I Won My Battle With Postpartum Depression
I remember watching my husband playing happily with our new baby girl and thinking that they would be better off without me. I felt I had become a burden to them. I wanted to get in the car, drive away, and never return. I had no idea that I was a victim of postpartum depression.*
MY FIRST ten years of marriage were happy years. Jason and I were enjoying raising Liana, our first daughter. So when I became pregnant again, all of us were delighted with the news.
But this pregnancy was very difficult. In fact, I nearly died from complications after the birth. But prior to that, late in the pregnancy, a fog seemed to settle over my mind. It became worse after we brought our little baby girl, Carly, home from the hospital. I was constantly tired and felt incapable of making even simple decisions. I found myself phoning Jason at work many times a day just to ask what household job I should do next or to seek his reassurance that something I had just said or done was correct.
I became afraid of being in the company of people, even old friends. If someone came to the door unexpectedly, I hid in the bedroom. I let the house become a mess, and I became easily distracted and confused. I love to read, but reading became almost impossible because I could not concentrate. I found it hard to pray, so my spiritual health suffered. I felt emotionally numb, unable to feel love for anyone. I was afraid that my children would be harmed because I was not thinking properly. My self-esteem plummeted. I thought I was going mad.
During that time, Jason would come home from work and help me by cleaning up the house or by preparing a meal for the family—and I would be angry with him for helping! I felt that his actions showed me up as being an incompetent mother. On the other hand, if he failed to offer help, I would accuse him of not caring. Had Jason not handled things as maturely and lovingly as he did, my postpartum depression might have spelled disaster for our marriage. Perhaps Jason can best describe how my condition affected him.
My Husband Tells How He Was Affected
“At first, I could not believe what was happening to Janelle. She changed completely from being her usual happy, outgoing self and started behaving like a different person. She began taking everything I said as personal criticism, and she even became resentful when I tried to ease her work load. Initially, I felt like telling her to pull herself together, but I realized that such a response would only make things worse.
“Our relationship was under constant strain. Janelle seemed to think that the whole world had turned against her. I had heard about other women who suffered from similar symptoms as a result of postpartum depression. So when I began to suspect that she was suffering from the same thing, I started reading all the information I could about the subject. What I read confirmed my suspicions. I also learned that Janelle’s illness was not her fault—that it was not the result of any neglect on her part.
“I admit that the extra care she and the children needed left me emotionally and physically exhausted. For two years I had to juggle my secular work and my responsibilities as a congregation elder and as a husband and father. Happily, I was able to adjust my secular work so that I could be home earlier, especially on the nights we attended Christian meetings. Janelle needed me at home in time to help prepare dinner and to dress the children. As a result, we were all able to attend the meetings.”
My Road to Recovery
Without my husband’s loving support, my recovery would no doubt have been much slower. Jason listened patiently as I unburdened myself of my fears. I found it very important not to bottle up my feelings. At times, I would even sound angry. But Jason constantly reassured me that he loved me and that we were in this together. He always tried to help me see the positive side of things. Later I would apologize for words spoken in anger. He reassured me by saying that it was my illness that was talking. As I look back now, I realize how much his thoughtful comments meant to me.
Together, we finally found a very kind doctor who took the time to listen to how I felt. He diagnosed my condition as postpartum depression and suggested that my treatment include medication to help control my frequent anxiety attacks. He also encouraged me to seek the help of a mental-health professional. In addition, he recommended regular exercise, a therapy that has helped many to combat depression.
One of the biggest obstacles on my road to recovery was coping with the stigma associated with postpartum depression. People often find it hard to show empathy for someone with an illness that they do not understand. Postpartum depression is not like, say, a broken leg, which others can see and thus make allowances for. Still, my family and close friends proved to be truly supportive and understanding.
Loving Help From Family and Friends
Jason and I greatly appreciated the help my mother provided during this difficult period. At times, he needed a respite from the emotional turmoil at home. Mom was always positive and did not try to take over my work. Rather, she supported me and encouraged me to do what I could.
Friends in the congregation also proved to be a wonderful support. Many sent brief notes telling us that they were thinking of me. How I cherished those kind expressions! This was especially so because I found it hard to talk to people, whether on the phone or face-to-face. I even found it difficult to associate with fellow Christians before and after meetings. Thus, by writing to us, not only did our friends show that they were aware of the limitations my depression imposed on me but they also confirmed their love and concern for me and my family.
This Is Not a Life Sentence!
I am now much improved—thanks to my doctor’s advice, a very supportive family, and understanding friends. I still exercise regularly, even when I feel tired, as this has helped me in my recovery. I also try to respond positively to the encouragement others provide. During difficult times, I listen to audiocassettes of the Bible and to Kingdom Melodies—spiritually and emotionally uplifting music prepared by Jehovah’s Witnesses. These fine provisions help to strengthen me spiritually and to keep my thoughts positive. Recently, I even started giving Bible-based student talks again at congregation meetings.
