up on me and baby. They stayed for hours and drank tea and helped me breastfeed and changed diapers. But I still got postpartum depression, despite all of that.
What it comes down to is that mothers need to take better care of themselves. They need to understand the importance of rest and accepting help from others. And most importantly, they need to speak up if they feel like something isn’t right.
There is no cure for postpartum depression. Treatment will make the symptoms manageable but it will never go away.
This will be my seventh year fighting against postpartum depression, so I can confirm that this is a long term battle. But I say this not to make you feel even more depressed, but to encourage and inspire you. Talk to you doctor, fight for your rights, demand better treatment and speak up about postpartum depression to everyone who will listen.
Most importantly, seek treatment. With the right treatment, you can live symptom free for the rest of your life. All it takes is that first step.
Too many mothers with postpartum depression or anxiety put off seeking help or getting the care they need.
One reason for this is because they just don’t know where to go or who to talk to. And even if they did know, the idea of leaving the house for appointments can be both inconvenient and terrifying. The good news is that, thanks to modern technology, there are many ways for a mother to get online help for postpartum depression from the comfort of her own home. Not only is it convenient, but it makes it easier to find the right person to speak to. Instead of having to rely on resources available locally, women now have access to an international panel of experts.
Here are a few different ways that mothers can access online help for postpartum depression.
1. Try Online Therapy
One of the best ways for moms to get help for postpartum depression is by speaking to a therapist. But it’s also something that many women avoid doing for several reasons:
- It’s tough to arrange for childcare during appointments, especially with a brand new or exclusively breastfed baby.
- There is a lot of stigma around “going to therapy” that may deter a mother from choosing to do it in public.
- With so many horror stories of mothers being treated like criminals, they may avoid speaking to someone without knowing how that person will react first.
- Finding the right therapist can be difficult. It sometimes requires a referral from a doctor, which can delay the process.
- Having to make phone calls to set up appointments, get dressed to go out, interact with others socially and feel judged by everyone along the way is an exhausting task for mothers with postpartum depression.
- Mothers don’t always feel at their worst between 9 – 5, Monday to Friday. Some therapists might offer an emergency number to call but that would mean inconveniencing someone and mothers aren’t usually down for doing that, no matter how bad it gets.
Signing up for online therapy can solve so many of these problems. Online therapy is convenient, affordable and private. There are several different companies that offer online therapy, ranging from traditional therapy sessions to something more interactive. Here’s a review of some of the best online therapy apps and sites from Consumers Advocate. Or check out my recommendations below.
Online-Therapy allows you to work on cognitive behavior therapy at your own pace. You complete various reading sections and worksheets, like chapters in a text book. Your therapist guides you along the way, providing feedback on your answers and offers support via live chat or e-mail. You also get a variety of other tools and resources at your disposal, 24/7. You can access an online forum for therapy members, yoga and meditation videos, workbooks and more. You get so much more than just a therapy session, and you can do it all right from home.
BetterHelp is a popular online therapy company that works hard to match you with the right counselor. You can complete the online questionnaire as the very first step so that your therapist will have some information about your condition ahead of time.
eVideo Counselor is another great option for moms suffering from postpartum depression. Through their sessions, you can video chat directly with a licensed and HIPAA compliant therapist. You schedule your appointments just like any other therapist office but speak to your therapist using your computer or cell phone. The sessions are much more like traditional therapy sessions and your therapist can send their notes to your doctor for followup.
2. Make a Phone Call
Sometimes, when you are having a really bad day, you just need to talk to someone who understands. A helpline is designed specifically for that purpose. While not technically considered online help for postpartum depression, it’s still something that you can do from the comfort of your own home and have access to 24/7.
If you are having suicidal thoughts and need to speak to someone urgently:
In the US:
Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8225
Call the National Crisis Services Canada Number 1-833-456-4566 and you will be connected with the closest provincial crisis center to your location.
On the Befrienders Worldwide website, you can search for suicide helplines by country. The website is also available in different languages and provides resources and information about mental health.
For general information, support and resources:
Call the Postpartum Support International’s Helpline 1-800-944-4773 (4PPD). It’s a messaging system so you would have to leave a message and then someone would get back to you as soon as possible. It is NOT meant for emergencies, but rather, to find out where and how to get help.
