Postpartum Depression is being discussed more and more out in the open and we as a society are making huge strides to normalize it. But I think something that is less discussed but just as equally in need of attention, is depression during pregnancy. Jackie is sharing her story today about her struggles with perinatal depression that began during the pregnancy of her third child. After reaching out to her doctors and hearing that what she was experiencing was 'normal' for a pregnant mother of small children, it became more apparent that she needed to share her story to help others realize that what she was going through was not in fact normal. It was a dangerous and all encompassing mood disorder that was eating away her happiness and her ability to care for herself and her family.
This week marks one year that I've been on the journey back into myself since struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety. Despite a move to a different part of the country and a deployment, it's been a year of calm and happiness for me. I wish I had started this process years ago, but this whole journey really began during my pregnancy with Penny.
My first trimester was largely spent in bed, despite another cross country move from Washington. I was nauseated and super tired around the clock, until I started medication that finally put the nausea at bay. As we settled into our new home on an island in Rhode Island, a traumatic experience set me on the path to depression. While asleep one morning, then two year old Teddy snuck out of the house to go find daddy who was out fishing with Ben. I didn't hear him open the front door. He was walking down to the water's edge when a bounce house delivery man found him in undies and a t shirt. He was so young and we were brand new into the area that he couldn't explain who he was or where we lived. When I woke up a few minutes later, I discovered the door open and my heart sank. I ran outside in tiny sleep shorts and a shirt without a bra, to find him surrounded by Saturday morning joggers and the delivery man who all had formed a crowd by this point. I thanked them, holding back tears and started to walk home with teddy in my arms. They stopped me and kindly explained that I had to wait for the police to come because they called when they couldn't figure out who he was. The police came and I explained what happened. He took down my info and sent me home. I was broken. I was terrified that they would send someone to take my children or throw me in jail for neglect. I was terrified at the what ifs. What if that delivery man had scooped him up and drove away? What if Teddy wasn't seen and made it all the way down to the secluded rocky beach himself. What if he had drowned? I could hardly sleep after that, always scared of the what ifs.
My second trimester began the dark period of depression. I would go an entire week without showering. I would yell and scream and get angry very easily. I would cry. And cry. And cry. I didn't exercise. I didn't do chores. Max took over everything. School drop off and pick up, grocery shopping, cooking. Baths, bedtime, diapers. He did everything that I couldn't because I was no longer in my head. I don't know where I was. I tried to speak to my doctor about it, I cried in her office after my prenatal check up. But she told me what every counselor had told me before- that I'm a mom of young kids and that is hard and overwhelming and it's normal to feel how I do. I couldn't find the heart or the energy to explain that this wasn't normal. I started to go outside and walk a few times a week like she suggested. Baking was the only joy that I could find so I also baked a lot, and ate a lot, and gained more weight than I should have. Once I hit 40lbs with months to go, I started asking the nurse not to tell me my weight at my checkups, and I had Max hide the scale in the basement.
My third trimester was largely uneventful and I got a break from the depression. I gave birth in February and fell immediately and madly in love with my daughter. She brought me calm and love and joy and I just adore her. Friends helped watch Teddy and brought me meals and gifts for the baby. At my six week check up I was happy and cheery and still on a high from having the birth experience that I had wanted and finally having a daughter. I was cleared for everything and told to start birth control again. I made an appointment to get a birth control rod inserted in my arm.
A few weeks later, I had my appointment and got the rod inserted. I was exercising again, running and doing a town workout class and going to pilates classes. I felt great and was determined to lose the weight from pregnancy. My baby was perfect and all seemed well. And then it started. I fell into the deepest depression that I could imagine. I never really understood depression or anxiety before and didn't realize for a few months that I was suffering from anything. Instead, I believed the lies that it was telling me. I couldn't run because someone was always waiting in the bushes to grab me. I got irrationally angry at my children. I threw cast iron pans onto the floor in anger. I cried and cried and cried. Max would take the boys out of the house for the day so I could have some quiet because any noise or mess triggered me. And there was always noise and mess in the tiny house that we were in with two active boys and a baby. I believed that Max made a huge mistake in marrying me. He needed someone better. Someone prettier and happier and calmer who would be a better wife and a better mother. I believed that I never should have become a mother. I believed that I didn't deserve this beautiful family. I wasn't worthy or loveable. I was a terrible person. I wanted to run away and never come back. I didn't want to kill myself but I wanted to get a disease and die because that's what I thought I deserved. I looked out the window and could see a flash of a noose dangling next to the kids' swing or a flash of my car driving off the bridge. I didn't deserve life.
