My therapist told me that I had post-traumatic stress disorder after experiencing postpartum depression. I thought that was strange at the time. That is a lot of “posts” for one person. Plus, it did not seem like what I went through was trauma in the way that I normally thought of trauma. And I know what trauma is. I wish I did not, but I do. I can close my eyes and feel the cold under my back after I fainted in the snow when my family home burnt down. I can smell the smoke in the air. I can hear my sister’s screams for her dog in the house. It was years ago. I have had plenty of time to heal, but that is what trauma does. It leaves you with a memory that you can relive again perfectly in your mind. I can do the same thing with my mother’s death. It was also years ago, but sometimes I can blink slowly, and I can feel her warm hands in mine in the hospital bed. I can see my sister’s head up against her chest, listening to her heart. I can hear my sister say, “It stopped.” I can replay it like I could replay the scenes of my favorite movie, but sometimes the memories of trauma come unwarranted, and the story is painful. Postpartum depression was indeed trauma. It just came in a different package; it came in a deceiving, dark, sneaky, confusing, and awful package.
I was four months postpartum when it started, which was the most deceiving part. My stomach had shrunk back to its normal size. The ice pack pads for my bottom were no longer necessary, and the doctor said I was all healed up, but that is when I began to be far from well. I laid on the floor in my small, stand-up shower for far too long, letting the warm water on my back, wondering why I was looking so thin without trying, wondering why my stomach was twisted with worry, and why my hair was falling out in clumps.
I stopped sleeping, entirely. My eyes were closed for long stretches, but my heart would beat so heavily that I could feel it in my whole body. I was curled up in my cozy, velvet grey quilt in the comfort of my bed. My chubby, healthy baby was sleeping peacefully next door in his room that I had so diligently prepared for him. I laid next to my husband, a light sleeper, and tried not to move around too much so I would not wake him, but the noise within my own mind was unavoidable.
“It’s too late for that to be postpartum,” my OB told me over the phone, “You should call your family doctor.”
My family doctor saw me, but he shrugged his shoulders and said, “This is being a new mom. You don’t sleep.”
My stomach twisted up again and I tried hard to hold tears back in front of the doctor. I had no answers. I was alone with my horrible, awful thoughts: “Am I not cut out to be a mom? Have I literally lost my mind all the sudden? What is going to happen to me? I am causing more harm than good for my family. It would be better if I weren’t here.” My husband urged me to see someone else, who prescribed an antidepressant for anxiety. She said if the anxiety stopped, I would sleep. She said it would get better. She said it would be okay.
The next eight weeks before the medication kicked in were a complete terror. I was in a constant fight or flight state. Every night I would either lay still with a racing heart, or I would walk around the living room, looking at the neighbor’s Christmas lights through the window, feeling helpless, wondering where all my happiness went so suddenly. I looked in the mirror every morning and saw heavy, dark circles under my eyes. I saw my hair look more and more thin. I looked at my son, who smiled at me with his chubby cheeks, and I wept because I was not myself.
I had lived out of my car after my family’s house fire. I had watched my mother take her last, wheezing breath. I had faced trauma and gone through the difficult process of healing from it. Yet, sitting in my living room and looking at the sun start setting was making me more anxious than I had ever been in my life. If I looked at my cozy, comfortable bed and thought of sleeping, I nearly panicked.
I tried meditation, exercise, journaling, prayer, reading, therapy, acupuncture, and healthy eating, but no matter how hard I tried, I did not feel right.
In time, it passed. It just passed.
I do not know what would have happened if I did not try all those interventions. On one hand, it could have been worse. On the other hand, maybe I tried too hard. Eventually, I sought out doctors who specialized in postpartum depression. I was shown hormone charts, statistics, and a whole hell of a lot of support. I did, indeed, have postpartum depression, four months postpartum. And it was, indeed, trauma. It may not have been a fire or a death, but the loss was abrupt, shocking, and emotionally devastating. And worst of all, it was lonely because no one could see the trauma.
For at least a year after I felt better, I could not watch television or movies that involved anyone having mental illness, insomnia, or postpartum difficulty. I could not listen to people talk about being unable to sleep. If I ever had trouble sleeping, I had to talk myself down from a panic attack. I could not even look at pictures of the period when I felt so bad. It was post-traumatic stress. Many times, I wondered how I could possibly ever have another child and risk having that experience again.
With healing and help, I was able to bring myself to think of having another baby. I did. And I did not have postpartum depression a second time. Not only did I have another baby, but I had more healing that I ever imagined. Post-postpartum. Post-posttraumatic stress. Post-healing. After all that, I am an advocate for mental health awareness, particularly speaking about postpartum depression. Now, I am a mental health therapist in-training, hoping to eventually help as many women as I can who face the terrible, awful experience of postpartum depression.
Please know that it is possible to have postpartum depression later than you would expect after having your baby. It is, indeed, possible to have hormones that dictate your mood. It is, indeed, traumatic for some mothers. It is possible to walk around the house all night long, telling yourself that you can make it, because if you do not, you are too scared to think of what might happen. The shock of feeling differently is a traumatic shock that is left as an unspoken problem. If you are struggling with postpartum depression, please, know that you are not alone. Please, be diligent in reaching for help. Postpartum depression is not a one-size-fits-all experience. It can come in many different forms depending on your temperament, history, and your adjustment to becoming a new mother. If you are in that dark place, please, hang on, momma.