3. Send a Text Message
Texting is a newer way that moms can get online help for postpartum depression and many support groups are making this an option. It is so much easier for a mother battling a mental illness to send a text message when she’s overwhelmed with thoughts and feelings, rather than speak to someone over the phone or face to face.
In the US:
Text HOME to 741741 for any type of crisis and a trained counselor from the Crisis Text Line will respond 24/7.
Text HOME to 686868 to access the Crisis Text Line in Canada. This text line is managed by volunteers and is a division of the Kids Help Phone.
Text Crisis Services Canada at 45645 anytime between 5 pm and 1 am and get a response from someone at the crisis center. A live chat option is also available on their website (also between 5 pm and 1 am).
You can also text the Postpartum Support International’s Warmline at 503-894-9453 for information and to get support and resources close to where you live.
Many local support groups also offer their own text line, so make sure to find out what they are and store them in your phone for emergencies.
4. Join a Facebook Support Group
Facebook support groups are a great way to get online help for postpartum depression. Not only will you be able to find some posts that you relate to, but you’ll see that you’re not alone in your struggles.
If you’re not big on communicating with strangers, it helps just to read some of the posts and comments. If you have a particular question, you can search for it in the group and see if someone else has already asked about it. It’s a great resource to get peer support and advice for postpartum depression and anxiety.
Some of the groups that I’m in and would recommend:
Postpartum Support International – Group Size: Large (8,000 + Members).
If you have a question about treatment options, symptoms, previous experiences – this is the place to go to get your questions answered. PSI’s support group is a mix of health care professionals, therapists, sufferers and survivors. If you have a question about anything related to perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, you will find it here.
Momma’s Postpartum Depression Support Group – Group Size: Medium (4,000 + Members).
This group is a very supportive one and the perfect place to go and vent about what you’re feeling. If you just need someone to talk to or share your story with someone who will understand, then the women in this group are here for you.
Postpartum Depression & Anxiety Support Group – Group Size: Small (3,000 + Members).
What I love about this smaller group is that you really get the chance to connect with other members. If you’re seeking more than just a sounding board, and hoping to make friends and build a support system to help you through this difficult time, then consider joining this group.
5. Hire a Postpartum Doula
A postpartum doula is someone who comes to your house after you have a baby specifically to help you out. They are not like a nanny, in that, they are there to support you and not simply to take care of the baby and the house. They are trained to recognize the early symptoms of a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder and can direct you where to get help. Most can be hired to work a night shift so that you can get the sleep you desperately need. I consider this a form of online help for postpartum depression because searching various websites is generally the best way to find the right doula for you.
There are several websites you can use to find a doula in your area:
One of the most widely recognized doula certification organizations – you can search their database for a postpartum doula near you!
ICEA (International Childbirth Education Association)
A non-profit organization that supports doulas and other professional childbirth educators. Their list includes both certified and non-certified doulas.
You can search a database of over 10,000 doulas in Canada and the US and the best part is that you can enter the dates when you would need their services to make sure that they are available before contacting them.
6. Download an App
There are so many apps available to help with almost any kind of problem you’re experiencing. Online help for postpartum depression in the form of an app is so convenient and always at your fingertips. Instead of scrolling through social media on your phone, download a meditation or self care app to use regularly instead.
With this free app, you can chat anonymously with a mental health advocate. You simply download the app and find a new friend, you don’t need to register or sign up. I am a Cara Friend, so if you need someone to talk to, please come find me on the Cara Unmask app!
This is part of an important research study but also provides resources for women with postpartum depression. Read more about it on the Pact For The Cure website.
MGHPDS (Massachusetts General Hospital Perinatal Depression Scale)
This is a good one for new moms who are concerned about developing postpartum depression or anxiety. It contains questionnaires to assess your mood and stress level and will remind you to take them again every few weeks so that you can document any changes. The questions are similar to those used by medical professionals to check for maternal mood disorders.
This app was originally designed by the military to help patients coping with PTSD. It’s recommended by therapists as a supplement to treatment for stress and anxiety disorders, but it can be a great tool for a mother battling postpartum depression. You have the ability to add happy photos or video memories, favorite songs and quotes and access tools for coping with stress and anxiety.
Practicing meditation and mindfulness are great ways to help with postpartum depression and anxiety. This popular meditation app is easy to use and has sessions ranging from 1 minute up to 10 minutes. It’s perfect for a busy mom with only a few minutes to spare.