And Max. Oh man, what I put that man through. I don't know how I ended up marrying the most perfect person in the world for me, but somehow I did. Instead of freaking out and telling me to grow up or snap out of it or telling me that I was acting like a bitch (which I was, constantly), he treated me with dignity and kindness and respect. He treated me with unconditional love. He eventually realized that I was sick. I wasn't in my body. He married me in sickness and in health, and I was sick. It scared him when I told him that I could see a noose dangling from the tree outside, and that was the last straw. I needed help.
When I went into the psychiatrist's office with the baby in her car seat, I was sure they would send me home and tell me that this was just who I was. I was just a terrible mother and there was nothing they could do. But instead, my pain and suffering was FINALLY validated. It took about an hour for me to fill out a very extensive questionnaire on their computer. The questions weren't vague ones like in my 6 week check up. They were specific and incredibly helpful. Do you feel like running away? How often? Do you feel unworthy? Do you feel you deserve to live? Do you ever imagine suicide even if you don't intend to follow through? Nobody had ever asked me these specific questions before. The doctor was kind and patient. He never questioned me bringing the baby to my appointments. He gave me the choice to figure out what kind of treatment to pursue. He assured me that medication would be ok with breastfeeding. I left with a prescription for a SSRI. I picked it up immediately, but was hesitant to begin it. Was it really safe for my baby? Would it make me numb? Or more crazy? I consulted with some ladies in my online mom's group and was assured that I could safely take it. SO many of them had taken meds. I had no idea.
I immediately felt relief. I never felt numb and Penny was never affected by my medicine. I would still get angry but I wasn't blowing up and going Hulk on my kids. My doctor asked me at my follow up if my kids still covered their ears as soon as I would start getting frustrated. It still breaks my heart that that used to be our normal. But no, it no longer happens.
I'm still on the medication for depression and anxiety and I have no plans to stop it. I am enjoying motherhood more now than ever. My kids make me giggle and smile. When messes start to overwhelm me, I can say, "Guys, I'm starting to feel overwhelmed. Help me clean this." It hasn't been a cakewalk, but my emotions are so much easier to handle. PMS is still scary for me because some of the anger comes back when I have it. But I'm trying to own my emotions now. I was terrified of my emotions before. Slamming the front door and cracking the door frame terrified me. Slamming a pot on the floor terrified me. Cursing at my kids terrified me. But that wasn't ME. That was depression and anxiety taking control of me. Jackie is a happy person, a good mother, a loving wife and friend and sister and daughter.
Going through Postpartum depression was terrible. I understand now how women take their lives while going through it and it breaks my heart. There are so many options for treatment. Please, if you have a friend or daughter or spouse or patient who you feel might be struggling, don't ignore it and don't only tell her that this is normal. Sure, some baby blues are normal. But ask her specific questions. Ask her if she often feels like she should run away or if she feels cut out for being a mom. Ask her if she ever thinks about suicide or dying, even if she would never go through with it. And follow up with her. And sit with her. And let her cry. And let her know that you love her and this is hard and she WILL get through it. She is worthy of love. And motherhood. And joy. And she will find all of those again.
If you or someone you know is struggling with postpartum depression please reach out and get help
or call 1.800.944.4773
I'm Jackie Ferguson, an army wife and mother to three kids (Ben 6, Teddy 4, and Penny 1). We've lived all over the world, but currently call Tennessee home. I enjoy baking, hiking, working out, and watching trash tv in bed with wine and pistachios after the kids are asleep.