Maybe Matilda: My Postpartum Depression Story

Friday, February 20, 2015

My Postpartum Depression Story

I’ve mentioned that I had postpartum depression after Forrest was born, but I’ve never shared many of the details. I don’t think I’ve mentioned that I dealt with it again after Darcy was born—in fact, in this post when she was 2 months old, I wrote (chipperly!)  that everything was going okay and I didn’t think I’d end up with PPD this time around. (Boy, was I wrong.)

It felt a bit misleading for me to only have a few brief mentions of PPD on my blog--it has been a fairly big, formative part of my life as a mother, and it has started to feel odd to me not to write about it. Not that anyone cares about the details of my experience, I’m sure, but PPD seems to be a silent struggle for many moms. No one wants to be the person to bring it up, but it sure is a lonely path if you think you’re walking it alone.

I’ve been meaning for months—years, even—to write my postpartum depression story, and the day has finally arrived. This is a long post, but I hope it might be helpful as a warning or call to action to others who are expecting, or have new babies, or have friends with babies, or gosh, even if you don’t have kids but you feel like something’s not right, hopefully this will give you a push to do something to fix it. Sometimes making that phone call to the doctor is the hardest part.

The Background

I have a family history of depression, so perhaps I should have been better prepared for my own diagnosis. Looking back, I think I had brief touches of depression during big transitional times in my life, like leaving for college or moving to a new area and feeling alone. But it was never bad enough that I considered anything was actually wrong, and I certainly never talked to a doctor about it (although I wonder how much easier those times could have been if I had).

Knowing that I struggle during times of big change probably should have been a red flag while I was pregnant, but I was so excited about having a baby that it barely crossed my mind to talk to my doctor about my family history, or learn about how to recognize PPD, or plan what to do if I found myself depressed.

After Forrest

postpartum depression story

After a difficult delivery, Forrest turned out to be a very difficult newborn. He was colicky and angry and impossible to please--a perfectly healthy baby, but a very demanding and unhappy one. We lived thousands of miles from any family members (although my mom stayed with us for a week after he was born, which was a huge help), and I quickly felt completely overwhelmed.

There was the issue of trying to care for a crying infant nearly 24 hours a day, plus trying to recover from a hard labor+delivery on top of the sleep deprivation (I don’t remember Forrest ever sleeping, although I’m sure he must have nodded off at some point in his infancy).

There was the guilt of feeling like I must not be taking good care of my baby (surely any decent mother could figure out why her child was crying and make things better!), and the shame that came with trying to hide my stress and unhappiness (heaven forbid anyone find out what a terrible mother I am!).

And I felt guilty about being stressed and unhappy, period—there are plenty of babies who have actual, serious problems beyond some measly crying, so why was I making such a big deal out of it? I knew I should be thrilled and grateful for a healthy child, and I felt so guilty about being unhappy during what ought to be a joyful time. I loved Forrest so much, but the day-to-day reality of life at that time was overwhelming and lonely and exhausting.

The way I felt after Forrest was born seems like textbook depression, and I’m not sure why I didn’t recognize it sooner. Much of the time, I felt completely numb—as if I wasn’t actually living my life, but was watching it from a distance and barely cared what happened. Other days, I was so deeply sad that I couldn’t even function and spent days at a time in pajamas, not eating or sleeping, never ever leaving the house or answering the phone.

There were conversations with friends when I felt so confused and exhausted that I could hardly string sentences together, and later couldn’t remember anything we had talked about. I remember being out with Forrest once when a stranger asked his name, and I couldn’t remember what it was. I stood there, waiting for my baby’s name to come back to me. It’s hard to believe now that I didn’t think something was seriously wrong.

my experience with postpartum depression

Jeff was as supportive as he possibly could be, but he had a lot on his plate at the time. He was nearing the end of school, and Forrest was born right before Jeff had to take his national boards. He did as much as he could, but even when he was home and helping with the baby, I couldn’t relax or rest.