Online help for postpartum depression should never be a replacement for help from a medical professional. Always make sure that your doctor knows what you are feeling.
But also, get educated. Know who to call and how to take care of yourself.
When my battle with postpartum depression began, 6 years ago, I didn’t even have a smartphone. Aside from a few brochures that I was given in my doctor’s office, I had very little information about perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. Now, almost anyone can access online help for postpartum depression. There is so much more information for struggling mothers, that it would be a shame to let it all go to waste.
Scary and intrusive thoughts are a common symptom of postpartum depression.
Intrusive thoughts lead many women to believe that they are terrible people, unfit mothers or a danger to their children. While many women experience them in some form, they don’t always recognize that they are intrusive or involuntary. Instead, they believe that the thoughts are how they truly feel, or what they are thinking subconsciously. They don’t talk about them for fear of what others will think of them.
It’s important to speak up about intrusive thoughts, but before a woman can do that – she needs to understand what they are, where they come from and what they mean. This is the only way she will be able to accept that the thoughts she is having are not who she has become, but rather, a side effect of her mental illness.
Here is some more information about intrusive thoughts.
What are Intrusive Thoughts?
Intrusive thoughts are an idea or image that come to your mind involuntarily. The thoughts may be extremely out-of-character and can be shocking when they happen. They are almost exactly the same as the thoughts and images that you normally have, except that they are not created nor welcomed by you. Intrusive thoughts are a sign of mental illness and prove that your mind is playing tricks on you.
What are NOT Intrusive Thoughts?
- They are not hallucinations
- They are not third party voices in your head
- They are not an indication of postpartum psychosis
- They are not subconscious thoughts or images
- They are not part of your normal train of thought
- They are not how you truly feel deep down inside
Types of Intrusive Thoughts
The most common type of postpartum intrusive thoughts are of doing something bad to the baby. They can be “what if…” type of thoughts such as “what if I drop my baby down the stairs” or “what if I stab my baby with a knife.” They can also come in the form of intrusive images such as watching the baby drown in the bathtub or crashing the car with the baby in the backseat.
Intrusive thoughts can also be about harming yourself. Many women experience suicidal thoughts but have no actual desire to commit suicide. Postpartum depression can cause women to experience thoughts of running away, jumping out of a moving car or falling asleep and never waking up again. Intrusive thoughts often make a woman believe she is unfit to be a mother and that her children would be better off without her.
Another type of intrusive thought includes harming a spouse or another loved one. It’s normal to complain about the annoying things a spouse does and imagine doing something bad to them, but when it affects your relationship or comes out of nowhere it could be an intrusive thought. Postpartum depression, and especially postpartum rage, are often misdirected towards spouses and partners – making a woman believe that she really does hate her husband. Add in intrusive thoughts like running them over with the car and it’s a relationship nightmare…
Some intrusive thoughts are inappropriate and violent. Many can be sexual in nature or include things like harming animals, behaving violently or setting the house on fire.
Basically, any thought or image that enters your head that feels scary and unnatural is considered an intrusive thought.
The Danger of Intrusive Thoughts
Thoughts and images alone are not dangerous. But intrusive thoughts can cause several unwanted side effects that can become dangerous both physically and mentally.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Intrusive thoughts can cause a woman to develop postpartum OCD and become obsessed with certain thoughts and images. If she imagines the baby dying in their sleep, she may stop sleeping in order to check on baby several times through the night.
Stress and Anxiety. Knowing that intrusive thoughts are a possibility is a big source of stress and anxiety, which can worsen symptoms of postpartum depression. Intrusive thoughts can also cause panic attacks and other physical symptoms.
Acting on Intrusive Thoughts. It’s rare that a woman would go so far as to act on her intrusive thoughts but the danger that she might still exists. Being unable to recognize the difference between intrusive thoughts and reality can signal something worse (like postpartum psychosis). If you feel a strong urge to act on your intrusive thoughts, make sure to speak to your doctor immediately.
Stigmatizing. Intrusive thoughts play a major role in the stigma of postpartum depression. Many mothers who try to open up about them are treated like crazy people or seen as dangerous and suicidal. If intrusive thoughts are confessed to someone without enough knowledge about them (even a medical professional), the consequences could be devastating. Its important to find a safe place to discuss intrusive thoughts.
