Postpartum Depression

The post just preceding this was written by the husband of the woman who writes Dooce. Heather is knee-slappingly funny at times; she expresses herself with an artful blend of sarcasm and sweetness that makes her writing fresh and taut. She’s immensely enjoyable. Since I’ve been pondering the prospect of motherhood, I was referred to her blog and instructed to start reading in February 2004, when Heather became a mother. Because her writing is stellar, I was almost certain she had The Perfect Life. And then I read a post titled “Surrender”:

There are many things about parenthood that I understand intellectually. I know that this period of her life is only temporary and that things will eventually get better. I know that I am a good mother and that I am meeting her needs as a baby. But depression isn’t about understanding things intellectually. It’s about an overshadowing emotional spiral that makes coping with anything nearly impossible.

I can’t cope with the screaming. I can’t cope with her not eating. I can’t cope with the constant pacing and rocking back and forth to make sure she doesn’t start crying. I am sick with anxiety. I want to throw up all day long. There are moments during her screaming when I have to set her down and walk away and regain perspective on life, because in those very dark moments of screaming I feel like I have destroyed mine.

In this post, Heather examined her decision whether or not to take medicine while breastfeeding. As one who copes with major depression via prescription medication (in addition to therapy), I have grappled with the question: should I stop medications through pregnancy?

She wrote:

Most of the literature I have read about depression medication and the breastfeeding mother indicates that the benefits of breastfeeding far outweigh the possibility of the baby receiving small amounts of the medication through the breast milk. I also think that it’s more important that my daughter have a mother who can cope — a mother who isn’t sobbing uncontrollably during diaper changes — than it is for her to have a mother who is too proud to admit defeat.

I am throwing up my hands here. I cannot do this unmedicated.

This is not a decision I have made lightly. I’ve read everything I can get my hands on concerning postpartum depression in the mother and how it affects the development of the baby. I’ve talked with my doctor and friends who have experienced the same debilitating feelings. Going off depression medication a year and a half ago was so awful that I didn’t ever want to have to face that nightmare again. For the past several weeks I have been silently whispering to myself Fight this! Fight this! But I lost the fight about seven days ago.

I’m posting these excerpts to help disseminate information. Such decisions are difficult; in addition to reading medical research, a woman needs to know other women who grapple with this decision and that she is not a bad mother if she elects to take medicine. I admire and respect Heather’s willingness to reveal. My other reason for posting is that Dooce is just plain good reading. Go check it out.

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7 Comments on “Postpartum Depression”

  1. kat Says:

    i’ve wondered about this issue a lot in regards to having children. thanks for pointing this out.

  2. Sheila Says:

    I’m also glad both you and Heather shared this. Postpartum depression is a big issue. The pros and cons can be too much to think about. But when you hear the extreme cases of women who’ve killed their children because of it, I think the medication is a good idea. Some of these women have never experienced problems with depression before, so maybe it’s even more difficult to admit help is needed. But there’s no shame in it, especially in light, as Heather said, that it’s important the baby has a mother who can look out for her.

  3. Denny Says:

    This story reminds me that by far most adults who have children do so for emotional reasons, typically without much thought to consequences, responsibilities, life changes, etc.

  4. Kathryn Says:

    It’s difficult for me not to take your observation personally, Denny. Should women who cope with depression not be allowed to have children? If I decide to become a parent, if I should have another depressive episode, does this negate all the consideration I gave to the consequences, life changes, and so forth? I can be willing to take on the responsibilities of parenting, be as well-informed as possible, and yet this cannot predict an outcome. Nor does the fact that I’ve struggled with depression predict that I will be incompetent as a parent.

    I’ve been reading books and talking with a lot of mothers lately about their experiences. All of them have experienced moments described in the post above. Caring for a baby is a challenge; even the most dedicated mother may feel pushed to her limit and fantasize about running away, wonder if she is capable or wants to do this, and feel trapped.

    As for a reason to have a child, I’m not certain there is one other than emotion. It’s not practical anymore; “back when” life was more laborious, children participated in the function of survival for a family, doing chores to help out. Other than a desire to extend oneself genetically (the wish for immortality) or to experience the vocation of shaping a life (which could be considered selfish), what other reason is there?

  5. Kathryn Says:

    I’d also like to note that this post represents one aspect of Heather’s life as a mom. If you read her blog, you will find the preponderance of entries focus on the positive aspects of parenting. The fact that she recognized the need for assistance and took action inspires my confidence in her.

  6. TulipGirl Says:

    In relation to breastfeeding and meds. . . I’ve read speculatio that some think the early introduction of these meds in the small quantities that may make it into the infants system, will actually help the early brain development. I’ve heard some theorize that it will in some have the effect of helping the children be less vulnerable to chemical depression. . .

    Have you read any research related to this?

  7. Kathryn Says:

    No, I haven’t. Though I’ve not made an extensive search for it. It would be interesting to see if the hypothesis were proved to be valid.