I had friends I could have talked to, but I felt too ashamed to ask for their help or be honest about how I was feeling (although I suspect a handful of them figured out what was happening anyway, and I thank God for those sweet friends who saw past my ‘everything’s okay’ facade and were loving and helpful even as I did my darnedest to push everyone away). I couldn’t figure out why my friends—many with two or three kids of their own!—were handling things so well while I was falling apart with just one child, and I was humiliated at the thought of telling them what was going on and asking for their help.

After months of this, I finally called my doctor about it. I don’t know why that phone call was so difficult and took so long to make—maybe because I was finally admitting, out loud, that something wasn’t right. I wanted so badly to be a good, normal, happy mother, and I think it took a long time to let go of that idea and just admit, out loud, that something was wrong and I needed help making it better.

My doctor was so kind and gentle and helpful, and wrote me a prescription for an antidepressant and a referral to see a therapist. And, stupidly, I did neither. The idea of being medicated scared me so much that I never filled the prescription, and after one uncomfortable visit with a therapist, I never went back.

I can’t think of a worse way to handle depression than what I did. I turned down all offers of help, I refused to talk about it with people who could have helped make a difference, and I didn’t take my doctor’s advice. I’m not qualified to give mental health advice (obviously!), but  this was definitely a very poor way to deal with depression.

As Forrest got older, though, he was becoming so much happier, which was making a difference in how I felt, too. Then we put him through sleep training, and after I started getting some rest for the first time in months, I finally felt a glimmer of hope—maybe being a mother could actually be enjoyable. Maybe Forrest wasn’t going to spend the next 18 years of his life screaming and crying full-time. Maybe I wouldn’t always feel exhausted and on the verge of a physical and mental collapse. Maybe our lives could actually settle into some sort of predictable, happy rhythm.

As the weeks went by, Forrest became more and more pleasant and predictable, I got more sleep and (prodded by Jeff) focused on doing things that helped me feel better (like exercising, getting out of the house without Forrest, and spending time with the friends I had spent the past few months shutting out), I slowly returned to normal.

I feel very fortunate, as I look back, that things worked out the way they did. I regret a lot of the choices I made at the time, and the way I thought about myself—I should have listened to my doctor, I shouldn’t have blamed myself for Forrest’s colic, or been ashamed of being depressed. I made all the wrong choices in handling my depression, and I’m just very glad that things worked out in spite of those wrong choices.

After Darcy

one young mom's experience with postpartum depression 

I was nervous about having a second child, in part because I was worried we’d have another difficult baby and I’d end up with postpartum depression again. But the more Jeff and I talked about it, the more we convinced ourselves that Forrest was probably a bit of a fluke—of all the babies we’ve met over the years, we haven’t known many who were as difficult as Forrest, and he did outgrow that difficult stage, so maybe we’d have some perspective if we had a second colicky child. We thought that I probably wouldn’t have PPD if we had an easier newborn. Very optimistic of us.

We felt so lucky when Darcy was born—she was such a sweet, happy baby. She certainly had her tough days and moments, but compared with Forrest, she was practically a different species. Exactly the sort of pleasant little cherub a pregnant mother expects.

I was exhausted, of course, but I felt like I was handling things pretty well in those early weeks. When I wrote that post 2 months after she was born, I was telling the truth—I certainly had days when I felt upset and depressed and frazzled, but overall, I was doing okay.

On top of the baby stress, though, we had a lot of work stress—within weeks of Darcy being born, Jeff left his job and we decided to start our own practice. Definitely not a low-pressure time for either of us, and the timing was terrible. Jeff was incredibly busy and stressed himself, and we had so much to do that had to be done quickly so we could start making money.

As I grew more and more sleep deprived and stressed about taking care of the kids plus dealing with the work and stress of opening a business, things went quickly downhill.

With Forrest, my symptoms felt very ‘typical depression’—no energy, no motivation, sad, withdrawn, numb. But after Darcy, they took a different form. I discovered there’s such a thing as postpartum anxiety—I would wake up in the middle of the night with panic attacks (I remember waking Jeff up at 2AM, sure I was having a heart attack). Many nights, I’d lie awake all night long, too anxious to fall asleep at all. I would have irrational, scary thoughts that I felt powerless to stop, and would have vivid images of terrible things happening to the kids that I couldn’t stop myself from thinking/seeing. I was so anxious and worried and upset about everything that I could hardly function.