It has taken me more than two and a half years to reach the stage where I can more fully feel and express love for my husband, children, and others. Although this has been a difficult time for my family, we feel that our bonds are now stronger than ever before. I especially appreciate Jason, who more than confirmed his love for me by enduring the depths of my depression and by always being there to support me when I needed it. Above all, both of us now have a much closer relationship with Jehovah, who truly strengthened us during our trials.
I still have my down days, but with the help of my family, my doctor, the congregation, and Jehovah’s holy spirit, the light at the end of the tunnel continues to get brighter. Yes, postpartum depression is not a life sentence. It is an enemy we can defeat.—As told by Janelle Marshall.
Postpartum depression is also called postnatal depression.
[Box/Picture on page 20]
Factors That May Contribute to Postpartum Depression
A number of things besides hormonal changes may sometimes be a factor in postpartum depression. These include:
1. A woman’s personal ideas about motherhood, which may result from an unhappy childhood and poor parental relationships.
2. Unrealistic expectations imposed on mothers by society.
3. A family history of depression.
4. Marital dissatisfaction and a lack of support from one’s immediate or extended family.
5. Poor self-image.
6. Feeling overburdened or overwhelmed by caring for young children full-time.
This list is by no means comprehensive. Other factors may also contribute to postpartum depression. Indeed, its causes are still not completely understood.
[Box on page 21]
More Than Just the “Baby Blues”
Postpartum depression should not be confused with common postnatal mood swings. Dr. Laura J. Miller says: “The most common type of postnatal mood change is what has come to be known as the ‘baby blues.’ . . . About 50% of women who give birth experience this tearful, emotionally labile (i.e., changeable) state. It usually reaches a peak between the third and fifth days after birth and then gradually fades away on its own within weeks.” Researchers suggest that these moods may result from changes in a woman’s hormone levels after she gives birth.
Unlike the “baby blues,” postpartum depression involves prolonged feelings of depression that might begin at the birth of a child or even weeks or months later. A new mother with this condition may find herself elated one minute and depressed—even suicidal—the next. In addition, she may be irritable, resentful, and angry. She may experience a persistent feeling of inadequacy as a mother and a lack of love for her baby. Dr. Miller states: “Some clinically depressed mothers know intellectually that they love their babies, yet they have trouble feeling anything but apathy, irritation, or disgust. Others have thoughts of harming or even killing their babies.”
Postpartum depression is a phenomenon with a long history. As far back as the fourth century B.C.E., Greek physician Hippocrates noted the dramatic psychological changes suffered by some women after childbirth. A study published in the Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research explained: “Postnatal depression is a significant problem affecting 10-15% of mothers in many countries.” Regrettably, though, “most cases of such depression do not receive a correct diagnosis and are not properly medicated,” said the Journal.
A less common but more serious disorder occurring after childbirth is postpartum psychosis. A sufferer might experience hallucinations, hear voices in her head, and lose touch with reality, although she may be rational for intermittent periods lasting for hours or days. The causes of this psychosis remain unclear, but Dr. Miller notes that “genetic vulnerability, perhaps triggered by hormonal changes, seems to be the most influential factor.” A skilled medical professional may provide effective treatment for postpartum psychosis.
[Box/Pictures on page 22]
How to Help Yourself*
1. If depression persists, seek professional help. The sooner you do so, the sooner you can be on the road to recovery. Seek out an understanding doctor who is familiar with the condition. Try not to feel ashamed of your postpartum depression or to feel embarrassed if you need to take medication.
2. Exercise regularly. Studies have shown that regular exercise can be an effective therapy for depression.
3. Tell those who are closest to you how you feel. Do not isolate yourself or bottle up your feelings.
4. Remember that you do not have to have a perfect house. Try to keep your life simple by focusing on things that are essential.
5. Pray for courage and patience. If you find it difficult to pray, ask someone to pray with you. Recovery may only be delayed if you hold on to feelings of guilt or worthlessness.
Awake! does not recommend any particular kind of treatment. The suggestions for both women and men outlined in this article do not cover every situation, and some points may not even apply in certain cases.
[Box on page 23]
Tips for Men
1. Recognize that postpartum depression is not your wife’s fault. If her condition persists, cooperate with her in seeking the help of a doctor who understands the problem and is sympathetic.
2. Listen patiently to your wife. Acknowledge her feelings. Do not get upset at her negativity. Kindly help her to see the positive side of things, and reassure her that she will get better. Do not assume that you must fix all the problems she mentions. She may simply want comfort, not logical answers. (1 Thessalonians 5:14) Remember, postpartum depression makes it difficult for sufferers to think logically and clearly.
3. Cut back on nonessential activities so that you have more time to support your wife. Your doing so may speed up her recovery.
4. Make sure that you have some time for yourself. Good physical, mental, and spiritual health on your part will enable you to be a better support to your wife.
5. Find someone to talk to who will encourage you, perhaps another spiritually mature man whose wife has suffered from postpartum depression.
[Picture on page 23]
The Marshall family