“Marissa, I think you have postpartum depression.” My mom, who lived over six hundred miles away, said this as she diagnosed me over the phone. My aching heart clung to her words, desperate for anything that would offer me hope out of this pit. She continued, “Motherhood is difficult but shouldn’t be this hard. What you are experiencing isn’t normal.”
My mom easily recognized the symptoms because both of my older sisters had suffered from severe postpartum depression a few years before me. As a result of the family history of PPD, when my husband and I found out we were expecting our first baby, my whole family wondered if I would suffer from it, too.
My beautiful firstborn son Dawson came into the world with an incredible set of lungs. Several of the nurses commented that he “had a shrill cry.” The first few weeks smoothly slipped by with the help of family. In fact, I appeared happy and stable. When the time came for my parents to travel back home, we all wondered if I might not have the issues my older sisters had. But the following weeks proved different.
Combined with several stressful circumstances that hit us at once, like moving when Dawson was six weeks old, loss of income, our car dying, and a low milk supply, I found myself crying almost as much as my fussy baby. Little things became hard. I walked around in a constant state of feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes I forgot to eat or didn’t feel hungry at all. I avoided answering the phone and shut friends out of my life. I never knew what mood I was going to be in and didn’t want people to see me when I felt like a “mess” inside, so it was easier to just stay home, isolating myself.
When Dawson was a couple months old, Jim woke up to the sounds of sniffling coming from the living room. He found me nursing surrounded by a mound of Kleenex, my face all splotchy from crying. In exasperation, he asked me what was wrong. “It’s one horrible day after another,” I said as the morning sun barely made its way through the window. Jim was at a loss of what to do. Little things like our son spitting up on me or him crying too much made me want to hurt him. The disturbing thoughts scared me and plunged me deeper into depression.
Another time, Jim came home from work one evening to find Dawson wailing in his crib and me curled up on our unmade bed, not showered and still in my pajamas. “I want to die,” I told him.
It wasn’t long after that I found myself face to face with the decision of ending my life. One night, I stood in the bathroom holding a bottle of pills, my hand shaking. My husband and three month old slept peacefully, unaware of the intense battle being waged in the next room.
“If I do this, everyone will be better off without me. I will be doing them a favor. I am a failure of a wife and mom. If I die, Jim can marry someone who isn’t crazy, someone who will be a better mother to Dawson.”
Overwhelmed with sorrow, but unable to find the courage to end the pain, I finally set the bottle down and headed back to bed. Tears streamed down my face and hit my pillow. Would this pain ever end?
So the day my mom told me over the phone that I had postpartum depression, relief flooded my heart. (You can read more about how we finally knew I had postpartum depression here).
I don’t remember much from going to see my doctor other than it was fast appointment and my doctor confirmed my mother’s diagnosis. I don’t remember any type of screening, just a few questions. My doctor quickly prescribed Zoloft, an antidepressant safe enough to take while nursing. I left the doctor’s office with the prescription and a hope of it starting to work.
Even though antidepressants usually take weeks to start working, within days I noticed a difference. I slowly started to be able to function. We sought out a counselor, but found counseling to be unhelpful, mainly because of the particular person we chose. She didn’t give any type of screening other than asking, “So, how are you doing? What is concerning you today?” She asked if I had a “support system.” I didn’t know what that meant because of having no family nearby. I was the first of my friends to have a baby and had very few “mom” friends. But I was always good at putting on a good front, and left the appointment with her saying, “I think you’re going to be just fine.” But the suicidal thoughts continued.
Although I did see some immediate effects of taking the medicine, it took several months for it to really help. As I healed, I slowly found enjoyment and meaning in life again. One day about six months later, my husband pulled me onto his lap. Hugging me, he said, “I’m glad to have my wife back.” In that moment, I realized what a different person he had been living with.
When Dawson turned one, under a doctor’s direction, I went off of the anti-depressant.
But since I continued to struggle with dark moods off and on as Dawson grew older, I spent the next seven years digging to find out the deeper reasons for my depression. God, in His mercy, showed me. Through a suggestion of a nurse friend, I was diagnosed with PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder) and learned there is a link between postpartum depression and PMDD. I also received counseling for sexual abuse from my childhood. Furthermore, I learned how much healthy choices and good coping behaviors play a part in fighting depression. I now carry a deep compassion for those struggling with similar issues.
Because of the severity of my PPD, my husband and I didn’t know if we would have any more children. After waiting seven years, we began to have peace to try again. I conceived and delivered a healthy a healthy baby boy who we named Brennan in October of 2012. Armed with the lessons I learned, medication, and a support system in place, my husband and I faced my postpartum time like we were in a battle. With sheer determination, grit, and the prayers of many people, I made it through Brennan’s first year without slipping into that dark place. It wasn’t without its rough moments, but I found instead unspeakable joy in taking care of my baby. Seeing what it means to bond with your baby and enjoy being a mom made me realize what I missed with my first son. As a result, I’ve spent much time grieving that loss. But every day since my second son was born, I have kissed his chubby cheeks and thanked God for showing me how beautiful motherhood can be.