My name is Mikell. I suffer from postpartum depression (PPD) and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It took me a long time and 2 children to find out what was wrong with me and now, after 4 children, I am still trying to figure out how best to help myself in this battle.
My husband and I have always wanted a big family. We talked about having 6 kids, which we knew would come with its own challenges, but we love children. Previous to having children I knew that I got the “winter blues” and for the most part it seemed I could “deal with it”. So, after my first baby was born and the depression started, I was sure I could just deal with the feelings. I quickly became pregnant with my second child (my first two were born 14 months apart) and things became very bad. We had just moved to a new place, my husband took our only car to work every day; I had no family or friends nearby. I slept as much as 16 hours out of every 24 hour period. I spent almost the rest of the time sitting on the couch or laying in bed. I was unmotivated, exhausted, depressed.
After my second baby was born I became worse. I didn’t understand. I saw other women with babies that were so happy. Why didn’t I feel that way? I had always wanted kids. I knew something wasn’t right. I knew I wasn’t myself. I was unkind to the ones I love the most. I had to try to make myself feel happy. Smiling did not come easy. In public, I felt that most of the time I was pretending to be happy. I was keeping up appearances.
One very bad day, my two babies were crying, and I had thoughts flutter through my mind, thoughts that startled me, thoughts that scared me! I knew they were wrong. I went straight to the doctor for help. My wonderful doctor explained to me what was going on – the change in hormones and the chemical imbalance. I felt so relieved to know the explanation and that I just needed some help. She gave me some very specific instructions. I started taking Sertraline (the generic for Zoloft) and vitamin D. She told me to eat healthy and exercise, she advised me to seek therapy, and to find a sitter and take a break at least once a week from my kids, if not a couple hours every day, by myself. I very slowly started to get better. The medicine did not fix me but it gave me the strength and motivation to help myself.
Baby 3 came with much anticipation and excitement. My doctor advised me to go on medicine when he was born. I told her I wanted to wait and see how I did. Within 2 weeks I knew I needed to be back on medicine. The stress, anxiety and depression came back hard and fast.
Shortly after starting medicine I had a couple experiences that made me feel guilty, question my decisions, and want to hide away. I was with a group of friends, who knew nothing about my situation, when one spoke up and openly criticized women who turned to medication to “solve their problems”. She said she had the baby blues and had visited a therapist and was able to work through her problems in less than 6 months, but that if you work hard enough at it you can get over it. I was embarrassed and chose to not say anything. Later another mom in that conversation confided in me that she too suffers from PPD. Some time later I was in a conversation with in-laws, who also did not know my situation, and they were openly criticizing a woman who had manic depression. They couldn’t believe this woman’s husband hadn’t divorced her yet. My stomach sank. I wondered – if they knew I had depression would they want my husband to divorce me? I couldn’t believe what other people said about depression. I realized none of these people knew anything about depression, especially PPD, what causes it and what helps bring relief from the symptoms.
When baby 4 was close to delivery I knew what to do. I knew I did not want to feel “that way” ever again. I knew for the sake of my family and myself I needed to make the best decisions for me. I went on medication the day baby 4 was born and, for me, it has been the best decision I have ever made. I have mostly avoided the depression. I have my days just like any normal mother of 4 but it is not like PPD. I have felt so relieved.
A final conversation that affected me – a friend, who does know my situation, asked me if I was afraid to have more kids. Knowing I would have to fight depression again, was having more kids in my best interest? After having 2 kids and feeling so depressed, I wasn’t sure I wanted any more. That’s the thing about PPD – you lose sight of what you really want, you lose interest in things you normally enjoy. So to answer her question, YES! I am afraid. I have 4 kids now and every time we make the decision to have another I have to consider my struggle with PPD. But every battle I have won, every struggle I have conquered motivates me to keep moving forward.
My increased knowledge of PPD, how to help myself, and my recent confidence in facing this issue have given me strength. At this point my joy, my happiness, my laughter and smile come with ease. I am not pretending. I am happy – truly happy. I still have to work to avoid sinking back into depression: exercise, eat right, sleep, time away from kids, etc. I am still learning what helps and what hurts but I am finally succeeding, and it feels GREAT!