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Post-Partum Depression

Four days after my daughter was born my milk came in, and with it came the hormones.  I found myself crying for a whole week for no apparent reason, unable to stop myself.  I was just sad and couldn’t find a way out of it.  I had supportive friends and family around me that got me through it, and fortunately for me, one day, I just wasn’t sad any more.
Before I left the hospital, my OB came in and had a very matter-of-fact conversation with me and Brian about what to expect in the coming week.  She talked through feelings I would have and the ways my hormones would send me up and down, and told me it was all very natural.  Then she told us both things to look for that might signal post-partum depression: thoughts I might have, things I might want to do.  She made sure we understood the difference between normal baby blues and post-partum depression, and encouraged me to call if I had any doubts or just wanted to talk.  She armed Brian with information so he didn’t feel so helpless and nervous about the unknown.  As I went through my week of baby blues, Brian gently checked in with me, making sure I was ok, listening to me talk about everything from what a bad mother I’d be to how I’d never be thin again.  He’d calmly ask if I wanted to call my OB but trusted me when I said I was ok.  My girlfriends were there for me (see previous post) and I came out the other side shaken but back to normal (well, newborn mommy normal).

I had the best possible scenario: a supportive husband, a knowledgeable and hands-on OB, and great support network around me, and best of all, I didn’t get post-partum depression.  I’m aware of how lucky I am, and that what I experienced was nothing compared to what many women go through with PPD.  Post-partum depression is a serious illness and I don’t want to make light of it, and since I’ve never had it I didn’t feel qualified to speak on the subject.  But I have had a couple readers ask me to talk about it, so I here goes.

Several women who have had PPD have generously share their stories with me.  While trying not to be voyeuristic, I was drawn into the details and am shocked at how many quiet heroes there are out there, struggling with this disease.  Please do not consider this posting to be a medical authority of any kind; I merely hope to bring out some information on this subject and point you in the right direction for more authoritative views.
First, let’s talk about the difference between “baby blues” and post-partum depression.  According to Depression After Delivery, Inc., 50-75% of mothers will experience a sudden emotional letdown about 3-4 days after delivery.  Symptoms will include irritability, anxiety, and crying for no reason, and will usually leave quite suddenly on their own.  This is NOT PPD.
Post-partum depression, on the other hand, is commonly thought to strike at least one out of every ten mothers (some statistics say one out of five), and while it may show up very early, it can take up to a year to appear.  Symptoms are wide-ranging and may be inconsistent; a woman with PPD may have “good” days and “bad” days, leading her to think she’s not that bad, or just needs to get a grip, or perhaps is going crazy.  Symptoms can include fatigue, sluggishness, irritability, lack of concern for or interest in the baby, uncontrollable crying, memory loss, guilt, feelings of worthlessness, a fear of harming yourself or the baby, insomnia, extreme highs and lows, and feelings of inadequacy and anxiety.

M., one of the women I spoke with, thought she was literally going crazy after the birth of her first child.  She would throw up anything she tried to eat, wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night, hyperventilate about her baby’s safety while baby was quietly asleep, and so on.  At her six-week check-up when she described her feelings to her OB, he told her everything looked fine to him and that becoming sexually active again should fix those feelings.  She spent a few more weeks slowly going crazy before she figured out for herself that she was suffering from Post-Partum Anxiety Disorder.  She found a local support group, went, and met a very caring nurse who spoke with her MD and got M. going on a path towards health.  She had a medical exam, went on anti-depressants, and immediately began feeling better again.  When she speaks of the needless weeks of suffering alone she went through, M.’s frustration and pain is clearly visible.  ” I just prayed every morning I'd wake up and feel ‘normal’....and I'd open my eyes, and within minutes, the ‘feeling’ came over me like a suffocating blanket, and I knew it was ‘still there.’”  M. was not on the look-out for PPD at all during her pregnancy and first few post-partum weeks, and it took a long time before the issue was found and the road to healing begun.
K., on the other hand, knew PPD was a risk for her since she was diagnosed with depression even before she became pregnant.  Her husband was the first one to spot the post-partum depression, since K. didn’t want to admit even to herself how bad she was feeling.  She got in to see a doctor after just a couple of weeks and again began feeling better almost right away.
If you think you’re suffering from more than the usual baby blues, the first thing to do is talk to someone about it.  Get in to see your OB, and get a full medical check-up to rule out things like a low thyroid, which can mimic some symptoms of PPD.  It’s vital that you get a full psychiatric evaluation as well, then go into psychotherapy.  Many people also stress the absolute importance of group therapy, so you’ll want to find a group in your area for support and encouragement.  Everyone who shared their story with me feels better and they are all cautiously optimistic about the future.  Some moms had PPD with one child but not with a subsequent child, so having it after every baby is not a given.
Here are the links I used the most to research this blog –
Depression after Delivery, Inc. is an excellent information website, giving symptoms and signs for baby blues, PPD, Post-Partum Anxiety Disorder and Post-Partum Psychosis
Baby Blues Connection is a great site as well.
Post-partum.net  is a good clearing house for information, as well as links to groups etc.
Husbands are often the first to spot what’s going on with their wives – here are a few websites for them:
Baby Blues Connection
Depression after delivery

If you think there’s something going on, get it checked out by a caring professional who listens to you.  You don’t have to go through this alone.


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