I want to address something that Michelle rightly brought up in the combox of Part One. It is hard to tell the difference between the symptoms of PPD/PPA and just plain new mommy exhaustion. The sleep deprivation you go through in the last weeks of pregnancy (who can sleep well when they feel like a beached whale?) coupled with the endless nursing, changing, bouncing, swaying that a new baby needs usually means Mom is missing out on the luxury of sleeping a good, solid chunk of hours at a time. (Unless, of course, your baby is magical like my Sunshine was and slept 5 hours at a stretch every night from the minute we brought her home! I loved her for that!)
A trained medical professional can recognize the difference. In fact, they have a handy dandy little list of questions to ask to help them determine the difference. I know because I failed the exact same exam when both my doctor and therapist administered it. You would think I would have learned the right answers the second time I took it. : )
I encourage anyone who is struggling with what might be depression to ask their doctor or midwife to help them evaluate it. They are pretty straightforward, simple questions, but it makes a world of difference to hear them for yourself and to have to think about them and answer them honestly. Don’t go Googling them! Talk to someone you trust first!
My wonderful Catholic therapist helped me determine that in my case, the depression was probably a side effect of the anxiety disorder and I can’t tell you what a relief that was to hear. I know it sounds strange, but I was relieved to know that essentially I didn’t understand I had an anxiety disorder but that once I understood more about it and how to cope with it, I could be pretty confident that the depression would subside.
I can’t tell you how much I recommend finding a Catholic or at the very least, a Christian therapist. CatholicTherapists.com will help you locate one in your area. If you cannot find one close by, consider calling your nearest one to request a recommendation of someone in your area. It might not be a colleague on the Catholic Therapists list, but most therapists are likely to associate with other like-minded professionals. My therapist was so comforting during those first meetings, so good at incorporating my faith into my treatment and also very supportive of my preference to avoid medication.
Regarding the medication issue, I want to address this as openly as I can, but you also must realize that I have to maintain a certain level of privacy as well. Like I said in Part One, I am not opposed to the treatment of any kind of depression or anxiety including PPD/PPA with medication such as an anti-depressant or hormone therapy. However, in my case, a long family history of chemical dependency and problems with self-medication made me very hesitant to that course of treatment. Also, I have a sensitivity to certain medications. I did take one dose of a very mild anti-depressant and had a very bad reaction to it. My doctor agreed at 1 o’clock that morning that I should definitely NOT take another dose. I agreed. My preference was to try a course of treatment without any kind of prescription help with the understanding that both my doctor and my therapist would monitor my progress and be honest with me if they ever felt that I wasn’t getting better.
If anyone reading this tried a non-medicinal approach and ended up needing prescription interventions to succeed, then I join you in thanking God for the gift of modern medicine and for your success in battling this difficult burden. But, if you are afraid to get help because you think your only option is medicine and you believe you have serious reasons to try to avoid it, then I heartily encourage you to ask for the help you need from someone willing to listen to your concerns and someone willing to give you a chance. And keep asking until you find that person who will listen.
In Part Three, I will tell you specifically what a “non medicinal” treatment looked like for me.