“Maybe you need some antidepressants.”
That was my doctor talking to me the year I had my son. I rarely went to see her for a physical, but I was totally run down and thinking I had take care of myself because I had a baby to care for—in a major way. My son, Max, had brain damage. He had a stroke at birth (yes, babies can have strokes), and was at risk for not walking or talking, cognitive impairment, even vision and hearing loss. It was a big-ass stroke that had hit both sides of his baby brain.
Those months after Max’s birth were the hardest ones of my life. I was getting used to being a mom (and the sleepless nights), having trouble breastfeeding, grappling with the grief. Nobody could tell me what Max would be like, and that terrified me. I just wanted to know. I spent the majority of my maternity leave going to doctor appointments, arranging to get Max therapy through our state’s Early Intervention program, researching strokes and seeing if there were experimental treatments to try. That winter was one of the coldest, snowiest ones on record, and our house never felt warm or bright. I’d stroll around with Max strapped to my chest in a Baby Bjorn, the only way he would take naps, feeling the chill—and the dread of the future.
Bundle of joy? No. I took no joy in my beautiful baby. I stared at him and didn’t see the cuteness—just signs that something might be wrong. Like the way he stared into the lights. Or when he never cooed at me. I felt lost and very alone. I cried all the time—in the car, in the shower, in bed in the middle of the night. I cried the hardest the morning that a neonatologist examining my son looked at me and said, gravely, “His future looks ominous.”
The months passed. Work was a welcome distraction, although concentrating wasn’t easy. The anxiety and worry were overwhelming and ever-present. I’d talk with my husband, but he was in denial and acting all sorts of overly optimistic. I didn’t want to freak out my parents, so I’d put on a happy face when we spoke. Friends wanted to listen but I never felt like anyone knew what I was going through.
“How’s Max doing?” people would ask. “Oh, he’s coming along!” I’d say, as brightly as I could, never revealing the despair I felt.
Finally, I went to see my doctor. Through tears, I told her what had happened to Max. She cried, too. Then she suggested antidepressants.
I grew up in an anti-medication home. My mother used aspirin only as a last resort. At the dentist, I could get Novocain only for a really deep cavity. My parents were loving, caring parents who meant well, but they believed in the least amount of medication possible. I never realized I’d ingested their anti-med attitude, but I had, to some extent. I was also breastfeeding, and worried about passing along drugs to Max though now I know I shouldn’t have been.
Mostly, though, I didn’t want to be dependent on meds to boost my mood. I’d always been an I-can-deal-with-this person. And even though I was facing the mother of all crises in my life, I thought I could handle it.
And so, to the doctor I said, “No, I think I’ll be OK without medication, let’s see how it goes.”
I left and continued to be sad and anxious and filled with worry for months to come, but I did not go back to the doctor. Somehow, I got by. And as Max progressed and time passed, the fog lifted.
I wish I’d said yes to those pills, because I was for sure dealing with postpartum depression. Surely they would have helped me savor Max’s delicious-ness, as he was not the least bit cuteness impaired. I take great pleasure and pride in him now, but I will never get back the baby joy I missed out on back then.
Those pills I so quickly rejected would have, in many ways, made a terrible time in my life less awful and more manageable.
There would have been no shame in taking antidepressants. I would not have been weak for using them. No, if anything, I would have been stronger.
Please support Katherine Stone’s efforts to create a national campaign for raising awareness for postpartum depression.
One mother’s story: Postpartum depression nearly killed me— then I had another child.