The Truth About Intrusive Thoughts
The truth is, they are not real. They may stem from the feelings of inadequacy or overwhelm caused by postpartum depression but they are not part of the subconscious mind. They are a figment of your imagination and a by-product of mental illness. In order to eliminate them, and avoid having them control your life, you need to accept that they are coming from somewhere else, and not from what’s within your heart.
How to Get Rid of Them
As long as a woman is suffering from a mental illness, the intrusive thoughts will always be a possibility. So the only way to eliminate them altogether is to treat the underlying condition. There are still several things a person can do to keep intrusive thoughts from affecting their lives.
Document Them. Writing down scary thoughts as they happen can help make them less frightening. You can write them on paper, in a journal or workbook, on your phone or use an app. If you really want to take a stand and connect with other women who are having them, you could even consider blogging about them.
Release Them. Intrusive thoughts are perhaps one of the hardest things to speak out loud when battling postpartum depression. Many people are not nearly as informed about intrusive thoughts as they should be, and this makes talking openly about them risky. The best place to express the scary thoughts you’re having is to find a safe and positive space, such as a support group. The Postpartum Stress Center offers a safe place online for women to anonymously #SpeaktheSecret. It helps to read some of the thoughts other women have had, and even submit your own to release them from your mind.
Online Therapy. Speaking to a mental health professional is always a good course of action for women battling intrusive thoughts. With online therapy, you have the option to chat with your therapist anytime throughout the day, as opposed to waiting for a scheduled appointment. This is a great option to be able to discuss scary thoughts as they occur. (If this is an option you’d like to explore, try online therapy using my affiliate link: http://runningintriangles.com/OnlineTherapy).
Meditation. Clearing the mind on a daily basis can help reduce the instances of intrusive thoughts. Meditation can also help to create mindfulness in general, making you feel a little bit more in control of the thoughts and images in your own head. Meditation, either alone or while doing yoga, should become an important part of your self-care routine for battling postpartum depression and intrusive thoughts.
Positive Imagery. Surround yourself with sights that make you feel happy. You can put together a photo album of some of your happiest photos and look at it regularly. Or keep flowers and plants in your home. Hang motivational posters or family photos on the walls. Subconsciously, your mind will soak up all the beauty around you and be a happier place.
Get Enough Sleep. Sleep deprivation is known for causing all kinds of problems in new mothers. A lack of sleep is like leaving the door wide open for scary thoughts. Try changing around your bedtime routine, invest in a better mattress or look into other ways to fight off insomnia.
Distraction. Keeping the mind distracted will allow less time for scary thoughts to creep in. Music is an excellent way to keep the mind distracted. Try playing music in the background while you’re home, call or visit with a friend, read a book or put on the television. Maintaining a proper self-care routine can also help keep intrusive thoughts away.
The most important factor in dealing with intrusive thoughts is to know the difference between your actual thoughts and the unwanted ones.
Having frightening thoughts may make you feel like a bad mother with the potential to do something harmful but it’s not the truth. Focus on the positive thoughts and try your best to ignore the ones that make you feel anything but joy. Accept that they are a side effect of postpartum depression and not who you have become. It may take a while for the thoughts and images to go away, but as long as you remember that you are still you inside, you can defeat them.
Two years ago, I published the post 9 Reasons Why Mothers Don’t Speak Up About Having Postpartum Depression and it quickly became extremely popular. It was even featured on Scary Mommy!
Mothers with postpartum depression began to reach out to me, stating that it spoke to them and they realized their reasons were not insane or unreasonable. These mothers also felt like they wanted to tell their story but didn’t know how or where to begin.
It inspired me to create a safe place for women to share their postpartum depression stories, without judgement, or requirements or any degree of difficulty.
Speaking up and sharing my own story and the stories of other women turned Running in Triangles into a beacon of light for those women who were lost and suffering in the darkness.
Over the past couple years, I’ve had the chance to connect and interact with so many women who have had or are currently suffering from postpartum depression and other maternal mental health disorders.
One thing that so many of them had in common was the fact that they stayed silent for so much longer than they should have. And there are so many more than 9 reasons why these women chose not to speak up about what they were feeling…
Here is a list of over 50 reasons why mothers don’t speak up about postpartum depression.
