I didn’t want to admit there was a problem. It was my third experience with a colicky baby and in my mind, it was normal to feel depressed given the circumstances. But then my baby grew. He hit that three-month marker when colicky babies often transform into the Gerber babies you’d always hoped for, and he was happier than ever. Now I was one still having more bad days than good. I told myself I wouldn’t always feel this way. I told myself tomorrow would be better. But it was like everything had turned grey. It soon became rare to have a good day. I was pestered with a persistent voice battering my mind with thoughts of hopelessness, pangs of guilt, and an overwhelming sense of inadequacy. I couldn’t escape it. Even now, even 15 months after his colic ended, even though my baby is now a toddler, I’m still struggling with postpartum depression.
I knew something was different soon after I gave birth to my third baby. I’d experienced the “baby blues” with my other two kids, as well as some depression, but it had always subsided once I started to get more sleep. It was always a struggle to care for a colicky infant, but when that stage finally passed us over, I’d find great joy in motherhood. This time however, my experience was different from the start. I endured a more traumatic birth and though my body healed, my mind felt broken. I didn’t understand why I wasn’t feeling better after those first few weeks; why I’d lost my joy. There was a voice in my head telling me at every turn that I was failing at motherhood, that my family would be better off without me. I slept fitfully and lost interest in activities I'd once loved; even food tasted bland. Everything just felt muted, boring. Dull.
I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t seek help until well after my baby turned 1 year old. I believed I’d get better as my baby grew older, when I wasn’t “postpartum” anymore. That wasn’t the case. I finally decided to make an appointment with my doctor to address how I'd been feeling. She gave me a depression screening test. With those questions, the stark reality of what I was experiencing was there, on the page, staring back at me. Do you do things slowly? Have difficulty concentrating? Feel hopeless? Has the pleasure gone out of your life? Are you fatigued? Have there been changes in your eating habits? And is it some of the time, not at all, or frequently? I knew I couldn’t live in denial anymore. After completing the test, my doctor informed me that I’d scored high enough that in her opinion, medication was recommended. And given the fact that it’d been almost a year since I’d given birth, she told me what I felt would no longer be considered postpartum depression. It was depression.
The medication I’m currently trying has improved some symptoms, but it also leaves me agitated at times. That agitation can often be directed towards my husband or my kids, which leads to guilt, which leads to me feeling worse. It’s an endless cycle.
There, in the doctor’s office, the diagnosis felt heavy, like a weight on my back. Only now, the weight had a permanent vacancy. And a name: Major Depressive Disorder. Even though I was done having babies, and not postpartum anymore, there was still something "wrong" with me. Something that wasn’t "right." But after some research, I discovered that postpartum depression can persist well past the postpartum stage for a lot of women. A recent study examining postpartum depression found that although symptoms will decrease for most women over time, there are still a large number of women who will suffer more long-term. This report, published in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry, found that,
Overall 38 [percent] of women with postpartum depression experienced chronic symptoms.” They also noted that those who seek treatment earlier fared better, and that, “in women who were not receiving clinical treatment, 30 percent were still depressed up to 3 years after giving birth.
After meeting with my doctor, I started a medication and am currently seeking out the help of a therapist. I learned about lifestyle changes that can help as well such as regular exercise, getting adequate sleep, following a healthy diet, and practicing stress-reduction techniques, like meditation. As a stay-at-home mom, isolation is an issue I struggle with. Making time for myself and just adventuring out of the house are important for me. It’s a process, to be sure. And the medication I’m currently trying has improved some symptoms, but it also leaves me agitated at times. That agitation can often be directed towards my husband or my kids, which leads to guilt, which leads to me feeling worse. It’s an endless cycle.
Even with treatment, there are still hard times. I had a particularly bad day this week. My partner and I are struggling to determine which food allergies our toddler suffers from. Right now, we’ve eliminated all milk products, but there may be more to it and he has been understandably fussy and demanding. Watching him suffer is much more painful than my own, largely because I feel like I’m supposed to know what he needs and I’m supposed to have the answers. But I don’t. And on this particular day, I was stretched to my limit. When evening hit and he wanted to play outside, I begrudgingly followed him outside even though I’d hoped to clean the kitchen. Once I was out there, though, I was greeted by a beautiful sunset.
That’s when I felt it: hope. The promise of a new day and of better days to come.
Breathtaking hues of tangerine against turquoise sky, and a warm wind lifted my hair. That’s when I felt it: hope. The promise of a new day and of better days to come. I called out to my husband to join me and we sat together in that peaceful moment. I still have a lot of work to do. I know that. But in that moment, speaking words of love and hope for the future together, as our beautiful boys played happily around us, I knew I’d make it through.