There is a movement of women speaking out about postpartum depression since the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force issued a depression screening recommendation on Tuesday.
I don’t often get mad or defensive when reading other people’s thoughts on heavy topics that have personally affected me, but my blood is boiling right now over the thoughts I’ve read in response to this recommendation. In particular, this comment taken from Marianne Williamson’s Facebook page:
Depressed women are like canary in a coal mine. We are often depressed because something is wrong that needs to be made right, and what is wrong is not always what is inside us. Postpartum depression, example, is often a result of a woman’s heartbreak over having to go back to work sooner than her body, mind and heart are ready to. She knows in her gut that her baby needs her home longer, and she needs to be with the baby longer. Nature is screaming out to her from every cell of her being. Now if we give that woman an antidepressant and basically numb her pain, that totally supports the status quo. But if that woman truly honors her pain, truly honors where it comes from, she is more likely to act concert with others in demanding paid family leave. In many such instances, the disease is not inside the woman; the disease is inside a system so based on greed that it does not honor parents’ need to remain with their children long enough after birth. This is not a time in history for any of us to be numb. Our feelings, even our painful ones, are here to deliver important information. Muffling their sound is not always the way to go.
Let me say this loud and clear. POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION IS NOT SITUATIONAL OR ENVIRONMENTAL; IT IS CHEMICAL.
Postpartum depression is not just sadness or heartbreak over having to leave your child. It can include sadness and heartbreak. It can be worsened or amplified by environmental or situational stressors. But postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD, and postpartum psychosis are serious and deadly chemical malfunctions INSIDE a woman’s brain.
CHANGING EXTERNAL FACTORS WITHOUT CHANGING THE BRAIN CHEMISTRY IS NOT ENOUGH.
My third son would be dead right now if it were not for the shift in my brain chemistry that was brought about by an antidepressant. And the only reason I knew to seek out a doctor and have an antidepressant prescribed is because of my mental health background- because of my Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy- because I was informed. If I hadn’t sought out the information on my own, I know for a fact that my third son would no longer be with us.
The only postpartum depression screening I had was an eight question survey in the hospital, where upon answering “yes” to the question, “Have you thought of killing yourself in the past six months?” I was told to follow up with my doctor in a few weeks.
Ms. Williamson, and millions of other people believe that postpartum depression is simply the presence of emotional pain. For me, postpartum depression was the opposite. It was the absence of emotion. Antidepressants didn’t numb my feelings because I didn’t have any. Postpartum depression made me numb. I was cold and distant. I had no interest in engaging with my three children or with life in general. I was a hollow shell of a person simply existing in a world that was happening around me.
As the days and weeks passed, I waited patiently for feeling to come back- for my soul to re-enter my body. I didn’t want to have to depend on medication to feel a connection with my son. I didn’t want to experience the side effects that I knew would accompany any medication my doctor would prescribe me. I didn’t want to call her, but when the only time I could feel anything was when I thought of killing my infant, I knew it was time to call.
I had repeated visions of dropping my three week old son into a lake and I felt relief as I watched him drown. This is not normal. This is not nature telling me to lean in and listen to my mind and body. If I would have let nature direct my actions, I would have killed my precious, innocent newborn baby. Not because I am a horrible person, but because my brain chemistry was altered by my hormones.
I am so thankful I was informed enough to be able to recognize my thoughts and feelings as postpartum depression, but there are women every day who suffer in silence. Women who think they are bad moms and horrible people because they don’t have access to knowledge.
When my first son was born, I experienced postpartum OCD. I didn’t know what it was until nearly two years later because I wasn’t informed back then. I thought postpartum depression was just about sadness and I didn’t have tears. I didn’t know that there were other postpartum diagnoses besides depression. I honestly thought I was losing my mind. I had constant intrusive thoughts that would not go away. I lived in a hyper-vigilant state, each day waking from the hour or two of sleep I had gotten the night before, thinking that the world was ending. With each train I heard pass, each airplane that flew through the sky, every single unexpected noise my body was instantly frozen with fear. I missed out on countless memories with my newborn baby because my brain was consumed with the idea that each moment would be our last.
Imagine what would have happened if the thoughts of killing my baby would have crept in back then. Back when I didn’t know. Back when help was not a viable option for me because I was unaware that I needed it.
Postpartum depression, anxiety, OCD, and psychosis are not normal and treating them as such is dangerous. I was fortunate enough to know that I needed help, but so many aren’t.
Let’s do our part to ensure people are informed.
Together, we can stop the stigma.