What I’ve learned about postpartum depression, baby blues, Pitocin, and other new Mom issues.
The other day I was scrolling through Facebook and an article headline caught my eye. Childbirth Drug Linked With Postpartum Depression. They didn’t even have to say the name of the drug, I knew what it was. Pitocin. Goddamn Pitocin. I knew what the medical study was going to say. I had been living it.
16 months after the birth of my daughter, I could see it clearly. It was only now, that I could see I obviously had been dealing with postpartum depression. With no previous experience with depression, I didn’t know what it looked like or felt like. I was afraid to look for answers. Afraid of finding out I was a monster.
I had asked my other mom friends how they were doing, how they were adjusting. They would agree, the newborn phase is hard. But deep down I think I knew my baby blues was a shade deeper than everyone else around me.
The very thought of calling my doctor and asking for help felt like too much. Like I just couldn’t handle making an appointment and getting in my car. Going to talk to someone about my troubles was absolutely ridiculous when I have to feed the baby every 2 hours, remember to feed myself, keep the dogs alive, do dishes, the laundry, and a million other things on my to do list. Nevermind my business that I used to be passionate about. All my time and focus had to be on my baby. That’s my job now. Keeping her alive is all I can handle.
At my postpartum checkups, I had heard several times, that if you ever feel like harming your child or yourself, you should get help immediately. That’s a clear indicator of depression. But what if the symptoms are more subtle.
I wasn’t having thoughts of physically harming anyone, but what if I don’t feel like myself. What if I’ve lost confidence in every aspect of my life. What if I’m always irritated. What if I always feel overwhelmed. What if I feel like I made a mistake, like I’ll feel like this forever.
I have a healthy beautiful baby, I shouldn't feel sad and lost all the time.
Now I can look back with compassion for myself, but at the time, just getting through the day was all I could handle. Doing more than the minimum daily routine for the baby was my limit. Going to the grocery store felt like I deserved some kind of award. I survived going out in public with my infant! And I didn’t die of anxiety! Can someone get me gold star?
Baby blues vs. Postpartum depression
Our bodies (and brains) go through so much change during pregnancy, childbirth and recovery. These phases can be vastly different for everyone. I had always heard that the first three months post-baby are the hardest. I had read about the baby blues and knew that my hormones would need time to regulate and get back to normal. What I should have paid closer attention to was that the baby blues last for about 2 weeks after you’ve had the baby. Not over a year!
When I hit six months postpartum and was still struggling, I thought it’s bound to get better soon. Grim and bear it. Then at nine months, I should have known. Then at a year… I was in denial.
Everyday I’d wake up and think, today is going to be better. My naturally optimistic disposition, was a disadvantage in this situation. This will get better, it has to! I tried to will myself happy again.
I kept thinking, I’m strong, I can beat this. People have babies everyday all over the world, roughly 353,000 babies are born everyday actually. That’s 4.3 babies every second! Why is this so hard for me? I had always wanted to have a baby. I had planned for this. Why does it feel like the end of the world?!
Other factors that contribute to postpartum depression.
I also learned that other factors, such as, having a traumatic birth and sleep deprivation, increase your risk of postpartum depression. I checked both those boxes.
Without wanting to scare anyone, I’ll say that my birth story was a wild ride. Thanks to the lovely Pitocin. Would I call it traumatic? Yes. My husband can confirm this. I declined the pain meds. In retrospect, that was probably a mistake. I had wanted to have a natural childbirth the way our bodies are intended to. Then I discovered a little thing called double contractions. I wish that was a joke. When I begged for the drugs it was too late.
When my daughter was actually born, she did not have an easy start. The pitocin made my labor so intense and fast that she had no transition time in the birth canal – not good for baby or mother. She was born tie-dye colored, literally. Bright white and deep purple. She was stunned and not breathing well, her Apgar score was low. Eventually she perked up and was okay, but it was a rough way to enter the world.
I mention this because I wish I had known the after effects of Pitocin. Certain circumstances gave me no choice but to have a labor inducing drug. I understand that. But if I would have known that Pitocin during childbirth would increase the likelihood of postpartum depression by 32%, I may have recognized my symptoms sooner. The connection between Pitocin and depression was never mentioned in any of my postpartum care.
Sleep when the baby sleeps.
There’s a reason sleep deprivation was a means of torture back in the day.
Having a baby that’s not a “good sleeper” is tough. It’s no one’s fault, but it’s hard. And in those early days when Mom is the food source, my baby only wanted me during the night. She was hungry every 2 hours. The feeding alone takes 30-40 minutes. That should be about 1.5 hours of sleep between feedings, right? No. It was so hard for me to fall back asleep. I would lay there, exhausted, wondering why I couldn’t sleep. I love sleep! I know the importance of sleep! Guess what, insomnia is a symptom of postpartum depression.
If one more person told me to “sleep when the baby sleeps”, I was going to snap!
I caught myself being so envious of women posting photos in online Mom groups of their excess supply of milk. Bags and bags of extra breastmilk they had pumped. Like it’s so easy! I had no extra in the freezer, none. Little did I know that depression can cause low milk supply.
Sharing is part of my healing.
Writing this feels important, like it needs to be written. I hope sharing my experience helps another woman somewhere out there.
If you know a new mother, ask them how they’re doing – how they’re really doing. Don’t take the usual “I’m fine” for an answer. There could be a lot more happening under that fake smile. I should know. I deserve a flipping Oscar, I got so good at acting!
We all can help by taking the stigma and shame out of depression. Talking about it has helped me tremendously. I’ve made a point to be open about my not-so-perfect experience. Whenever it’s relevant to the conversation, I make a point to say that I really struggled for the first year post-baby. I say I wish I would had realized I had postpartum depression sooner. I can’t tell you how many mothers have told me they went through something similar. It’s happening all around us, we should at least be able to talk about it without a giant dose of Mom guilt.
There’s so much support for women during pregnancy, but after you have the baby, it’s like good luck! Figure it out! I wish I had known the signs of postpartum depression, besides the extreme things you hear on the news.
Signs of Trouble
This article on Postpartum Progress really breaks down the symptoms of postpartum depression, anxiety and OCD. Keep in mind, it’s rare that someone will experience everything on the list. The key is if you’re having some of these symptoms for an extended amount of time you should probably talk to your medical provider.
My symptoms included…
Emotional: mood swings, anger, anxiety, overwhelm, guilt, shame, regret, confusion, loss of confidence, lack of focus, reliving my traumatic birth experience
Physical: crying, insomnia, low milk supply, constant hunger
Over a year later, I feel like myself again. I don’t feel overwhelmed all the time. I have patience now. I can play with my daughter and enjoy myself. I wish I could go back in time to 6 months ago, 10 months ago, and tell myself to get help. Tell myself that you are a good Mom, but you can accept help. That doesn’t make you weak.
Please, if you know someone who's going through a hard time – especially a new Mom – be supportive however you can. Tell them they're doing a good job. And if YOU have symptoms of postpartum depression, there's help!! It won't last forever. And that help looks different for everyone.