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Getting Help For Postpartum Depression

Updated: Jun 22

By Rachelle Keng, MD




As a mother and OBGYN, I know that pregnancy can be overwhelming and exhausting. Most pregos usually anticipate the delivery as the finish line for all the “work” of carrying a baby for nine months.


But on postpartum day one, the work continues - and even gets more demanding! There is a whole new list of daily tasks! It’s a full time job to feed, burp, soothe, and “tame a baby.”


When my first baby was handed to me, she did not stop shrieking. I remember the newborn nursery nurses taking her away for only ten minutes before bringing her back to me. No matter what I did, she was not able to be soothed. Now I realize it was because my daughter had sensory issues that made it difficult for her to eat and be calmed.


But as a new mother, I didn't know what was normal. When I brought my first newborn home, my expectations for motherhood were completely shattered. She was my perfect bundle of joy, yet I could not catch a break in my recovery. How could I love and resent someone so much at the same time?


The hormonal rush of postpartum hormones brought me anxiety about if I was doing enough or not doing something correctly. We tried every remedy and swaddle for a colicky baby.  We would go through eating and soothing cycles for hours at a time. By the time I could get her to latch and take a couple of suckles, she would spit it up and scream herself to sleep - only to wake up thirty minutes and go through the same cycles again. 


Even though I had trained for years to help so many other people, I couldn’t help my own daughter.  I felt useless as a woman. The pride I had in my maternal instincts was shattered. 


I had counseled many women on how breastfeeding was natural and best for the baby. But when I was the one having to figure out breastfeeding pain, jaundice, mastitis, and a colicky baby, I found breastfeeding more suffocating than I could have ever imagined. Breastfeeding was not bonding me to my beautiful daughter like I expected it would.


The dark days I experienced in postpartum depression were scary. There were days I did not want to be a mama anymore because it was so hard. I missed my previous predictable life. 


But in his great mercy, God comforted me. He changed my heart by teaching me to die to myself. When I asked how, He pointed me to Jesus who had set this example for me on the cross. God reminded me He was the Giver of life. I began to see Him provide enough nutrition for my child like daily manna from heaven. as I focused on the good feeds over the bad ones. I gave up the ideal picture of my content sleeping baby. I let go of my agenda for sleep training when she wouldn't follow baby-wise, cry it out, and whatever the latest blog was telling me to do. I began to trust God to keep my child safe even when I wasn’t around her. I began to live in the moment and not worry about all of the worst case hypotheticals.


Postpartum became a place of rich honesty with God. I had nothing left to give and no energy to perform. I reached the end of myself when I could not soothe my own daughter. And in this place, finally, God could hold me in His hand, pliable at last. It was where He could say, “Rest. My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28) and “I will help you” (Psalm 121). 


It’s okay to be overwhelmed in postpartum. Even with all of its beauty, you can still resent it. Postpartum is a place of co-existent darkness and beauty. 


Sadness and exhaustion are entirely normal in the early days of motherhood. The sleepless nights, the constant demands, and the drastic changes to your routine are completely de-stabilizing. But if the feelings become desperate - if you begin to believe that there is no one else in the world who can understand, or that the only way out of this abyss is to do something drastic - then please tell your loved ones, your health care providers, and your trusted friends. If you ever feel like you want to hurt yourself or your baby in this hazy newborn period, you are not a bad mama. You are depleted and you need help.  


Being honest about postpartum depression is the kindest thing you can do for yourself. And getting help is the most loving thing you can do for your baby. 


What does this help look like?


  • Some women benefit from using medications like zoloft to help restore serotonin to postpartum brain chemistry. Serotonin is not a magic hormone for depression. But serotonin helps with resilience so that even when she's falling, she feels like she has a place to stand. You can talk with your doctor to see if this would be a good fit for you. Many women think that they can overcome their mood changes with their sheer will, but when they finally try the medications, they are surprised by the relief they feel.


  • Some women need counseling. Postpartum can be a minefield for triggers of loss and grief. Especially if you’ve lost someone that you expected to be present for this most important time of your life. Or if you are dealing with an absent partner or parent, it can be even more lonely. Carrying your own grief on top of the baseline postpartum grief makes the experience even more heavy.


  • Some women need to consider other feeding strategies instead of breastfeeding. If breastfeeding is causing more adversity than bonding, there are some important questions to ask yourself. Are you feeling resentment towards your baby because of breastfeeding? Would you be relieved if you could stop breastfeeding once you got over your guilt?  If you have answered yes to these questions, consider whether or not an alternative feeding strategy may help you bond with your baby more.


Ultimately, before you can get help, you need to recognize you need it.

If you feel like you're suffocating and are trapped, you probably need help. Too often, mamas don’t recognize how low they have sunk until almost one year into postpartum. 

 

My book, Woven in the Womb, is a great resource for diving into the topic of postpartum motherhood in a deeper way and will hopefully help you feel a little more at peace in this new season. To learn more about it, check it out here!


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