The D Word
Some time ago, I shared this story over the course of a few weeks. Inspired by my friend at Suzanne Shares, I’ve compiled it here for easier reading.
After the birth of my daughter (baby #2), I sank much further than the usual baby blues. I had a newborn who naturally needed my full attention, and I had a very high maintenance toddler who was just a year and half old. It was hard. It was ugly. It took all I had and more just to get through each day. I remember crying. A lot.
But unlike baby #1, the baby blues this time grew deeper. It was terrible in the worst way. The early days of having a baby should be lovely and memorable, but for me and baby #2, it is sadly all black. I have few, almost no, memories of life with my new baby girl. A majority of the memories I do have are not good ones. You see, there was something going on that I didn’t understand. I was depressed. I was smack in the middle of full blown post-partum depression. And I didn’t even know it.
Never in my life have I experienced depression. Yeah, I’ve had my down days and times where I thought nothing would ever turn out right and days where I felt like I was responsible for carrying the weight of the world. But nothing could compare to what I experienced. Nothing had been this bad.
I hated taking care of my baby. I remember little joy during the first months of her little life. One of the few memories I do have is of me leaning over her bassinet, picking her up to nurse and saying “I hate this”. It was not a one-time thought. I felt so disconnected from her—as if she was just a baby I was taking care of. This went on for 8 months.
I lost weight. I lost so much weight I could fit into sizes I wore in high school (this after 2 babies!). I looked gaunt. I had little interest in things and felt far away from family members. Thankfully, my dear mother came over almost daily to help me, and she knew something was wrong. But I know that if you had told me then that I was depressed, I would have thought you were crazy.
However, deep inside I thought I was going insane. I had a couple of panic/anxiety attacks—my chest feeling like it was going to cave in on me, my mind not able to hold on to the tiniest detail of what I needed to do. I had never, ever felt like this. I thought I had lost my mind. I wanted to pull my hair out.
And then one day, I got a magazine in the mail. I remember standing at my kitchen island and flipping through the pages when an advertisement caught my eye. It was a 2 page spread that was comprised of multiple snapshots. In each snapshot was the same woman, but in each she was expressing an obviously different emotion. In one she was laughing heartily. In another, she sat quietly. In another she was enraged. Another, crying. Another, confused. You name it, she showed it. I connected with her. I thought, “that’s me.” It was an ad for prescription medicine, and my initial guess was that she was manic depressive. That ad showed every range of emotion. But when I flipped the page, there in bold letters was the word DEPRESSION.
I was startled. Seriously? That was depression? I thought depression was sitting on the couch all day long with a little gray shadow hanging over me. I thought depression was crying all the time. But this was me. All of those snapshots were a picture of my life. My daily life. It was an exhausting roller coaster. It was bad. It was ugly. I hated it.
What’s Worse Than Mom Brain?
I’d like to say that after seeing the magazine ad life got better. I’d like to say that I sought out a doctor and talked to a counselor. I’d like to say that I got my life back on track. But the sad fact is that I didn’t. I was the only one who had seen the ad. No one else had, and although they knew something was wrong, I honestly don’t think they considered Post-Partum Depression (PPD). My dear husband probably thought I was anti-baby, after all, I had never been starry-eyed about having babies, and now I was verbalizing my hate for the task at hand. [update: after reading this, he said he knew I was going through PPD, and he was praying fervently for me figuring that I would get mad at him if he suggested I was depressed. He also said he and my mom had talked about me and were pretty certain I had PPD]. He, too, doesn’t remember much from this period. One thing he does remember is us having an argument about future children. He didn’t mind having as many as just so happened to come along. I did not share his view. And even after pounding my fist on the kitchen island and saying a few choice words, we still did not agree.
It was not good. Is depression ever a good place to be? Many people overlook PPD as the possible culprit for their feelings and just think they have the baby blues. However, according to Mayo Clinic, “Postpartum depression may appear to be the baby blues at first — but the signs and symptoms are more intense and longer lasting, eventually interfering with your ability to care for your baby and handle other daily tasks [my emphasis] . Postpartum depression symptoms may include:
- Loss of appetite (I was wearing sizes I wore in high school)
- Insomnia (I can’t remember not sleeping because I was too tired!)
- Intense irritability and anger (You don’t even want to know.)
- Overwhelming fatigue (By noon I was wiped out.)
- Loss of interest in sex (Um, yeah, no thanks.)
- Lack of joy in life (There weren’t many smiles that I remember.)
- Feelings of shame, guilt or inadequacy (I didn’t feel cut out for motherhood.)
- Severe mood swing (Remember the Ad? I had my own vine, and I was swinging away!)
- Difficulty bonding with the baby (She didn’t feel like mine.)
- Withdrawal from family and friends (Family? Friends? What friends?)
