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Postpartum Depression

A year ago I started electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) for my severe depression. I try to do one every four to six weeks because I need them to live, truly. When I’m going through a depressive episode, it resets my brain somehow, and after my stint at the Menninger Clinic, I want to avoid going to that dark place (in my head) again.

While the ECTs help me to be my best self, they have crippled my memory. Usually, ECT will affect your memory around the time of treatment, meaning you might not remember coming in for the treatment or directly after it. For me, I can’t remember things from years ago. My memory is just so random; I can’t figure out how my brain has decided to keep some memories and discard others. I’ve also forgotten entire people. Months ago I went to a nail salon and a woman asked about David and the kids. I did my best to talk with her but I was so embarrassed and frustrated. 

When I try to remember something I often come up with nothing – just a fuzzy gray wall in my brain. Sometimes it shakes me to my core because I’m afraid I’ll forget my most cherished memories — being with my grandmother as a child, getting married and memories of my babies being born, etc. And as weird as it sounds, I want to remember what it was like before I went to Menninger, so I can recognize those painful feelings and behaviors and stop them as soon as possible.    

But above all, I want to remember me and the memories that helped shape me, so I thought I would write myself a short reminder. 

imageTo my future self, please remember how strong you are. Remember when you bravely moved to Corpus Christi, hundreds of miles from family and friends and didn’t know a single soul. That you had two children in 23 months and won a horrible battle with postpartum depression. Remember when things got hard again and your brain betrayed you, telling you to kill yourself but instead you found hope in a psychiatric treatment facility for six long weeks. And that during that time, how you fought like hell for your family and friends.

Please remember your big heart and limitless capacity to love. Your sense of humor and generosity. Don’t forget how loudly you laugh (it’s more of a guffaw, really) and your ability to be inclusive and open-minded. Know your worth, that you are deserving of love and respect.

Remember that you are the best mom to raise Isla and Eli and to always lead by example. Never forget the words to George Strait songs you sing to Eli at bedtime or that Isla gets scared at night and needs extra cuddles. How Eli is totally obsessed with seahorses and named his seahorse stuffie Weerow. That Isla’s sense of humor is beyond her years. Remember how amazing your mama is and how you feel such comfort and love when she is near and that Mema made you feel the same way. You are loved – and were shaped – by very strong women. YOU are a strong woman, despite what your brain tells you. 

And finally, when it is dark and you can’t seem to find the light, remember that one shines within you. If you can’t remember that, just know that you have really good friends with really good flashlights. 

 

 

 

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I’m cleaning out my car the other day and finding the odd little things moms find in their cars – a pair of shoes, one sock, three My Little Ponies and a monster truck. These make me smile because at one point in my car all that was there was Chick-fil-a trash, which also makes me smile, but for different reasons. I love finding toys here and there, reminding me how lucky I am that I have two beautiful, clever children who love me.

But to be honest, after giving birth to them my depression worsened. My hormones and brain chemistry were altered and I went down dark roads I never imagined existed. Do I regret having babies? No way. Will I have more? No way. But I do want to discuss Postpartum Depression and Post Weaning Depression.

During my first pregnancy, I was happy a lot, albeit anxious, even though my family was facing terrible times – my husband’s dad died and there was chaos within the family. But my hormones wouldn’t let me be sad a whole lot during these times. After giving birth to a girl, I breastfed her for 8 months. I felt the depression creeping back in and I no longer had the protection of pregnancy hormones to keep me happy. I stopped breastfeeding cold turkey, without so much as talking to a lactation consultant or my doctor. I just wanted to get back on meds (at this time I was told by my now former psychiatrist that I would not be able to be on meds and breastfeed, which is not true).

The pain in my breasts was nothing compared to the waves of depression that crashed down on me over and over. I was suicidal. My husband and mom didn’t understand what was happening. My doctors didn’t know what to do so they recommended I go to the local psychiatric hospital, which I didn’t want to do and I found inadequate. I felt my whole postpartum care was inadequate, except for my OB’s care. Once I was on meds, and then more meds, the darkness began to let up. The suicidal thoughts receded.

I was on meds on top of meds and it was then I was labeled “treatment resistant.” I felt brushed off my psychiatrist. This was what it was going to be like forever? When my daughter was about 16 or 17 months old, my husband and I decided I would get off my meds and try for another baby. Secretly I was hoping to feel the happiness I had felt with my first pregnancy but no such luck. I felt anxious and moody, but I could go several weeks without a migraine, so there’s that. It was a difficult pregnancy – I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes at 20 weeks followed by polyhydraminos which led me to give birth to my son at 37 weeks. So I was relieved when it was over and I was prepared for the PPD, asking for Zoloft as soon as I could get it. My OB understood. Nobody wanted a repeat of last time.

And even though I was prepared and on medication, it still hit. It was more than the “baby blues.” I was sad all the time, I didn’t think anyone else could take care of the baby the way I could which led to exhaustion, which led to more anxiety and irritability. I constantly checked on the baby and worried. I was weepy. And worst case scenarios always popped through my head. Plus, I had a toddler to take care of. Whether you have help is irrelevant. You feel so alone and scared.  It’s like someone has taken over your body and brain. When it gets really bad, you have suicidal thoughts. If that happens, you need to tell someone and seek help immediately by going to the ER or calling 911.

The “baby blues” affects up to 80% of births, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), but those symptoms are mild and usually go away after about two weeks. The NIMH also says that PPD affects almost 15% of births – that sounds awfully low to me – symptoms are severe and can began between a week to a month after delivery. Because of the severity of PPD’s symptoms, women may have trouble taking care of themselves and the baby, so it’s really important to take note of your symptoms – how long they stick around and just how bad they get.

Postpartum depression is no joke and I had never heard of Post Weaning Depression after breastfeeding before I experienced it. People are starting to learn more about PPD and Post Weaning Depression but it’s still something that needs to discussed. It’s not just a “women’s problem” that should be discussed behind closed doors. Forget that. It really does take a village.

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