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Beyond the Blues

My post-delivery depression left me feeling ashamed and alone.

Why am I crying so much? Why am I so sad? Tears splattered into the sink full of dirty dishes. I dabbed my eyes with my sleeve as the dishpan filled with soapy water. Having a baby is supposed to be a happy occasion, so why aren't I happy?

Just months before, my husband, Ed, and I'd become the proud parents of Jennifer Elese. After five years of trying to conceive, my family, friends, and colleagues were so happy for us they gave me six baby showers! We went through parenting classes and read several books to prepare us intellectually for raising our baby. But nothing prepared me for the emotional crisis that soon followed.

It began with nursing. When I was sure Jennifer was fast asleep, I gently unlatched her from me and laid her down. However, the moment her head touched the mattress, she woke up and started crying. I couldn't stand to let her cry, so I picked her up and started nursing again. After repeating this process over and over with no success, I finally broke down and cried, too.

For the first month of her life, I was home with Jennifer every day. Part of this was due to Chinese tradition (which was to allow the mother to recover from childbirth), and part was to avoid exposing our baby to possible illnesses. I'll never forget what one friend told me: "You'll never be normal again. Get used to it."

Suddenly all my activities revolved around Jennifer's schedule. I couldn't even take a shower unless my husband was home, in case she woke up and needed to be changed or held before I fed her. It seems cruel to compare caring for a baby to being tortured in prison, but that's how I sometimes felt. I was locked up in the house, "breast-cuffed" with sore nipples to a little crying machine.

Despite my difficulties, kissing and cuddling our baby gave me a wonderful feeling inside. I loved little Jennifer very much; I just couldn't stop crying and feeling overwhelmed by sadness.

God must have known I'd have such a difficult time adjusting to motherhood because he surrounded me with supportive people. He gave me the most loving husband a woman could ask for. Because Ed saw what a difficult time I was having, he did everything for the baby except breast-feed her.

My mother was helpful, too, and came to stay with me when Ed went on a business trip. While she was visiting, I started crying in the shower one morning, overcome by despair. My mother knocked on the door to see if I was okay. After I assured her I was, she encouraged me to stop breast-feeding so I could have a bit of freedom. I still thought breast-feeding was best for my baby, so I chose not to follow her advice.

When Jennifer was three weeks old, my in-laws came for a visit. Suddenly, I had an irrepressible urge to leave the house since there were enough adults around to handle whatever could come up. I went grocery shopping, and even though I was gone only 30 minutes, I felt so relieved to get out of the house and do something "normal."

I unloaded my emotional burdens on my best friend, Karen, who reminded me all mothers feel overwhelmed at times. Karen assured me I was a good mom. Another friend, Ginger, made sure I ate regularly. Several friends and relatives inquired about my sleeping habits. Everyone tried to help out when they could, but nobody ever suggested I talk about my emotional state with the one person who really could help me: my physician.

I was loath to discuss my feelings with a physician, even though I cried in front of my daughter's pediatrician and the whole office staff when I brought Jennifer in for her one-month check-up. The doctor called me a few days later to make sure I was okay. He thought I was experiencing post-partum blues that could lead to post-partum depression if my symptoms lasted much longer. He urged me to call if I felt worse. Even though I cried almost every day for the first three months of motherhood, I never called him.

Part of me was too proud to ask for help. I felt bad enough that I couldn't control my daughter's eating and sleeping habits, let alone my own emotions. Seeing a doctor for my problem felt like admitting to failure. And I was afraid if I was diagnosed with an emotional disorder, people would think I was crazy.

Soon after, I went to the grocery store by myself. I was about to cross the parking lot when I thought, I don't care if a car hits me. It would be going so slow, I'd just get hurt and have to stay in bed. Then someone else would have to care for my baby. I stepped off the curb without checking for traffic. While not exactly suicidal, these thoughts certainly weren't normal. Despite my foolish act, I made it safely to my car. Obviously, something needed to change.

Thankfully, God began answering my prayers for strength in some unexpected ways. A friend approached me and said: "My father's dying of cancer. Didn't your father have cancer too? How did you handle it?" I recounted some of my experiences in hopes of comforting her.

That night, while I put my daughter to bed, I thought, If God got me through my father's bout with cancer, surely he can get me through caring for my baby, which is a much happier situation! I sighed in relief, and for the first time felt a glimmer of hope.

At her second month check-up, Jennifer's pediatrician said she wasn't gaining enough weight and suggested I supplement breast-feeding with formula. After several attempts, she finally took a bottle and gradually started gaining weight. Slowly I weaned her, and by the fourth month she drank only formula. Not only did this help Jennifer grow, it also freed me from what I thought of as prison.

I gained some control over my daughter's sleeping habits when I "discovered" the pacifier. In the beginning, she wouldn't take it. Later, when she began using a bottle, she readily took the pacifier, too. What a relief! From then on, after feeding her, I gave Jennifer the pacifier and she quietly sucked herself to sleep. Stabilizing her sleeping and eating habits allowed me to regulate my own.

