By Stephanie Heisler
Becoming a mommy is difficult in every sense of the word. Nobody can prepare you for the enormity of motherhood. I was a preschool teacher for seven years before having my older son. I had taught and loved numerous toddlers, read every article I could, asked every mom I knew about each experience and how it felt, but I still wasn’t prepared. I was as prepared as I could be to become a mommy by physically popping out a baby, but I wasn’t prepared emotionally. In my opinion , nobody is ever really prepared emotionally to love a tiny human more than you’ve ever loved anyone else, be sleep-deprived into submission and then wait on this tiny human every second of your day. Even taking all of these aspects into account, I had no idea that I was about to be hit by a mack truck of emotions that would blindside me to the point of no return.
My whole life I’ve been a naturally positive, upbeat person who is always smiling or laughing. If I’m having a bad day or don’t like you (which is rare) you know immediately because there really is no grey area of emotions for me. That being said, I never struggled with depression like some of my other friends or anything even close. Then it happened…… to me. I had one of the best days of my life when I gave birth to my son Jacob. He was perfect. A whole week early, he popped out at 7 pounds 5 ounces of love , creamy white flawless skin and blueish-grey eyes that everyone got lost in the minute they met him. The first days of his life were a blur, full of diaper changes, painful breast-feeding sessions and lots of visitors. I remember feeling like I was in a fog , almost outside of my body seeing everyone holding him and cooing at him. I kept thinking, “he’s mine , all mine!” But even as I thought those words, there weren’t hearts and rainbows floating in my head about it. I had a weird feeling in my stomach that was taking over , I tried to pinpoint it. Later I would realize that the feeling I had is depression’s annoying bestie- ANXIETY . I burst into tears my first night in the hospital and I told my husband that I didn’t want any more visitors because I was starting to feel overwhelmed. He assured me that was a normal feeling as a new mom and luckily the next day we were going home. Even with that reassurance I had an uneasy feeling.
My husband was an amazing help once we got home from the hospital, but sleep-deprivation rocked him to the core. The same guy who told me before we had our son , “we won’t need help from anyone once the baby is here-we’ll be fine!” in a brief argument when I had suggested having our moms come over in our first days to help us get acclimated to parenthood. All of sudden, he was calling both of our moms immediately saying he needed sleep because his migraine was excruciating. Both of our moms showed up right away and held Jacob as we slept in shifts.
That was my first serious warning sign of my postpartum that I ignored, my severe fear of Jacob going to sleep. I had read one too many articles about SIDS and was emotionally scarred to the point that I couldn’t handle knowing he was sleeping. Most parents of a newborn would beg, borrow and steal to have an amazing sleeping baby like I did; but I didn’t want him to sleep too long or not enough. I didn’t really have him on a schedule but then I wanted one for my sanity. I was all over the place and this was only day three of parenthood for me. By day four my husband went into crisis mode and wanted to get back to work as soon as possible to “provide for us” as he said. I didn’t know how to react to him going off to work except with resentment. I had numerous friends whose husbands took weeks off to be with them and their new baby and he was leaving me in the first week like this?! I was in horrific pain from breastfeeding as both Jacob and I developed thrush , a yeast infection that infects the mother’s nipples and lives in bacteria in the baby’s mouth. The pain from the infection drove me insane because my nipples felt like they were on fire so I didn’t want to nurse Jacob. Then he would cry to eat but eating was difficult for him with the thrush infection in his mouth-which in turn he and I would keep passing back and forth through feedings. Getting rid of thrush is extremely difficult and I felt helpless. I began crying a few times a day. My one friend said, “I cried all the time. Don’t worry! That’s normal, nobody tells you that stuff.” My mom kept asking “why are you crying? Your baby is healthy and happy and so are you! It must be the hormones –just try to relax.”