Thankfully, I wised up a bit this time around. I called my doctor as soon as I realized that the way I was feeling was more serious than just a few bad days in a row, and when he wrote me a prescription, I took it religiously. I told my family and close friends what was happening, and they stepped in to help me with the kids and household stuff (help that I gladly accepted this time, instead of pretending I could handle things alone).

postpartum depression experience

It was very difficult at first to open up and tell people what was happening, but it made the journey so much easier—I had the help and support I needed to focus on getting better, and talking about my PPD with others helped take away the shame of feeling like depression was my fault, or a secret I should hide.

And that medication was nothing short of miraculous. Within about 2 weeks, I felt normal again. I could sleep at night, and I could think and act the way I normally would. I still felt the typical stress and tiredness of having a new baby, but I felt like I could handle it, and that I wasn’t giving stress and anxiety more time/attention/worry than it warranted. Now that I know how well that medicine worked for me, it’s hard to remember why I felt so scared of it the first time around.


As we got closer to Darcy’s first birthday, I started feeling like I could stop taking the medicine and be fine. We had fallen into a steady, fairly predictable routine at home, everyone was sleeping, our business was doing well, and our lives felt more or less normal again. I talked to my doctor, and he agreed that this would probably be a good time to stop taking it, if that was what I wanted.

Over the course of a few weeks, I slowly weaned myself off the medication. I definitely experienced some withdrawal symptoms—the anxiety returned for about a week (although it wasn’t debilitating like it had been before—more of an annoyance than a real issue), I felt irritable and had mood swings, as well as some nausea and headaches.

After a few weeks, though, I felt fine. I can’t say I’m 100% awesome all the time, but who is? I doubt I’ve gone more than 2 weeks at a time since weaning off the medication without having a totally crap day and thinking, “Jeez, maybe I should get back on my happy pills.”

But overall, I feel good now—I have stressful days (sometimes weeks), but I feel like I am in control of how I think and feel instead of being at the mercy of depression/anxiety, and that I can handle stress and emotion without crumbling. I’ve figured out some ways that work for me in handling stress, I’ve learned to recognize what  things are likely to trigger depression and anxiety for me, and what I can do to get on top of it as soon as it starts before it has the chance to spiral into something serious.

a story about postpartum depression

A takeaway?

I had a few reasons that I wanted to put all this out there.

I think I’m about as open and honest as I can be on this blog . . . except that I hadn’t ever really talked much about depression. And that seemed like a big thing to not discuss. Blogging about my kids and my family and my life as a mother without talking about depression felt a bit like I was putting up an image of myself that wasn’t quite right. I feel like we’re friends here . . . and this is something I don’t hide anymore from my friends.

I also hope that by posting this, anyone who might recognize some of themselves here can find a little hope. I was ashamed of having PPD for too long, convinced that it was a sign of some flaw in myself as a person and as a parent. I spent years feeling like it was something I couldn’t/shouldn’t talk about. As I’ve accepted it for what it is, though, and opened up about it to friends, I’ve realized that so many people are dealing with depression/anxiety and just aren’t talking about it. If that means I have to be the one to bring it up so we can talk it over and get better together, that’s okay with me.

I’ll mention depression casually in conversation now and have a friend reply, with huge relief, that she is/was depressed, too. I’ll occasionally get emails or phone calls from friends who know I’ve struggled with depression and are going through it now themselves, and I’m honored that they feel comfortable discussing it with me. I don’t think it should be a topic we’re scared or embarrassed to talk about.

If you recognize yourself in this post, I hope you’ll know that you aren’t alone, you don’t have anything to feel ashamed of, and that things can get better. Call a doctor, talk to family and friends. Take steps to make it better. Would you sit at home with an ear infection, too ashamed to call the doctor and ask for antibiotics, too embarrassed to tell a friend that you were sick? This isn’t any different. And it can get better.

