The Day I Finally Asked for Help With My Postpartum Depression
I walked into our family doctor’s office with my husband and our 5-month-old son. The late afternoon sun was warm for September and not at all reflective of the darkness I was feeling. We sat in the waiting room with other patients. My husband had taken yet another afternoon off work to come with me to this appointment. One too many panicked phone calls in the middle of the day tearfully begging him to come home from work and here we were.
We had been in this waiting room a number of times over the last few months. Our family doctor sees all of us, so we’d been to her recently for all of our son’s regular baby checkups. This time was different. This time we were here for me. Sebastian wasn’t going to be bouncing on my lap as a distraction. The nurse called my name, and I followed her into one of the exam rooms. As I walked into the room alone, I felt heavy and defeated. I was finally going to have to admit out loud the challenges and sadness I’d been feeling postpartum.
My limited understanding of postpartum depression was that it meant that you wanted to hurt your baby. I was exhausted and drained and often upset, but I was posting happy mommy and baby moments on social media every day. Snuggles, cute onesies, trips to the park, I really did feel joy in those moments. I never wanted to hurt our son. We had tried and yearned for this baby for years. I loved him and was afraid that a postpartum diagnosis would symbolize that I didn’t really love or want my son. I wanted to feel happy and full of warmth, but I felt weighted down with sadness and guilt. I later learned just how many levels there are within PPD.
As I waited for my doctor to come in, I tried to figure out how exactly I would say the words out loud I’d been avoiding for months. I felt like I was at confession, and I was ashamed that I couldn’t handle the challenge of motherhood. In the end, I just couldn’t bring myself to actually say the words “postpartum depression.”
My doctor came in, sat down beside me and asked me how she could help. I told her, “I’ve been feeling really sad. More sad than I think I’m supposed to be.” She nodded kindly. I could tell that, thankfully, she understood my code. “Both Rob and my mom really think I should talk to someone,” I added.
I was so relieved that she didn’t ask me more questions. The acknowledgement alone felt like enough for one day. My doctor logged into her computer and looked up potential psychiatrists for referral. We live in a large city, so it would be easy to get access to psychiatrists that specialized in PPD and even PPD groups if I was interested. (At the time of this appointment I was absolutely not interested in a PPD group. I was embarrassed enough admitting my problems to my doctor, whom I actually know and like.)
My mom and husband had been not so subtly hinting at me for awhile that I should check in with my doctor. I hated that they were right. I felt so guilty that I couldn’t handle being a mom. I was supposed to do one thing. Take care of our son. And I was failing.
Before I left my doctor’s office, she reassured me that things would be OK and that I would hear very soon from a local hospital with my psychiatrist referral appointment. She made sure I understood I could come back and see her anytime and to let her know if I didn’t hear from the hospital within the next few days.
That particular appointment was only a few minutes long, but it was a turning point for me. The truth was finally out in the open, though I didn’t leave my doctor’s office feeling magically better that day.
I was still scared, and I was still sad. All of those feelings of failure, darkness and defeat were still coursing through my body, and I was not optimistic that those feelings could change. They were simply too heavy. I was convinced my friends and family would judge me for not being strong enough to handle those first few sleepless months. I was afraid I had already failed.
Yet somewhere deep within my heart I knew asking for help was important. Healing could now begin, and there was a tiny truth that I was beginning to learn.
Experiencing postpartum depression didn’t mean I didn’t love my baby.
I was asking for help because I loved my baby.
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