When I found out I was pregnant, one of the first things I discussed with my ob-gyn was the possibility of having postpartum depression after my baby was born. I struggled with depression and anxiety throughout my teens and into adulthood, and I knew that it made me predisposed to experience a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD). Couple that personal history with the fact that my mom experienced postpartum depression after I was born, and I knew my chances of having a PMAD were really high. I wanted to be off medication when I got pregnant, so my ob-gyn said she would follow my mood closely and be honest with me about warning signs and symptoms.
Throughout my pregnancy, I actually felt less depressed and anxious than ever. I was so excited to be pregnant after a difficult road, and I felt confident in my future mothering abilities. My doctor told me the third trimester is a good indicator of how your emotions will be in the postpartum period, and while I did get a bit more anxious as my due date approached, I generally felt good and put the worries about postpartum depression out of my head. Though I had a pretty healthy pregnancy, my blood pressure started to go up around 35 weeks, and I was induced at 37 weeks. My labor and delivery went smoothly, but the doctors missed a crucial diagnosis of placenta accreta, and I had severe hemorrhaging when my placenta would not deliver on its own. I had to have surgery and a longer stay in the hospital, but my daughter was healthy and thriving, and I felt truly happy after the trauma of my delivery.
Fast forward about eight weeks, and things started to go south. After settling into a routine with my baby at home and really starting to feel like I had this mom thing down (haha!), going back to work full-time was a few short weeks away. My anxiety skyrocketed, and I began to have dark, intrusive thoughts. At first, I thought it was normal. Every mom worries about things like their baby getting hurt or something happening to their partner. But when I started to have signs of depression, like low energy, not wanting to ever shower, and bouts of extreme crying, I knew I needed to get help. My first call was to my ob-gyn, who promptly put me back on medication. My next was to a therapist who specialized in PMADs. Treatment was a slow process, and ultimately, I was partially hospitalized.
About nine months into treatment, I started to feel more like myself. One day, I was reading the online newsletter that I received regularly from the hospital where I delivered my daughter. One of the articles introduced its Mom Mentor program, a program that connects brand-new moms to moms who have children 1 year old and up. They were looking for volunteers, and right away, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. I had been looking for a way to help moms who were going through postpartum depression like I did, and I knew this was the perfect opportunity. I filled out the volunteer form and was contacted to go in for training.
I got matched with two moms to mentor. We talked once a week for about an hour and texted in between. No topic was off-limits. We discussed cracked nipples, sleep tricks, helpful products, and more. As the weeks passed, I found myself looking forward to the calls more and more, because I realized that when I hung up, I felt so happy. I had a sense of purpose outside of motherhood, and being able to help other women by sharing my own tips and tricks made me feel like I really had it together. Whenever I felt like I was failing, I would remember that there were two women out there who were taking my advice and meeting with success as new mommas. My mentees were appreciative that I was so open with them about my own struggles, and one of them even realized she was having some symptoms of a PMAD through hearing about my experience. The idea that I might have guided her to get help sooner made me feel like all of my struggles were worth it.
Postpartum depression and anxiety are serious mental health conditions. If you are afraid you might be suffering, reach out to someone in any way you can. It doesn't always have to be a doctor. Your first step can be telling someone at work or a close friend or family member. The most important thing is to not suffer in silence. And if you have overcome, or even started to overcome, your struggles with a PMAD, consider reaching out to other new moms. I know being open and honest about my experiences was one of the most important steps in my recovery — because every mom needs a safe space to share.