Some links for your perusal:
The National Institute of Mental Health
The Mayo Clinic on postpartum depression
Postpartum Depression & Anxiety Symptoms (in plain English)


  1. Thank you for sharing your story with us. I had a similar experience after giving birth to my first son, who was extremely colicky and would cry for the major part of the day. I didn't speak about my experience with anyone because I was ashamed. I knew that PPD is common, but I never thought it would affect me. Now, several years later, I have been speaking about it more openly, as I feel it's important to educate other moms who might be going through similar experiences. I'm so glad that you are feeling much better, Rachel.

  2. Big hugs to you for sharing this. You rock.

  3. Oh Rachel, you have no idea how timely this is. I think that for me, "after" PPD, there's been a certain "Post-Post Partum Depression" that seems to rear its ugly head--I sometimes liken it to Post Traumatic Stress--or perhaps it's depression or guilt or something else... In other words, thanks for including/sharing the post-Darcy stuff. Sorry, I can't quite formulate what I want to communicate, but in a word--thanks.

  4. It is so great of you to share this! As moms we want to seem like we have it all together and have perfect little families and lives so no one thinks we are incompetent. And on the outside it can look like all is perfect, but everyone has their struggles and we should pull together and help and support each other more than judge each other. Sometimes just knowing you are not alone helps everything so much (and as you said, sometimes it takes more involved help and that's ok too!)

  5. Wonderful post...thank-you for being so honest and sharing your heart and experiences. I believe when we share our struggles, we are able to help others going through similar experiences. God bless!

  6. Thank you for sharing this part of your story! I've struggled with anxiety at different points in my life, but didn't recognize it until afterward. I wish I would have reached out for help when I needed it, and I hope if I find myself in that place in the future I'll be ready to act. Thanks for being willing to put this out there. We need to keep talking about mental health!

  7. I was a little bit like this after my first daughter. The guilt was horrible and it lasted for a year which ended up causing so much stress that I had adrenal fatigue.
    Im now a Wellness Advocate with doTERRA and am loving the oils. Here is my website if your interested

  8. Thank you for sharing your story. You are so brave to put yourself out there, and I really admire that quality in you.

  9. My children are now 32 and 27 and I had depression after both of them. It was like being in a long dark tunnel. I didn't get help (felt my baby would be taken from me, even though the sensible part of me knew what was wrong and that wouldn't happen). Took over a year to finally step out of that tunnel into the warm light. Wish I had asked for help, but it's water under the bridge now! I'd urge any new mums who are feeling depressed to seek help. It's not a sign of weakness or being a bad mum, just those pesky hormones playing their tricks!

  10. Honestly, I don't know how you survived colicy Forrest. After just 1 week with my sisters kids I was sleep deprived enough (and it wasn't even that much) to be near tears over any and everything. Thank you for this post <3 <3

  11. I have struggled after the birth of both my kids with PPD, though I didn't realize it at the time, because mine takes the form of intense anxiety-- not necessarily the textbook symptoms they list when you google PPD. It sounds a lot like what you had with Darcy. I didn't get help either time, but I'm committed to get help this time if/when it happens again. In the moment, I was always worried I wouldn't be able to take medicine and breastfeed, but I don't think that's accurate and I think the fear was mostly just another result of the anxiety. Always love your posts and this one's no exception!

  12. Thanks so much for sharing this! I think it's awesome that you are being open about it. It's certainly not a requirement to share your journey, but it could be so helpful for someone to hear! I could have written some of the exact same things. I will probably be on a low dosage of anti-depressants for quite some time because my depression and anxiety are all hormone related (and I would go through it every month whenever Aunt Flo came to visit). It's been so different with the second pregnancy and being on the medication! Even though Lil is a very demanding baby (hm, sounds like Forrest!) I feel like I was ale to handle it so much better. It's amazing the things you learn in hindsight... I'm so glad to hear that you are on the up and up though! You are a wonderful mom!

