My first two pregnancies were planned. They were both healthy and resulted in early deliveries; my first son was 15 days early and my second son was 20 days early. Despite their early arrivals, the babies weighed eight pounds four ounces and 8 pounds, respectively.
My third and last pregnancy, however, was much different. I was 41, and it wasn’t planned.
My older boys were 8 and 11 years old when I gave birth to my third son. When I had them, I was excited and ready to be a mom. But this time I was in a much different place mentally. I became overwhelmed at the idea of starting all over again — changing diapers, feeding a constantly hungry baby, and everything else that goes along with having a newborn.
But Then It Got Worse
I made the decision to know the sex of the baby. Normally, this would be an exciting moment, but I had a dream — an expectation — that my baby would be a girl.
As the mother of two boys, I thought it nearly impossible that I’d have another boy. But then the doctor spoke, “You’re going to have a baby boy!”
My depression worsened. My dreams of being the mother of a beautiful girl were dashed.
My History of Depression
I had a history of depression, and the medication I took has been known to cause some complications during pregnancy. I decreased my antidepressants but found it too difficult to get off of them altogether. Also, since I was categorized as being high risk due to my age, I required frequent testing and ultrasounds throughout my pregnancy.
Beyond my normal battles with depression, antepartum (or depression during pregnancy) set in. This condition is categorized as a mood disorder just like clinical depression. During pregnancy, hormone changes affect the chemicals in your brain, which are directly related to depression and anxiety. These can be exacerbated by difficult life situations, which can result in depression during pregnancy.
And Then He Arrived
When he arrived, my son was six pounds thirteen ounces, and I blamed the stress I was under during pregnancy for his lower birth weight. Adding to this, my medications didn’t work the way I wished, so my doctor suggested that I refrain from breastfeeding. I felt guilty about resorting to bottle-feeding but knew it had to be done.
As time went on, I was able to enjoy my new baby and fell in love with him — just as I had with my older boys. It quickly became clear that he had a very sweet disposition. Thankfully, I no longer regretted having a third son.
But Then Something Scary Happened
For the first year of my son’s life, I managed to recuperate from my depressed state with the help of new antidepressant medication. But just before my son turned 2-years-old, my depression came back with a vengeance. I was exhausted from keeping up with an active toddler, and at 43 I and could barely handle the stress.
My breaking point came when my neighbor blew up at me. For some reason she truly hated me. One day, she got in my face and rattled off a list of things she disliked about me and my family. This interaction, coupled with my failing attempt at supporting and keeping up with my son, sent me on a downward spiral.
At my bottom, I experienced what is called derealization, the feeling of leaving my body. Following that day, I went an entire year through the most difficult time in my adult life. I struggled to function on a daily basis. Even the most simple things didn’t come easily.
Overcoming Postpartum Depression
At first, I didn’t know what to do. Everything seemed so bleak, but eventually I knew I needed help.
I dove into a combination of psychotherapy and new medications. The results I wanted didn’t come overnight. It took a lot of trial and error, including finding a highly reputable psychiatrist. Thanks to Dr. B from the University of Pennsylvania and a lot of hard work, I was able to find peace.
I attended therapy sessions and tried different medications. Some didn’t help, while others came with horrible side effects. Throughout the ordeal, I would think of my three boys and find inspiration to fight and be well. Channeling my love for them helped me find the light at the end of the tunnel.
Letting Go of Guilt and Finding My Power
Honestly, to this day, I have moments of feeling guilty over what I put my family through. I regret not being the same active, hands-on mom to my youngest son as I had been for my older boys. Sometimes I even think back to my inability to breastfeed him and feel bad about it.
Ultimately, though, I have to forgive myself for my shortcomings and be the most loving, supportive, and involved mother I can be for my boys.
I now realize that being a good parent isn’t about being “the best”; it’s about doing “your best” in any given moment. “My best” has left a lot to be desired, but things have worked out. I have three happy, healthy, well-adjusted boys. And they have a happy, healthy mom now.
I will probably always need to take antidepressants. Pairing them with a good diet, natural supplements and exercise
When things were extremely difficult, Cognitive Behavior Therapy and attending weekly therapy sessions were my lifeline. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is powerful because it focuses on changing actions in order to change the way you feel. My therapist would give me “homework” each week. These tasks played a huge role in my healing.
The best homework assignments my therapist gave me was to do something fun and meaningful for myself. He challenged me to make a list of things I wanted to do, but honestly, I couldn’t find answers right off the bat. I had to rediscover what I loved to do and what would nurture my soul.
Eventually, I was able to find the light at the end of the tunnel — when I reconnected with my true, powerful self.
What I Would Love Others to Know About Depression
I saw myself as being weak for having been consumed by my mental health struggles. My self-concept drove me deeper and deeper into depression.
But now, I have such a different outlook. Life on planet earth sometimes pushes us to our limits, but we are stronger than we can ever imagine. I fought my way back from debilitating depression and won my battle to be well again.
There is nothing weak about facing depression and being brave enough to work through it. The sooner we quit shaming ourselves like I did, the sooner we can heal.