Sarah’s Journey through Postpartum Depression
This guest post written by Sarah Witzel. Thank you Sarah for sharing your personal story. – Cindy and Jana
On October 31, 2011 I gave birth to a beautiful little girl. It was an unplanned, but very much wanted, pregnancy and my husband and I were very excited to finally meet our daughter. I had a natural childbirth at the Grey Nuns hospital in Edmonton, with almost everything going according to plan. Within 24 hours we brought her home.
It definitely took a little while to adjust to the concept of being a mother! I remember my first day alone with her, after our families had gone back home to Saskatoon and my husband had returned to class. I had a strange feeling that because I’d had this baby for two weeks already, she was probably due back at the library! Even the idea that she was mine, and that caring for her was my new life seemed so odd.
Like most women, I experienced the ‘baby blues’ after birth, with crying spells and mood swings as my hormones settled down. Unfortunately, my difficulties did not resolve within the usual 2 week period and developed into postpartum depression. I lost weight very rapidly after giving birth – all of my pregnancy weight plus another five pounds within ten days. I had lost another five pounds by my postpartum checkup (note that I was not trying to lose weight, was not overweight prior to my pregnancy and had only gained 22 pounds while pregnant). I had trouble sleeping during the day because I felt anxious, and at night I would lie in bed and have flashbacks to my labor and delivery. I had nightmares about hurting my daughter and frequently felt overwhelmed, guilty, agitated, and stressed.
Symptoms of postpartum depression
Postpartum depression is believed to affect at least 15% of childbearing women. The symptoms manifest differently for different women. Many people believe that depressed people feel sad all the time, but they may also feel angry, guilty, numb, or anxious. These feelings can be normal, but when they are persistent or interfere with your daily functioning or your relationship with your baby or others, it is time to seek help. Other possible symptoms include loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, excessive fatigue, unusual weight gain or loss, and restlessness. Some mothers experience symptoms of other psychiatric disorders postpartum, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder. Women with postpartum depression are not at risk for harming their children as is commonly believed. Rather, that is a symptom of postpartum psychosis, a much more rare and serious condition.
Postpartum depression can be identified by your family doctor, your public health nurse, or your baby’s doctor, using a simple questionnaire. Seek help as soon as possible if you are having any symptoms. Postpartum depression and other mood disorders do not get better on their own and delaying treatment will only be more stressful for yourself, your baby, and your family. Postpartum depression usually occurs shortly after giving birth, but can happen at any time in the first year.
Road to recovery
Postpartum depression has been linked to breastfeeding difficulties, but continuing to nurse can be very beneficial to both mom and baby. Breastfeeding allowed me to nurture and bond with my daughter even when I was feeling numb, detached, or otherwise unwell. Even on the days that I did not feel like I was doing anything else right, I took comfort in knowing how good breastfeeding was for her. I watched her grow so quickly nourished by my milk.
My daughter is still breastfeeding now at almost 20 months old, and I am so glad that we persisted through the difficult early weeks. If you are struggling with breastfeeding at any time, seek help from an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) as soon as possible. Breastfeeding groups, such as La Leche League, can provide valuable social support as well as advice and information. Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to choose between nursing and using medication, as there are many antidepressants and antianxiety medications that are safe to use while breastfeeding.
Remember that postpartum depression will get better! The length of time it can take to resolve varies, and the recovery process can be frustrating, but it will not last forever. There are multiple treatment options for postpartum depression. Medication, support groups, individual counseling, and exercise are some commonly used options. Your mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health are all linked and thus it is advantageous to use a combination of treatments rather than relying on a single approach. Remember that there is so much joy in parenthood, and you will find it, even if your road to get to that place feels long and rough.