When It Comes to Postpartum Depression Treatment, No Judgment Allowed

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Is it fair to judge moms on what type of treatment they use for postpartum depression?

No, says author Therese Borchard. I just saw the following as I’m trying to catch up on my reading of her blog Beyond Blue , and I thought it was really fantastic. Therese is a survivor of PPD and has struggled throughout her life with depression.

Two days ago, at my doctor’s visit, I ended up crying, again, as I talked about my resentment toward those people in my life who took advantage of my suicidal days as an opportunity to push their philosophies about the Law of Attraction [she's referring to that book that Oprah promoted]. They scared me by saying “You are losing your personality to medication,” and “Medicine is today’s biggest industry — It’s a conspiracy, and you are the guinea pig.” They very strongly encouraged me to go off all of my meds, to center myself, and look to the light. They performed Reiki on me.

And they told me, as I sobbed: “You are a weak person if you have to rely on medication. It’s a shame you weren’t stronger.”

I believed them for a very long time. Too long. And so whenever I hear someone sound like them, I have to put my hands in my ears and yell this message:

1.) Depression is a legitimate brain disease, as legitimate as cancer, arthritis, diabetes, and dementia. For the medical reports and explanations, read Peter Kramer’s “Against Depression.” Or read my post “Depression Is a Brain Disease.”

2.) I have seen what happens when people who have mood disorders don’t take accountability for their illnesses–what happens when they rely soley on positive thinking and visualization techniques: their family members have to pick up the pieces and do all of the responsibilities that the person has neglected because he/she won’t take medication, or is in denial. Or they take their own lives. At the age of 16, I saw that too (my Godmother, a bipolar, took her life then.)

3.) I am holistic in my approach. I engage body, mind, and spirit in my recovery more than you know. I think about my brain at every meal, conversation, and work out.I pray. I meditate. I take fish-oil capsules. I exercise like Lance Armstrong. I get outside. I use a light lamp. I get regular sleep. I keep a gratitude journal. I try to do charity.

4.) The most irresponsible thing for me to do right now for my family would be for me to go off my meds. I have seen what happens when I do. So part of the reason I stay on, and not experiment with weaning is because I love them. I love them so much that I will take my meds, even if I don’t want to.

Please. Don’t say things like you just did. If you only knew how hurt I still am by those who utter similar words to my face, at my lowest point, you would take them back. At least I hope you would. Support those who face mental illness head on, and don’t hide behind empty feel-good philosophies.”

Wow, Therese. You are one powerful Warrior Mom.

Do you know how many women I hear from who call me when they’re 8 or 9 months postpartum, or even at a year, sobbing, wondering what they’ve done wrong? They’ve figured out by now that they have postpartum depression, or something akin to it, and they know that if they could just exercise more, or find a better brand of vitamin, or maybe get even closer to God, or think happy thoughts that it would all get better. If they just did one more thing, or worked a little bit harder, this would all go away. They’re convinced this is all their fault because they’re obviously not doing it right, even though they’ve been trying like crazy for months on end and it hasn’t worked. They’ve been made to feel that certain postpartum depression treatment choices are simply off limits because others look down upon them. How much of that suffering could be eliminated if these moms had felt safer trying something different rather than continuing to bang their heads against the wall?

I think it’s important to inform yourself of all the things that help to make your brain work better and to do them, as long as you yourselfare comfortable with them. It’s YOUR decision and no one else’s. If you find a postpartum depression treatment method that works for you, whatever it is, I SAY AMEN SISTER! But if your illness keeps going, and going, and going, don’t be afraid to try something else just because it’s not what others think is right.

I happen to take Flaxseed oil capsules. I have started exercising 4-5 times a week. Do I like exercising? No, not a big fan. Am I doing it to lose weight? No, because now that I’m turning 40 my metabolism has stopped and I can’t lose weight for the life of me. (UGH!) I do it because I can literally feel it releasing stress. I could get 4 to 5 more hours of work done a week instead of exercising — time that I could really use working. But instead I’m exercising because it’s crucial for my brain. I could also get up early, or go to bed even later than I already do, to get everything done that I’d like to. But NOPE, won’t do that either. Sleep is like oxygen and I’m making sure I get enough. I go to church and my faith happens to help me. I have supportive family and friends. Therapy has been great for me. I also believe that meds worked for me and I’m glad I took them for postpartum depression, and, horror of horrors, continue to take them for my OCD. I’ve made my own decisions and I’m comfortable with them. These things have worked for me. But who cares what has worked for me? What matters is what works for you.

