I had ignored some of the signs, in the hopes that they would go away on their own, or that I would “push through”, as I had with so many other challenging moments and events in my past. After all, this was my second baby, and I had “survived” the postpartum days with my first baby. Technically, I hadn’t been diagnosed with postpartum depression with my first baby, and there are many reasons why I believe this to be the case: 1) I believed that the tough times I experienced as a new mom the first time around were a simply a severe case of the “baby blues”, and I may not have been forthcoming with information on the postpartum screenings; 2) I was over my head to begin with, due to the timing of when I had my first baby aligning quite imperfectly with the beginning of a brand new business venture; so, really, I had two newborn babies: my son, and a new business that I was managing with my sister, but that was quickly taking over my life—because of the demands of both “babies”, I believed that my feelings of depression were due to overwhelming life events and lack of sleep. I could never bring myself to say the words “postpartum depression”; 3) there are different degrees, symptoms, and severities of postpartum depression. Just like any mental health diagnosis, including Major Depressive Disorder or Generalized Anxiety Disorder, there are a host of symptoms and ways that these symptoms manifest with a person. For women experiencing postpartum depression, it is no different. No two cases will look or feel exactly the same. Factor in outside dynamics such as work, lifestyle, amount of support, other stressors such as a sick parent, a sick child, etc and so on, and you can see, that the way postpartum depression manifests and feels to each individual will be unique and variable.
And then there are the symptoms of postpartum depression themselves. I know that my experience was very distinct to me, and even within myself, in my experiences after each of my two sons (almost three years apart). Looking back, I know that what I was experiencing after the birth of my first son was a little more than “just the baby blues”. However, I never started medication or therapy. The fog eventually lifted, and though I was sleep-deprived and can even remember thinking, “I hope we both make it through these first few months”, or even, “what if one of us doesn’t make it?,” my first born was an incredibly “easy” baby. And even though I didn’t technically take a maternity leave, and I was working (as my and my sister’s business was starting to take off) while taking care of a newborn, Teddy took it easy on me. He was a fantastic eater, was hardly ever fussy, and required little to be content and entertained. By the time he turned four months old, he was sleeping through the night; and, amazingly, he even handled teething well. So, in many ways, I was a “normal”, sleep-deprived new mom, experiencing this all for the first time ever. I had minimal outside support or help, but again, Teddy took it extremely easy on me. I mean I was able to get work done with a newborn, and although he wanted to eat constantly, he didn’t have any complaints. Was it easy? Not by a longshot. But was it manageable? Yes, I found a way. With Teddy, I had a few symptoms of depression (but, according to the screening tools, –looking back, I still was on the spectrum of having PPD): I cried often, I slept little, I felt anxiety, and every now and then I had “racing thoughts”. And let’s be real, lack of sleep is a very real part of being a new mom.
In my experience, it was the unyielding lack of sleep combined with a much more “difficult” baby who I was constantly worried about that triggered a more severe case of postpartum depression with my second baby. Not to mention, I went back to work full-time when he was just six weeks old. The lack of sleep quickly turned to NO SLEEP. Whereas with Teddy (during his first few months), I was sleeping anywhere from three-five or even six hours a night, with Dominic (my second child), I was sleeping close to ZERO. I have had people tell me, “That’s not possible. You can’t survive with zero sleep.” And they are right; I almost didn’t survive. I knew that if I continued to attempt to work and take care of the baby and survive, something was going to give. It was SCARY. It was LONELY. It was way too REAL. I was only able to work outside the home for a few days before I started to break down. At that point, basically, I had been working 24/7…caring for my new baby who was not sleeping yet at night (except for maybe an hour or two here, and another hour or two there), getting ready for work at 5am while getting my six week old and 3 year old ready for their day, working (teaching) from 7am until 3 or 4pm, picking up the kids from daycare, taking care of them until my husband came home a few hours later, and then putting them down for bed, only to try to go to sleep myself shortly thereafter, to be met with: INSOMNIA, RACING THOUGHTS, ANXIETY, CRYING. I couldn’t turn my brain off.
I knew I couldn’t go on this way, and I was so scared that something was going to happen to me or to the baby. I had visions of falling down the stairs with him because I was so beyond exhausted, anxiety about getting into a car accident or falling asleep behind the wheel because my body had reached its max…fear that I wasn’t going to be able to function anymore, because sleep deprivation can jumble your thoughts, take away any semblance of calm or reassurance that things will be ok, and disrupt your ability to think, feel like yourself, take care of yourself, and take care of your family. When it was at its worst, it had only been a few days, but those days felt like weeks. The final straw was when I was finally able to fall asleep, only to wake up 30 minutes later from having a nightmare that I was having a full-blown panic attack.
I have a Master’s Degree in Counseling/ Mental Health, and I didn’t even know that it was possible to have a panic attack in your sleep. I thought. I got through one week at the school, and was so relieved when it was Friday, only to be thrown into throwing my older son’s third birthday party at our house that Saturday. We’d had it planned for months, and thank God for my husband who did all of the work. You know that things are bad when you can’t even physically bring yourself to sit in the kitchen with your son and the rest of your family and friends as your three year old opens birthday presents. All I could do was cry in my bedroom, wanting so badly to fall asleep, but still not being able to from the racing thoughts coupled with the sounds from the kitchen; the baby crying, but knowing that there were plenty of people there to take care of him in that moment, feed him, smile at him, etc.
On Sunday, I emailed the school to let them know that I was not presently able to continue working. On Monday, I called the school to explain more, including the lessons that I had left on my desk, and then I called my doctor. Through all of this, I wasn’t able to stop crying. I told her that I wasn’t able to eat or sleep. She immediately prescribed me an anti-depressant, told me to stay on it for at least six months, and to seek therapy. The medication worked. Within a couple of days, I was able to sleep. I was now home taking care of my three year old and my newborn. It would be a while before things began to feel “ok” again, but for now, I was able to get some sleep (a few hours is considerably better than 30 mins), enjoy my kids, and learn more about my new son. He is now ten months old, and he is still a fussy baby. He needs constant interaction and attention. He started walking at nine months old, but he still wants to be held all the time! J He’s dramatic, demanding, and a mama’s boy. And you know what? I wouldn’t change the way he is for the world. He has taught me more than I ever knew that I needed to know. Through my experience with PPD, I discovered my purpose: to return to work as a counselor to help other women going through similar challenges. This renewed purpose brought me to my current work at Olive Branch, where I lead supportive groups for moms.
– Carolyn LoScuito