The Creative Mama » inspiring art, encouraging women

Crying in the Shower: My Experience with Postpartum Depression

Despite a beautiful natural birth experience with Charlotte, I struggled with managing three kids once I got home.  What is it about that third child?  I had it all planned out, all organized and ready.  But she was born two weeks early.  And nothing worked out the way I’d planned.  She was born on the first day of second grade for Parker.  And since we all were still at the birth center, he had to skip his first day.  My husband wasn’t able to get off work that week because another employee was out on medical leave.  So the only day he was home with me was the very day Charlotte was born.  Just thirty-six hours after giving birth, I was loading our baby and our three-year-old into the SUV and driving to the bus stop to get Parker, myself.  Chris even worked late, three nights that week.  I developed mastitis.  Charlotte wouldn’t latch on properly.  I missed Open House at Parker’s school, and didn’t even meet his teacher for at least two months.  I yelled at the kids more than I care to admit.  I cried constantly.  The house was a mess.  I couldn’t find anything, and neither could the kids.  All of our family lives out of state and I made it painfully clear that I wanted the first few weeks alone with “just us”.  I desperately needed a break from the revolving door of visitors our house had been that entire year, but  in doing so, I shut out all offers for help.  I went back to work teaching workshops just six weeks after the baby was born, and that was entirely too early.  I never really got that “break” that maternity leave is supposed to provide.  But when you’re self-employed, there is no short-term disability.  Maternity leave = no pay.  But since Charlotte arrived early, and I had worked up until the very last minute, I still had orders to place and prints to deliver during my entire maternity leave.  Bitterness and resentment set in, along with exhaustion and complete mommy-brain.  Even the max dose of Zoloft (which is, as I understand, the only type of antidepressant you can take while nursing a baby) wasn’t quite enough.  I just shut down.  Some days I just want to sleep, eat, nurse my baby, and cry myself back to sleep.  Rinse.  Repeat.

I had suffered with PPD after my son was born almost 8 years ago.  I ended up on Zoloft for a few months, and it was life-changing for me.  After Lila was born, somehow PPD didn’t hit me, but I had much more help with her and didn’t feel as alone.  I thought for sure that I’d escaped it my third-go-around.  But looking back now, it started when Charlotte was about three or four weeks old.  I was actually oblivious to (or maybe in denial of?) my postpartum depression for two months.  Finally, I couldn’t deny it any longer.

I will never forget the picture that my three-year-old handed to me one late October afternoon.  She had drawn it herself with a red crayon: a stick figure with large, sad eyes and a slight frown.  It looked so haunting.  I immediately knew in my heart who the stick figure was supposed to represent.  I asked Lila to tell me about her picture, but a part of me didn’t completely want to hear her answer.  My little girl looked up at me, and with her sweet lisp, she answered, “It’s you, Mama.  You’re angry, and you’re very sad, and you don’t want your kids anymore because they are being mean to you.”

I thought I would lose my breath.  I felt my heart sink and my stomach drop.  My daughter had seen me cry almost every day, and she mistakenly thought it was her fault.  And worse, that I didn’t love or want her and her brother and sister anymore.

All I could think was, “Now I’m hurting my children by being this way.  God, please help me through this!”

That moment was my turning point.  I didn’t want to need help, and didn’t want to ask for it.  But I knew that this had gone on long enough.  I called my midwife that very afternoon, tears rolling silently down my cheeks as I admitted, “I think I have postpartum depression.  Please help me.  I don’t want my kids to remember their Mama this way!”  That sweet woman prayed with me right there on the phone.  She recommended that I try Zoloft, a b-complex vitamin, some fresh air, and for me to talk to someone regularly about this.  She ended with this advice: “Give yourself some grace.”

Even with this advice and the drawing from my daughter, I actually didn’t fill my prescription for a couple of days… clearly I was in the “bargaining” stage of PPD at this point.  I thought that if I could just get my routine back, start taking those extra vitamins, go for a walk, do some decluttering, etc., that I could overcome this by myself.  I didn’t need that medicine!  But I was so wrong.  Postpartum depression is not something that you simply snap out of one day when you make the decision to do so.  It is a process, it’s an obstacle to overcome, it’s a lion to battle.  And it’s different for everyone.  I finally opened up to a few people, and Bree encouraged me that there was no shame in needing to take meds for a while.  Whatever helped!  I finally filled that prescription, but it’s no magic bullet.  There is no such thing.

