Motherhood and Depression: A Cincinnati Parenting Story

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your family just generally?

My husband and I met in our college years and got married in 2009 after 4 years together.  We’ve got two boys aged 5 (Milo) and 2 (Dash).  I moved here in 2007 when I got a job at CCHMC and my husband followed after he graduated.  We love it here and we plan to give our kids a Cincinnati childhood!  Then I want to move to Hawaii, just because.

What’s something fun a lot of people don’t know about you?

I know how to play the flute.

I did not know that! Tell me about your first pregnancy. How did you feel physically and emotionally?

Pregnancy was a very surreal experience.  I was excited, disgusted, happy, and scared all at once.  I both liked the baby’s movements but was also completely freaked out by them.  Because I had no idea what to expect of motherhood, I wasn’t emotionally connected to him while pregnant.  But overall I would say I was emotionally stable throughout my pregnancy.  (Ha!)  Physically it was a normal pregnancy with some sickness in the beginning and normal aches and pains throughout.

How did that birth go for you?

I arrived at the hospital at 7 cm dilated as I did lots of laboring at home.  (That’s a different story I won’t go into right now!)  I was dehydrated and so it took a little bit to get an IV, but I received my epidural after a bolus of fluids and from there it was smooth sailing!  I had a hard time getting him over my pelvic bone so forceps were used, but that was the only hiccup!  I have a very fond memory of Milo entering the world.  It was calm and life-changing.

Tell me about the first weeks and months of parenting. What were some of the biggest challenges?

In general, I am a very “go-with-the-flow” person.  The morning after Milo was born, I woke up in a panic.  THIS IS NOT A GO-WITH-THE-FLOW SITUATION.  I mean, you can just lean into parenting with nothing but a boob and diapers, but we all know that first-time moms can easily become overwhelmed with all the shoulds and coulds of parenthood.  

I was one of those moms.  I had no idea what I was doing.  

I didn’t like my baby until he smiled at me for the first time.  I wanted to fiercely protect him at any cost, but I didn’t feel a connection to him.  Nursing was a nightmare and Milo had significant jaundice.  My marriage began to crumble at the edges because of the huge shift in our responsibilities and mutual expectations.  And sleep...I am not functional when I’m sleep deprived.  So there’s that.

When did you notice that something might be off?

I think it was around the time that Milo was 6-months-old that my husband and I started going to counseling to try to reconnect and figure out how to be us AND parents.  I don’t exactly remember when it hit me that I had postpartum depression, but it did around this time.  I had been blaming lack of sleep for my constant overwhelming fatigue, headaches, and sadness.  But I woke up one day, realized that my baby had been sleeping consistently 6-8 hours a night since he was 12 weeks old, and realized that overwhelming sadness had taken hold of me in almost every waking moment of my life.

Had you ever experienced depression or other mood disorders in the past?

I did suffer from depression once before, but it was a side effect of a medication I was taking for some stomach troubles.  I knew to look out for depression when on this medication, so my husband and I were able to identify it fairly quickly.  A low dose of an antidepressant had me back to myself in just a few weeks.

How was your postpartum experience similar or different from your experience with depression in the past?

These two episodes of depression were pretty similar in symptoms and course of treatment.  My main symptoms were extreme fatigue and overwhelming sadness, and medication was the main source of my recovery.

What steps did you take to help yourself out?

I visited my doctor to tell him about my symptoms and request to be prescribed my medication.  I also continued to go to therapy with my husband for a little bit and even had a few individual sessions.  I tried to be more gentle with myself and Milo and our growing relationship while also taking lots of breaks.  I reached out to my friends for support and company.

Tell me about your second pregnancy and birth. Was it similar to the first?

The physical piece of my pregnancy was very similar to my first, but emotionally I was much more connected to the baby.  Since I was already a mom, I knew what that mom/kid connection was like and I was so excited to meet this new baby and watch him grow into his own person!  I also decided to try to set myself up for success after this birth.  I decided to not get an epidural this time so that I would get all those post-birth feel-good hormones, asked my friends to please visit me as much as possible postpartum to reduce the feelings of isolation, and asked my mom to come for like a week to assist in taking care of Milo.  

What were some of the unique postpartum challenges you experienced the second time?

Already having a kid to take care of!  I was much more comfortable with just leaning in to adjusting to being a mom of two, so I was gentler on myself.  But, it was still HARD!  My first kid was born in June and my husband was home for a month after his birth because he’s a teacher.  My second was born in March, so my husband was back to work immediately.  Those first weeks were certainly challenging, but luckily my kids like tv!  And luckily I didn’t develop PPD.  I did eventually suffer from a severe bought of depression when Dash was around 18 months that I believe was brought on after a huge hormonal shift when I cut him down from nursing on demand to only 3 times a day.  But that’s another story.  :)

What would you tell a mom who is feeling off after pregnancy, but is scared to say something to someone for fear of being labeled?

I would tell her to start doing some research with her closest friends and online.  The thing about PPD and just general postpartum struggles is that it’s more common than not.  Once you start looking for information and support, it’s ALL. AROUND. YOU.  Every mom you see has struggled with something, whether it’s feelings of inadequacy, mourning the loss of her child-free life, of full-on PPD.  All you have to do is look.

What is one of the most helpful things someone has ever said or done for you as you walked through these experiences?

The most helpful thing anyone said to me was, “me too.”  Knowing that I wasn’t the only one or that I wasn’t losing my mind was HUGE for my coping.  And my husband has always been amazing about letting me take breaks and rest when I need to.  

What are ways you see that others can help support the new moms in their lives?

Instead of asking a new mom if she needs help, just do things that would be helpful.  Most of the time the new mom won’t ask for help or say she needs help when asked.  Think of something that would fit well into your schedule and just do it.  Tell her, “I would like to {babysit, bring dinner, clean your house, etc.}, when would be a good time for you?”