Post-Partum Depression (Yes, it is real!)

With the recent news of ‘Nashville’ actress Hayden Panettiere entering treatment for Post-Partum Depression, Andrea Smith, mother of two, joins Connecticut Children’s blog to discuss her very own struggle with the disorder and why she hopes others suffering seek professional help.

10-14-15-1When Connecticut Children’s asked me to write a blog about my experience with Post-Partum Depression (PPD), I felt fortunate to have an outlet to tell my story in hopes of helping other women who have experienced, are experiencing, or will experience PPD.

First, some statistics about PPD from the American Psychological Association:
“An estimated 9-16 percent of postpartum women will experience PPD”.  Doesn’t sound like much until I read, “among women who have already experienced PPD following a previous pregnancy, some prevalence estimates increase to 41 percent”.  Now that is a statistic to take notice of.

When I was pregnant, I had people telling me the “warm and fuzzy” stories about pregnancy, childbirth and child-rearing.  Let’s face it: most people are well-meaning, not intentionally trying to hurt you.  Having a child is great, IF you never experience PPD.  Having a child while you have PPD can be extremely difficult.  If you are one of the moms’ who never had to worry about PPD, you are lucky.

A little background on me: Got engaged in 1997 at the age of 31, purchased a house, and got a dog together.  Married in 1998 at the age of 32.  At age 36, I had my son.  At 40, I had my daughter. (Can you say tick-tock, there goes my biological clock?)  Pregnancy was not easy for me.  I suffered a miscarriage (early on) before I got pregnant with my son.  In between my son and trying to have my second baby, I suffered two miscarriages; one at 3-months gestation.  At that point my husband and I decided to see a fertility specialist.  I was scheduled to have a Salpingogram (an infertility test that shows whether both fallopian tubes are open and whether the shape of the uterine cavity is normal).  I scheduled the test.  Luck was on my side; I got pregnant before before having the test.

My pregnancies I have to say were uneventful.  No vomiting, gestational diabetes, or any major complications, except for my dislike of coffee for the first trimester (and I LOVE coffee!)  I loved being pregnant; the way I glowed, the maternity clothes, the attention from my husband.  The only thing I didn’t like was the Braxton-Hicks contractions that plagued me the last month of my pregnancy.  Looking back though, I would have taken the Braxton-Hicks contractions over PPD any day.  At least they came to an end with birth.

Both my kids never made their due dates.  Born 3-1/2 weeks early, Jacob arrived on April 1, 2002.  He was due at the end of April.  At 5 lbs. 5 oz. he was declared a healthy baby.  He never had to spend a day in the NICU.  Megan arrived on February 12, 2006 and arrived two weeks early.  Her due date was end of February.  She too was a healthy 7 lbs.  And, please don’t hate me ladies; I had both kids within in 9 hours of my first contraction, and only had to push a couple of times and they were born.  (What can I say, I have determined kids!)

Jacob was so beautiful!  I was so happy to welcome my first child into the world!  The nurses were great; taking the baby at night so I could sleep.  The visitors and the gifts.  It was all so hunky dory!….…..until it was time to take baby home and care for him on my own. Then reality set in….

That first month of having a newborn at home due to PPD was hard.  Not having experienced motherhood before, I was not prepared for the reality of motherhood.  Jacob seemed to cry all the time.  I made several calls to his pediatrician.  She suggested he might be sensitive to the formula I was feeding him.  I was to try a different type of formula and see if that helped.  After trying several different types of formulas and no results, I was ready for an emotional breakdown.

To make matters even worse, while at Jacob’s two month well visit, the doctor discovered that Jacob had a double hernia.  We were sent to a surgeon at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center who told my husband and me that he needed surgery to repair the hernias.  So that’s why he cried so much!  It would be a week until Jacob could have the surgery.  In all my depression, a week seemed like a year to me.  Not to mention all that crying until then (mine and Jacob’s)!  I trudged through the next week.  On the day of Jacob’s surgery, my husband drove and I sat in the back seat with Jacob; both of us crying our eyes out.  I knew Jacob was from lack of food (he couldn’t eat after midnight), but for me, I wasn’t sure if I was crying because this would be the end of his misery and in turn, the end of mine.

Jake came out of surgery fine and came home a day later.  He still cried and I realized it wasn’t the formula or the hernias; it was just Jake being a baby.  This knowledge did nothing to allay my PPD. My poor husband suffered right along with me; not knowing quite what to do or say to make it better.  Finally after two months of this, he told me point blank I needed to see a doctor.  I gave in because I had had enough.  I wanted to enjoy being a mother to Jacob; I truly did.

The doctor had me fill out a depression questionnaire and sure enough, I had depression.  The doctor started me on Zoloft that day.  I didn’t notice a difference right away, but at about the two week mark, I started feeling so much better.  No more weeping when my husband left the house to go to work every morning.  No more weeping at Jacob’s crying.  Don’t get me wrong: motherhood was still not easy, but I could handle life normally and in turn, be more at ease with Jacob’s needs.

Raising a baby and having PPD is not fun.  It is even more of a challenge when you are sleep-deprived with endless feedings and diaper changes.  You see, PPD is a robber of your happiness and ability to see the beauty in front of you.  It makes you lonely, weepy, distraught, sad, feeling hopeless and helpless and any other negative emotion you can think of.  Only after I was diagnosed with PPD and went on medication did I start to enjoy motherhood.

There is no need to suffer with PPD.  There is help out there.  Talk to your primary care doctor, obstetrician/gynecologist, and even your child’s pediatrician if you suspect you have PPD.  The sooner you start on medication, the better your life will be.  Right after I gave birth to my daughter in 2006, I started back on anti-depression medication the next day.  I was a much happier mommy the second time around.  I am still on anti-depression medication today.  I feel I am a much better wife and mother for it.

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