I’m honored to share this guest blog from 8AMC alumni, Chris Beer. Chris was an active AMC mom when she was expecting her first child, and participated in our postnatal classes until she moved out of the city. Chris is sharing her story about an important topic – postpartum depression, to help bring awareness to this common condition. Feeling anxious, sad, angry, or guilty after your baby is born is not shameful. There is a wide spectrum of emotions from baby blues to postpartum depression. Know you are not alone, and there is help and ways to feel better. Thank you Chris for your honesty, courage, and strength to seek help and “kick PPD’s butt”! And thank you for sharing your story with AMC’s community. ~Cassandra
“You? But you always looked like you had it all together.”
This was the common refrain that I heard from family, friends and colleagues when I told them that I was being treated for postpartum depression (PPD). I can see how they perceived my life – someone who was “doing it all” by balancing a young family, a career and volunteer commitments. They couldn’t see that I spent most of my time quivering with fear and anxiety.
I did not experience PPD with my first child, so it was tough for me to identify my feelings of guilt, anxiety and anger as anything other than “typical new mom fatigue.”
However, after my second child was born, things were different. I couldn’t adjust to the rhythm of having two kids under two. I am a perfectionist, and beat myself up every time that one child was crying or upset. My PPD started out as anxiety during the day, and sleeplessness at night. My performance at work suffered, and that added to my worries. I hated every moment of the day…
…I yelled at my newborn daughter whenever she cried
…tears fell down my face during my exercise classes
…I couldn’t concentrate at work
…I spent most nights awake, shaking, in fear of starting a new day
I felt like I was on a treadmill that kept speeding up while my shoes were untied. I knew I was going to fall.
However, I felt tremendous shame in feeling anything but happiness. After all, what more could I want out of life? I had a loving husband, two healthy children, a wonderful home, a great job and all of the “stuff” one could desire. I was ashamed to share my feelings with anyone.
Kate was born in April 2012 and I didn’t seek help until January 2013. Those dark times are a fog, but I remember the “breaking point” vividly. After a night of no sleep, I walked to the train with tears streaming down my face. I was tired, hopeless and just done with living this life. Headed to work, I boarded the train and happen to run into a friend from my son’s preschool. When she gave the typical greeting that you give on a 5:40am train (nod and a smile), I broke down in tears. My friend sat with me for the 30 minute train ride, listened to how bad things really were (behind the “perfect exterior” of my demeanor at social events), held my hand and told me it would be okay. I have to be honest – I didn’t believe her. How could I ever feel “normal” again?
As I walked to work, I decided that I needed to focus on getting better. I didn’t know how, but I couldn’t keep living life like this. With the help of my supportive husband and amazing colleague (whose wife had also been hit hard by PPD), I was able to close down my trading positions so I could focus on staying home and feeling better.
But what is the path to feeling better? It’s different for each person. Some need talk therapy, some need medication, some need a more aggressive plan.
In order to craft a plan that worked for me, my husband reached out to Evanston North Shore’s postpartum hotline. It is an incredible resource, a free hotline staffed by professionals that help you devise an actionable plan for feeling better. You can call with anything from “My baby is colicky, and I am so frustrated and strung out with the lack of sleep” to “I am hopeless and suicidal,” and everything in between. They assess the situation, listen to your availability for doctor appointments, take down your insurance information and make the appointments for you. When you are feeling low, these are things that you can’t muster up the energy to do for yourself.
What worked for me was entering Evanston North Shore Hospital’s “Intensive Outpatient Program.” Focusing on my health became my new job. Every weekday, I went to the hospital from 9am to 3pm for a combination of group therapy, 1:1 sessions with my psychiatrist, and CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) workshops. The program participants were from all walks of life, but most were bound by one common bond: CHANGE can be unsettling, and adjustment can be difficult, especially if you don’t have the right “tools in your toolbox.”
I participated in the Intensive Outpatient Program for six weeks, then took a few months off before returning to work (in a different, less intensive capacity). I follow up with my psychiatrist every few months, and saw a therapist on a weekly basis for about a year. I am proud to say that I not only survived PPD, but I thrived, in a way. I discovered new ways to care for myself (reframing my expectations, making exercise a priority) and have a new appreciation for building a “tribe” of supportive people who can lift each other up when life gets tough.
What can you do if you suspect you are suffering from PPD?
- Seek professional health. My saving grace was NorthShore’s Perinatal Depression Program, whose mission is to identify and support families at risk for perinatal depression. Their free, confidential hotline is available 24-hours a day to patients and their families for information and support. The hotline’s number is 866.364.MOMS (866.364.6667).
- Acknowledge that PPD is real, can manifest itself in many ways (sadness, anxiety, anger, etc) and can escalate quickly if you do not address the situation.
- Devise a self-care plan that works for you. You cannot care for others if you do not care for yourself. Build in time for therapy sessions, exercise, and whatever else fills your soul. Enlist the help of your family, friends and/or babysitters to make this a non-negotiable part of your family’s schedule.
Take time for you, Mamas. You are worth it.