1. We are in denial
2. We don’t even know we have it
3. We’re not 100% certain that we have it
4. We haven’t been officially diagnosed
5. We don’t think it’s as bad as it actually is
6. We just aren’t ready to admit it yet
7. We think this is “normal” motherhood
8. We don’t think it’s a big deal
9. We don’t want to make it seem like we’re suffering more than any other mother
10. We don’t want to be complainers or hypochondriacs
11. We think it’s just a bad case of the baby blues
12. We think we are exaggerating our symptoms
13. We are terrified of having our child taken away from us
14. We don’t want to scare our children
15. We’re worried no one will believe us
16. We don’t want to be considered dangerous
17. We think we will get locked up or sent away
18. We don’t want anyone to think that we are bad mothers
19. We are ashamed of ourselves
20. We think this is happening because of something we did wrong
21. We feel guilty
22. We are embarrassed that we can’t handle it
23. We hate confrontation
24. We know that if we start talking about it we will cry
25. We are concerned about what others will think of us
26. We know some people don’t believe mental illness is real
27. We don’t want to be treated like crazy people
28. We don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable around us
29. We don’t want anyone to feel sorry for us
30. We are afraid of someone saying insensitive things to us
31. We feel like failures
32. We think it’s a sign of weakness
33. We don’t want to be a burden
34. We are worried that our spouse might leave us
36. We don’t want to lose our job
37. We don’t want anything on our permanent record
38. We think we can cure ourselves
39. We think it will go away on its own
40. We think it might be in our head
41. We’re just planning to wait it out
42. We don’t think talking about it will help
43. We can always find an excuse for the symptoms
44. We don’t trust the medical system
45. We don’t know who to tell
46. We don’t want to be put on medication
47. We don’t think we will get the right kind of help
48. We don’t know what our treatment options are
49. We don’t want to be put on suicide watch
50. We feel alone
51. We don’t think anyone else will understand
52. We don’t know anyone else who has ever experienced something like this
53. We don’t know enough about it to defend ourselves
54. We can’t find the right words to say how we feel
55. We think we are the only person who has ever had these kinds of thoughts and feelings
Do you have a reason for staying silent that’s not on this list? Leave it in the comments!
Endometriosis is a condition that plagues nearly 10% of women but is often misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all.
Like postpartum depression, endometriosis is something that isn’t talked about enough. It causes a considerable amount of pain but so many women learn to live with it and don’t seek the proper treatment. And those who do seek help, are often told it’s nothing, because endometriosis doesn’t show up on ultrasounds or x-rays or ct scans.
While there is no link between endometriosis and postpartum depression, they do have a lot in common:
- They are affected by hormones
- They affect women in their childbearing years
- They are under-diagnosed conditions
- They are invisible diseases
- They are stigmatized and need more awareness
Every women’s struggle with endometriosis is different, just like postpartum depression. Here is MY story…
It was a mere coincidence that both my endometriosis and postpartum depression were diagnosed at the same time, because the two conditions are not exactly linked to each other. But ever since that diagnosis, they have been intertwined throughout my journey of highs and lows.
It all began when my daughter was 5 months old. Actually, the postpartum depression symptoms had been going on for a few months already but I was still in denial.
We took a family trip to Disney World (both kids were still free to get in, so we thought we’d take advantage)! Despite exclusively breastfeeding, I got my first postpartum period – right there in the Magic Kingdom.
I was disappointed and annoyed but what else could I do, on this trip of a lifetime, but suck it up and waddle around in blood-soaked pants for the rest of the day?
The next day, we planned to go to Cocoa Beach. When you’re from the Canadian Prairies, trips to the ocean are few and far between, so I was definitely NOT missing out on it. I bought the biggest box of tampons I could find and tried my best to enjoy the day.
But the cramping was worse than labor pains and the bleeding was relentless.
I made it through that vacation but the following month was even worse. I probably wouldn’t have said anything to my doctor, except that it happened to fall on the same day as my daughter’s 6 month checkup.
I was lucky enough to have a great doctor with whom I already had a close relationship, and it was in that appointment that I broke down crying – overcome by the pain of the menstrual cramps and the dark place my mind had been in for the last 6 months.
Based solely on my symptoms, he figured it was endometriosis that was causing the pain and heavy bleeding. It was the first time I had ever heard the word. When he told me that it can cause infertility, I actually felt relieved because I had zero desire to have another baby. He gave me some samples of birth control pills and advised me to take them continuously in an effort to “skip” my periods.
