This is my story about my personal experience with postpartum depression. There is so much of this story that I’m not proud of, so much shame. But I feel the need to share it anyway. May is National Mental Health Awareness Month and it’s inspired me to put my story out there. I experienced postpartum depression after the birth of each of my children, but it was much stronger after my second child was born. I’ve never sat down to write out my experience and my feelings until now. I’m hoping my story will help other moms out there, moms like me who may not be aware that they’re suffering with PPD.
“According to the Center for Disease Control, 11 to 20% of women who give birth each year have postpartum depression symptoms. If you settled on an average of 15% of four million live births in the US annually, this would mean approximately 600,000 women get PPD each year in the United States alone.” –postpartumprogress.org
All my life, I knew that I wanted to be a mom. I dreamed about it and planned for it. It was my biggest goal, and all of my decisions were based on the fact that I wanted to have children. So when my husband, Josh, and I decided we were finally ready to start a family, we were both so excited.
My son, Graham, was born a month early and spent a week in the NICU. Breastfeeding didn’t get off to a great start, and we were never able to really make it work. This is what triggered the PPD the first time. I spent hours obsessively Googling and searching Pinterest for tips and strategies to try to make breastfeeding work for us. Every time I learned a new tip for increasing breastmilk supply, I would get my hopes up that it would work. And each time that it didn’t brought me lower and lower. I finally fell into a state of sadness that I couldn’t bring myself out of.
Graham completely stopped nursing around 5 months, and this was when the PPD reached its peak. I think the drop in hormones when Graham weaned himself had a lot to do with it, and I was sad every day. I cried so much, and I ended up visiting my general practitioner to get something to help with the depression. But I was still pumping for Graham during that time, so I never filled the prescription. I wasn’t sure about the transfer of the medication into the breastmilk, but even still, just having the prescription helped. It was like my lifesaver – it was there in case I started drowning.
I stopped pumping around 6 months, and my hormones evened out. The PPD slowly faded as I was able to get back to more of a normal schedule and we were able to get out more since bottle-feeding was so much easier. I also started to make some new stay-at-home mom friends and started working again part-time. All of those circumstances helped to totally eliminate the PPD. I was back to the old sunny Holly!
With my second baby, Maddie, I was so determined to make breastfeeding work. I did everything possible during my pregnancy and labor to get us off to a better start, including having a natural, unmedicated breech birth and taking placenta pills after the delivery. (Total crunchy mom, right?) And even though I still ended up with a low milk supply issue, things went so much better after Maddie was born.
I thought I was in the clear – it looked like PPD wasn’t going to get me this time around. But right around my 6th month postpartum, Graham started going through some tough stages. He had always been the easiest baby, but he was turning into the most difficult toddler. I guess he was having a hard time transitioning to not being the only child. Also, his personality seemed to be developing during that time, and we were quickly learning that Graham is going to be a super strong-willed, stubborn person. We had so many sleep issues and discipline issues with him. Add that to the normal sleep-loss and stress of having a baby, and I started to fall apart.
But it was different this time. I wasn’t really sad, but I was lonely. And angry. It was hard getting out of the house with two kids, and once we did, I couldn’t control Graham’s behavior. I remember there were so many times I would get us ready, pack the bag, buckle the car seats, drive to our play-date or the park, and then have to leave and come home because Graham misbehaved and I had flipped out.
The exhaustion started to get to me too. I was so, so, so tired. Maddie didn’t sleep through the night until she was 17 months old. And since I was nursing her – that meant I was the one getting up. She was a terrible sleeper. She also loved to wake up at 4:30am for the day, and then take her first nap when Graham woke up. Josh was traveling a few days each month, and that added more work and exhaustion for me.
For over a year, I just thought this was how it was when you had two kids under 3. This was just life. I knew I’d be tired, but I couldn’t even make it through the day without passing out on the couch when Maddie was napping and Graham was having some TV time. I knew it would be hard. You think it would be twice the amount of work when you have a second child, but for some reason, it’s more like 10 times the amount of work. Everything stressed me out: Graham’s behavior, Maddie’s sleep (or lack thereof), the laundry, grocery shopping, keeping the house clean, and then if we had something else going on – a birthday party, a trip, something I volunteered to help with at the preschool or church – it just felt like everything was completely out of control. I couldn’t handle it – I was just barely keeping my head above the water.
And then , on top of everything else, we decided to move.
