I am a strong, emotionally stable woman who doesn’t let much ruffle her feathers.
I can pull myself out of any rough patch.
Those were just a few of the things I was telling myself as I made the drive to my OBGYN’s office just days after my fourth baby reached the six month mark. It had been months leading up to this appointment, but a few days of scary symptoms — a pounding heart, dizziness — forced me to make the call.
If I’m honest with myself, the signs of postpartum depression showed up that very first night alone in the hospital, unable to sleep. I felt pangs of panic– shortness of breath, a racing heart. I felt alone in my room. Exhausted. Baby number four in my arms. Number four. I should be a calm, collected pro at this. But here I was cradling a baby I couldn’t quiet no matter how much nursing and skin-to-skin coddling, cooing and swaddling I gave her.
When I came home, the crying continued. Hers. And mine. I put on a chin-up, happy face for everyone. I wanted to believe I had everything under control, as much as I wanted everyone else to believe it as well.
There were no regrets. Everything was fine. I could handle this.
But as weeks gave way to months those baby blues never seemed to disappear. As we shifted and adjusted to life with four, we reached a new normal in our home and things seemed to settle down.
Everyone was doing just fine. Everyone except for me.
Six months after Birdy’s birth I finally gave in. The symptoms I had been experiencing were getting worse and they were beginning to scare me. Without telling anyone, I silently worried that they were signs of bigger problems. Was I having a heart attack? Panic attack? Blood clot? Was I dying?
I told a friend that I was in a funk. But I never told her that the funk had been lasting for months with no sign of improvement. In fact, if anything I found myself falling deeper and deeper into this very lonely, dark place.
I knew, deep in my heart that sitting in the baby’s dark room, feeding her a bottle and sobbing was not normal.
Eventually, my period returned and with it even more emotional and hormonal ups and downs. I would have two okay weeks. I would ovulate. And then my emotions would crash and burn. I’d fight with my husband. Everything was something. And those somethings were major marital crises. Time and again, I left him speechless and blindsided, “Where is all this coming from?”
I had no desire to do anything. Go anywhere. Create. Make. Cook. Clean. Teach. All the roles I normally filled felt lifeless and dull. Nothing interested me.
My patience was a ticking bomb. The littlest mess, sibling squabble, chaotic moment, could set me off on an angry spiral that had nothing to do with the actual issue at hand.
I felt like I was on an emotional roller coaster but had no idea how to pull the brake.
When I walked into my doctor’s office, I was fighting back tears. I knew I had to face whatever medical issues were going on.
We sat in her office and I blubbered through everything I was experiencing. She nodded her head, listened. Finally, she asked me one simple question:
How old is the baby?
She went on to explain that it is a myth to think that postpartum depression only lasts those first few weeks after baby is born. In fact it can linger and deepen months beyond baby’s arrival.
As we talked, I felt like I had walked into the arms of change and answers, relief and hope. I had been silently fighting this battle alone for so long. I began to feel the cloud of loneliness and darkness lift. It wasn’t just me. I wasn’t the only one.
We discussed my options — a natural herbal approach to my care, or going right to medication. I chose the latter because I was exhausted, tired of living in this dark hole. I was ready to climb out.
The changes weren’t sudden or immediate. They weren’t drastic or dramatic. But slowly, over the next few weeks, I felt me return. I felt leveled out. Even-tempered. Calm. Dare I say, happy? It had been quite awhile.
Last month marked Birdy’s first birthday. I have been off medication for several weeks. I feel good but I am watchful, cautious and carefully optimistic. I have not felt the darkness or the funk return.
It has taken me a very long time to tell the story of my postpartum depression. At first, I admit to being embarrassed. The thought that I needed to be medicated, that I was depressed, was something that I didn’t want anyone to know, except for my husband. But now I know it is something that needs to be shared. It is a story that needs to be told. Because I remember so well those dark and lonely months. I remember what it felt like to put a happy face on my sad heart.
We mamas are not indestructible. But more importantly, we are not alone. You are not alone. There are answers. There is hope. And relief. And help.
Molly Balint lives with her husband in a fixer-upper farmhouse in rural Maryland, raising four little girls. She writes about her country days on her personal blog,MommyCoddle.com. She is also co-creator of the photography + words project,habit, which brings together the stories and voices of a community of women. She can also be found reviewing the latest mommy-finds on Babycenter.com’sMOMformation blogs. And with the rest of her abundant free time she knits,takes pictures, homeschools her girls, and chases after a small flock of chickens.
Donations to Postpartum Progress can be made here: http://postpartumprogress.org/donate-postpartum-depression-2/