About 1 in 9 women experience symptoms of postpartum depression.
Being a mom is no joke. Well, that’s not entirely true. It’s a lot of jokes. Fart jokes, pee jokes, knock-knock jokes.
Firmly in the camp of women who would have been fine without kids, the first joke of motherhood was that I ended up pregnant immediately.
The two weeks after my son Luke’s birth, cocooned in our house with my husband, remain two of the happiest weeks of my life. Luke taught me how to be a mother, and I loved every second.
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When I got pregnant with my daughter three years later, we were halfway through a home teardown, my husband’s business had taken off and life was busier. My second pregnancy was more taxing both physically and mentally.
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In hindsight, I should have seen depression and anxiety coming with the disaster scenarios that played out in my mind as I tried to sleep. I saw visions of my family dying in a car crash. I saw myself and my baby dying in childbirth. I was absolutely convinced that my baby would be born with some sort of horrible disease or defect.
Victoria’s birth in February 2015 was fast but strenuous. But most unexpected, I couldn’t stop crying. I’d try to talk and get a ball in my throat, and unless I stopped talking, would end up uncontrollably sobbing. I thought I’d get over it once my milk came in. I didn’t.
Simple tasks overwhelmed me. The giggly, calm, happy mom I’d been with my son was nowhere to be found. In her place was a terrified, weepy, injured girl who didn’t think she could handle this responsibility.
Memorial Day weekend 2015 was when I admitted something was very wrong. What I can remember is that one afternoon, my son had a meltdown. His tantrum affected me down to a molecular level, and I lost it. I screamed and yelled as much as he did and ultimately ended up holding him until he fell asleep for his nap. I emerged from his room terrifyingly aware that I needed help. I called a helpline that afternoon and made an appointment at the Lytle Center for Pregnancy and Newborns at Swedish Hospital.
It was my first big step in healing. I finally confessed to myself that I was not the woman I’d been before giving birth.
Three days later, I met with the psychiatrist. I cracked myself open, and told her all the things I’d been seeing and feeling. I told her about feeling completely out of control and the crushing guilt that came with feeling like my kids couldn’t count on me to be sane.
She listened compassionately, looked me straight in the eye and said, “You have a chemical imbalance. It’s the same as having strep throat. You need medicine to get better. And you will get better.”
With those words, my life began to shift. The doctor’s attitude and conviction that this wasn’t permanent overwhelmed my shame. I filled my prescription that afternoon. Faithfully, I took my Zoloft every night before bed.
Postpartum depression is a serious but treatable condition. About 1 in 9 women experience symptoms of postpartum depression. This illness looks different for every mother, and like me, even moms with no history of anxiety or depression are vulnerable. Depression’s many faces make it easy to mistake for something else. Most important is to notice if it doesn’t go away within a week or two of giving birth. There is hope after depression.
Six weeks later, in the car, I cranked up the music and had a car dance party with my kids. That was the first time I’d danced and sang with my babies in almost a year. I’d enjoyed the simple, beautiful moment and felt myself slowly coming back to life. I don’t want another mom to feel like depression or anxiety has to be her new normal. We deserve the chance to be our best, and the fact is, sometimes your hormones and your new chemistry won’t allow that to happen without medical intervention. And that’s OK.