[Editor’s Note: Every week I read more of them. Emails from women who sought help for postpartum depression from their pediatricians, their obstetricians, their primary care physicians who were ignored, mistreated or minimized. There’s probably nothing that upsets me more. When I speak in front of healthcare professionals and other groups, they find it hard to believe that such things are still going on. Yet they are. All the time. So I’ve asked my readers (that includes you) to send me letters. Letters they’d like to write to their doctors to share how it felt. Here is another in our ongoing series on seeking help for PPD. -Katherine]
Dear Dr. A.,
You may have noticed that I’m no longer on your patient roster. I know you’ve seen me in the hallways of your practice and perhaps you’ve wondered why I decided to change doctors. I wish I had the courage to tell you to your face, but my fear at reopening the wounds of what I’ve been through in the last little while saves us from having that awkward, ugly conversation.
During the four years that you were my primary care physician, I joked that you were a walking prescription pad. I even used to think about making up symptoms just to see what you would prescribe for me after a perfunctory exam and a couple of minutes of conversation.
When I came to see you the autumn after my son was born, I was in real trouble. For two months I had been slipping down the rat hole of postpartum depression. I knew something was wrong. I had changed from a sleep-deprived but relatively happy new mother, to an exhausted, anxious mother who was terrified that everything she did was not good enough for her baby, her husband, or for anyone.
When I came to see you that autumn, I had no idea that what I was experiencing was postpartum depression. To the best of my knowledge, PPD was something that happened immediately after birth, not nine months later, and I had no idea that the hormonal upheaval of abruptly finishing breastfeeding was quite literally driving me mad.
When I came to see you I wanted to let my guard down, hand you my burden, and have you draw me a map out of the rat hole. I was more than willing to do the work, to go to therapy, to go to support groups, but I needed someone to take that first step with me.
I knew any chance of effective treatment was over when you asked me what I wanted you to prescribe. When you asked if the low dose of the medication you’d prescribed me years ago had “done the job” I said yes, because at the time it had. But these were not the same circumstances and that was plain to see.
That winter I sank deeply into oblivion. I cared less about myself than I ever thought possible. I imagined all the ways in which I was failing my son and all the ways in which my husband no longer loved me. And that became my reality as I sat in a chair in the corner of my living room and cried until it was spring.
Eventually I did find a doctor who could help. When he looked at your prescription he shook his head and sighed. As he sat there with me for the next 45 minutes taking my history and assessing the extent of my depression, he explained why he would not have prescribed that medication for me and why he was recommending the drug he was prescribing. We talked for another few minutes, and after that, he called and made an appointment for me with a therapist. And then explained it all again to my parents when they came to collect me from his office.
The three of them physically and metaphorically took my hands and walked me through the maze and away from the terrible depression that had ruled my life for more than six months. They led me back to myself, and my son, although sadly, not to my marriage.
In my moments, I re-imagine our conversation that November day and instead of walking out of your office with a prescription for a drug that didn’t work and bewilderment that you could get me out of your office that quickly, I would push back and demand that you take me seriously. But, I’ve learned re-imagining the past does none of us any good. Instead, I want to muster the courage to ask you to educate yourself, to become an advocate for maternal mental health both in your practice and in our community because what I know now is that I’m not alone.
~ Jenna Sindle