By Peg Johnston • December 11, 2007•Myths & Truths
Okay truth #3: Post-Partum depression is very real and can affect those who least expect it.
I am not positive that I suffered from clinical PPD after the birth of my first child. The truth is that I never told anyone (until now) about the symptoms I experienced. However, I cried a lot. I worried like crazy. I often felt helpless and alone. I never had the urge to hurt myself or the baby but I had moments where I had to let him lie in the crib and cry while I pulled myself together. I knew that the hard times were due in part to hormones, in part to a lack of sleep, and in part to the fact that I was suddenly at home all day with nobody but a baby that couldn't talk or tell me what he needed. Oh yeah, that's another thing... all of a sudden this little person needed me just about every minute of the day for comfort, for food, for cleaning, for everything. That can be overwhelming.
Here are two little stories of how the birth affected my mental health:
The first has to do with my ability to drive which involves a lot of multitasking and a lot of sensorial stimulation, when you think about it. Anyway, as I mentioned in an earlier post, my first was born early while I was still 1/2 way across the country for business related training and meetings. Two days after he was born, and they let us out of the hospital, the baby, my husband, and I started the 2-3 day road trip home. I planned on sharing the driving duties as I always do when we road trip. Aside from the fact that I was in a decent amount of physical pain and discomfort sitting in a car all day, I was in no condition to drive. I found myself to be a ball of nerves. Every semi-truck that passed me had me worried that I was going to be run off the freeway. Every time a car started tailgaiting (likely because I was driving well under the speed limit due to my nerves) I was thinking it was going to rear-end us. I can't explain it but I couldn't keep it together. I only drove about 1 hour the entire trip! I just couldn't calm down enough to drive safely. This was the first time, after giving birth, that I realized that I was not myself.
The second anecdote is about the nightmares. After our first was born, I started dreaming that he was suffocating under the covers in our bed at night. I would wake up to search for him under the covers. I would wake my husband up to get him to help search because I was so sure the baby was in our bed. Only, here's the crazy thing -- he never slept in our bed, not even once. I was convinced, by all the books that I read, that having him sleep in his one crib from the start was the best thing for him and for us parents.
These two experiences along with the other symptoms I describe above may very well have been PPD. If diagnosed, medication may have helped me. However, I was in a job that required a government security clearance and I felt like I couldn't jeopardize that in order to deal with some moodiness. Luckily, I overcame the depression and irrationality on my own, with time. Luckily, it wasn't bad enough to cause me any more harm that just wasted days crying in bed.
What's the point of me sharing this with you? Well, I have heard stories of women lawyers who give birth and then go to trial the next week while they are supposed to be on maternity vacation. I hear stories of lawyers who take conference calls from home while on maternity vacation and only days after giving birth. My point, then, would be to give others a head's up that you may personally not be in any mental condition to do those sorts of things. PPD, or less serious hormone-related moodiness, is not a sign that you are weakminded. Additionally, do not underestimate the effects of little to no sleep that comes in only 1.5 hour increments. Finally, don't follow my example of not talking to anyone about it. Like I said, I was lucky to not have severe symptoms and to get over it on my own. Other moms suffer from more serious PPD and don't get help when they should.