  13. My second daughter recently had her two-month doctor visit. I was asked to take the PPD questionnaire and didn't do well on it. The circumstances during my pregnancy and delivery weren't good. The father wasn't around for any of it. My depression started while I was still pregnant, but it wasn't until afterwards that I really realized what was going on. I just felt so empty. I knew I was loved but I didn't really feel it. I've been on medication for a couple weeks. I still feel mostly numb, but I have some good days. I've been told to see a counselor but haven't set it up yet. It's a hard thing to talk about. Even when asked when I'm sad or upset I don't really have an answer. I just am and don't really know how to fix it. I'm hoping the medication helps.

  14. Thank you for posting this. I was fortunate not to have PPD but have had anxiety and depression over the past 11 years on and off. I too make a point of talking about it -- I've been for therapy and take medication on and off. The relief of admitting there is a problem and letting someone help you is enormous. But getting to that point is hard.

  15. I just love your willingness to share about a difficult experience and open up the conversation. If we can talk about depression in the open more, not as some sort of fundamental part of your personality, but an illness that can happen to anyone (and I think PPD tends to be viewed in a way that more depression should be categorized as: triggered by stressful events and a temporary condition, but one that would benefit from treatment), it would really help. I relate to so many aspects of your story (including devil newborn and then angel newborn . . . so far, anyway) and struggle occasionally with depression too. I am glad you are doing well!

  16. You are so brave to share this post. I have been following along here since before you had sweet Darcy and I have always been so inspired by you as a mother and woman in general. You are such a creative, beautiful person. I'm so glad you shared this. I have struggled with depression myself after I got married and felt stuck in a state (FL) I absolutely hated with no friends and family around. Sometimes it felt like the light at the end of the tunnel was nowhere to be found. So glad we found our lights. And I'm glad you're here for so many other women who may feel alone in all of this. Hugs, friend. Xoxo

    Ps I'm so sorry I don't stop by more often around here. I need to be better at showing my love in the comments. I totally suck!!

  17. Reading your post was looking into a mirror. I had PPD after my son, and (although I didn't think so at the time) I went through a majour bout of PPD with my colicky, crying, unhappy, hands-on daughter. Unfortunately I burned out two years ago. I was a combination of those two PPD episodes and sleep deprivation for 1.5 years (my daughter never slept more than 4-5 hours a night) and work load. Please be gentle to yourself! Ask for help if you need it.

  18. Thank you for sharing your story. I am sure I had PPD after our third son was born, many, many years ago. But I kept telling myself it was just because I wanted a girl this time so badly.. No, I never admitted it to anyone and struggled thru it all, by myself. That son is now almost ready to graduate with his masters in counseling and is 28 years old. But whenever someone talks about PPD, it quickly comes back to me. It's fading as time goes, but not sure I will ever forget. (By the way, we did adopt a baby girl as our 4th child, but she is special needs and a whole other story.) Thanks again for opening up to all of us. PPD truly does exist and there is help for it.. Blessings to you and your family! (Your kids are just adorable!)

  19. Hi Rachel,
    I'm soon to be a Grama and have enjoyed reading your blog. I'm so glad to learn you're feeling better and have two beautiful children! I'd love to ask a question about my first baby blanket project. I'd like to make your original green blanket for Forrest. I'm a new crocheter but am very confused as to the exact pattern you used to create that blanket. Was it your own interpretation? I don't know how to space baubles so they look like yours for that size blanket. Can you lead me to the exact pattern and stitch count? Also, I would like to use a washable wool yarn--what is comparable to your yarn in thickness or weight/rating? Thanks so much for your help!!!!! You can email me: rather than post here. Best to you and your family!

  20. I felt like I was reading my own blog post...what was mild-ish ppd after 2 of my babies that I talked myself through became the full blown not sleeping anxiety inducing depression during my 4th pregnancy, also related to our family business. I went on medication during my pregnancy, which was scary and embarrassing.
    it's a topic that deserves discussion, and sharing personal stories helps everyone in my opinion.

  21. You're awesome. Good post. I'm so sorry you had to deal with this.

  22. Even years later, it is still tough to open up about, but I think you're right--it's important to share. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  23. I think I know what you mean--it's almost like even after getting PPD taken care of, there's still a crack in the door or something. Once you've been there, it's easier to fall back in.

