I just couldn’t shake the baby blues. Even 9 months later, I was grouchy, out of sorts and generally unhappy with everything in my life.
I should have been ecstatic. My baby girl was born right on time and with an uncomplicated labor, delivery and recovery. I had been able to get back into running around the 2-month mark and was ready to return to road racing at 9 months after giving birth.
The school that I was teaching at had been more than accommodating in allowing me to take additional maternity leave and still return to my job, with a raise to boot.
My husband was supportive, and as present as his job could possibly allow, which was a LOT more than many other jobs and shops in the Marine Corps.
But I was still desperately unhappy.
Nothing I did ever felt like it was good enough.
I wasn’t a good enough mother because I was working full time, exercising and taking care of the household chores instead of playing with my daughter.
I wasn’t a good enough wife because I was wrapped up in the baby, chores and work.
I thought my teaching performance was sliding downhill too, for all of the same reasons. There weren’t enough hours in the day to do what amounted to 2 full-time jobs and a quarter-time job.
By the middle of October, I was routinely sobbing on the way home from daycare, overwhelmed by how much there was to do and how little of me where was to go around. I was unable to fall asleep quickly most nights because all I could think about was how much of a failure I was and all the work that I had to do the next day.
Even though I knew that something was deeply wrong with me mentally and emotionally, I didn’t want to seek help. At that moment, it seemed like asking someone to help me would be admitting defeat. In my mind, I couldn’t ask for help.
I was it: the mother, the housekeeper, the chef, the chauffeur. Plus, I am a military spouse. I keep everything afloat, all of the time.
I can ask for a new slow cooker recipe or for help mowing the lawn, but it seemed impossible to me that asking for mental health assistance would be accepted. Weakness of this kind is simply not allowed. Or at least that’s how it seemed for a long, long time.
The breaking point came in late October: I was awake all night, ruminating on my endless failures as a mother, wife and teacher.
The next day, I called my doctor.
She was amazed at how long I had lasted. From one quick conversation and visual assessment, she concluded that I had severe postpartum depression. Perhaps it was my sunken eyes, stringy hair or look of utter hopelessness that led her to that diagnosis. Or maybe it was the litany of my many failings that I recited for her. It could have been the panic and dread that was written all over my face with each whimper that the baby made during the appointment.
The military treatment facility and my personal care manager were awesome about providing a diagnosis and a prescription to treat my depression. The meds were doled out quickly and efficiently, right in the same building that I saw the doctor.
From a lifetime spent as the daughter of a mental health professional (ironic, I know), I was aware that chemical supplements were not going to solve my problems completely. For that, I would also need ongoing therapy.
However, the closest therapist in the Tricare network was in Bethesda; I lived in Arlington. Appointments were available from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. No evenings or weekends. No flexibility. And getting a referral for civilian treatment was going to take at least 60 days. Perfect for the new mother going through a mental health crisis!
Luckily, Military One Source was there to fill in the gaps. As soon as I called, they found a therapist in my area who could see me during evenings and weekends.
Even with all the support from medications and a therapist, my depression was almost treated as something that I had imagined, made up, something I could will away if I tried hard enough.
My husband seemed to poo-poo the idea that I had been shouldering too much, too often and for too long, and that this led to my depression. To this day, we rarely talk about it.
Motherhood, so that story goes, is supposed to be beautiful, peaceful and natural. Any stress that a mother experiences must be in her mind. So when a woman experiences depression following the birth of a child, especially a perfectly healthy baby, she tends to hide, to not discuss what she is feeling.
We hear stories about mothers killing their children and then themselves.
We hear horror stories or we hear these feelings trivialized.
We are told that it is just the baby blues and it will pass.
With these conflicting messages, it is no wonder that women are reluctant to admit that they might have postpartum depression.
Luckily, celebrity moms like Drew Barrymore are speaking up about their PPD experiences. As these celebrities share their stories, more and more women are realizing that their symptoms are real and treatable. The recent revelations by actress Hayden Panetierre about her battle with postpartum depression and seeking treatment in a rehab facility have shed even more light on this condition.
Now, after treatment and therapy, I feel better most days. I love being a mom, but also know that this is not easy.
For me, there will always be a constant battle to feel OK with stepping back from my career and not obsessing over how clean the house is or having home-cooked meals every night.
With guidance from my therapist and doctors, I understand how vital running and exercise is to my overall mental health. I also know how important it is to have an outside outlet, like writing or consulting, to stay in tune professionally.
We need to start talking about postpartum depression, both as a whole society and within the military community.
The only way that this comes out of the shadows is if we talk about it, if we lift each other up and if we stop stigmatizing postpartum depression. So let’s talk. I’ll start.
My name is Meg, and I have postpartum depression.