So, I began to think I could control this overwhelming anxiety, emotion and incomprehensible fear that if my baby went to sleep he would die. Obviously I couldn’t control it, because like other forms of depression and anxiety-your mind is more powerful than you could have ever imagined. I started to feel empty, like everyone loved my baby except for me. Then I felt guilty for feeling like that but realized that my guilt still couldn’t make me feel as in love with my baby as all my other mommy friends looked and said they were on Facebook. What am I doing wrong? I thought to myself. Maybe I should sleep more or ask for help more. That’s when I asked for more help from my mom and sister. One night they came over to give me a little break and told me to go get my nails done. While I was feeling anxious about leaving my baby, I randomly started reading a magazine at the nail salon. The headline showed it was an article written by a former contestant on the Bachelorette who had recently had a baby. Intrigued I read further where the article took a dark turn where she listed all the symptoms she had and concluded that she in fact had Postpartum Depression. Wait..I have all of those symptoms she listed I realized. WOW.
That hit me like a ton of bricks. I have all the signs she said she did, but I’m not depressed am I ? I can’t have POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION! I’m a happy teacher who couldn’t wait to be a Mommy. Things like postpartum don’t happen to people like me who love children. I kept telling myself these ridiculous things but it was glaring me in the face. Reading that article was my wake up call that I wasn’t alone and that I could get help. I came home and told my family. They all kind of scoffed at the idea of a postpartum depression diagnosis-telling me to just “give it time” and “you’ll feel better once you get the hang of this motherhood thing.” I listened to them, but I knew that this darkness wasn’t leaving me no matter what they said.
A few weeks later I told my husband, “maybe I should go talk to a therapist”. He agreed and after my psych evaluation the doctor offered me a prescription for Prozac without even batting an eye. She told me it would take six weeks to take effect but that it would help with my “catastrophic thoughts” eventually. This is the part of my journey in which I became fed up with the system of western medicine . There was no other option according to them except depression medication. I understand the thoughts and feelings I told them were severe but I was a little shocked. Especially as a mom who explained that I was nursing full-time, I felt hopeless and lost. Even if I took the meds would I feel healed and happy again? When I called my sister and explained that I was going to start taking Prozac to “hopefully feel better” she stopped me before I could say another word. She said, “Are you kidding me? Steph, you won’t even have a tuna sandwich because you’re worried about mercury or god-knows-what getting to your baby through nursing and you’re going to take an anti-depressent?!” She urged me to talk to my sister-in-law’s father who is an acupuncturist. I had never done acupuncture so I was a little scared and skeptical, but I figured anything was better than popping a pill full of chemicals if I didn’t need to.
My first and only session with Neil was not only painless , but the most freeing feeling I’ve ever felt. When I came to his office I felt a prisoner to my postpartum depression and I left a free woman. Free to love and enjoy my baby boy. I truly don’t know or understand the science of it all, but my session began as a therapy session where I explained all of the thoughts and feelings I was experiencing. Neil mentioned something about blockages and pulses and he said to me “I’ll do the best I can to help you”. While the needles were sticking out of the different areas on my body , Neil held my hand to feel my pulses and asked me to try to think of one of my catastrophic thoughts about Jacob. I closed my eyes and all I can say is that it was blank. My mind couldn’t go there, even when I was trying to think something bad, I couldn’t. Unbelievable. I walked out of there and had the best night’s sleep of my life and woke up the next morning not only emotionally refreshed but excited and ready to hold my baby boy. For the first time in his life I couldn’t wait to whole-heartedly gaze into his eyes with true love in my heart and my mind.
My son was five months old when I was “cured” of my postpartum depression, it felt like an eternity and I’m grateful that I advocated for myself to get the best treatment that went hand-in-hand with my personal philosophy and beliefs. I want anyone who is struggling with Postpartum Depression to know that you are not alone and that there are people to help you get through this. I’m telling my story to hopefully help another mom, as another mom’s story helped me get myself help. Remember this is not your fault and that healing yourself is the best gift you can give to you and your baby.