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My journey through postpartum depression: Jenn's story

April 30, 2014

Written by Jenn Stagg

I gave birth to my second child in October of 2012. I had an un-medicated, quick vaginal birthing experience. It was wonderful! The first two weeks were blissful with this precious baby girl in my arms snuggling and nursing. Life was good.

My son transitioned smoothly as well, welcoming and loving his new baby sister. I was amazed at his instant love and affection towards her. At two-and-a-half weeks old, though, my perfect little baby turned into a crying monster for four to five hours each night. To say this was a stressful time is an understatement. Holding your child in your arms while rocking them as they scream their heads off is the most helpless feeling I have ever felt. Mommy is supposed to be the comforter, their home base.

Nonetheless, I held, rocked, nursed, medicated and cried my way through each and every night for nine long weeks. Once we got through that rough patch, it was smooth sailing again. After successfully working on sleep training at around four months, I started telling myself, “Hey, maybe I can do this!”  The life of a stay-at-home mother of a two-year-old and a newborn is challenging. Not that mothers who work outside of the home aren't challenged, too. I'm just saying that staying home all day, every day with both kids wears one down.

After months of insomnia, hormone fluctuations, changing body image, tackling a rowdy “all boy” toddler daily and caring for an infant, I started feeling the effects physically.  My symptoms were vague- things I figured most mothers of two small children felt. I justified all of it and chalked it up to lack of sleep. I continued chasing the elusive idea that someday I'll get more sleep and that will give me more patience and help me cope better with my life.

The months rolled along and some days I felt like I was being a super mom. We were off going places, doing fun things, having play-dates, going to a weekly Bible study. But I started noticing myself dwindling away ever so slowly. I found myself crying for no reason, feeling overwhelmed with little things. I remember having so much patience with my son before my daughter was born, but now I was lashing out and screaming at him (yes, screaming in his face!) when he was being naughty.

That is NOT me! I've been a pediatric nurse for 10 years; I should know how to handle kids being bad! I kept thinking, “This is all because I need more sleep.” I even started researching my symptoms online and began to think that I might have pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder. So I developed a care plan for myself (I am a nurse, after all!), and for a little while I started feeling better.

A few weeks later, I found myself totally freaking out: crying uncontrollably, calling my husband telling him that I'm so overwhelmed that I want to kill myself. Whoa! Slow down, sister! Nothing major happened to cause me to feel that way.

I was feeling overwhelmed and guilty. Maybe I shouldn't have had two kids. I can't handle my life!  My appetite had gone way down (and I'm an eater). I didn't feel happy (but hey, who's happy ALL the time?). I felt like a failure of a mother. I couldn't sleep well (even though my kids were sleeping just fine). I started having bouts of nausea and frequent headaches and dizziness. I felt like something was really wrong with me.

I began to wonder if perhaps the IUD (intra-uterine device) that I had placed at 12 weeks postpartum could be the cause. Maybe it was the hormonal birth control coupled with postpartum hormones and breastfeeding hormones. “I need to remove it. That'll fix all of this!” I thought. I made an appointment to see my doctor. After spewing out all of my symptoms and apologizing for treating her like my shrink, she informed me that this wasn't an IUD problem and that I should probably go “talk to” someone. In other words, it's a psychological problem, not a physical problem and she doesn't treat her patients for psychological issues. I left her office feeling disappointed and confused.

Immediately I called my sister-in-law, who is an OB-GYN, and consulted her. She told me that I had postpartum depression. What? Depression? I always thought depression meant you were “down” all the time. I felt down here and there, but not so badly that I was stuck in bed and couldn't face each day. My idea of depression was an extreme version. But as a therapist told me, “Depression is like the wind. Sometimes you can feel it full force, other times it’s a slight breeze.”

I was officially diagnosed at ten months postpartum. Apparently, any form of depression within a year of having a baby is considered postpartum depression. I was shocked. I felt foolish, like I should've caught this sooner. I'm a nurse after all!  But like I said, I felt like my symptoms were vague, and I justified my feelings. After six weeks of being on a low-dose antidepressant, I started feeling better. I started feeling more like myself again. My husband told me I was more “me” again. I'm not really sure why I fought it for so long, but looking back I wish I hadn't. I'm not a failure; I have a medical condition that requires medical treatment. It doesn't make me any less of a mother. It has actually made me a better mother because I can handle all the craziness that comes along with parenting.

And the more I've shared my experience with other women, the more I've learned that a lot of women experience this condition, but most don't feel comfortable talking about it. I've talked with women who’ve received treatment, but also some who suffered for years on their own. My heart breaks for them. Those few months were horrible for me and for my family. I can't imagine feeling that way for years.

I wanted to share my story in hopes that other women can learn from it. I would encourage any woman, if you’re having any of these feelings to talk to someone about it. Talk to your doctor. Talk to a counselor. Keep trying until you find someone that listens and offers some help. You don’t have to suffer all alone. There is hope, and you can feel better.

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