Last week, I visited a psychiatrist to be evaluated for postpartum depression. I am normally a really private person so for me to be out in the open about this may come as a surprise to some. I figure I don't have a huge following on this blog: if I know you then it doesn't matter to me if you know about this, and if I don't know you then please realize that postpartum depression is a really common problem and I think it's OK to put my story about there.
First, a few facts about my mental state...
1. I'm lonely. I mean really lonely. I spend most of my day interacting with a 3-month-old. The loneliness started when I quit my job. If you suddenly quit a position in which you spent 8 hours a day talking to others, then you too would be amazed how lonely it is to be at home alone. The sperm donor was home the first couple of weeks after Anja's birth, but the loneliness really kicked in after he returned to work. The loneliness was especially bad the first month of Anja's life; she was just this little newborn whose life consisted of eating and sleeping. I feel a little better since she has started smiling; we are capable of interacting with each other in her own way. I know I don't have to feel like this. I could call all of the friends who said they were going to come over to the house after Anja was born, bring lunch, and hang out but never did, but, quite frankly, I have neither the interest nor the motivation to do so.
2. I'm exhausted. I used to work an emotionally draining 8-to-5 job; now I work 24-7, without weekends or holidays.
3. I worry. I worry constantly. I worried my whole pregnancy, starting with that damn triple screen which indicated my child was at elevated risk for having Down's Syndrome. I worry about Anja all the time. Initially, I worried about breastfeeding. Then I worried about her sleep. Then I managed to convince myself that she was having these abnormal movements; I even managed to score an urgent appointment at the pediatrician's office for that, and the doctor said she would evaluate Anja for reflux, I think just to ease my nervous mind. Anja doesn't have reflux; the last time she spit up was last weekend. Luckily I came to my senses and cancelled the x-ray. I worry at night, my little ear glued to the baby monitor no matter how low I turn down the volume. So I don't sleep a whole lot either.
4. Being a new mom is so overwhelming. I thought about hiring a doula after Anja was born and I decided against it; now I wish I had. We had no help after we all came home from the hospital and neither the sperm donor nor I had a whole lot of experience with babies. And despite all of the baby care classes we were completely naive to how to soothe her, how to keep her awake while she ate, how to swaddle her, etc. etc. I had never felt more incompetent and inadequate than I did when she was a newborn. There are very few people who tell me I am doing a good job, and I'm unable to tell myself. Things are much less overwhelming now: I know what fussy hungry looks like and how it is different from fussy tired. I know what is in that diaper before I even open up (and sometimes, I don't want to open it!). I know how to hold her attention. I've learned a lot in the past three months, but sometimes I still feel really overwhelmed.
It was after the wacky visit to the pediatrician's office that I called my therapist. That was the point I realized that I was having many more anxious moments with Anja than enjoyable ones. I have been seeing a therapist for a few years, but I had not seen her since Anja was born. I know now that I should have started seeing her again the minute after Anja was born. That night, I sobbed in her office for nearly two hours. She said that she knew I was the worrying type, but clearly things had gone overboard, and that something needed to be done. As luck would have it, her husband is a psychiatrist and she made arrangements for me to meet him. He was quite jolly and didn't wear any shoes. He explained the risks and benefits of getting treatment and explained how I could take medication and still breastfeed without affecting Anja very much. I walked out of his office with a prescription for a tiny dose of Zoloft. I have taken it for about a week and I'm not sure I have noticed any effects, especially now that we are on vacation and I have the sperm donor and lots of family around.
According to the Postpartum Resource Center of Texas, approximately 10 percent of women will experience postpartum depression at some point within a year after delivery. That is on reported cases, so please realize that this number is probably higher. Postpartum depression is NOT the baby blues. Generalized anxiety disorder occurs with the same incidence. I think it is unfortunate that the only public exposure that postpartum depression receives is from cases such as Andrea Yates. I was given a list of counseling resources at both my first prenatal visit and my postnatal visit, but no one ever told me what to look for. I work as a mental health professional, and yet, I was in complete denial about what was happening to me. Some may oppose my decision to pursue a pharmacologic solution in addition to my therapy, and that is fine. I feel the effects of my depression and anxiety on Anja's development could be far more devastating than a little bit of Zoloft.
As I said earlier, we are on vacation now. I am getting some extra sleep and it helps me relax more. Anja is enjoying meeting her relatives, studying their faces with great interest. The true test will be after we return home in a couple of weeks and the sperm donor returns to work. I am hopeful.