There will be people who will tell you “this works for everyone” when it comes to trying to recover from postpartum depression. I’ve heard:

  • “[Insert antidepressant brand here] saved me!”
  • “Stopping breastfeeding saved me!” or conversely “Continuing to breastfeed saved me!”
  • “Eating my baby’s placenta saved me!”
  • “Thyroid treatment saved me!”
  • “Progesterone cream saved me!”
  • “My support group saved me!”
  • “[Insert doctor's/therapist's name here] saved me!”

It may have indeed saved them. But it doesn’t mean it will save you. What I have done, or your best friend did, or your mom’s coworker did won’t necessarily save you. I haven’t come upon anything yet for postpartum depression and anxiety that works the exact same way and has the exact same impact on everyone. Each of us is different from the next, and there are simply too many variables– your genetics, your family life, your doctor’s/therapist’s personality/approach/expertise/bedside manner, how severe your illness is, your family history, your general health, your economic situation. That is why you have to find trusted, experienced professionals to help you sort this out based on YOU and only YOU. And you have to do your own research and educate yourself. And keep in mind that, for many people, it takes more than one course of action to get better — you may need to make sure you’re taking care of yourself in a variety of ways and not relying on one magic “whatever” to make you better.

It is awful that people judge, and quite ridiculous actually. DO NOT JUDGE. You have NO PLACE. Don’t prevent women from getting whatever kind of help it is they need to get back to being themselves again.

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About Katherine Stone

is the founder & editor of Postpartum Progress. She was named one of the ten most influential mom bloggers of 2011, a WebMD Health Hero and one of the top 25 parent bloggers using social media for social good. She also writes the Fierce Blog, and a parenting column for Disney's Babble.com.

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  1. I didn't have anyone in particular tell me I was weak or anything. In fact, no one said anything. I didn't know what was happening to me, except that I was drowning in plain sight. My first child (also my first PPD and PMDD experience) had significant medical needs in her first several months, and I fought tooth and nail through every hour around the clock for my sanity in any way possible.
    I prayed more than I have ever prayed while I was depressed. I cried and begged God to make me something different so I'd be a better mom and not feel so bad all day.
    I bought inspirational books, leadership books, and devotional books. I went to a different church than I usually had while growing up, thinking that would get me closer to God to make the pain go away. I got involved in a young moms bible study group. I tried to pep myself up. I tried to "talk myself out of my depression thinking and feelings." I got involved in my cosmetic direct selling business and tried to get excited about it.
    The fellowship and regularity of the bible study group kept me going more than I realized at the time. But I cried easily there. I'm sure I complained plenty there. I felt like I was in a tunnel at my cosmetic selling meetings sometimes – there but not there.
    None of this worked to make my depression go away. I realized that in some way, I knew something was desperately wrong. But even I, a mental health counselor, couldn't figure it out. How's that for weird? I tried everything I could think of to "will" myself out of depression and it all basically failed.
    You know what worked? Meds for 18 months, a short amount of therapy, yoga, (eventually) telling my family and a friend or two. And truthfully, having my third pregnancy as a blissfully uneventful and manageable experience. This was trial and error, some educated moves, and some chance. This formula may not do it for someone else, but it did for me.
    In other words, all that stuff about cheering up and hanging in there DOES NOT CUT IT with significant depression. If mine had been more mild, perhaps my own efforts would have done it. If purely the power of thought and prenatal vitamins were sufficiently strong enough to help virtually everyone, we would have never invented psychiatric medication or therapy. The entire field of psychology as we know it would be obsolete.
    I welcome the chance to see how other therapies and approaches help women everywhere. We aren't exactly the same. Sometimes our first attempt at treatment or intervention is just damn lucky. If I'd been put on something that didn't agree with my body, my med experience might have been different. If I'd tried my first counselor and she didn't really seem to get it, my experience on the "other side of the couch" may not have worked well.
    `I just wish more people "got it."