Then we discussed the postpartum depression and came up with a treatment plan.
I was supposed to follow up with him in a few months to see how things were going. But by then, we had relocated for my husband’s job – a 9 hour drive away.
For a while, things were alright…
My mind was distracted by the move and I remembered to take my birth control pills everyday, avoiding the painful cramping that accompanied my periods.
Until I ran out of samples.
Trying to find a good doctor in a new town where I didn’t know anyone was tougher than I thought. So I chose to suffer instead. I loaded up on painkillers and wore adult diapers to soak up the extreme amounts of blood and just dealt with it.
With each month that passed, the pain got worse and worse. The cramping started earlier and lasted longer until I was only pain-free for one week each month. I turned to essential oils for help with the pain, but even their magic wasn’t strong enough.
The chronic pelvic pain exacerbated my postpartum depression symptoms.
I felt defeated by the pain. I didn’t feel like being strong or fighting through the pain – I hoped and prayed it would just kill me. I thought about how my daughter might someday experience this kind of pain, and I felt responsible for that. I felt like all I did was inflict pain on those around me, because I was also in pain. And I was certain that everyone would be happier, myself included, if I was just gone.
When my year of maternity leave was over, things got better.
I found a job that I loved and began to make friends. The daycare we chose for the kids was wonderful and they settled into it without any problems. I appreciated my children more because I cherished the short amount of time we had together each day instead of dreading the long hours of nothingness.
Finally, I was happy! I pushed through the endometriosis pain every month because I didn’t want anything to destroy my happiness.
But after a year of being happy and ignoring the pain – the pain pushed back.
I couldn’t ignore it anymore and eventually wound up in the emergency room. Much to everyone’s surprise – I was pregnant! I guess endometriosis doesn’t always cause infertility…
The anxiety began almost immediately. I didn’t want to go through another HG pregnancy and I definitely worried about dealing with the postpartum depression all over again. Plus we had just moved again, and hadn’t even bought a house yet.
Despite the exciting news, the pain was still there… worse even.
The doctors suspected a possible ectopic pregnancy and rushed me into emergency surgery.
When I woke up, I had mixed feelings about losing the baby. Part of me was relieved to avoid another tough pregnancy, but another part of me felt disappointed that I didn’t get another chance to make things right.
The next day, I found out I was still pregnant. The pregnancy was a healthy one, and there was nothing they could tell me about the endometriosis because they didn’t want to do anything to disturb the pregnancy.
And so I had my third child. I suffered from the worst case of hyperemesis gravidarum of all three pregnancies, but for a while, I didn’t have to worry about the menstrual pain. This time I did everything in my power to prepare myself for postpartum depression again but thankfully was spared from it. I was given a second chance! I immediately felt a bond with this baby and she made our family complete.
I had a good, solid 8 months of bliss with my happy baby before my first postpartum period arrived.
And, in true dream-crushing fashion, it came back on Christmas Eve so I spent most of that night hopped up on painkillers and hovering around the bathroom door in order to change my tampon every 30 minutes.
After another steady 8 months of pill popping, I missed another period. Oh no, not another pregnancy. It can’t be. I can’t do it again. But the tests were all negative…
My menstrual cycle finally had a nervous breakdown.
It would skip months for no reason and then come every other week. The pelvic pain got worse and it was no longer limited to my menstrual cycle – it was there 24/7. I ended up in the emergency room regularly looking for something to help with the pain. Nothing ever showed up on any of the tests, and I’m certain everyone thought I was a hypochondriac. Even though I was in an intense amount of pain, I started to wonder if they were right.
The pain triggered the postpartum depression again.
It didn’t help that I was now a stay-at-home-mom, living in a city with no friends or relatives to help me out. Between the darkness of postpartum depression and the pain of endometriosis, life was very bleak for nearly a full year.
I finally met with a specialist.
He instantly validated everything I was feeling and scheduled me for a diagnostic laparoscopy to find out what was going on inside of me. Since he wasn’t sure what he would find, he asked me to sign a form that stated he could perform a hysterectomy if he deemed it medically necessary. This way, I wouldn’t have to undergo two separate surgeries if I did need one.
We discussed the fact that a hysterectomy would be the worst-case scenario, and I signed the form without hesitation.
