Let me tell you about the day that changed my life and made me a Warrior Mom.
It wasn't the day that my second child was born — despite the fact that he was in distress during contractions, causing the OB to push him back into my uterus; that the medical team ran to the operating room so fast that my husband couldn't keep up; that I was scared to death that either I or my baby could die during the emergency C-section; that I wondered whose baby it was when they successfully delivered him; that, through the fog of the whole thing, I heard someone say that they lost count (of instruments and sponges); that I was flopped like a beached whale onto a portable X-ray machine to ensure that no medical devices were accidentally left inside my abdominal cavity; and that no one explained what was going on.
It wasn't the day of my 6-week postpartum visit when I told my OB that things weren't going well and she asked — without any consultation, conversation or discussion — whether I wanted Prozac or Paxil.
It wasn't any of the days of round-the-clock breastfeeding (my son ate every 2 hours and refused a bottle) while also chasing a toddler.
It was the day I reached out for help from my HMO.
After a particularly rough night, I was so sleep-deprived and overwhelmed that I had to pass the baby to my husband because I was at the end of my rope. (Isn't this the right thing to do — pass the baby to someone else when you are about to lose it?) I called the Behavioral Science number for my HMO, was asked if I was suicidal, replied "no" and was told to call back during normal working hours.
So I did. I called back a couple of hours later, summoning up the courage to say "I think I have postpartum depression" and burst into tears. Without comment, the customer service rep passed me to another person, I said the same thing and was passed to two other people (each time bursting into tears) before I talked with the intake nurse. She proceeded to ask a series of triage questions, including whether I felt like I was going to hurt myself or my child. When I told her about having to pass my son to my husband, she turned to someone else in the room and yelled "I have a lady on the phone who is homicidal." At this point I was … toward the HMO. I slammed the phone down, but it immediately rang again, and a woman said "Hello, this is Jane Doe from your HMO, and I understand you are having homicidal tendencies." (Seriously, these are the exact words, burned into my memory even after 8 years. Really, is this the way to talk to a woman on the verge of completely losing it?)
My husband stayed home so I could calm down and see the psychiatrist on call. I arrived at the Behavioral Health Center, where the waiting room was like a locked glass cage where the staff could keep an eye on all us crazy people. I first saw another intake nurse, who asked many of the same questions I had already answered. When I told her about losing patience with my son and handing him to my husband, she said she would report me to Child Protective Services. Bursting into tears yet again, I emphatically told her I was here so I WOULD NOT hurt my children. I thought to myself, how dare you think I am trying to cover my ass when I am trying to get help.
Then I had to wait until the psychiatrist could see me. I'm sure he was a very nice man, but he was old enough to be my father, spoke with a very heavy accent and failed to make any personal contact. I thought, how can this man even begin to understand how I am feeling and what I am going through? He must have read the nurse's report, because his opening line of discussion was that I seemed to be having sleeping problems (mind you, it was the baby who was waking every two hours), and again — without any discussion of what might be wrong or why I needed medication he offered me sleeping pills. I seriously asked if they were for me or for the baby. I left after 5 minutes, again in tears.
The kick in the pants is that I had to pay two co-pays: one for the nurse, one for the doctor.
That's the day I became a Warrior Mom.
I deserved better than this. So I struck out on my own to seek help. But I kept hitting brick walls. Called about support groups but either they no longer met or wouldn't be starting another group for a few months. Called psychiatrists but no appointments were available for six weeks. Attended a new moms group where they were all new happy moms, no one like me. Saw a therapist for a while who asked the standard questions about depression (Have you recently gained/lost weight? Yes, I just had a baby. How's your sleep? Lousy, I just had a baby. Do you enjoy the same things you used to? Well, I would if I had time but I just had a baby.) but diagnosed me as just a tired mother of two. He never clued in on my symptoms: irritable, overwhelmed, unable to concentrate.
For almost six months I screamed at my children, called my husband at work and told him I couldn't do this any more, ran way from home and hit bottom when I told my husband I wanted a divorce. I just wanted out. I thought my family would be better off without me.
Finally, my husband found a psychiatrist who specialized in women's mood disorders. After 10 minutes and taking the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale screening test, she explained to me that I was experiencing a significant case of postpartum depression. My baby was six months old when I finally started medication. One pill and I immediately felt better. Although I had fought the idea of taking it for many reasons — I'm stronger than this, I can fight it myself, I don't want the stigma of being "crazy", I didn't want to lose my high-level security clearance, I couldn't admit failure — the doctor gave me the wake-up call I needed: You need to do something before you hurt yourself or your marriage.
It hasn't always been smooth sailing since then, but I've come to learn a great deal about perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, especially what kind of help is available and what women need to get well again. I realized that this is an illness that is relatively easy to diagnose and relatively easy to treat — women just need the right information. I've learned that I am a much better mother, wife and person if I stay on medication, and that it is okay to ask for help. I've learned to talk about my experience and in turn have learned that lots of other women experienced similar tough times after having a baby. My husband and I have worked hard to regain the balance we had before our son was born — and even had a third child to prove that we are really crazy!
My experience made me want to do something to help other women experiencing postpartum depression and anxiety. It's what prompted me to connect with Postpartum Support International and start Postpartum Support Virginia. It's what made me a Warrior Mom.
Adrienne Griffen is the founder of Postpartum Support Virginia and a volunteer with PSI. She is a survivor of postpartum depression.