I had the dream that so many new moms have – a wonderful happy bonding time with my infant and family. I have had three children and unfortunately only had that kind of peace my third time around. The first two were plagued with untreated postpartum depression and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). PMDD has dramatic mood swings lined up with your menstrual cycle. Both conditions were awful and exhausting, and I endured them for three-and-a-half years.
I am a licensed mental health counselor, and worked in this capacity at the time of my depression. And even with knowledge and professional experience, I was in denial and confusion about what was going on. My first child was born with a condition that was not life threatening, but did require several medical visits and a few surgeries early in life. I didn't think postpartum depression could happen to me. And apparently, not many people around me thought it could either.
All the doctors and nurses I saw for my daughter's medical condition, the medical staff at my local clinic, none of them said a thing. Nobody ever mentioned the possibility of postpartum depression until I had suffered for nearly two-and-a-half years. I was not enamored with the person who suggested this at the time, so I brushed off the comment. My depression thinking was so entrenched, I was actually defensive about it.
I hid my symptoms the best I could, but some people (who told me later) said they could see something was wrong. They didn't know what to say, they didn't clearly put together my appearance and emotionality with my postpartum time frame. I had blamed some of my ups and downs on the stress of being a working mom of two young children. My job had its stress, so that was easy to do. Finally, after I had not been working for about six months, I put together the patterns of awful feelings. I wondered why I was so down and upset about something one week, but the next week it didn't really bother me.
Upon discovering this pattern, I wrote a frantic letter to my doctor describing my symptoms and the timeframe. She decided that I'd had postpartum depression and PMDD. I went on medication that day, which happened to coincide with my two weeks of "up" time. By the time my medication began to take effect, I knew that the calendar showed I should be crashing again. But by a miracle, I wasn't.
I also attended a few counseling sessions. By the fourth or fifth one, my medication had lifted me out of my hole and I was confident to attempt managing it on my own. This counselor was not specifically trained in the details of postpartum depression, but she did so well to validate my symptoms and help me sort it out. I was on medication for about a month before my third pregnancy and was off by the time she was one year old.
I still had a few years of self re-discovery to do before I really felt well-equipped with coping skills. Since that time, I have had to be aware of triggers for bad moods and stinkin' thinkin', but I've been able to enjoy motherhood without a cloud of pain hanging around me. I have often likened this experience to an alien invasion in my head. I wasn't becoming different because this is just how motherhood was. I was becoming different because of something that invaded me, that I needed to get out.
If you are not screened for PPD, ask your doctor about any emotional symptoms that give you concern. Ask for referrals to good therapists that work with women. A solid therapist won't make you stay in counseling for years if all you need is a session or two. Research any medication if it is recommended. No one can make you take it if you are not comfortable, but you may find relief sooner with it. Ask about alternative solutions and current research or resources.
Postpartum depression is real and it shouldn't interfere with anyone's motherhood experience. However, it just might. Having one eye open to it in your first year can prevent months or years of unnecessary suffering.
Here's hoping you have a wonderful, healthy postpartum experience.
Erika Krull, MS, MLHP, is a practicing mental health counselor and regular contributor to the Psych Central blog Family Mental Health. She is a survivor of postpartum depression and a mom of three.
I too have three children and did not experience a peaceful postpartum until my third. It was amazing.
I found myself blissfully in love with this little creature.
Then I got mad. I got mad that I had been robbed of this experience with my first two children. This anger was difficult to process. But I did…by focusing on moving forward instead of what had gone wrong in the past. Not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination but a necessary one.
Thank you for sharing this.
Oh, what I would give to hold my oldest two girls in my arms as tiny babies just for five minutes. To have the mind I have NOW instead of what I had then. My feelings of regret and anger have been there, too. Still have 'em sometimes. But like you, I've made a point of focusing on what I can do now.
In all likelihood, my older two don't even remember those times because they were so little. It's just me I need to be gentle on. I'm sure God has saved those precious memories for me somewhere in heaven. 😉
Thank you so much for your letter Erika. This just goes to show that even the most educated of us often don't recognize we are ill. I hear from doctors and nurses who tell me they knew all about postpartum depression but couldn't see that they had it themselves. That is why it is so important for those around us to be educated as well and to look out for us.
Wow. Erika, what you described sound almost completely like me. I had two kids only 15 months apart, experienced PPD with both. And my 2nd one had some non-life-threatening medical problems at birth as well. I was sleep-deprived and stressed and homebound (one car, which my husband took to work) for at least 2.5 years. I sought help but was told I was bipolar and needed meds specifically for that. I've never felt like that diagnosis was correct because prior to my pregnancies I always had depression and anxiety around the time of my periods. I'm now wondering if it could be PMDD? No one I ever talked to seemed to say anything about that, even though I always mentioned that I seemed to become a crazy, depressed, angry person just before and during my period.
In better news, I had my 3rd child a year ago and it was the most peaceful, blissful experience. I too felt bad that I hadn't felt as good with my older kids, but at least I know that now that they're old enough to see me with #3 that I'm showing a good example.
Anyway, I was wondering if you had any good resources for info on PMDD? I'm starting to notice those period symptoms again and would really like to discuss this with my doctor. Thanks for any help you can give.