Katie’s Story: My Experience Made No Sense to Me
I’m an average woman. I’m a nurse who went away to college for four years and I’m married to a wonderful man. We make a decent living, and I have a great group of friends I’ve stayed close with since college. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be in a situation where I’d question my sanity and come close to admitting myself to the hospital with both antenatal and postpartum depression and anxiety.
My History with Depression and Anxiety
When I went through puberty, I remember having some anxiety and depression. Looking back on it now, I know that I am very sensitive to hormonal changes. But with therapy and a small dose of anti-depressants at times, I’ve been very healthy and happy.
I remember the day after having my daughter. I was completely exhausted, had a postpartum hemorrhage and my baby was already showing signs of colic. Mentally and physically I was exhausted, but I was happy. In my hospital bathroom I sat using my lovely peri bottle and looking up at a sign on the wall. It was about postpartum depression and offered resources for moms that needed help.
I thought to myself, “Man, am I lucky I won’t have to go through that. I already had my battles with depression and anxiety.” At the same time I remember hearing a another mother shouting down the hall, “I JUST CAN’T DO THIS!” My heart went out to her. I felt so fortunate I had a great support system and the mental fortitude to get through the newborn phase.
Coming Home from the Hospital
On our way home from the hospital, there was a feeling of a twinge of fear and general discomfort. I chalked it up to the natural worries of a first time mother and moved on. The next day we went to the pharmacy while my in- laws watched the baby and I had a panic attack right then and there. This feeling was familiar. It was the same feeling I’d had as a teenager but I thought to myself, that I’m just exhausted and overwhelmed and the baby blues will pass.
The next few months are like a blur to me. I remember them vividly and in segmented pieces at the same time. Imagine Armageddon happened and you were the only one left with no hope and no resources for survival. That despair, that fear and anxiety and utter devastation is what I felt. It would come in waves and I would literally shake. I would turn pale and sweaty and knew it was coming.
My experience made no sense to me. Here I was surrounded by love, with a healthy baby, and endless support but I was falling apart. My husband would walk with me to our picture wall and show me all the photos we had taken together. Our wedding, our family, our honeymoon. He hoped to help me snap out of it, and show me all the reasons my life was worth living, but all I wanted to do was die.
Searching for Answers
On top of everything my baby was colicky, she was nursing frequently and I was exhausted. Hours and hours of my life were spent researching how to help my baby, how to help her colic, how to get her to SLEEP, and how to overcome my emotional issues. My body was depleted. I was deathly pale from the blood loss and felt physically broken. Everything ached. I didn’t eat and I lost all the baby weight and then some.
There I was – sick in so many ways and still had to care for this helpless little being. I remember thinking and crying, “They are going to take her away from me.” All I wanted was for my husband and I my mom to sit there with me. I wanted to stop nursing so many times. My husband was afraid that if I stopped nursing, I would lose any bond I had with my daughter. I felt guilty about wanting to stop, yet obsessed with my supply and her weight at the same time.
I loved my baby – I knew that much, but I just wanted to go away from it all. I felt INTENSE guilt about everything. Guilty that I was failing my husband. and that he was tired. That my mom had to take off work to be with me. Guilty that I was failing as a mother. Guilty that I couldn’t tough this thing out like everyone else.
Trying to Find Help
At six weeks postpartum I went in for an episiotomy check. I told the doctor I was struggling and all he talked about was the baby blues and said if it was still a problem at my six week appointment, we would discuss an anti-depressant. This left me feeling unheard and scared – I couldn’t go through this for that long! A week later I called him in tears and was prescribed Zoloft. It was a hard decision to make because I was still nursing and I was worried how it would effect my baby, but in the end it was the right decision.
After about six weeks I started to feel normal again. The colic died down, my body started to heal, and the medicine started to work. The veil finally started to lift. I bonded with my baby and was able to be alone with her and not feel panic. I enjoyed my life again. The guilt started to dissipate (although mom guilt never goes away completely) and I was so much better.
After about two years we started thinking about having another child. I felt totally in control and like I had it down this time. If I started feeling bad after birth, I’d immediately start back in Zoloft. Maybe I’d even start taking it a few weeks before the birth. If you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans… I got pregnant immediately. We were so excited and I couldn’t wait to have a newborn again!
Antenatal Depression and Anxiety Hit Hard
On top of morning sickness that had me throwing up in bags while driving on the highway, debilitating heart palpitations and shortness of breath, around 12 weeks I noticed the same feelings from my postpartum depression creeping back in. I was in a blind panic. This isn’t supposed to happened WHILE you are pregnant! How can this happen AGAIN!?
I felt completely trapped so I increased my sleep, upped my vitamins, researched hormone balancing activities, and tried yoga and meditation. I got acupuncture and massage. It was no use and after about a month I finally decided to go back on Zoloft. This wasn’t something I wanted to do but I realized the stress my body was undergoing was worth the risks at this point.
I was about 20 weeks pregnant (and still waiting for the Zoloft to kick in) when I pulled the car over. Making sure my toddler had her headphones on, I called my mom and sobbed my heart out. She came over right away and held me as I laid shaking in my bed. It took months for the medicine to kick in this time.
I went from 50 mg all the way up to 200 mg a day. Each increase was another two week waiting game and it was pure hell. I used to say that suicide was the most selfish thing anyone could do but now my viewpoint has totally changed. I never attempted it but I could see how someone could get there – I felt that degree of suffering.
Fear of More Depression and Anxiety
Finally at about 34 weeks the veil started to lift again. I still had insomnia, palpitations, and shortness of breath, but those were things I could handle. I still went to therapy to keep me strong because I knew the worst might not be over and that terrified me. I did everything I possibly could to prepare myself for the postpartum period. My psychiatrist and therapist assured me that it wouldn’t happen. I was on four times my average dose of Zoloft. Fortunately, they were both absolutely right.
Today I have a 4 year old and 1 1/2 year and we are all doing great. I’m down to my original 50 mg of Zoloft each day and that’s just fine with me.
I still feel like I was robbed of the newborn phase with my daughter and of my pregnancy with my son.
The thing that haunts me to this day is the lack of proper perinatal mental health care for women in this country. A six week postpartum check up appointment is in no way sufficient. I never received a PPD questionnaire with my second child. No matter how hard I looked, I was never able to find a good professional that was well versed in antenatal mental health. I just wanted to go to an office, and get a big hug and someone to tell me, “We are going to figure all this out – you’re safe here”. I never got that and it saddens me to my core for all the women I know that are struggling. Especially those without a support system like I had.
We’re honored to share Katie’s story as part of the Maternal Mental Health Research Collaborative’s Marathon of Moms campaign. Stories of lived experience are one of the most powerful tools we have to combat stigma and the shame surrounding mental illness. They’re also vitally important as we look to develop tools, resources and treatments that work for moms and meet their needs. Thank you, Katie!