When you experience PPD, it's really important to take care of yourself, body and soul.
I stood knee deep in the direct center of the pond, the lukewarm water slowly creeping higher up my legs. I was numb to the water and the squishy mud beneath my feet, making its way through the spaces between my toes. My eyes focused on the great emptiness before me as a tear followed the well-worn and raw trail down the side of my face.
Voices came, surrounding the pond in which I stood. They were muffled but I could tell they were startled. I heard them screaming to save the baby, and I wondered what they were determined to save the baby from — the water, or from me?
Perhaps he was crying in my arms and had been for some time when they finally waded in and took him from my release. My arms were free but just as heavy without him. Sirens came and went as the muffled voices faded and I took rest in the silence.
For the first time I looked down at the murky water surrounding me, wondering if it had more clarity than I had at that moment in my life.
I have finally been able to write this very personal postpartum reflection, which I had written in my head many years ago. Being seven weeks postpartum for the fourth (and best) time, I am able to face the reality, the fears, and the misconceptions of postpartum depression head on.
The above prose is just that — meaning that my child was not taken away from me as I waded knee-deep in a pond. Rather, it’s a metaphorical description of my experience with PPD.
I clearly remember feeling that I was sinking, as everyone around me stood on the shore and watched. I struggled with the weighty responsibility of taking care of a newborn in that moment, as I felt I was losing my mind.
What is postpartum depression?
Virtually no life event rivals the hormonal, psychological and social changes associated with pregnancy and childbirth. ~Pope Paul VI Institute
I must confess that when I was pregnant with our first, my greatest fear was not labor or even being a first-time mom … it was postpartum depression. Those fears were quickly squelched however, as a week or two of “baby blues,” in which I was weepy and felt a little bit of overwhelm, subsided and I began to feel more like myself again.
Because of this experience in my first postpartum, I never expected the hell that broke loose after our second child was born. My second postpartum period looked more like hours of crying a day, usually without prompting or the ability to control it. After bursting out in tears several times in public, I began to dread going out at all.
The overwhelm was suffocating, and for me, I began struggling with a feeling of immense guilt. It was hard to be alone for even a moment, because I couldn’t control my racing thoughts and feared I would lose my mind.
Postpartum depression can look like this, or have many other and different characteristics. It’s usually classified by depression or anxiety following the birth of a baby that lingers and may cause trouble bonding with the baby or readjusting to a familiar routine.
Some women experience crushing overwhelm, fear, guilt, numbness, hopelessness, racing or disturbing thoughts, dread, and even anxiety that produces physical symptoms
Some 40 percent of women suffer from postpartum depression, but the good news is that there is hope! Mental health has come a long way from giving PPD women lobotomies. There is a lot more transparency and cultural understanding of this condition. You’re not crazy and you’re certainly not alone.
This is important! There are national and international sites providing state-by-state resources, such as Postpartum Support International and Postpartum Progress. There are also many counselors equipped to help women struggling with PPD. Understanding the condition and hearing the stories of many others helps with solidarity.
After the immediate full-time help from spouse or family runs out, you need something more long-term. Find a mommy’s helper. Hire someone to clean the house for a few months if you’re able. Reach out to a few good friends you can talk to regularly. Focus on something you love to do or have wanted to accomplish and chip away at it a little at a time. This allows you to set your mind to something you find purpose in and are excited about.
Progesterone and serotonin
During pregnancy the placenta supplies the woman’s body with a high level of progesterone. This chemical “enhances the function of serotonin receptors in the brain.” In other words, progesterone is a “feel-good” hormone supplied by the placenta in high doses. Then, suddenly it is discontinued after delivery, and the woman’s body may experience a stark depletion.
Progesterone is a natural hormone that can be taken in a bio-identical form, thus allowing the body to readjust progressively. It begins working almost immediately, and is credited with being the most effective defense against postpartum depression. Women like me, who have naturally low levels of progesterone previously, or do not adjust well to sudden hormonal changes, may experience varying levels of postpartum depression. Because doctors and OBs have such little knowledge of progesterone, they often resort to antidepressants. I encourage you to briefly read what NaProTechnology has to say about postpartum depression and progesterone. Request a progesterone blood test from your OBGYN and insist on a prescription if your levels are low.
“In our own clinical experience, this condition (PPD) has actually been very rare. The incidence of postpartum depression at the Pope Paul VI Institute (with treatment of progesterone) is only 2.1 percent.”
Caring for your soul
After considering the effects of PPD on the body and mind, let’s also consider the soul! It’s no secret that the devil is no gentleman. Neither does he play by gentleman’s rules. This is to say that he doesn’t wait until you’re spiritually strong and on your feet again to attack.
He is out there “prowling about the world seeking the ruin of souls.” This means he particularly seeks to attack you when you’re at your lowest. That’s why it’s more important than ever to take refuge in Christ. Constantly bring your unsettling thoughts captive to Christ, and let him handle the devil and give you peace.
I had a friend on speed dial during those first few weeks and called many times a day for stable perspective and for a friend to pray with me. This friend also advised that my husband pray the St. Michael prayer over me ever time I fell apart. This helped immensely!