Putting your house on the market and moving is hard work. And doing all of that with 2 toddlers – one that won’t sleep and one that won’t behave? Almost impossible. Luckily our house sold quickly. So I didn’t have to worry too much about keeping it clean for showings. But moving day was quickly approaching. And I just shut down. I told Josh I couldn’t help with anything. I couldn’t help with any of the paperwork. I couldn’t pack any boxes. I just gave up. I was drowning and had given up the fight. He packed up our entire house. Bless that man.
Maddie also decided to wean from breastfeeding during our move. I just went with it, since she was 17 months old by then, and it felt like it was time to stop. (Now, of course, I know I have a dip in hormones when I stop nursing that will send me into a depression for a while until things even out.)
During all of this, Graham’s behavior was getting worse and worse. He was so aggressive, and would hit or push Maddie, which I know is normal for children that age. But in the state I was in, I couldn’t see that. Looking back, I feel like most of his behavioral issues were because of me, and because of the PPD. I just couldn’t react and discipline him the way he need me to. I was too tired. Too stressed. I lashed out and over-reacted. I yelled – so much. I was so angry at him. The rage I felt when he misbehaved scared me. He was out of control, but so was I.
Moving is what broke me. I’m so ashamed of that time in my life – the person I was. The mother I was. PPD can be so ugly. It’s not just sadness and crying – it can be rage and anger and hatred. PPD rewires your brain. You can’t make rational decisions.
A week after we moved was my lowest point. My breaking point. It was a normal day, I was just trying to do my best alone with the kids. I don’t even remember exactly what happened, but I’m sure Graham was misbehaving and Maddie was probably whining and crying. It escalated, and eventually, all three of us were really upset. The kids were crying, I was yelling. My heart was racing, my hands were shaking. I was so mad, so angry, raging, and I felt like I couldn’t breath. I couldn’t handle them. I put them both in the car in the garage and buckled their car seats. It was the only way I could contain them for just a few minutes while I calmed down. Then I stood there next to the car and called my mom, bawling.
I told her something was seriously wrong with me. I needed help.
She asked, “Are the kids safe?”
“Yes, of course” I told her.
She said, “We’re coming over. When we get off the phone, call your general practitioner and insist on an appointment for today. Explain that you’re suffering with depression and you have to be seen today.”
She and my dad dropped everything they were doing and drove over to watch the kids. I was able to get a prescription for Zoloft that afternoon from my doctor. Just like before, just having the prescription in my hand made me feel better. But I filled it this time, and started taking it that day.
I think it was about a month before I starting feeling more like myself. I was slowly getting my sunshine back. I saw evidence of the medication working in the way I handled Graham. If he hit or pushed, I didn’t immediately fly off the handle. I could deal with each situation calmly and rationally.
A month in, I could look back and realize how messed up my brain really had become. I could finally see how bad it had truly gotten. It was so obvious that something was wrong now that it was better. That’s what’s so tricky about PPD. It doesn’t happen all at once. It’s gradual. You think that you’re supposed to feel that way. Babies are hard. Kids are hard. Of course you’re tired. Of course you’re short on patience. My mind was telling me I was a terrible mom. I just figured I was bad at it. I felt angry all the time, and then felt guilty for the way I felt.
I took the medication for about 6 months, and then weaned slowly off of it. Luckily these days, I can recognize those scary feelings easily. The feelings usually resurface when I’m overwhelmed or stressed, or when I haven’t been able to take a break from the kids for some self-care. Over time, I’ve figured out some strategies to keep myself from slipping back into that dark place of anger and guilt.
My story has a happy ending because I got the help I needed. I’m so glad I have people in my life that could step in and support me. My parents and Josh were both amazing at helping out any way they could. I have some wonderful friends that were encouraging and helped me see truth in situations that were hazy to me, because of the PPD. They reminded me that I was a good mom – sometimes you just need to hear it.
My relationship with my children, especially Graham, is so different now. We’ve made it through my PPD and his terrible twos and “threenagers” stages. 4-years-old seems to be the perfect age. He and I are so close now. Granted, he still has his moments of disobedience, but he’s my sweet little boy again.
I still have times where I feel the crushing guilt of the way I was during that time of my life. Typing up this post and reliving it all made me cry. A lot. But I try my best to let go of the guilt. It’s my faith in Jesus that helps me in that regard. After all, he gives us freedom from guilt and shame.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin. -Psalm 32:5
Mamas out there – if you think you might be suffering from PPD, I beg you to reach out. Speaking out and getting help is the hardest part. After that, it gets easier. You don’t have to suffer – you can be happy and enjoy your children and your life. You deserve to be happy!
For more resources, including a quiz to find out if you’re suffering from postpartum depression, visit my PPD Pinterest page.