I’ll never forget the first time I realized I had postpartum depression… over a year after giving birth to my daughter. Since May is Mental Health Awareness month and it’s been exactly four years since it happened, I feel it is time to open up about my experience with postpartum depression. I wrote a vague blog post in 2015, but today I’ll go into more detail, hoping someone somewhere reads this and knows she’s not alone.
You know that feeling where you could actually cry over a glass of spilled milk? Imagine feeling that… all day, every day, for an entire month. Coupled with sporadic bursts of anger or anxiety and the occasional joyful moment, I really started to doubt my sanity at 17 months postpartum. There were mornings I would not want to get out of bed, feeling tired and sad for unexplainable reasons. Other days I woke up carefree, thinking the awful days were behind me. The happiness never lasted long – as the dark cloud of dread eventually returned, rendering me hopeless once again. I didn’t know it at the time, but these emotions are actually postpartum depression symptoms.
The worst part about it all: I felt alone.
To be honest, I didn’t want to tell anyone about my symptoms. How do you describe the indescribable? Aside from random dark thoughts about my well-being, there weren’t any reasons for feeling depressed. I just knew I felt SAD. And mad, and angry, and anxious. During a time when I should be happy – I had a wonderful job, a beautiful home, a healthy family – I was far from it.
A smile can hide all sorts of pain inside…
From the outside, I looked fine. No one really knew what was going on inside except my husband and immediate family. I wasn’t exhibiting normal signs of depression on the outside. I hugged and loved on Annabelle as much as I could. And I cried. A lot. So many tears fell on my sweet girl and neither she, nor I, had no idea why Mommy was so sad.
Before I had Annabelle there was a period in my life where I took antidepressants (Zoloft) for anxiety and depression. However, the way I was feeling didn’t compare to the way I felt back then. Everything was so “right” in my life, there was nothing to be anxious or sad about. Strangely, I interpreted all the good as a sign something was about to go wrong.
Feeling trapped in an emotional madhouse, I turned to google to search my postpartum symptoms. The answers I found pointed to pre-menstrual symptoms. Maybe my period was returning? It had been over a year since I gave birth to Annabelle. If I was about to start my period, then maybe my anxiety and depression were pre-menstrual symptoms (PMS).
I waited and waited for my period to return, but after a week there was no sign of it. One morning I called my Mom on the way to work, sobbing the entire 45 minute ride. As she calmed me down, she asked if I had gotten my period yet, or was there a possibility I was pregnant? I took a pregnancy test, only to discover it was negative, and decided it was finally time to consult my OB-GYN about my depression symptoms.
Even though my OB-GYN practitioners were very kind, I was nervous to talk about my feelings.
I remember breaking down before my doctor could even ask what I was in for that day. Through sobs I explained the madness I felt inside my head and heart. One minute I was joyful and then next I was pinned by indescribable grief. My period hadn’t returned and I wasn’t pregnant, so WHY was I such a mess?
I was shocked when my doctor said there was a chance I had postpartum depression. Didn’t that only happen immediately after a woman has a baby? Even though there is very little research, it is hypothesized that hormonal changes are a primary cause of mood changes during weaning. I WAS weaning Annabelle little by little, so the decrease in hormones was definitely to blame for my emotions.
Prolactin, a hormone that is required for milk production, also brings with it a feeling of well-being, calmness and relaxation. Oxytocin, the hormone that is required for milk ejection (let-down), is sometimes referred to as the “love hormone.” So, it makes sense that a sudden decrease in these hormones could have an effect on a weaning mother’s emotions. (source)
If you’re wondering what happened next, it’s all very uneventful. One day the crazy feelings subsided and I felt an overwhelming sense of peace within. My period returned midsummer and I completely weaned Annabelle from breastfeeding without any more depression symptoms. Unfortunately, just as life went back to normal, we experienced a sudden tragedy that set me back emotionally. You won’t find details of this very personal time in my life on the blog. Just know I wasn’t “okay” until the beginning of the following year when I found out I was pregnant with Ailey.
I experienced postpartum depression for a second time when I weaned Ailey from breastfeeding in December 2017.
The mood swings came on quickly when I started to wean Ailey. I felt sad/mad/anxious all over again. But, after a month of emotional chaos, I once again felt fine almost overnight. Postpartum depression is different for everyone, but for me it comes out of nowhere. Strong, fierce and debilitating. Then one day it just disappears leaving nothing but confusion in it’s wake.
Being a woman is hard enough with a flux in hormones each month. When you add in postpartum recovery, you have quite the mess. Mental health awareness for postpartum women is SO important. I encourage you to be open with your family, friends, and doctors if you’re not feeling like yourself. And never hesitate to reach out to me – you are NOT alone.
Caitlin Houston is a Connecticut based life and style blogger.