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"For me, the most important thing was to be in control, to have the power to feel better without a pill."
My depression went beyond the "baby blues"
I got pregnant five months after my husband and I got married. It was unexpected good news, and I loved being pregnant. The possibility of postpartum depression didn't cross my mind, and my doctor didn't bring it up.
Then, after my daughter was born, my physical recovery from the delivery was hard, and I felt overwhelmed and exhausted.
I was breastfeeding, but my daughter didn't seem to be getting enough milk and was losing weight. Because she was born on December 20, it wasn't until after Christmas that I could get in to see a lactation consultant, who said my baby couldn't latch because of tongue-tie. Finally, on New Year's Eve, my daughter had the procedure to clip her frenulum so that she could nurse. Despite the procedure, however, breastfeeding was still difficult as well as painful for me.
I rented a hospital-grade pump to keep up my milk supply and also started supplementing with formula so my daughter could gain weight. Feeding her was a constant, exhausting battle that fell primarily on my shoulders, since my husband had started traveling again for work after being home for only that first week.
I was a hot mess. I would cry at anything. I was exhausted. The feeling I remember most vividly was the isolation. I felt alone in the world, like no one understood what I was experiencing. Scariest of all was the feeling that I didn't recognize myself – and wasn't sure I ever would again.
By the time my baby was 3 weeks old, I was sure I had postpartum depression [PPD] – it was as if a big weight that would never be lifted was pressing down on me. It felt very heavy, dark, cloudy, and never-ending.
When I talked to my mother, who has three children, and my father-in-law, a retired ob-gyn, both said, "Don't worry, it's the baby blues." My husband was compassionate, but that didn't help lift the isolated feeling.
Finally, at 6 weeks, I told my doctor that I just wasn't myself and that I thought I had PPD – that this went beyond the baby blues. She agreed and said I had three options: take a pill, see a therapist, or both.
I had an instinct that medication wasn't for me. I reasoned that if I took a pill and it made me feel better, I would never want to stop taking that pill, for fear the depression would return. Having worked in pharmaceuticals – including even selling an antidepressant – I knew too much about the complications that could arise, no matter how rare.
But actually, side effects weren't my main concern. For me, the most important thing was to be in control, to have the power to feel better without a pill. I wanted to know that when I came out of my depression, I had done it on my own.
What helped me when I was depressed
Between researching which mental health professionals near us had expertise in PPD and which of those accepted our insurance, it took me three months to connect with a psychologist. During that time, I felt increasingly desperate – I needed a lifeline.
And so in the meantime, I also started researching other options, including dietary changes, that might help me feel better without medication. That’s how I figured out that certain foods – gluten, dairy, and soy, for example – made me feel worse, sapping my energy and making my brain feel foggy. I completely eliminated them from my diet, and benefited from that.
When I finally started seeing my therapist, I felt immediate results. She helped me realize that I was not alone, that other women go through this, too.
After six or seven months on the new diet, along with weekly talk therapy, I felt the depression lifting. I started to feel like myself again.
I even felt confident enough to make a major change in my life. Wanting a career that was more fulfilling for me and worked better for our family situation – my husband and I were both traveling for work – I quit my job. I decided to go back to school and become a certified health coach. Now I have a business specializing in holistic self-care for moms.
What I wish other moms knew
Listen to your gut instinct. You know yourself better than anyone else, so if you sense that something is off, that feeling is something to investigate. Don't be embarrassed by how you feel: Say something and ask for help.
Know that the situation is temporary, even if it doesn't feel that way – you will love being a mother and you will stop crying and start smiling again.
When I had a second child three years after the first, I was worried that the depression would return. But since I now know that being sleep deprived and alone triggered much of my PPD, we lined up help.
My mom came for a couple of weeks, and we hired a night nurse who helped out several times a week. I continued my diet modifications and took time to take care of myself, even if that meant just making sure got my daily shower. I still see the same therapist.
Read more moms' stories about depression.
At least 1 in 10 new moms suffers from depression. But many women don't get help because they're ashamed of how they feel or brush off signs such as fatigue or irritability as normal.
If you have symptoms of depression, tell your doctor and ask for a referral to a mental health professional. Or contact Postpartum Support International at (800) 944-4773 for free, confidential advice and help finding a therapist or support group in your area.
If you're thinking about harming yourself or your baby and you need to talk to someone right away, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 for free, confidential support.