  2. It bothers me that you have to say this, that the current climate makes it necessary to say this, over and over.

  3. Lisa Lou says:

    Thank you for posting this. I still keep this site in Google Reader even though my daughter is now 3, because sometimes when I see a new mother who looks blissful, I get "flashbacks" to the avalanche of terror and self-disgust that was PPD. (BTW I'm blissful now!)
    I was actually really lucky in a lot of ways, going into that experience. I am a therapist, with experience in crisis intervention. I have lived with bipolar disorder since age 17, and I already knew through many years of trial and error which medications work for me. So, at 3 days postpartum, I quickly recognized that my grasp on reality was ever-more tenuous, and I had my husband take me to the ER. I shudder to think how many moms in this situation try to "discipline" themselves out of PPD.
    For me, the answer was 5 days of hospitalization, going back on all my bipolar meds (and giving up on my plans to use alternate meds and breastfeed), uninterrupted sleep at least 3 times a week, and therapy. Yeah, I'm high maintenance! But it worked great and if we end up with another kid, I will be popping Seroquel brownies in the delivery room.
    I do think the "listen to what makes YOU feel better" message is so important, particularly at a time when most women feel very vulnerable to criticism about their levels of maternal selflessness. Hey, I didn't think taking meds or being hospitalized was fun– I did it, paradoxically, so that I could take care of my kid!

  4. Amen! That is exactly why we need more education programs and public awareness campaigns about postpartum mood disorders. There is so much ignorance out there. Women need to know that it's okay and to get professional help right away. The world is full of prejudice and judgemental people. The public needs to realize these are legitimate illnesses and to stop saying unhelpful things that make problems worse.
    I am one of the ones that struggled for several months before admitting that I needed help. I thought I ought to be strong enough or should be able to "snap out of it" on my own. I finally saw my doctor and got on medication. I needed educating and to get over my preconceived ideas. One of my stumbling blocks was viewing PPD as being a weakness or failure on my part.
    I wished that I had learned about PPD sooner. I suffered a lot more than I needed to.

  5. Thanks for saying this. I sometimes get the *opposite* form of judgement — I tried several antidepressants after I had my son and none of them worked for me. I ultimately had to dig myself out of it, which was hard, but also pretty cathartic. This time around (my newest baby is 7 weeks old), I am hoping to be able to thwart the severe depression I had last time by proactively trying the things that I thought helped last time. But in my case, antidepressants didn't seem to be the answer, as much as many of my well-meaning friends and relatives continue to encourage me to go that route again. So, thank you for saying that what works for some people does not work for others.
    (And, by the way, I am one of the women who did eat my babies' placentas — dried in capsules — and thought it helped to some degree with my mood. But it is not a panacea and also doesn't have an indefinite supply. So it's important to find something that really works long-term.)

  6. Melanie G says:

    I don't know how you do it, but you always say things in a way that give me courage and confidence to keep trying to get well. My own mother (I know she means well!) questions my choice to use meds to survive. She brings up all the scary stories she knows about side effects and withdrawl. But the fact is that the medications I'm taking are helping me to take care of my family and to live. If they stop helping, I'll try something else because I really want to get better. Thank you for using your eloquence to support those of us who need an advocate.

  7. With a 4 yo a 3 to and a 7 month old, and having dealt with depression since I was about 13 PPD is a VERY REAL thing. I only wish my meds, counseling and positivity would work. Right now as I sit here weeping after screaming at my kiddos for well being kiddos, I feel like nothing works and nothing ever will. I am so happy for the people out there that can find peace. Sometimes I wish it was a physical disorder I had so it would be taken seriously and seen for what it is.

  8. (I know this article is old, but I still wanted to comment because I enjoyed it so much!)

    I’m five months PP and still struggling with PPD and severe anxiety–I had my first panic attack ever 2 weeks after giving birth–but it’s slowly getting better, and I’m doing a combination of just about everything you’ve mentioned (vitamins such as 5HTP, exercise, lightbox therapy, talk therapy, progesterone…I even stopped breastfeeding early hoping it would help).

    I have no idea if any of it’s working, if it’s all working in combination, or if it’s just time passing that’s helped. I also pray a lot, but I did find it annoying when my mom would make it sound like that was “all” I needed; I personally pray that God will lead me to the right treatment for me.

    I loved that your article addressed the issue of judgement. I don’t take SSRI’s because I’ve had adverse reactions to them in the past, but I would never/never have judge(d) someone who chose to take them. Like you said, everyone is different biologically, and our lives, experiences, and beliefs vary greatly; no one treatment works for every woman–and the “right” treatment can change with each pregnancy, too.

    This article and the comments of others’ experiences comfort me greatly, since online research has been my best friend during this difficult time–my OBGYN was not helpful at all. In fact, she said it was “nearly impossible” for me to have PPD because I’m 22 and “young people don’t get it. They just bounce back.” She then added that my extreme depression and new anxiety were simply me “mourning the nightlife I’ll never again.” As though I cared SO much about partying that I’d actually get panic attacks over no longer being able to do it, or that, by being young, I automatically did that in the first place! Needless to say, I’ve switched doctors.

    Anyway…just wanted to say, I loved this article :)