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I have four wonderful children. I experienced postpartum depression after the birth of my daughter (second child) and my youngest son (fourth child). Each time it lasted about nine months. After my daughter’s arrival, I felt like a shell of a person. I cried a lot. I will never forget the day that I walked into our dining room. My two year old son looked up at me. When he saw the look on my face, he motioned for me to come down for a hug and he just held me while I cried.

I survived Annie’s first year without medication, but at a terrible price. I don’t remember much of my only daughter’s first year of life. I do remember the emptiness, the inability to smile, and the panic attacks where I felt like I would physically implode.

We moved. I shared what I was experiencing with a new friend. She felt impressed to tell me about an aerobic dance class with inexpensive child care near my home. Another young mom and I went. Within two weeks the movement and the music had me feeling like me again. By this time, my daughter was nine months old. Would the depression and anxiety have lifted on its own? I don’t know. I’m just grateful that it did.

Please don’t “tough it out”. I don’t remember yelling at my children or being harsh with them, but I can’t imagine I was fully present with them. The sweet memories I have of my boy’s first year only show me what I lost by not seeking help after the birth of my daughter. Don’t make the same mistake. Stoicism is not its own reward. A neurochemical imbalance is not a character flaw.

At the time of the birth of my youngest son, I was caring for my mother-in-law who had Alzheimer’s disease, ran an in-home day care, and campaigned for my husband when he ran for a seat on the school board and faced the fact that I would never have another child due to a medical condition. Just as with Annie, I feel as though I had “checked out” emotionally. The only difference was that I contemplated taking my life. I sought help this time, but was not offered an anti-depressant until 6 months later. When I read the information regarding chemical imbalance “clinical depression” it reminded me of what I read concerning neurological effects of aspartame consumption. I had consumed aspartame during and after my pregnancy because I was concerned about my weight. I immediately ceased my consumption of all aspartame and within two weeks I ascended from my emotional black whole without medication. I have no way to know whether the improvement in my mental health was a direct result of the absence of aspartame or the fact that it was nine months from the birth of my child, but I choose to avoid artificial sweeteners.

Decades later I have been diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) which may have played a part in my postpartum experiences. I do what I can through diet, exercise and the use of a full spectrum light, but when I begin to wake at 2 or 3 am, nauseated and anxious, I recognize them as symptoms of depression and take my medication as prescribed. In the spring, I am usually able to wean off of my medication, but there has been a particularly stressful summer when I needed to stay on my anti-depressant. I realize that my story doesn’t pertain only to post-partum mood disorder, but hope that others will be able to benefit from my journey.

I am grateful to be an emotionally present wife, mother and grandmother. My life is full of joy. My advice to you is to “hang on”. Don’t give up five minutes before the miracle. Your family and friends need you. They need you to take care of you. Just like the biblical story about the ten virgins; you need to keep your emotional, spiritual and physical lamp full before you can help anyone else.

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