When my daughter was born in March, 2016, it was the happiest time of my life. We bonded right away, she was a very easy-going baby, and she slept through most of the night. My husband and I hit the baby jackpot!
I enjoyed my three months of maternity leave, but I was looking forward to getting back to work. I was really missing my job and co-workers, and I was looking forward to getting out of the house and socializing with other adults. We found a wonderful nanny, and I was soon back to work full-time.
Things were going well for the first month, but then I started to notice I wasn’t sleeping well. I ignored it and figured it was just the stress of getting back into the swing of things or my hormones from breastfeeding. Then, I noticed I wasn’t feeling happy or satisfied at work like I was prior to going on maternity leave, but I could explain this away, too. My company was going through a lot of changes, just as I was returning.
My husband and I also had a lot of company visiting around this time, and even though I enjoyed catching up with friends and introducing them to our daughter, I wasn’t really acting like myself, and I was isolating myself. I started to dread the start of a new day: the pumping at work, the rushing home so I could feed my baby, and the feeling like I had gone back to work too early. I knew other new moms also found the transition back to work to be hard, so I found excuses for these new feelings, too.
But I still wasn’t sleeping.
My mind would race all night – I’d think about the most bizarre things like, “Is my child happy? Does she still love me even though I don’t see her all day now? Can people notice I am doubting myself?”
And it kept getting worse.
I completely lost my appetite and my interest in doing anything. I could barely get out of bed to shower, and I didn’t sleep for almost five days straight. My mind wouldn’t shut off. I would toss and turn all night and wake up with increasingly serious anxieties and fears that our daughter was hurt. I would stare at the baby monitor until I noticed she was indeed breathing, but that still didn’t ease my worries, and I wouldn’t go back to sleep.
I felt helpless and convinced myself something had happened to our daughter. I thought the babysitter had dropped her. I thought my husband was lying to me, and I thought our friends were out to get me.
I didn’t trust anyone and started thinking it would be easier, if I just wasn’t around anymore. My heart started racing when I thought these things, and, thankfully, I listened to my body’s warning signs and sought help.
I finally told my husband that he needed to take me to the emergency room. Everything in my physical checked out okay, but I insisted on seeing a doctor to discuss the thoughts and feelings I was having. Eventually, I was admitted to a facility that specializes in mental health issues. My time there is kind of a blur, since I felt like someone had taken over my body, and I was no longer there. I could barely remember how I even got to the facility.
It took a while for the doctors to determine what happened to me, but we know now that I had gone through a postpartum psychosis. It’s a rare psychiatric emergency with a variety of symptoms like high mood and racing thoughts (mania), depression, severe confusion, loss of inhibition, paranoia, hallucinations and delusions. Finally, I had an explanation for all the paranoid thoughts I was having.
After about a week of treatment and the right medicine, I was doing much better, feeling like myself again and finally able to sleep through the night. I was so excited to go home and be with my baby. I continued to see my doctor regularly, and she was a tremendous help in transitioning me back into my new life as a mother. I quit my full-time job, which helped a lot with the stress I was feeling, and I was able to find part-time work. It was the perfect balance for my daughter and me.
Fifteen months later, my daughter is a very happy, healthy little toddler. I no longer have to take medication and finally feel back to my normal self. Looking back on this time can be hard for me, even now. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever gone through, and I was really embarrassed about what happened. It’s hard to talk about it because a lot of people don’t know what postpartum depression (PPD) is or don’t think it’s a real condition.
I am so glad I knew something was wrong and sought help. Had I not, it would have gotten worse, and I could have hurt myself or my baby.
PPD can set in well after you’ve had your baby and can be triggered by stresses in your life and other factors. If we have a second child, I will most likely go through some sort of PPD again, but now that my husband and I are aware of the symptoms, we can seek help even sooner.
I am very grateful for all the doctors and family that helped me through this incredibly hard time, and I’m so happy that PPD is being talked about more and more. If you are going through PPD, please know you are not alone. It happens to more women than you think, and doctors are there to help. Speak up until you are heard and know that it’s okay if you need medicine to help you through it. It’s scary, but you’ll get through it, and on the other side will be your beautiful baby, still in love with you and happy to have you back.
Emily is originally from the Midwest and has lived in San Francisco for five years now with her 15 month old daughter, India, and her husband. She graduated from Iowa State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Communications. Emily is a public relations and social media specialist with over 8 years experience working with both start-ups and Fortune 500 companies. When she’s not traveling with her daughter and husband–India has been to Asia, Australia, and Europe already–she enjoys going to the park, working out, baking homemade bread, and watching The Bachelor with a nice glass of wine! You can reach out to her at [email protected].