Dear E. Jean: I have a confession. I’m among the one out of seven women in America suffering from postpartum depression (PPD). My beautiful little girl was born six months ago. She’s the main reason I’m battling this depression with such aggression.
But I cry every single day. I lock myself in the bathroom at night after my sweet baby girl is in bed and sob. I’m so miserable! My husband sees this as “nothing but drama.” Lucky him! Unlike me, he’ll never have to carry a baby nearly 10 months, puking during 7 of them; he’ll never have to undergo preeclampsia and 28 hours of traumatic labor; he’ll never discover that he couldn’t produce breast milk. And the kicker? My daughter is allergic to milk and soy proteins.
My husband went happily back to work two days after she was home and doesn’t do a single chore around the house. And he gives me grief when I go to the gym for an hour.
E. Jean, my whole life is not my own anymore. I’m a mommy slave. I am 100 percent for the baby all the time. I’ve added my own remedies—yoga, weight training, healthy diet—to my ob-gyn’s treatment, but it’s the loneliness that is really breaking me down.
My business is suffering because my brain is fried. My friends have all disappeared, and my best friend? She basically blamed me for my daughter’s allergies! She stated that my careful diet was the reason I couldn’t breastfeed! Even my family opines that I should be “loving” every minute of being a new mother. It’s too much!
The truth is, I was always a strong bitch. After my baby girl was born, my world shattered. I feel really in a dark place with no way out. My ob-gyn says I’m making slow progress, but I want to feel better. I’m trying so hard!
So, I ask you, E. Jean: Will I get better? Will I ever be the old me? Will I be able to show my little one the strong version of me instead of this weak one? And how do I get people to understand that PPD is a real thing that consumes a woman’s life? I want my husband to understand that love and support is needed, rather than “tough love.” —Trying to Be Me Again!
Note to readers: By a stroke of luck, I saw Miss Trying’s e-mail a few moments after she sent it, and we quickly set up a conference call so that she and I could speak together with a postpartum depression expert. It turned out that Miss Trying works in fashion, and she was so disarmingly forthright, so funny, so stirring, so honest when describing the hour-by-hour struggle to contain the ocean of darkness roiling inside her, I felt like I wanted to remove my skin and just give her my whole nervous system—for no other reason than to let her enjoy a moment of relief.
The expert we spoke with is a social worker with credentials that run about as long and impressive as the Old Testament. She’s also writing a book about PPD, having been hurled into the deep end herself with a massive case after giving birth to her son. (She has asked—refreshingly unusually, for an author with a book coming out—to remain anonymous.)
Her advice to Miss Trying:
Will you get better? Yes. It may seem like a bottomless, hopeless black hole, but light will come back in your life—slowly, not all at once—and will gradually make its way.
Will you ever be the old you? No. You are forever changed. The old you will become a better you. In fact, you’re already showing many new ways that you’re becoming one even stronger bitch. Birthing a baby is just the beginning.
How will you get people to understand? This is harder. You must find people who understand and can help now. Later, you can deal with others’ opinions.
Tell the truth to your doctor, and discuss the option of taking medication.
And my advice to Miss Trying?
As I believed right down to my very corpuscles that she was going to prevail, I flat-out told her I believed it, and after asking about her daughter (whom Miss Trying revealed to be the most fascinating and talented infant born on the Eastern Seaboard this millennium), I suggested Miss Trying have cocktails with her best friend and tell her what’s really going on, ditto her other close friends, ditto her family and her husband. Forget chores. Forget arguing. Run away for a romantic dinner at a French bistro with the big blockhead and just enjoy each other’s company for a couple of hours. I also urged Miss Trying to try to find other mothers who’d suffered from postpartum depression by getting a list of PPD groups from her local hospital or her ob-gyn, or by Googling PPD resources.
And how have things turned out so far? Here’s an update from Miss Trying.
Hello there, E. Jean! Okay! Lots to tell you: I’ve broken my silence and started moving my tush. First, I met my best friend, and after two martinis—martinis on me!—I set her straight. She apologized.
Second, I finally went to my GP, and she scolded me for not coming to her sooner. She ordered a bunch of blood tests and prescribed a very small dose of Zoloft. My pride took a tiny blow—I’ve never touched a drug. (Okay, maybe pot.)
Third, I spilled the beans to my husband about the medication. He wasn’t thrilled, but I think he finally got it.
Fourth, I made the big decision to let the people in my life know what’s been going on—my family (my mom is menopausal, so confiding in her is like an episode of All My Children), a couple of other girlfriends, and my yoga teacher, who recommended lavender oil. Gotta love yoga teachers!
Fifth, I felt no connection with the first PPD group I tried, so I’ll try another.
And sixth, I’ve been trying to heal myself by volunteering at a domestic abuse shelter, where I also donated dresses from the boutique I own. My heart has grown six inches! Every woman wants to hear, feel, and believe she’s beautiful!
I always said, When you hit rock bottom, the only place you can go is up. Whether it’s the antidepressant or just being forthright with people, with my daughter as my motivation, I think this is what I needed to get back on my feet and kick ass! I thank my stars every day that I reached out to you.
This letter is from the Ask E. Jean Archive, 1993-2017. Send questions to E. Jean at E.Jean@AskEJean.com.