- Thoughts of harming yourself or the baby (Let’s just say I understand the mothers that make the news.)
Oh, if only I’d known! I’d like to think that if I had known these symptoms backwards and forwards I would have recognized the pit of PPD in which I found myself. But I didn’t, and who knows if I would have. I just thought I was crazy. I thought I was a bad mother. I got mad about it. I was mad at the hubs. I was mad at God. I was just mad. And then I was sad. I was lonely. I was overwhelmed.
So life continued to drag on. Somehow I survived each day (God’s grace). But it was a battle in which I was fighting many enemies, and certain ones added to the intensity of the war. One of those enemies was stress.
1) My attempt to breast feed my little girl turned into a nightmare when she was 4 months old. She began crying at night—every night—all night. I had read about some babies actually developing colic around this age, so after a trip to the doctor, who agreed with our colic diagnosis, we tried our best to live with this sweet little girl who was obviously having problems. But night after night, it continued. We got little sleep. My husband stayed up many nights and allowed me to sleep. After 4 weeks of this, we decided to give her some formula. Previously, she had always refused a bottle since I nursed her, but I guess she and I were both desperate. She took the bottle without hesitation and eagerly downed several ounces. My little baby had been hungry this whole time! It turns out that by the end of the day, my milk was totally gone. I had nothing left to give. She knew this; I did not. Many “lactation consultants” will tell you that stress can’t and won’t affect your milk supply, but I am here to tell you it will! I experienced a total loss in my supply due to the stress I was under (newborn + depression + insanely high maintenance toddler). After switching to formula, my little girl gained four pounds in two weeks, and I gained an infinitely greater amount of mom guilt.
2) Also lurking in the shadows of my life, was the beginning of hypothyroidism. According to the Mayo Clinic, Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) “is a condition in which your thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough of certain important hormones.” The tricky thing about Hypothyroidism is that it can creep up on you. The symptoms usually take time to surface, and oftentimes they go unnoticed. You may at first just feel sluggish. But I firmly believe that during the time after my 2nd baby, the symptoms started surfacing; I just didn’t know it yet. Hypothyroidism signs and symptoms may include the following:
- Fatigue (Aren’t all moms tired?)
- Sluggishness (see above)
- Increased sensitivity to cold (This was and still is my biggest problem. My hands were/are always cold; I freeze in the winter.)
- Constipation (We won’t go there.)
- Pale, dry skin (Yep. That’s me. Pale and dry.)
- A puffy face (My face was a mess—dry,etc.)
- Hoarse voice (I was always clearing my throat; turns out I had a goiter.)
- An elevated blood cholesterol level (Not sure about this one)
- Unexplained weight gain (10 pounds out of the blue)
- Muscle aches, tenderness and stiffness (My hips, knees, lower back ached often—I attributed it to 2 pregnancies so close together.)
- Pain, stiffness or swelling in your joints (Yep.)
- Muscle weakness (I became a wimp.)
- Heavier than normal menstrual periods (I’ll spare the details.)
- Brittle fingernails and hair (Breakage, Breakage, Breakage)
- Depression (Well, uh, yeah.)
I should be on a poster somewhere. I had every single symptoms listed here. Over time, they just got worse (even after the PPD subsided). In addition to all the lovely symptoms listed above, there is a bonus: “you may become more forgetful, your thought processes may slow, or you may feel depressed.” Great. As if Mom Brain wasn’t bad enough!
So not only was I overwhelmed, depressed, mad and lonely, I now had a big pile of guilt for starving my 4 month old, and I had a mind that was increasingly forgetful and slow!
A Life-Saving Hormone Upheaval
So what pulled me out of the seemingly bottomless pit of Post-Partum Depression? What made life get better? Believe it or not, it was ANOTHER baby! Yep, after 8 long months of dark days and hopeless nights, my hormones got the life saving shock they needed to bring me out of PPD: I was pregnant. And although I still get a little dizzy thinking about how on earth I survived those 3 years with 3 babies (God’s grace + my Mom), I am thankful for baby #3 because her beginning is what put sunshine back in my days and hope back in my nights. It was as simple as that.
However, although a hormone upheaval was what pulled me out of PPD, I wish I had known how to take care of myself while I was going through PPD. And this is the hard part. I didn’t know how to help myself. I doubt I would have listened to anyone else had they told me I was suffering through PPD. But it was obvious that I was struggling. And if not for the support of my Mom and my husband, I probably would have driven off a cliff somewhere in true Thelma and Louise fashion. But this is where it gets serious.
