I thought postpartum depression was such an important topic but wanted to post a story from someone with firsthand experience. So the following is written by a wonderful writer/mom named Jannine who I found on one of my online birth clubs. I hope this story helps some people because it's very powerful.
My pregnancy was healthy and uneventful, most of the time I felt great. My daughter's birth however, was very eventful, and it wasn't until way later that I figured out that her birth was a bit traumatic. While I was glad that she came out healthy and I thought at first that was all that mattered, I came to realize later that it had a lot to do with my PPD. I was considered "late" although my due date kept changing. I was being monitored and the doctors did not like how the baby's heartbeat was going so they decided to induce me. I knew nothing of induction, what it entailed or how it felt. I ended up spending one full night on a laboring bed, which was very uncomfortable, wasn't allowed to drink or eat, and got very little sleep...the next day , I was given pitocin, which was extremely painful, made me shake, sweat and want to vomit. After getting to 5 cm, I asked for an epi, was able to take a nap... and thought that I was still going to give a vaginal birth. I got to 10 cms, and began to push, but nothing happened. Mia was never engaged into my pelvis. After almost 2 days of being in the hospital, we decided to have a c-section. I was disappointed but at the time I just wanted it all to be over. The surgery itself, was quick, and I got to hold Mia right away.
The days afterwards in the hospital were surreal, I was learning how to be a mother, and battling with my body to heal. I was very uncomfortable, and in a lot of pain, I was scared about having the surgery because as a massage therapist your core muscles are very important to the job. I kept asking doctors how I was supposed to recover, and they just told me to walk and exercise when I felt like it. What I felt like is that I had been hit by a truck. I was not prepared for abdominal surgery and then part of my recovery was being handed a baby, which no book can tell you how to care for. I thought I was okay with having a c-section, but looking back now I was very scared that I wasn't going to heal correctly.
I also had a lot of trouble breastfeeding, it was hard to hold Mia for long periods of time, because of how much pain I was in, and how hot it was in the summer of 2010 in CT. No one discussed how hard breastfeeding can be, how your milk doesn't come in right away, how much it hurts, how positions can be uncomfortable. It was something I was very anxious about. Thankfully she went from breast to bottle easily and I was able to supplement with formula.
After four months of breastfeeding I finally gave up, I hated doing it, and I felt like I wasn't recovering from my c-section, it was as if my body couldn't do two things at once. She went of formula until she began to eat solid foods at 6 months. Once I stopped breastfeeding, I would say that most serious symptoms of PPD began to come to light.
I do have a history of depression and anxiety. At the time that I got pregnant I was coming out of a bout of depression but I was feeling pretty good, I was in school for massage therapy, and my marriage was pretty strong, I was very excited to have my first child. I am sure that my previous history might have been a risk factor, but I really think it had a lot to do with how I was treated after surgery. Many people seem to think that just because a c-section results in a baby that it isn't a big deal. C-sections are major surgery, and most people are laid up in bed for weeks after something like that, a hernia, or broken leg, seem to get more sympathy then a c-section. I had no idea how to take care of myself and no one seemed to have any answers. I now know that there are surgery/belly bands that I could have worn to help deal with the pressure and pain, and help me recover faster, but I was never told anything about that, I could only walk down a flight a stairs once a day. I could't drive. I stayed with my parents for 2 weeks, but after that, I was alone and isolated for pretty much most of the day, in our apartment till my husband came home. I couldn't lift the stroller to go for a walk, there were days I could barely stand or sit upright. I kept wondering if I was doing something wrong. My OB/GYN screwed up the paperwork and thought I had a vaginal delivery so I wasn't checked out right away until 6 weeks afterwards. I was so scared that I was going to damage myself that I did the complete wrong thing which was to sit down a lot, when I really should have been moving around. I kept hearing stories about other women having c-sections and they seemed to be healing fine with no trouble breast feeding. So there I was alone, sore, scared, with a baby to take care of, feeling like a breastfeeding failure.
We moved into a bigger apartment, and I was starting to feel better physically, but after I stopped breastfeeding I became a wreck, I just felt that I was a failure because I could not recover fast enough. I would cry a lot, and get have huge bouts of anger, and yell at my husband. After some time I spoke to him and said that I needed some help. And he was able to find a therapist that I could go see. At the time I was very anti-medication, but feeling like I wasn't getting better, I decided to go ahead and go on Lexapro. It was life-changing. A lot of the weight that I had been carrying seemed to be lifted, and I was able to put things in perspective. I was finally able to heal physically and mentally from having a c-section. I was also able to go outside more, and I had stated actually working as a Massage Therapist, this helped relieve a lot of my isolation.
No one really did anything specifically wrong, but again I think a lot of people underestimate how hard it is on a women's body to have a c-section, and then take care of a baby. It was an unnatural process, and I think it affected a lot of things that otherwise would not been affected if I had a natural birth. I felt like because the baby was healthy, that everyone around me thought that everything came out alright. But I actually wasn't alright at all, I was in a lot of pain. There were days I could barely walk, getting up from playing on the floor with Mia, was extremely painful, I felt slow, and damaged. I felt that there was something wrong with me because I could not seem to recover. I felt like I wasn't being a good, productive mother, because I couldn't seem to effectively breastfeed, recover from surgery, and have a full dinner on the table when my husband came home from. People seemed to down play my surgery a lot and just tell me that it will all pass and that I would feel myself again, but I did not feel like myself at all. My body felt alien to me. I felt like I had no right to complain or ask for help, because Mia was healthy, and if other women could recover, that I should just suck it up and do it too. Mostly I thought that no one would understand if I told them..and I am not really sure that the people around me would have.
My advice would be for people not to downplay any woman's labor experience. Just because a healthy baby was the outcome, doesn't mean that the mother had to go through something unexpected or traumatic to get there. Since signs of depression are different for each individual, it is hard to say what to look for, but if a woman seems to be going a long time, without showering, eating, crying all the time, intense anger, then this is more then just "baby blues". If a woman tells you they need help and feels overwhelmed to take them seriously.
To women giving birth no matter, how it comes out, I would say to take it easy on yourself. Having a baby is life-changing and overwhelming. There are hormonal changes, body changes, and lifestyle changes, that no one can really describe to you until you go through it. Many women seem to feel that they have to do everything all at once, as well as to get back to their pre-pregnancy body as fast as they can, and they feel that they need to do it alone. This puts a lot of unnecessary pressure on a women's mental health. Don't worry so much about your weight, let the dishes be dirty for a while, order takeout, and ease into the role of motherhood rather then try to sprint to some imaginary finish line. Ask for help, and if you do not receive it keep asking or trying until you get it. Do not let anyone dismiss your feelings. Surround yourself with women that have gone through it and ask for advice, and know that your not alone.