In the 6 weeks leading up to my surgery date, I bled continuously. I should have known then, that more was wrong under the surface than I wanted to admit. If I had, perhaps I would have been more prepared for what was ahead.
The surgery was supposed to be a laparoscopic day surgery on a Friday. My husband, kids and I made the 2 hour drive into the city, expecting to stay with family for the weekend and be back home by Monday.
But when I woke up from the surgery, I was told I would not be going home that day.
My doctor came in to see me, head hung, disappointment in his eyes. He rested his hand on mine and told me that this was the first time he’s ever had to convert from a laparoscopic surgery to an abdominal incision (minimally invasive surgery was his specialty).
And then he filled me in on what happened in surgery.
He had to remove my uterus, cervix, fallopian tubes, and left ovary. He left the right ovary so that I would not go into menopause but everything else was stuck together with adhesions and needed to go. My reproductive organs were attached to the pelvic wall, bladder and bowels which he successfully separated, but there would be scar tissue remaining. The adhesions had re-routed my blood vessels and so he cut into one while attempting to perform the hysterectomy, causing me to lose nearly 4 units of blood and require a transfusion.
It was the “worst case scenario,” and I felt completely blindsided by what had just happened.
I ended up staying in the hospital for 5 days. Losing so much blood left me feeling weak and dizzy and moving around was almost impossible. Once I did get home to my own bed, I couldn’t leave. Walking up and down stairs was difficult and living in a 4 level split meant I was practically bedridden. Long after the scar healed, the pain inside my pelvis was excruciating. I was told to expect to be out of commission for a full 6 weeks but it took more like 8.
Dealing with the sudden loss of my uterus was difficult. Although I knew I didn’t want to have more children, I liked knowing that it was an option. I spent a lot of time thinking about my pregnancies and how the place where I grew my children and felt them move and kick was no longer there.
But once I recovered from the surgery, the constant pelvic pain that plagued me for years was finally gone. It was hard to believe that it was no longer there, I kept poking at it to see if it hurt but no – no more pain! And I never had to wear another giant tampon or adult diaper ever again.
Most days I forget that I no longer have a uterus. I still get some symptoms of PMS when my lonely ovary ovulates but it’s nearly impossible to track it without a menstrual cycle. The fluctuating hormones do still affect my postpartum depression symptoms and I have to take extra care of myself on those days, but otherwise, it’s no longer triggered by constant pain.
I’ve been told that a hysterectomy is not a cure for endometriosis and there is still a chance that the endometrial tissue could grow back.
So while my battle with endometriosis, as well as my battle with postpartum depression, is over for now – they have changed who I am as a person.
They have both taken things away from me that I can never get back. They have killed a part of me inside and remain there, dormant, waiting for another opportunity to strike. I will do my best to take care of myself, to help others who are suffering, and to raise awareness about these two important issues, so that if and when they ever do decide to rear their ugly heads again – I will be ready to fight back.
Postpartum depression, as common as it might be, is widely misunderstood.
No one knows for certain exactly why mothers get postpartum depression and many aren’t even aware of the symptoms. If there was less stigma and more mothers felt comfortable enough to speak up about their postpartum depression, perhaps the rest of the world would know about it and find ways to help.
Here’s a list of 10 things that mothers with postpartum depression want you to know.
1. We Are Not Bad Mothers
Mothers with postpartum depression are not prone to hurting their babies. While there have been cases that ended in tragedy – many of those mothers were suffering from postpartum psychosis, which is a much more serious condition.
We might be seen as “bad” mothers because we didn’t bond with our babies right away, or we seem withdrawn from them or avoid holding them. These are common symptoms of postpartum depression but it does not mean that we want to harm our child or that we don’t love them as much.
If anything, postpartum depression makes us stronger mothers because we have to fight harder to build a mother-child relationship.
You don’t need to take our babies away from us or be concerned about leaving us alone with them. If we come to you for help and admit what we are feeling – that makes us a better mother, not a bad one.
2. It’s Not In Our Head
Postpartum depression is not just a psychological issue – it’s physical pain, it’s chemical imbalances, it’s uncontrollable hormones. It’s a total body experience and not just something we imagine.
