Postpartum depression is a nasty truth. It affects the mother, the father and the baby and anyone else around them. And it is also something that we don’t really know enough about.
Today’s guest, Samantha Sutherland, has a successful podcast for women who juggle work, home and relationships and she also has a history of PPD, post partum depression.
Samantha emphasizes that detecting PPD early is of extreme importance. Waiting too long for a diagnosis can bring a person to a place where they won’t be able to come back from.
“We are vulnerable to change. One of the biggest indicators for PPD is depression during pregnancy, but it often goes undiagnosed and is passed off as ‘that’s just pregnancy”.. I think I was depressed during pregnancy but it wasn’t detected.
In her early 30’s Samantha read ‘Sins of Our Feminist Mothers’ by feminist journalist Virginia Haussegger. The writer was in her 40’s and said that her mother had raised her to believe that she could have a career and a family. But now that her reproductive years were waning she was angry to find out that this was not true. Despite thinking the anger at her mother was a bit misdirected, Samantha didn’t want to have the decision to have children taken away by waiting until she was older.
“Two years later I became pregnant. I had insomnia from my 8th week of my pregnancy and suffered from extreme sleep deprivation. The birth ended up being a cesarean delivery and the baby didn’t latch on well during nursing. He cried all day. I was a mess. My mother had trained as a nurse for new mothers dealing with breastfeeding, settling baby and post partum depression. When she came over and saw me she said, ‘This isn’t good. You need professional help.’
“I went to a doctor and a psychiatrist. In the beginning I was really resistant to going on medication but did agree to go on a half dosage of anti-depressants. I did feel a bit better, until the lead up to a visit to my husband’s family in England. My anxiety began to ramp up and I agreed to go on full dosage of medication. My baby was about 8 months old then and I didn’t feel fully better for another 10 months. I was really emotionally unstable at that time.
“Breastfeeding was difficult and I had contacted a lactation consultant who was also a midwife. One day my baby was crying so I rocked him in his bassinet. He cried more and I rocked harder, he cried harder and I rocked so hard that I nearly tipped over the bassinet. I called the lactation consultant and she came over. I didn’t have enough milk and we were both miserable.
“Another day I was driving to the baby center where mothers can get help after birth and my baby was crying. In my mind I started to wonder, what would happen if I just wrenched the wheel all the way over. I didn’t do anything, but when I got there the baby was crying and I was crying. The nurse at the center saw that I was in need of real help and she galvanized everything. She got me an appointment with the GP, a therapy appointment, a midwife and lactation consultant and called my husband in.
“I had been resisting taking the medication, but in retrospect, I see that my depression affected me bonding with my baby. The psychiatrist explained that when the mother is not okay children know it. My mother is a wonderful person but she has suffered from anxiety and depression for a great deal of her life. I see now how it affected her ability to bond with her children, so I agreed to take the medication.
“When you are depressed and anxious, you need a great deal of support so I was very open about my situation. The interesting thing was that when I started telling people they said, ‘Yeah, it happened to me too.” Because there is so much stigma around mental illness people keep it as their little dirty secret. But telling people is the only way to get the support you need.
“At 18 months I turned the corner and there was an improvement in my relationship with my son. Yet, I still felt there was a black pit behind me and if I just took one wrong step, I would fall into it. It was a visceral feeling that I always had to keep one step ahead of that black hole.”
“We were married for seven years before I got pregnant and I had never been so down. This was a new Samantha. Two years after the PPD began my husband asked me, ‘Where’s that fun loving, free girl that I married?’ and I said, ‘She’s dead and she’s never coming back.”
Samantha and her husband divorced when her son was almost three. Her husband left in August. In February she told herself that it was such a dark period anyway, she would just go off the meds, and went off cold turkey. It was a really rough period. She tried energy healing, acupuncture and holistic modalities of healing. Most of the focus was on the divorce and now she is dealing with some residual trauma from the PPD.
In order to really heal one must go back and revisit the trauma, and it is hard. Very hard. We don’t want to go back to that blackness. But I’ve gone back and now the light is so much brighter and you don’t have that pit behind you. There is no moodiness and fatigue that one has with medication. The laugh is real and full. Life becomes so much more colorful.
Sharing with the right people is ultra important. Surround yourself with positive people to support you. Samantha would tell spouses of people with depression that they get the support that they need, so that they don’t begin to feel that it is too much to live with. A person can’t sacrifice all of themselves to something, because then there won’t be any self to help anymore.
No one prepares us for these major crises in life. Then we begin questioning. Do you love me, however I am, or just when I’m happy and smiley? Can I give back to you the proper love? Is there such a thing as unconditional love with mental illness?
Brene Brown says: You can only love someone as much as you love yourself.
Maybe with mental health it is different because it is so tiring and scary and lonely to be a carer of someone with mental health issues. I can see how someone can get depleted. It doesn’t mean they don’t love the person, it just means that they can’t do it anymore. I don’t know if I would be capable of doing it.
One needs to forgive oneself for who they are – with all their faults and shortcomings.Then travel the rocky road to find the new, stronger you.
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