In July of 2007 I had it all.
A beautiful, healthy baby boy, a stable home, and a career to go back to once my maternity leave was over. My hopes and dreams were finally here, an entire lifetime ahead of me with this magical little gift.
The minute I arrived home, the chaos of coping with a new baby began, as it does with all new parents. Because of the usual intense overprotection and feelings of inadequacy most new mothers must feel, I thought nothing of feeling completely and utterly lost. Looking back, I do see the signs of my illness starting to show, such as the difficulty in producing an adequate supply of breast milk and concern about not losing the baby weight immediately. But to everyone, I looked healthy and vibrant. My smile and glow as a new mom was infectious – but that was on the outside.
True to Brooke Shields’ book about her own personal struggle with post-partum depression, ‘along came the rain’.
Hopeless. Alone. Isolated. That was the inside me. As everyone oohed and ahhed on how I lost the baby weight so quickly, what they did not know was that I had stopped eating, that my heart ached and I cried every single day. The infectious smile was forced in order to hide the shame. Shame because I did not look like the smiling mom in the pages of the magazines and on the TV. Those moms did not cry in secret all day long.
During my check-up with the obstetrician I literally had a breakdown in her office. That was the first time I let it all out in front of someone, more from exhaustion and no sleep than the realization that something was wrong with me. Unfortunately, our health-care professionals are overwhelmed by bursting caseloads, so after a quick consultation, I left with little information, a tissue and a prescription for Prozac.
Throughout, I was thankful my son was healthy and was one of those babies pretty on par in terms of development. I was the one falling to pieces.
I held on to that prescription for more than two weeks. My head was in such a fog that I could not think clearly. Making the decision to take Prozac or not was impossible. I was overwhelmed.
That decision came after almost a week of not eating. I was almost passing out, so I grabbed a bowl of macaroni and cheese, heated it, and tried to force feed myself. Just as I started to eat, I could swear the smell of the hot bowl of pasta smelled exactly like my son’s forehead. I ran to the bathroom and threw up.
The next day, I filled the prescription. Unfortunately, I had no knowledge of antidepressants. I did not understand that the first anti-depressant you take may not work. You have to keep trying until you find the one that works for you.
I took the Prozac prescribed and waited. Nothing happened. I waited, and waited, and nothing. I thought that I was so messed up that even a pill couldn’t help.
Should I have reached out to loved ones? Yes. Should I have taken the time to research anti-depressants or postpartum depression or talked to my family doctor? Yes. But my first year with my child was such a struggle that just getting through the day was enough. I thought I would never find my way out of that thick, encompassing fog.
I went back to work early. Instead of a year, I was back on the job in seven months and my husband took the remaining five months. This got me out of the house and stopped the walls from closing in on me. Eventually, through our family doctor, we found a prescription that worked for me and I slowly began to function again. It took a long time, but I began to reach out and found love and support in return.
Today I am taking time off and staying home with my young son, now three. I can never get back that first year with him, but now we are two peas in a pod and live each day full of laughter and love.
Looking back, why did I get such a bad case of postpartum depression? I have often wondered if perhaps I had underlying depression to begin with. Maybe it was because we had no relatives in the area and I felt isolated. I may never know but I am no longer so concerned with the ‘whys.’ It is what I do with my experience that matters – and that’s why it was so important to share this story.
Catherine Rankin lives in Whitby, Ont.