  24. It's always sad to see moms tearing each other apart. We all struggle in our own way, and I honestly don't think I've ever met a mom who didn't seem to be doing the very best she could (whatever that 'best' might have looked like).

  25. It really seems to be tough to recognize depression and anxiety for what it is in the moment. I've often looked back later and though, 'jeez, something was really wrong at x point in my life, I wonder why I didn't think so at the time?' Hopefully that hindsight makes it easier to ask for help in the future!

  26. Thanks for the info Cassie. I'm so glad you're doing well now!

  27. Thank you so much. It only took me 4 years to work up the courage to post it, but at least I got there, right? :-P

  28. I remember having that same worry--thinking Forrest would be taken away from me if I went to a doctor for help. So sad that a fear like that would keep parents from doing what they need to do to get better! Thanks for sharing your experience. It's always so good to hear I'm not alone in this.

  29. I remember wondering if Darcy was such a pleasant baby because I was on 'happy pills' and breastfeeding (despite my dr insisting they were totally safe to take while nursing and wouldn't affect her), and worried a bit that she would turn gremlin when I weaned myself (or her!) off. Luckily, she is still pretty darn pleasant.

    And good for you for preparing this time. I wish I had talked to my doctor while I was pregnant with Forrest and Darcy (esp. with Darcy, since I maybe should have anticipated problems given my history). You're an awesome mom.

  30. Demanding babies really do a number on mom's mental/emotional health, but I am so glad to hear that you're taking care of yourself! I was honestly shocked at what a difference the medication made for me--I think I was worried it would change me somehow, or alter my personality or how I thought and felt, but being on it really felt just like returning to my normal self. Such a relief.

    Thanks for your kind comment.

  31. I'm sorry you're struggling--such a tough time. But I am so glad that you're moving in the right direction! I hope the medication makes a difference for you. For me, it took 2 or 3 weeks for me to start to feel a difference, but I know it takes longer for others. Lots of love to you--I wish you all the best. You can get through this.

  32. I'm so glad you've found what works for you. I think (for me at least!) talking about it is crucial. It brings some normalcy and perspective.

  33. I totally agree. People seem way more okay with the idea of PPD than 'regular' depression, since there's such an obvious trigger, which is unfortunate. Thanks for sharing your experience. And as the mom of one devil newborn to another, I'm so glad you got an angel newborn on the second go! Can you even believe the difference? I remember being shocked with Darcy--did not know babies came in this happy model.

  34. Thank you so much, Brittaney. You are always so encouraging and uplifting, I love that about you.

  35. Thanks so much, Barbara. I'm sorry you've struggled with this, too. Motherhood is so wildly demanding, it's kind of amazing to me that *anyone* can ever make it through without getting depressed! I hope you're doing well.

  36. Thanks for sharing your story, Brenda. It's so hard to carry that load alone!

  37. First of all, congratulations on baby #2! So exciting!

    And I'm so glad that you are preparing yourself for what will probably be a really tough time. I think it makes a big difference to anticipate how you'll probably react, and know in advance what you can/should do to make it easier for yourself. I hope everything goes smoothly!

  38. I know what you mean--it is really frightening to look back now and realize just how bad things were. Thanks for sharing your own experience.

  39. Thanks for your comment, Wendy. I'll email you!

  40. Thank you for sharing your story. It's such a hard thing to go through if you feel like you're the only one struggling with it. I hope you are doing better now!

  41. I don't have children, so I can't speak on the PPD portion, but I've struggled with anxiety and depression throughout my life. I look back now and realize that I was an anxious child/adolescent/teenager. When college started, depression hit me like a ton of bricks and I've been on different medications ever since. Unfortunately, I haven't found the med(s) that work for me completely, but I haven't stopped trying! :) I commented mainly because I can totally relate to understanding what triggers things in my mind and try and react as soon as possible, so I have the most peace of mind that I can. In being open about it, I've found so many others who struggle in their own ways.
    Thanks for your honesty in this post. :)


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