Let's set the scene. 3 weeks after Forrest was born. I sat in the reclining chair in my living room, holding this bundle of blanket and very small human. There were nipple pads shoved into my bra. My back hurt. I'd been up all night, pumping and feeding. Forrest cried, and cried, and cried. I sang to him. I sang every song I could think of. I hadn't left the house in over a week. Most days, the only time I moved was to get more coffee, grab a snack, or pump--otherwise, I sat on the couch, or in the chair, with Forrest. I started to cry and I couldn't stop. I wanted to be anywhere but there.
I loved Forrest with an intensity that bordered on obsessive: I worried about every little thing and recorded it, carefully, in an app that cost $5. But that love wasn't enough. The depths of my misery reached further into me. I wanted to both take care of him 24/7 and have someone else just offer to help me. I wasn't sleeping, period; at my 4 week appointment, my doctor would go through the calendar with me and count hours I had slept since the day I was induced. The number would be staggeringly low. So low, that when people tell me about "not sleeping" now, I want to dare them to wander into the danger zone of "so little sleep, you may actually die."
Here's the lucky part of the story: because of Forrest's low birth weight and my preeclampsia, we went to the doctor near constantly. Forrest's pediatrician gave me these tests called "Edinburgh tests" that measured my likelihood of postpartum depression. My own OB was also monitoring me for PPD: women who give birth early, are unable to breastfeed, and have low birthweight babies are more likely, than other group, to develop PPD due to both hormonal and environmental factors.
By our appointments at 4 weeks, I was diagnosed with PPD and started treatment.
It's hard to describe now, because I feel like a completely different person. The circumstances around Forrest's birth, my sadness at not being able to breastfeed him, my severe sleep deprivation... it all added up to PPD.
I want to say that the minute I started treatment, I was a different person. But that's just not true. It took a lot of things to get me "feeling normal" again. It took treatment, which was hard and expensive and in many ways, unpleasant; it took letting go of breastfeeding and supplementing with formula, because it was the best thing for my mental health; it took going back to work, giving myself time away from Forrest and not feeling guilty about it.
I started to feel better, more like my pre-labor & delivery self around 8 months postpartum. 8 months. It took almost 7 months of treatment and self-care to start feeling better, to stop snapping at Danny, to start cleaning my house again.
Sometimes, I will wander across an article about the rates of postpartum depression: who gets it and who doesn't. Sometimes, the comments, and the mom groups that post such articles, like to draw lines: bad moms get PPD and good moms don't. But postpartum depression doesn't pick sides in the mommy wars.
One statistic that always sticks out to me is that moms who formula feed are at a higher risk of PPD. Horrible, judgmental women use this as evidence that "choosing to formula feed" means that you develop less of a connection to your baby and therefore, are a "bad mom." The truth is, a significant number of women who formula feed do so because they are unable to breastfeed--and being unable to breastfeed, or having to exclusively pump, increases your chances of PPD by almost 70%. (Another statistic that's often thrown around by breastfeeding activists is that "only 5% of women truly don't make enough milk," but 5% of the number of women who give birth is still a significant number. That's still thousands of women.)
When I talk about PPD, it always goes back to my failure to breastfeed. And despite how PPD makes me feel, I logically know that I didn't do anything "bad" to "deserve" not being able to breastfeed or develop PPD--and that those two facts are related when it comes to my improving.
If anyone reading this is struggling with postpartum depression, or suspects they may have postpartum depression, this is all I can say: it is ok to reach out for help (from your baby's pediatrician, from your doctor, from anyone); it does not make you a bad mom to admit you are depressed; and it does get better, things can improve, you don't have to feel like this.