The Terrifying Isolation of Postpartum Depression

A Charlotte Parent contributor and mother of two shares her experience
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It hit me when we were packing up to leave the hospital. As I dressed my daughter in her first outfit and placed her in her carrier, I got an anxious feeling in my stomach. It got worse as we got on the elevator, then into the car. By the time we pulled into our driveway, it felt as if I was sucked into an undertow of dread. When I walked in the door, I collapsed on the couch and began to cry.

I had never experienced depression before, in the sense that I had never felt devastation and despair without cause. The only time I had felt this feeling was when I was homesick as a child. There were no corresponding thoughts in my head connected to this terrifying feeling. I wasn’t yet upset about breastfeeding, or my loss of freedom. I wasn’t consciously worried about how to care for my new baby, nor anxious about her wellbeing. I was simply cloaked in a nauseating darkness.

My days were filled with tears, fatigue, guilt, and an emotional neediness for my husband I’d never experience before. I struggled to cull together the energy to fake pleasantries with the people who brought meals, came by with gifts, called with congratulatory glee. All of it led to more isolation and guilt. It was supposed to be such a happy time. I shouldn’t feel this way.

I remember standing in the shower, looking down at my swollen, lumpy, unfamiliar body, as the words from Kurt Cobain’s suicide note, where he referred to “the pit of my burning nauseous stomach,” played on repeat in my head. I soothed myself with the promise that if my pit didn’t go away in a month, that I would end it, too.

Thankfully, I was terrified enough to ask for help. My fabulous OB GYN, Dr. Dehoff, responded with the compassion, gentleness, and urgency I required. He immediately started me on Prozac, and gave me his cell phone number in case I started to feel worse.

For the next few days, I felt no improvement. I was convinced that the persistent feeling in my stomach was a result of them not putting me back together correctly after my c-section. I told the doctor that the nausea was unbearable and begged for a Zofran prescription to treat it. I’d experienced its near instant relief in the past, so I popped one in my mouth the moment the pharmacist handed me the bottle. It hit the pit of my burning, nauseous stomach and fizzled away ineffective.

But within a few weeks, the severity of the pit came in waves. Soon, it was more of an occasional nudge. Dread and despair fell away to a general despondency. In the months that followed, I began to regain energy for life and found contentment. When my daughter was six months old, I realized that I was the happiest I had ever been.

As a new mom, I didn’t have the tribe of mom friends that I have today. I didn’t know anyone who had postpartum depression, and feeling alone in the struggle made it all the more isolating and scary. All I wanted was for someone to tell me that I wasn’t going to feel that way forever.

For that reason, I try to share my postpartum experience as often as I can. That includes the occasional pregnant stranger, much to my husband’s chagrin.

When I had my second child, I took the suggestion of others and had my placenta encapsulated. My fear of having a similar postpartum experience overrode any squeamish hesitancy of the centuries-long beneficial practice. And while there is little scientific evidence that placenta pills can lower the chance of postpartum depression, I can report that the combination of these pills and immediately starting a regimen of Prozac after giving birth rendered me completely depression-free after the birth of my son.

So to the new moms out there who feel like they’ve fallen into a dark hole and no one will ever find them: Please know that hole is not as deep as it feels and you will see the sun again. And it will be even brighter and warmer than before.