Maternal Mental Health Research Collaborative
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How Receiving a Diagnosis of Postpartum Depression Saved My Life – Megan’s Story

I’m a 38-year-old suburban soccer mom who’s soft in all the wrong places and could never be mistaken for Britney Spears. Except when I look at photos of her as a young mom, tears in her eyes, looking trapped and alone, all I see is me.

Finding Common Ground With Britney Spears

Britney and I are roughly the same age, though she began her journey toward motherhood much earlier than I did, as she had her first son at the age of 24, and I had mine at 32. In 2007, I was childless and ignorant of what we witnessed as she buzzed the hair off her head, took a large umbrella, and smashed a paparazzi’s car with it in a fit of rage. We all thought we were watching her crash and burn, a victim of her celebrity.

But then, after the birth of my second son came my own fits of rage. At one point, I was so angry that I almost put my fist through my bathroom mirror until I saw myself; the pain of feeling trapped and alone reflected back at me.

It was hard not to pay attention after her testimony, where she described just how much control her conservators had over her life for the past thirteen years.

Instead of reading about her through eyes that were oblivious and childless, I was reading about her through eyes that have witnessed a similar pain within myself, the mix of motherhood and mental health struggles forever changing the way I see the world. Forever changing the way I see myself.

Learning About Postpartum Rage

During my lunch break, when I would Google for more information, I began to feel this strange connection to her, as if our shared struggles with perinatal mental health disorders forged a one-sided sisterhood based on empathy, compassion, and an understanding of how dark a place the mind can be.

I had felt the rage building for months, letting it out bit by bit through slamming doors or yelling at my husband over minor things. But it reached a tipping point on a cold and gray January morning in my upstairs bathroom.

As I pumped at work later that day, my machinery propped on an old laminator machine, eyes darting back and forth from the bottles hanging from my breasts to the unlocked door of the storage closet, I Googled postpartum rage, a term I was only vaguely aware of. I scrolled, desperate for information, and texted my husband. “I think I need help. There’s something wrong with me.”

Related: Postpartum Rage is Real and No One Wants to Talk About It

Getting The Right Help

The next day I sat across from my doctor as she listened to what I was feeling and then diagnosed me with Postpartum Depression, Anxiety, and PTSD. I left with a prescription for Zoloft and a great sense of relief in having a name for what was going on with me.

Finally, I could name the rage, the fear around falling asleep because I was so afraid I wouldn’t wake up, and the disconnect from my body. I could name the intense sadness and grief, the emptiness and overwhelm, the intrusive thoughts and self-loathing. It gave me permission to say this is not who I am but where I am in this moment and with help I can get better.

I don’t know anything beyond what has been reported in the past by magazines and news outlets about Ms. Spears’ experience with perinatal mental health disorders but it seems to me that in denying her the opportunity to name what was happening to her, she was denied the chance to heal.

I wonder and worry about other mothers, other members of this sisterhood that have also been denied this experience, unable for a variety of reasons – the real fear attached to perinatal mental health diagnoses because of stigma, being thought of as an unloving parent or worse, unfit or dangerous – to name what is happening with them and suffer in silence instead. They are denied healing denied hope.

Related: How to Find the Right Therapist When You’re Looking for Help

Healing and Hope Go Hand and Hand

Hope is the gift we’re given once we have a map of our journey toward healing. With each slam of the refrigerator door or whenever I blew up at my husband or felt the urge to lose control, I feared I had lost myself. That I had irreparably changed, that I had somehow unearthed this dark variant of who I was at my core.

Fear filled me, taking up space meant for worthiness and self-love, but I learned there was a reason I was feeling the way I was that had nothing to do with not being strong enough or good enough or having turned into someone no longer recognized.

I began to feel hopeful that I was still in there somewhere, that there were tangible things I could do medication, therapy, meditation, exercise, taking time for myself, writing – to reclaim myself. Getting a diagnosis for my perinatal mental health disorders was just the first step in my journey toward healing, but it was the step that saved my life.