Positive thinking alone will not get rid of postpartum depression. It’s important to stay positive to help reduce stress which is a big trigger for symptoms, but there is so much more to it than that. Many women suffer from disruptions in sleep and appetite, headaches and back pains from stress and tension, nausea and debilitating fatigue.
It might be called a mental illness, but the pain is never just “in our head.”
3. Nothing We Did Caused This
Postpartum depression is NOT our fault. A traumatic labor , breastfeeding problems or lack of support are out of our control and not something that we did wrong or could have avoided. It’s natural to want to find an explanation for what we’re going through and it’s easy to look back on our pregnancies and deliveries and find something to blame for the mess.
While there are several different risk factors that can increase your chances of having postpartum depression, the truth is – even a women with the happiest of pregnancies, easiest of deliveries and biggest support system could still be diagnosed with postpartum depression. It does not discriminate.
There are studies being conducted to try to determine the cause of postpartum depression but for now – it’s still a mystery as to why some women get it and others do not.
4. There Is No Cure
There are plenty of treatment options and ways to control the symptoms but we will never be the same person we were before postpartum depression.
Anti-depressants, therapy, self-care, yoga and meditation, etc., are all important for helping with the symptoms but they will not make postpartum depression go away permanently. Some women can control their symptoms better than others, but no matter what, we will all have to live with the darkness inside of us for the rest of our lives.
If we’re not careful about following our treatment plans, we could suffer a relapse.
5. It Can Be Invisible
Just because we don’t seem depressed doesn’t mean we’re not suffering inside. Postpartum depression can be an invisible disease, which means we don’t have a giant scar or walk with a limp but we are in just as much pain. Mothers with postpartum depression have gotten very good at putting on a smile to hide the pain and avoid the awkward questions.
Thanks to the stigma around postpartum depression, many mothers won’t even admit to having it for fear of what the world will think of them.
Organizations like 2020Mom and The Blue Dot Project are helping to break down the stigma through campaigns like Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week but they will only be successful if mothers with postpartum depression are willing to let the world know that they exist.
6. It’s Not The Same As Postpartum Psychosis
Anytime I hear a story about a new mother taking her life and/or her child’s life, the question arises as to whether or not it’s postpartum psychosis. While postpartum depression can cause mothers to feel suicidal, postpartum psychosis can cause hallucinations during which a mother isn’t even herself. They are two different diseases and psychosis is a severe medical emergency.
Postpartum psychosis leads a mother to have hallucinations and hear voices in their heads. They are often a danger to themselves and those around them, including their children, because of their unpredictable behavior. They are not aware of what they are doing, and if left untreated – can end in tragedy.
It’s important to be aware of the symptoms of postpartum psychosis and know the difference. This article from Postpartum Progress does the best job at explaining it.
7. Don’t Take Things Personally
Postpartum depression can manifest itself in different ways. Fits of uncontrollable rage is a lesser known symptom and can cause a lot of strain on relationships.
When we are riding the emotional roller coaster that is postpartum depression, it’s easy to lose control and lash out. But until our symptoms are under control with a proper treatment plan, it’s best not to take the things we say and do personally.
The urge to push people away and withdraw into ourselves is strong with postpartum depression, but that doesn’t mean it’s what we actually want.
8. It’s easier to talk to strangers
Please don’t feel offended if we don’t want to talk to you about what we’re going through. It’s much easier to talk to strangers who have been through it before, such as a therapist or online support group.
They understand what we mean and won’t judge us. We know you don’t mean to judge us, but unless you know what it feels like to be inside the head of a crazy person, you couldn’t possibly understand.
Find a list of numbers you can call to get help for postpartum depression here.
9. We Need Your Help
Even if we don’t want to talk to you, we still need your help to get through this. Postpartum depression is a tough fight and it’s even harder to fight alone. There are so many ways that you can help us, but it’s very hard for us to tell you what they are. The biggest way that you can help us is by trying to understand what we’re going through.
And even if you don’t understand, stand by us and support us no matter what.
10. Please Don’t Abandon Us
Mothers with postpartum depression make for some of the worst company. We’re weepy and emotional. We rarely smile or laugh. We’re tired all the time, or angry and annoyed. We dodge your phone calls and cancel dinner plans. We don’t blame you for not wanting to hang out with us…
Withdrawing from society is a major symptom of postpartum depression and it’s out of our control.
But we hope that, when we do finally feel better, you will still be there waiting for us on the other side of the darkness.