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Wednesday, 23 November 2011

My PPD - Not as Seen on TV

When I looked at the “those at risk of postpartum depression” categories, it was like reading a checklist of my life:  I’d had a miscarriage. I live an ocean away from my family.  I’d lost my mom several years before. I had job issues and financial worries. I am a perfectionist.  The possibility of developing PPD was definitely a real one.

But I had a plan.

I believe that the more you know, the better your ability to make good choices.  When I got pregnant, I think I learned more about the way things could go wrong than I did about the perfect birth and baby.  Reading about the not so pretty side seemed like a good way to be prepared for reality.

Despite this, my impression of postpartum depression was pretty limited.

The commercials for various anti-depressants I’d seen and articles I’d read on how to combat depression seemed to paint a picture of me sitting in a room in my pyjamas, with the blinds closed, for days on end.  When I had been grieving, I wasn’t too far off this.  I ate very little, cried a lot, and the concoctions I called outfits were cringe-worthy and closely resembled sleepwear. However, I’d pulled myself out of that with a bit of counselling and a lot of walking and running to clear my head.  If this was postpartum depression, then it seemed like it would be easy enough to avoid as long as I remained focussed.

Of course, I also had the other picture of postpartum depression in my head. 

This one, seen in several Lifetime movies and various crime investigation shows, was that if I were to develop PPD, I would hate my baby so much that I’d either drive myself and her off a nearby bridge or I’d end up abandoning her on some church doorstep and running for the hills.

As much as it kills me to say it, even with this impression swimming in my head, I still honestly thought that as long as I was prepared and worked hard enough, I could manage to avoid postpartum depression all together.

My plan:
- Work as a team with my husband so we both managed solid chunks of sleep.
- Get up and get dressed every day.
-  Get ‘me time’ every day, even if it was for just five minutes.
- Begin walking, then running as soon as I felt able so fresh air and exercise were a regular part of my life.
- Be honest about being a mom and not put on a plastic smile and brave face.
- Utilise my resources – get as much information and help as I could from health visitors, my doctor, and my friends as I could.
- Not have unreasonable expectations, understand that I would make mistakes, that parenting is a learning process. 
- Recognise and accept the baby blues and not freak out if I felt more emotional than I expected.
- If I started to see warning signs, I would get help immediately

The list looks alright, doesn’t it?  Sure, a bit of it is easier said than done, but it’s not completely off the mark.  I actually think this list probably would have helped a lot in my adjustment to parenthood if I hadn’t had postnatal depression. 

Here’s the kicker though. It didn’t matter that I got dressed everyday and exercised regularly.

It got in anyway. 

Washing our hands may keep us from constantly getting sick but it won’t keep us from ever getting sick.

It’s taken me a long time to realise and accept this about postpartum depression. (Honestly, I’m still working on it)  I didn’t miss a step in the preventative process.  This illness strikes despite our strengths, not because of our weaknesses.  Then, once it gets in there, it’s like some evil boggart out of Harry Potter, striking us all slightly differently, using our weak points against us.  

My daughter was a couple of months old before I started to wonder if what I was feeling was postpartum depression. I didn’t feel right but I sure didn’t feel like what I’d seen on TV.  I didn’t feel remotely like I did after my mother died either.

Grieving my mom makes me feel like my whole heart is breaking into a thousand pieces.

Postpartum Depression, on the other hand, sucked all feeling out of me.  Detached and numb from the world, I longed to feel something. Some drive.  Some passion.  Love.  Anger. Hate. Sadness.  All of it was sapped up by this horrible despicable illness. I looked at my daughter and felt nothing, then immediately felt guilty for feeling that way and not being able to fix it.  I was paranoid that I would somehow harm her just through shear neglect because I was too numb and fuzzy headed to be a proper mother. 

When PPD struck, I thought the world and most certainly my daughter and husband would be better off without me.  I wished things would just. Stop.

But I had no plans to harm or abandon my daughter. I was so absolutely paranoid about anything bad actually happening to her that I could barely leave her side without having a near panic attack. I also knew I wouldn’t actually hurt myself as, frankly, I couldn’t be bothered. It was hard enough getting out of bed, much less planning my own end. I could tell I didn’t feel right but I was sure this wasn’t PPD. I chalked it up to exhaustion and the baby blues.

Thanks to friends and family that had been brutally honest about their first few days as mothers, I knew baby blues could be pretty rough.  I’d even read articles that had defined baby blues as “mild postpartum depression.”  In these stories, after several days of crying and not knowing what to do, the mothers finally realised they had a job to do and that someone was depending on them.  They dried their tears and got on with it. 

I have spent hours days weeks months of the last year and a half beating myself up because I couldn’t brush myself off, suck it up, and just get on with things.  Here’s what it’s taken me that long to learn:


Even with support, it has been a rough journey. If dusting myself off and getting on with it had been an option, I would have taken it long ago. 

My daughter was a few months old when I started to wonder if I may have postpartum depression.  My misconceptions had me stuck thinking I was “not that bad” and “I just need to learn how to deal.”

 It took me several more weeks to finally muster up the courage to look up symptoms online. I took a test and scored off the charts.  I got help a few days later. I’m thankful I began my journey to recovery before the symptoms got any worse than they did.  It terrifies me to think that, if I hadn’t gotten help it might have (Really I’m sure it would have) progressed to a point where I felt there was no other way out than to end it myself. 

This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful I’m getting my life back but I can’t help but wish I’d been aware of the real symptoms sooner.

You can find an excellent list of postpartum depression symptoms at postpartum progress.

 I've added this post to 'An Amazing Thing ,' at Boo and Me, along with many other strong women sharing their stories of PND.

She has set this raffle with some amazing prizes, all raising funds for the Joanne Bingley Memorial Foundation