At first hearing about postpartum depression, I will be the first to admit I thought that it was a fictional event created by women to explain or excuse their behaviors after the birth of a child. I was irritated that Andrea Yates was allowed to walk after drowning her five beautiful children. Then it hit home attacking one of the strongest people I have ever met, my wife; a woman who had a Master’s Degree plus forty hours and an accomplished teacher. This illness transformed her into a withdrawn, hollow person who had so much self-doubt that she could not even muster up the words to describe what she was feeling. It was then that I came face to face with his horrible illness and realized it is very real.
There is not any information that comes to you in pregnancy classes or even a pre-evaluation to see if you’re susceptible, and the OBGYN doesn’t even see their patients for six weeks after delivery. This is convenient since most women have symptoms in their first month of being a mom and that way it is some other doctor’s problem. The fact that this was told to me by an OBGYN should show society that this is VERY common illness that they have no clue how to treat. How can a doctor deliver a baby and not be there with the necessary tools to help cure the mother to protect her, the child and the family as whole and guarantee that this remains the happiest times of their lives?
It all started out innocently enough. We were leaving the hospital when a nurse told us that this illness was out there and if we see it to get help right away. This is the same nurse my wife blamed for her breastfeeding problems. According to my wife she said the baby lost 9% of his weight and she was not breastfeeding right. I was not there at the time, and thinking back on this illness I wonder if that is really what transpired. Maybe this experienced nurse saw something in Janet that made her think Janet had had the onset of this illness.
When we got home Janet was quiet. I thought it was due to her recovery from her c-section and nothing more. In my mind this woman was too strong to have postpartum depression. Then she thought the baby was not getting enough breast milk when, in fact, he had the required diapers to prove that he was sufficiently fed. She went to pumping and bottles to assure her that he was getting the required ounces. This was not enough to quell her irrational thoughts.
From there the next item of irrationality was how much sleep the baby was getting. According to her, he was getting too much but according to her pediatrician and books he was sleeping the normal amount. Part of the problem was that Janet never met a goal that she did not surpass and then some, but this baby did not come with a to-do list and it was eating her up inside.
Janet is brilliant and loves kids. She is the chosen person that my brother and her sister had decided to take care of their children in case something happened to them. She also runs an infant room at our church and has taken care of her nieces and nephews from a very early age. In short, she has a lot of experience with babies and infants. That made it even more shocking when she first uttered the phrase that Andrew would be better off with a different mommy. My heart sank and I knew we were in for the fight of our lives. She later confessed to me that she thought of harming herself.
Then all of a sudden one Saturday night she was her old self for about four hours, then the roof caved in. In the early stages of this illness she would get up and pace all over the house and get the baby out of the bassinet no less than ten times. I thought that she was just a very nervous first mom, dealing with a lot of anxiety.
Well, this Saturday night was no different; she got up and I mean got up a lot. Her mom and sister called her because they were supposed to go to the pumpkin patch with her nephews and Andrew that morning. I was asleep when my mother-in-law came into my room and said “Get up, we need to do something about Janet”. When I found her she was almost catatonic with Andrew on her lap.
What followed was a ten-day hospital stay where most of what she would say was, “yes, no or okay.” I talked to her doctor twice to figure out what was going on with her and what was said in the conversation was initiated at my request and my phone calls. Is there not a need to ensure that there is a solid support team set up for these women when they come home and face their fears all over again?
Prior to this illness it was a joke of mine that if Janet wanted to talk and no one else was around, she would talk to a mannequin. It was hard for me because I knew less about babies than anyone ever placed on this green Earth. I was about to get a crash course as the only care giver and full time worker. I have a new-found admiration for single moms. Luckily for me, my parents and mother-in-law helped me with day-to-day events and even watched Andrew some nights. This was a big help.
We are still dealing with this illness and Janet has shown some improvements, but not a lot. I came to the realization that doctors either don’t know much about this illness or they don’t care enough to learn more about it. That is when I found my own help (the Kansas PPD group, Helena Bradford [who is a Godsend], Postpartum Dads, Dr. Ronald Rosenberg, Carol Blocker, Katherine Stone and others too many to mention).
It is strange to me that regular people are leading the way to learn more about this illness and that there is not a bigger push from the medical community. We, as a society, are all about protecting children, so it is hard to understand the lackadaisical approach we have about this illness that effects so many and has a potential for such dire consequences.
Where we are today: Janet still thinks she is a bad mom and thinks she will never feel better — no matter what I tell her. We are lucky to talk to her doctor once a week. Her mom took off work to help us out, and I could not imagine what we would do without her help.
If this can happen to Janet it could happen to anyone. Think about that the next time you are with a group of people. Look at them and think, “They could suffer from this illness sometime in their life”. It could be a CEO of a company, a teacher, a doctor, a secretary or a senator. Postpartum Depression is not prejudiced and attacks the strong and weak with the same vigor. One quote I read about this illness is the most accurate, “A mother lion will fight to the death to save her cubs, and this illness is what happens if that lioness turns that same ferocity on herself.”
Lastly and most importantly this could have been your mother, sister, daughter or scariest of all, your wife. If it is then know you will be in my prayers because as Helena told me, “I would not wish this on my worst enemy”. These are my notes from the battle — from the front lines, and not after the war is over. Believe me when I say “War is hell!!”
P.S. I am still praying for the day I ask Janet, “Hey, how are you feeling?” and the reply is, “Good.”