Three months after I had my daughter, postpartum depression and anxiety hit me like a ton of bricks.
I had dealt with anxiety and depression throughout teens and young adulthood and I felt like I had a handle on it, but unfortunately I was wrong. The anxiety was worse than it had ever been. I felt something was really off was when I got my period twice in one month even though I was still breastfeeding. “Aren’t I supposed to not get my period while breast feeding?” was the thought in my head “let alone get it twice?” To add to it all I had started back at work with this new raging anxiety which of course caused more stress on my mind and body.
I have always been hormonal.
When I got my period at age 12 I learned that a lot of my emotions were caused by hormones. What wasn’t explained to me was how much hormones could dictate our lives. I had been diagnosed with PMDD prior to giving birth to my daughter.
For those who don’t know, PMDD is like PMS…and then some. The google translation is “a severe sometimes disabling extension of premenstrual syndrome”. To put it bluntly, for a lack of better words, I felt crazy.
But once I became pregnant, I had all the “happy hormones”. I was happiest pregnant woman you could imagine. Postpartum depression/anxiety was nowhere on my radar. “Maybe pregnancy shifted all my hormones?” I wondered.
I’ll spare the details but basically…postpartum depression turned my world upside down. It completely ruled my emotions, thoughts, everything. I was a shell of myself. Not only was I adjusting to being a new mom, I was dealing with what felt like my body was turning against me.
After months and months of fighting, I felt the need to know my body inside and out. I dove into natural remedies, pharmaceutical drugs, therapy, meditation, working out, you name it. With the help of all of these things and my support system, I felt like I was getting only a tiny bit better.
When I thought that maybe I had a hold on things, I would all of sudden get knocked back down. Depression was back. Anxiety was back. How were all of these things not helping? I felt desperate.
Hormones, hormones, hormones, that was all that was going off in my head.
With my sisters’ help, I finally got an appointment with an endocrinologist after waiting for what seemed like a lifetime. At this point my daughter was 10 months old and I was just as confused as when everything had started, searching for answers, doing the research, but still nothing. At the appointment, the endocrinologist explained how hormones can be severely affected by pregnancy and postpartum, and while I got lucky during the pregnancy portion, my body had trouble creating the hormones needed to keep my mind and body happy afterwards.
They ran blood work and to no surprise there was something off. A lot of things were off actually. I was happy that I finally felt I was able to start to put the pieces of the puzzle together. They had explained to me that my hormones took an enormous drop after having my daughter and that this drop can cause some women to experience anxiety, depression, insomnia, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts and weight loss. Ding, ding, ding, that’s me! I cried tears of relief and felt like I was on the right path. I was put on a compound hormone and for a short while, I had reached my normal range of hormones again and most importantly, I felt like myself again.
But once again, everything came crashing back down. Haven’t I gone through enough? Wasn’t I doing enough? Therapy, working out, changing my diet, taking multiple medications and a plethora of supplements. I was so tired. The anxiety and depression were pretty constant but about a week or two before my period the anxiety would become extreme. I was crying from the moment I woke up to the moment I fell asleep. Zero appetite. Forcing myself to smile. I felt completely defeated.
There was one last option that I had been holding off on because there are so many conflicting views on it. Birth control. The statistics are pretty much 50/50 when it comes to how women react to birth control. I had left it as my last option simply because I was afraid. What if I spiraled and made things even worse? But, what was the alternative?
Thankfully, I had strong support behind me and they were ready to step in if things took a turn for the worse. I decided to start birth control. Halfway through my first pack, I felt lighter, happier. I finally felt like myself. I immediately called my mom and sisters and almost whispered the news to them. I was afraid if I said it too loudly or too often that I would jinx myself. So, I continued working out, taking my medication, meditating in the morning, and lastly, taking my birth control. For me, the constant hormones going through my body was much better than the erratic wave of hormones I would experience right before my period.
I am incredibly happy to say that after 17 long months of trying to piece this hormonal puzzle together, I finally did. While the birth control was the final missing puzzle piece for me, that doesn’t mean that that is the answer for everyone. We are all so different, which is the frustrating part. For example, my sister cannot take birth control because it effects her completely the opposite. For someone it might be finding the right medication, starting to workout, examining relationships, going to therapy.
I encourage all women to be in touch with their bodies and their minds. Do the work. Don’t settle. One of the things I feel I don’t hear often enough is to see an endocrinologist and I’m not sure why. It really was a game changer for me.
Reach out if something does not feel right. You won’t feel like yourself after giving birth, which is a beautiful part of motherhood, but also the scary part.
Be good to yourself and take care of yourself. Be your own advocate. You will thank yourself.
Sara is a mother to a beautiful 20 month old baby girl, Maya. She recently became involved with Postpartum Support Charleston after they helped her navigate becoming a new mom and dealing with PPD.