Charlotte is six months old now.  Things have gotten better for me, but I’m still suffering from PPD on a daily basis.  I don’t expect it to end overnight.  I have good days and bad days, and even worse days.  Some days I still cry in the shower, some days I sing in the shower, and some days I can’t muster up the motivation to step into the shower at all.  I know what it’s like to putter around the house like a zombie, going through the motions to get through my day, one task at a time.  Unfeeling, robotic and numb.  To walk around in a fog, often forgetting why I entered a particular room.  I know the slowness, the feeling that my reactions are delayed, like a bad hangover that won’t end.  I still have trouble focusing and concentrating.  I’m unmotivated more often than not, and that drives me crazy.  SO unlike me.  My to-do list may never get finished.  Even though I’m running now, which is so cathartic and makes me feel 100 times better, I do still have moments when I want to melt into the floor, or simply run away from my wonderful life.  Sometimes I still have that longing to just disappear for awhile… just to hide, and rest a little bit without someone needing me constantly.

It was never a matter of me not connecting to Charlotte, not loving her or ever wanting to harm her.  Or myself.  For me, it was a matter of being completely overwhelmed by circumstances and hormones, and powerless to pull myself out of this chemical imbalance.  This deep sadness that was robbing me of my joy.  I have embarrassingly few photos of my last baby.  When she was tiny, I was simply too tired and too numb to go through the process.  I had no strength.  I physically felt pain from this ordeal.  I craved sleep.  And sweets.

It took my husband discovering me sobbing uncontrollably in the bathroom, to help move me past several hurdles that were delaying my healing.  Chris has been amazing through all of this, so patient and forgiving when I snap at him or have yet another meltdown.  He is currently pulling my weight as well as his around here.  And he hasn’t complained one bit.  That sweet man deserves a medal.

For months, I was so afraid to say anything to many people about what I was going through.  I thought I would be admitting weakness.  I hid my PPD from anyone outside my immediate family.  I hid it from my sweet friends, and especially my clients.  I didn’t want anyone to know how awful I felt inside… what would they think of me?  I didn’t want them to think I was ungrateful, or spoiled ,when I clearly had everything in the world to be thankful for.  And I was thankful for it all.  But I’m sure they noticed how different I had become.  Thankfully, when I decided to share my story, I was not met with harsh judgment after all.  I was embraced by kind women who supported me.  I received emails and blog comments from so many mamas who have been in my shoes, who wanted to share their stories with me too, some who are living this nightmare for themselves right now.  The response has been so touching.  It’s comforting to know that I’m not alone.  And neither are you.

My hope is that if you are suffering silently like I was, that you will please tell someone!  Tell your husband or partner, a close friend, a sister, or your mom… and get help.  Ask for it.  You are not weak just because you need help!  You are strong, and you can get through this.

And I can get through this too.

About Stacey Woods

Stacey Woods is an on-location, natural light lifestyle photographer for the Tampa Bay, FL area. Her favorite subjects are expecting mamas, the tiniest of babies, and children of all ages. She believes that the small moments are really the biggest ones, that photographs are legacies that we leave to our children, and that authentic love is beautiful. Her online photo journal can be found here.

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  • kaley

    thank you all so much for this series. it is a big step toward removing some of the shame and isolation of ppd. it is nice to know that i am not alone, and that i shouldn’t have to hide what i went through.

    • staceywoods

      No, no reason to hide it and suffer in silence. PPD is not caused by something you did nor is it anything you could prevent, from what I understand. Hormones do their own thing! Thank you for joining us this week. I hope you’re able to get the help and support you need to get past this, Kaley! Hugs, mama.

  • Stephanie Moore

    Hugs my friend. I am so sorry you were suffering silently. Please know that there is a community of women who love you and are here to support you! I hope you continue to feel better and know this doesn’t make you a bad mom. I know you love those kids so much! HUGS!

    • staceywoods

      Sweet Stephanie, thank you!! It’s a frustrating thing, for sure. I’m grateful for that wonderful community and the amazing support that we can give to each other! So thankful for YOU, hon. xoxo

  • Gina

    praying for you, stacey… you will get through this. hugs from cali…

    • staceywoods

      Hugs right back to you, Gina. You’re a blessing!

  • Tlalanne

    Sending you prayers this is so beautifully written. You are a strong, talented beautiful mother. Thank you for sharing and helping others by doing so.

    • staceywoods

      Thank you so much for your support! Hopefully this week’s series will encourage more women to talk about this, and to not be afraid or ashamed. So glad you’re here encouraging US!

  • Shelley Crum Brammell

    CJ and Maggie were my “ones”…I too tried to hide it (except at home of course) but pushed so many people away who I dearly loved. I felt useless and horrible, especially when Maggie would only fall asleep when Casey rocked her, not me. She could feel the tension in my body, not to mention the yelling I did to the other 2 kids while trying to rock her….I’m so glad you wrote this. Women need to see that they aren’t alone, they aren’t horrible mothers (I still struggle with that part, over a decade later) nor are they ungrateful brats. They are like the rest of us that have suffered or are suffering from PPD; loving mothers/wives who need time, medicine (my case) and encouragement to overcome the hormonal imbalance that ravages our systems…thank you Stacey<3

    • staceywoods

      Oh Shelley, you sweet thing. I’m so glad you shared this with me. My heart breaks that you had to endure this twice too. Can I ask, was your ppd more difficult the first time or the second? I found that after Parker, I had gripping anxiety… but with Charlotte, I feel more overwhelmed. I’m grateful for your encouragement, and your support. Love you! xo

  • Heidi M

    That paragraph that starts with “Charlotte is six months old” really resonated with me. Thank you for sharing! I find the same thing with my depression! I’m getting better but I’m not all better yet.

