How I Survived Post-Partum Depression
A few weeks ago, I went to visit a girlfriend who, in my opinion, had been showing some signs of post partum depression. I drove over an hour away, with dinner, two able hands for baby-holding and diaper changing and my trademark sense of humor, ready to be a supportive friend.
Turns out, I have a lot to learn. What I had in mind was nice, but what she really needed from me was the truth.
And my truth (that I somehow nearly forgot) is that I struggled with my own frightening bout with post partum depression--one that led me to get professional help. I found out later that African American and Latino women are at a higher risk for post-partum depression than white women. Latina women have a lower incidence than black women, which researchers attribute to the strong social support in their culture, but it is still higher than white women. In some studies, Native Americans were also shown to have a much higher rate of post partum depression. And each one of these groups has a cultural backstory to explain these statistics.
But today I’m not talking about statistics, I’m talking about real women. Women like my girlfriend and women like myself. I’m talking candidly about my own bout with post partum depression in the hopes of starting an open conversation among women and more personally, to help my girlfriend. And yours. And to show, there’s no shame in my game. If one more of us openly talks about post partum depression, I’m hoping that more of us will keep talking and helping each other. And so I start with the mama in the mirror. Here goes:
I’m pretty sure I had some sort of post partum after the birth of both of my children. But with my daughter, it was actually a little scary. Very scary. At first, I didn’t really think it was post partum because I wasn’t having dramatic crying spells or feeling sad or hopeless. During the daytime, I was happy and proud. I had a lovely 3-bedroom, 2-bath apartment, my freelance career was doing well, I was proudly breastfeeding and staying at home with my newborn.
But at night I was gripped with fear. Like seriously, irrational fear. I remember vividly thinking someone was in my bathroom waiting to kill me. I remember hearing noises all night. At first, I thought, well, I’m in a new place. It’s a big apartment and I’m all alone with a helpless baby, of course you are afraid.
But then my fears got out of control.
I started having keep-me-up-at-night fears of a fire. Once I packed a “fire” backpack for me and the baby and left it underneath the window I designated as our escape route. At the height of it, my brother or father had to come over every night and sleep at the apartment with me. I couldn’t sleep on my own. The fear took over my nights and my sleep. My dreams were violent. Someone was always hurting me or my baby. My daydreams and night dreams were vivid. I saw it all playing out. It seemed so real. I was afraid to sleep. I remember frequently staying up all night to avoid the violent dreams.
Something was wrong. I kept thinking it would pass. But it didn’t.
I was too ashamed to tell my friends. I thought I was going crazy.
And the strangest thing about my fear was that, true to who I am, I always had an action plan. I was never just a victim. When fears of fire consumed me, I packed a backpack with essentials and carefully plotted the best escape route. When I thought someone was breaking into my house, I crafted the most ingenius, homemade, home security devices. Some of which, now make me laugh. One of which is in my current home today.
One night, at my lowest point, I was so afraid and yet so sure that someone was going to break in that nigh and hurt us, I slept with a spray bottle full of bleach in my hands. That was my self defense plan.
I’ve never told anyone that.
The next day, I knew I needed to talk to somebody. And I did. My doctor gave me a referral.
In our communities we are often raised to be “strong women,” or to feel that if we just pray harder and rely on God more, all will be fine. Sometimes that is helpful, but sometimes we need more direct help from a trained professional. We shouldn’t view depression (of any sort) as a personal or spiritual failure.
In just a few sessions with a therapist, things really turned around for me. By talking to a stranger, I felt surprisingly free to be open, vulnerable and honest. Short version: One day, something clicked for me and I felt better. In the end, I did what I needed to do to get in the right mind to take care of my baby. And I’m hoping that any woman who reads this and is battling with any sort of anxiety or depression post baby or at any time in her life will do the same.
And that’s my story. Do you have one? There’s a girlfriend out there who needs to know.