“This isn’t even postpartum depression anymore. This is postpartum psychosis. I really should be sending you to the hospital to be checked in, but if you promise me you will take this medication, whether or not it hurts your milk supply, then we can start there.”
Four years ago, a midwife from the birth center called me after my husband called her. I had said something about driving my car into the trees across the street from our house in the middle of my panic attack the night before, and he was a little spooked. At five months postpartum and a few weeks post tongue tie revision for our daughter, things were not getting easier. My breastmilk supply was not quick to rebound even though my baby was latching better. I could not pump more than a drop, but I was determined and continued to try something like twelve times a day and night. Each empty bottle added a thousand pounds of weight to my chest, and I already felt like I couldn’t breathe. Daniel could not possibly understand the root of my rage, so he often raged right back at me.
I didn’t understand it either, at the time. I just knew it was my job to take care of my child, and after a Failure to Thrive diagnosis and a bunch of invasive medical tests to rule out overwhelmingly terrifying things, I felt like I was not the perfect mother she deserved. I hadn’t slept for more than fifteen to twenty minutes straight in five months. I didn’t have any family nearby and none of my close friends had babies yet. My husband had five whole days of paternity leave and commuted almost an hour to work both ways—I was home alone with my starving, screaming infant for ten plus hours a day. By the time I received my prescription for anti-depressants, I was scooting around the floor of our house on Clorox wipes, my hands were bleeding from being scrubbed and then scrubbed again, and I was washing our bedding at least five times a day.
Daniel picked up my medication that afternoon.
I never opened it.
At the time, I silently validated my decision with research on the potential impact it could have on my already miserable nursing relationship with my child. I believed it would depress me even more if I lost my supply completely. I also didn’t feel depressed. I wasn’t unmotivated or unable to accomplish daily tasks—if anything I was the complete opposite. I was hyper-functioning and hyper-hopeful that each new technique or herb I tried would fix all of our issues. I was exhausted, yes, but I never slept through my alarm or chose not to care for my baby. She was always in my arms, against my chest, even as I slid around with cleaning cloths beneath my feet.
And I didn’t understand what the pills could do for me. I like things to make sense, and the research I could find felt too limited. How could a medication magically make me feel less alone in mothering my child? I WAS alone. It couldn’t.
I am not saying medicine has no time or place. But, four years out from my diagnosis and almost two years panic attack free, I am still confident that this was not it.
I did not need to be drugged or sedated out of feeling lonely or overwhelmed in new motherhood. I had every right to feel those feelings, and burying them would have prolonged my healing process.
I didn’t need drugs to be less lonely, I needed to be less alone. I needed community, someone to come over, rub my back while I pumped and then hold my infant while I slept for an hour or took a shower. I needed a mom or grandma or aunt or sister to say, “Here, try this position. This worked for my babies.” I needed someone to ask me, “How are you?” instead of, “How is the baby?” I needed someone to say, “This is not all on you, I am here.” I needed someone to literally watch me eat, because I completely forgot to most days, and I’m sure that wasn’t helping my supply issue. I needed a referral to a pelvic floor therapist, a real human being I needed to leave my house to meet, so I could stop peeing myself fifteen times a day and feeling even more repulsive in the midst of all of my other trauma. I needed it to be the way it was supposed to be, the way it has been since the beginning of time when a mother birthed a new baby into a village of friends and family, all waiting to take care of her and her child so she could heal and the baby could grow surrounded by love instead of fear, instead of sadness. I didn’t have a time or space for healing, instead I went from the battle of birth right into the new fight of trying to figure out why my newborn wasn’t gaining weight.
My problem was not a chemical imbalance—it was a community imbalance.
A new drug for postpartum mothers was released this week, and as a mama who suffered from a mental illness, I feel conflicted. Hooray for attention being drawn to an issue that is too often ignored, but the details are troubling. $20,000 and a 60 hour injection that requires a hospital stay during which mama cannot breastfeed or be the primary caregiver for her baby sounds like additional trauma to work through in the long run for all parties involved. From what I understand, it also wears off within a month. Then where does mama go from there?
I think a push for insurance to cover all postpartum women receiving a thorough pelvic floor examination and recovery plan, a postpartum doula, an experienced postpartum counselor, and a turn away from the “Supermom” movement and toward the idea, "You are not meant to do this on your own, mama,” would be a better place to start in caring for our mothers both now and longterm. We need to be allowed to feel lonely and like something is not right, because it is not right for us to be alone under the weight of raising a child.
I am not here to diagnose or treat anyone. But I will say, as a mother of two almost four and a half years in, I have learned a few things:
1. You should not somehow know how to breastfeed a baby when you have never breastfed a baby before. You need help, and that is not only okay, it is NORMAL.
2. Your baby is not supposed to sleep through the night at any certain age. You are not supposed to know how to put her down and sneak away to fix food for yourself or shower or poop or whatever else. You need help in caring for her and yourself, and that is NORMAL.
3. Your body is not supposed to just magically look or feel like you’ve never carried a baby before. If the mommy tummy bothers you, or sex hurts, or you are peeing your pants, you need pelvic floor recovery therapy. You need help, and that is NORMAL.
This is just my personal story and is not meant to sway or influence anyone in how to handle navigating your own wellbeing. I am not a doctor, and I am not recommending anyone up and throw out their medication. Love to you, wherever you are <3