I read the headlines and hear the stories of mothers who have injured their babies. Mothers who have done the unimaginable. I am heartbroken. Devastated. I cry for the sweet little life of an innocent child. In the past, before I had kids, I would have said, “How could she? How could a mother do something so terrible to her own child?” But now I understand those mothers. Don’t misunderstand me when I say that. More than likely those women didn’t have the support that I had. Those women probably didn’t know how to ask for help. They probably didn’t have anyone to ask. Those women were probably overwhelmed. And perhaps they were depressed. I remember a day when my son just wouldn’t stop. It was during my PPD, and I didn’t know what to do with him. Frustrated, I looked at him and said (probably yelled), “if I had a closet with locks, I’d put you in it.” He laughed and ran down the hall. I cried.
Now, though, my heart goes out to new moms, especially new moms who have little support. And although I’m no counselor, I try to encourage them. I tell them ridiculous stories about my children. I tell them how I thought I was going to go crazy. I tell them the ugly stuff, too. What’s encouraging about ugly stuff?? Well, when you’re a new mom and realize that other moms have ugly stuff, it makes you feel better about your ugly stuff. It makes you feel like you’re not alone.
So when you see a new mom, give her some encouragement. A few words might be all she needs to get through the day or the month. Let her know being a mom is hard work, but she’s doing a good job. Don’t tell her that one day she’ll miss “these days”. (I don’t miss those days.) Tell her to keep at it. Tell her that her babies are beautiful, sweet, and loving and that she must be a good mom. It could change her world.
Find support. There are many websites and blogs that contain online communities of women helping women. A basic web search will lead to several.
The Fog Rises
I had a hard time preparing myself for baby #3. But I was blessed yet again with an uneventful pregnancy, a more patient-centered doctor, and a much smoother delivery than my first two (they had been rather nightmarish). When nine months were finally finished, I ended up with a bundle of complete sweetness. God, who thought it would be funny to give me three kids in less than three years (His sense of humor is sometimes lost on me) was kind enough to give me a calm and happy baby this time. I’m convinced that she was the best baby in the entire world. Not one fussy-for-no-reason night. Not one. She slept through the night early and gave me no trouble at all. She was awesome! (She’s four now and is trying to outlive her good reputation!)
As I learned to survive daily life with three babies (thank you, Mama), I was physically exhausted. Of course, who wouldn’t be??! I was chasing a crazy toddler, an 18 month old, and taking care of a newborn. But what I still didn’t know was that hypothyroidism was steadily creeping up on me, sapping what little energy I did have. I’m pretty sure that it started after the birth of my second baby (read about that here), but I had yet to be diagnosed. So now, I was no longer depressed. Instead, I was just fading away mentally and physically…all the while not knowing that I was a poster child for Hypothyroidism.
Who knew that one small butterfly-shaped gland could affect your life so greatly. But what’s worse, is that I ignored just about every symptom I displayed–I wrote them off as the result of life with three babies.
What made me reconsider these symptoms? My OB/GYN. I love her. She took a look at me, listened to me explain my irregular cycles, my dry skin, my sluggishness and asked me if I had ever had my thyroid checked. Nope. I’d had a doctor suggest it might be low, but no one ever pointed me to the lab, scheduled me with an endocrinologist, and arranged for an ultrasound on my thyroid. She’s great….I love her. I owe her my life.
And also owe my life to my endocrinologist (I love him, too) and the tiny little pill that he prescribed for me. It regulates all the important things about my thyroid and makes me feel sane. Makes me clear headed. Gives me energy. It gives me back my life.
After almost two years of poppin’ pills, I’m finally used to feeling as good as I do. Most mornings I wake up feeling pretty good. I don’t freak out when something throws off my plans. I don’t feel anxious or foggy headed or constantly tired or any of the other millions things hypothyroidism can make you feel.
But recently I had a relapse of sorts. For 2 days I forgot to take my medicine. Totally forgot. I woke up busy on both days thinking about all that needed to be done, so I forgot my medicine. Day One: no problems. Day Two: I started feeling a bit tired and worried about how I was going to get everything done. By late afternoon, my head was not feeling the best, and I was tired. That evening I had a meeting. The room was air conditioned and although the other ladies were sweating, my arms were freezing, but the rest of my body was hot. My head was hurting. My body started to ache. I had to sit down while the other ladies mingled and talked. My stomach began to feel bad. During part of our meeting, I asked a friend the same question two or three times and couldn’t remember her answer or the fact that I had already asked her. I’m sure she thought I was on drugs! But the fact was I needed some! By the time the meeting was over, I was exhausted. Thankfully, I car-pooled and didn’t have to drive the hour back home. I dozed in the back seat. When I got home, I took my medicine. The next day I stayed in bed and did very little. It took me ALL day to recover. ALL DAY. And I realized, that is how I used to feel every day! (thank you God for my doctors!)
So it’s been a long journey up the mountain of Motherhood, through the forest of postpartum depression, and into the foggy valley of hypothyroidism, but I am finally seeing the mist rise and the sun shine. The past year has been the first time in 7 years that I have been able to think.
I had almost forgotten what it was like.