    FWIW some docs do permit other meds while nursing. I’m currently on Prozac. There are some risks – as there are with all meds – but the bigger risk is a depressed mother, and Zoloft doesn’t work for me for some reason. Baby girl is doing fine with it, too. :)

    • staceywoods

      Heidi that is so interesting, someone else told me the same thing today. I actually went back to my PCP recently, because I felt that the Zoloft wasn’t helping as much as I thought it should, or as much as it did when I first started it. He told me my only other option was to stop nursing and try another med. I am so happy to hear that something else works for you! I may give him a call back, or get a second opinion. Thank you for your encouragement, and for your openness. I pray that you’re “all better” soon, love.

  • Nancy

    You’re just one of my favorites, Stacey. I love seeing the images of the kids & love knowing that you all have those memories of this time. Beautifully written!

    • staceywoods

      You’re one of my favorites too, sweet lady. Thank you for being here. xo

  • Lila

    Stacy, thank you so much for sharing. I too am struggling with PPD and suffered in silence for 6 months before getting help. I hope others read this and recognize that they are not alone and that there is no shame in asking for help….

    • staceywoods

      Lila, I am so glad you found help too! I waited until 7 months to get help the first time. Our hope in doing this week-long series is that by talking about it openly, we’ll encourage more women to seek help right away, instead of being ashamed, hiding their feelings, or ignoring everything in hopes it just “goes away”. Hugs to you, hon. I hope you can find encouragement here, along with us. xo

  • Megan

    I suffered from horrible PPD after the birth of my first child. I couldn’t stop crying. My mother basically took care of Finley for the first two months. But I got help right away and like Michelle I started Zoloft and I stayed on it through the birth of my second child. I still feel like I missed out on so much in those first two months with Finley. But I try every day to make up for it. Thanks for talking about this very important issue. You are not alone!

    • staceywoods

      Megan, love your heart. There are moments I wish I could remember more clearly too. Moments I wish I’d have felt more completely. So glad you’re in a much better place now too! Thank you for sharing that with me, it’s encouraging!

  • Michelle Sauer

    Thank you for sharing. This brought me to tears. I feel lucky that my kids were fairly young and probably ignored the raging b word of a mama. However, I am 4 years out from my last baby and I still struggle. I’m still on Zoloft and while it does wonders for me, I still have to work very hard to be a happier and more patient mother. I’m not sad or anxious anymore, but I still struggle feeling motivated. It’s a constant battle that I swear I am going to win! You can too. Hang in there. Maybe a little time away is exactly what you need. Even a night. Good luck my dear.

    • staceywoods

      Michelle, I hope my kids don’t remember it either. I had such a short fuse in those early weeks and months. I can still tell if I’ve taken my Zoloft just a few hours late, because I get irritated pretty easily. I’m finding the same thing as you though… it seems to take the edge off, but I still have to work very, very intently to have a positive attitude. The motivation is the hardest thing for me to muster. We’ll win it though, together, okay? I wish you all the best. Thank you for sharing your experience with me too!

  • Alison

    Stacy, this is so beautifully written. I can feel in your words that you have the strength and courage to get through this…look how far you’ve come already. Sending you prayers for peace and healing.

    • staceywoods

      Alison, thank you sweet lady. And thank you for the inspiration to run. It’s so therapeutic. I will get past this, I know I will. xo

      • mom

        STACEY, I too suffered with PPD before anyone ever discussed it in public. I don’t remember having it with you,except lack of sleep. Remember, I almost burned the house down twice….before microwaves of course. Ha Ha. I am telling my age. I really suffered with Amy and Trish. I thought I was losing my mind. With Amy I was very depressed because of lack of sleep. With Trish , I was so overwhelmed that I would cry all the time. She of course had colic too. I kept praying and knew that this too will pass.
        Just start each day with prayer and you will get through it. You are a very strong woman and there is no shame in getting help. Please know that I am here for you any time. Take care of you and take those short walks… I know Chris is a big help to you. Wish I could be there to help you my dear. I love you!

        • staceywoods

          Mom, thank you for coming here and reading this. You’ve been such a rock for me lately, and I love you to pieces for your strength and wisdom. I wish I could hug you from here.