With time, my lifestyle adjusted to include our baby. I learned which department stores had the best diaper changing/nursing areas in their restrooms. At parties, I gratefully "allowed" others to hold Jennifer while I enjoyed refreshments and adult conversation. I interacted with other moms at a women's Bible study and sought their advice on child-rearing. As I became accustomed to the changes in my life, I had less reason to be sad and didn't cry as much.

A few years later, I was asked to lead a Bible study at my church. As part of the training, I was required to read a book and watch a video series entitled Crisis Care by noted Christian counselor H. Norman Wright. In the book he writes, "If you don't recognize something as a loss, then you don't spend time and energy dealing with it and grieving over it … " When I read that, my eyes watered because I finally understood what I'd gone through emotionally with my daughter's birth years before.

Until that moment, I never dreamed having a baby was a type of crisis. My parenting books said I'd experience great changes in my life. No one wants to think of having a baby as a loss. Jennifer herself was a gain. But from reading Dr. Wright's book, I discovered I was grieving my loss of control, freedom, and former lifestyle. Realizing this allowed me to grieve consciously and continue to move forward with a healthy, hopeful mindset.

I also learned that another reason I'd felt so blue was because of my fluctuating hormone levels. My family physician eventually explained that after a woman gives birth, her hormones, such as estrogen, and other chemicals, such as serotonin and dopamine (which give the body a sense of well-being), are at low levels. If they're in short supply, situations that wouldn't normally depress a woman might make her feel sad. Lack of sleep and sporadic, sometimes unhealthy eating habits also can contribute to distress.

Although my bout with post-partum blues resolved itself as time went by, I've wondered what would have happened if I'd been struck by a car in that parking lot. What if my baby hadn't taken a bottle? What if no one had helped me? Looking back, I realize I shouldn't have been embarrassed to discuss my feelings with my doctor. My depression could have gotten worse. Some new mothers with extreme post-partum depression commit suicide and/or infanticide. In retrospect, I would have been better off being fully diagnosed by my physician before the situation could have gotten out of control.

Knowing what I know now, I urge any woman who suspects she might be suffering from depression to seek medical advice as soon as possible. You don't have to display all the symptoms of clinical depression to be considered depressed. Don't be embarrassed that your friends might find out. Don't wait until it gets worse. And if you know someone who might be depressed, urge her to see her doctor—even offer to make the appointment for her and take her there.

When my daughter's grown and perhaps having babies of her own, I know I won't be able to prevent her from going through some of the same difficulties I did. But hopefully if she has a similar experience, she'll be able to talk to me about her feelings and I'll be able to help her the way my mom and others helped me. And hopefully she'll also be able to confidently rely on God for direction, strength, and peace.

Carol Lee Hall, a freelance writer, lives with her husband and daughter in California. Check out her website at www.carolleehall.com.

Do You Have Post-Partum Depression?

1. I've been able to laugh and see the funny side of things:

•a. As much as I always could.

•b. Not quite so much now.

•c. Definitely not so much now.

• d. Not at all.

2. I've blamed myself unnecessarily when things went wrong:

• a. Most of the time.

• b. Some of the time.

• c. Not very often.

• d. Never.

3. I've felt scared or panicky for no good reason:

• a. Quite a lot.

• b. Sometimes.

• c. Not much.

• d. Not at all.

4. I've been so unhappy that I've had difficulty sleeping:

• a. Most of the time.

• b. Sometimes.

• c. Not very often.

• d. Not at all.

5.I've been so unhappy that I've been crying:

• a. Most of the time.

• b. Quite often.

• c. Only occasionally.

• d. Never.

6. I've looked forward with enjoyment to things:

• a. As much as I ever did.

• b. Less than I used to.

• c. Definitely less than I used to.

• d. Hardly at all.

7. I've been anxious or worried for no good reason:

• a. Not at all.

• b. Hardly ever.

• c. Sometimes.

• d. Very often.

8. Things have been getting the best of me:

• a. Most of the time. I haven't been able to cope at all.

• b. Sometimes. I haven't been coping as well as usual.

• c. Most of the time I've coped quite well.

• d. I've been coping as well as ever.

9. I've felt sad or miserable:

• a. Most of the time.

• b. Quite often.

• c. Not very often.

• d. Not at all.

10.The thought of harming myself has occurred to me:

• a. Quite often.

• b. Sometimes.

• c. Hardly ever.

• d. Never.


For questions 1, 2, & 4:

  1. a. = 0 points
  2. b. = 1 point
  3. c. = 2 points
  4. d. = 3 points

For questions 3,5,6,7,8,9, & 10:

  1. a. = 3 points
  2. b. = 2 point
  3. c. = 1 points
  4. d. = 0 points

A score of 12 or more points indicates the likelihood of depression.

Taken from the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, British Journal of Psychiatry, June 1987, Vol. 15, by J.L. Cox, J.M. Holden, R. Sagovsky.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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