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"I had this horrible sense of impending doom, like my babies were slowly starving, and it was because I was terrible at being a mom."
We were all alone taking care of fragile newborns
I had struggled with depression and anxiety as a child and teen. But by my mid-20s, things had calmed down. I was married and living a stable existence.
After three years of trying and four rounds of IUI [intrauterine insemination], I got pregnant at 31 with twins. My pregnancy – at least from a mental health standpoint – was pretty blissful. I felt prepared for this new stage of my life, as if all my dreams were coming true.
I was aware of the possibility of postpartum depression [PPD] – it's pretty hard not to be these days, especially if you spend any time online. And between my own experience and my undergraduate degree in social work, I'm pretty familiar with a lot of mental health diagnoses.
My water broke at just past 36 weeks, so my babies were only slightly preterm. But when I didn't dilate, I was given Pitocin, and ended up with the dreaded double-whammy twin delivery: My daughter was born vaginally, and then I had an emergency c-section for my son.
The babies were very small, but after three days, they were deemed healthy enough to go home – even though they weren't able to latch, were lethargic, and had low blood sugar and trouble maintaining body temperature! It's still a sore spot for me. But that's hindsight; I was too inexperienced to advocate for them.
At 12 days, the twins ended up back in the hospital for failure to thrive. After two weeks, they came home again, this time with nasogastric feeding tubes, through which we fed them pumped breast milk fortified with formula to add calories. I was petrified of putting the tubes in and stressed about the babies pulling them out. My daughter had the tubes for eight weeks, my son for six, and that meant around-the-clock pumping and feeding.
It was just my husband and me caring for them – we had no family in town. I never got to sleep more than 60 minutes uninterrupted, and I had crying jags that lasted hours at a time. On top of that, I was never around other people. I've never felt so alone.
When I was younger, my depression was like numbness – I didn't care about anything or anyone. This time, I cared intensely and couldn't let anything go. I felt such consuming love for these tiny creatures, but I also felt utter despair.
I had this horrible sense of impending doom, like my babies were slowly starving, and it was because I was terrible at being a mom. I was afraid that someone was going to notice what a terrible mom I was – yet even more afraid that no one would notice what a terrible mom I was, and that these poor kids would be stuck with me.
I beat myself up about everything. It was the worst time in my life. I knew it was PPD. My husband seemed to recognize it too and did everything he could to make things easier on me, but we didn't talk about it. We were so overwhelmed with taking care of the babies that dealing with my depression wasn't a priority.
Then, when the babies were 8 weeks old, I had a complete breakdown at a follow-up appointment with my ob-gyn. I was a ball of nerves, and all it took was her asking a routine question about how I was feeling for the floodgates to open. I started crying and didn't fully stop until that night.
What helped me when I was depressed
My doctor recommended an antidepressant that's safe for nursing moms. My initial thought was, "I should be able to handle this without drugs." But when I set aside my stupid sense of pride and accepted the prescription, it turned out to be the best decision I've made as a parent.
My babies are 15 months old now, and I'm doing great. I was able to wean off the medicine a few months ago.
What I wish other moms knew
They should absolutely actively seek support. I still bristle at the PPD diagnosis, even though it fit me perfectly. I think we tend to pathologize the sadness and isolation new mothers feel, making it a medical issue rather than a societal problem of how lonely and alone new parents can be. If moms had adequate support and help, I'm willing to bet that PPD diagnoses would plummet.
I'm a big advocate for taking antidepressants if necessary, but meds are not a substitute for compassion and community. Start building your support network long before the baby or babies get here.
Read more moms' stories about depression.
As many as 1 in 10 new moms suffers from depression. If you're a mom of multiples, a preterm baby, or a baby with medical needs, you have an increased risk of depression. Inadequate support with caring for your baby is also a risk factor.
If you have any symptoms of depression, ask your doctor for a referral to a mental health professional. Or contact Postpartum Support International at (800) 944-4773 for free, confidential advice and help finding a therapist or support group in your area.
If you're thinking about harming yourself or your baby and you need to talk to someone right away, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 for free, confidential support.