Postpartum depression is widely experienced but commonly kept quiet.
A mother spends months preparing her world for the life that she will bring into it. She can’t wait to hold her baby close and adoringly breathe in their existence. But for some moms, as days pass with their little one, they don’t adore that time.
They resent it. Then guilt overwhelms and sadness ensues. They question, “Why don’t I feel close to my baby?” The one she is supposed to love with every cell in her body, she instead wants to escape. Oftentimes, she says nothing.
Postpartum depression, also known as PPD, is the most common medical complication of childbirth, according to Sage Therapeutics. It’s often mistaken as baby blues, which has milder symptoms that resolve within a few days. Medical professionals say one in four women who have baby blues go on to develop PPD. Symptoms can be severe and if left untreated, can last for years.
Daicia Jones has served in the Air Force for 12 years, and has been married for 16 years. She’s endured a hard road to becoming a mother of five children.
Gemma Blain is a military spouse of three years whose husband served for 21 years. She was the first of her friends to have a baby, and she added to the four children her husband already had. They now have a blended family of six.
Before Jones gave birth, she experienced six miscarriages. She then found herself on her 10th pregnancy (fourth birth), and she said, “When he was taken out, I immediately sensed something was off.”
With her fourth baby came a lot of firsts, which included preeclampsia, having a cesarean section and postpartum depression.
“They gave the baby to me [after the cesarean], but I don’t remember half of it,” Jones recounted. “I wasn’t present, had no connection and there was a dark cloud that was constantly over me. I was distant and heavy.
“Prior to this, I didn’t believe in PPD. I thought those women were being extra emotional. I operated in my military coping mindset of push it under the rug and move forward. But I started having so many intrusive thoughts that are not my own. My fears were multiplied, and I didn’t want to do simple things, like touch doorknobs. I would make my kids wear masks to keep from getting sick. In my mind I wasn’t going to survive it.”
Jones said her husband was, “very supportive but he felt helpless.”
Her moment of realization came when she had to call him in to sit next to her while she breastfed, because she was afraid she would drop her son. Her fear had magnified.
The process was different for Blain. She suffered PPD with both of her births.
“My birth experience was traumatic. I had a cesarean after being induced because of low amniotic fluid and laboring for 24 hours,” she said. “While I was tending to my newborn son, I was in so much pain. When you watch the movies it’s butterflies and rainbows and you’re supposed to be this happy woman. I just wanted to get in my car and drive away.”
At first, Blain didn’t share her feelings with her husband. She thought she was just stressed and would get over it. Since he already had four children and had seen the signs of baby blues he commented, “Oh no, are you getting depressed?”
Blain said, “He said it like it was something additional that we would have to deal with. But there wasn’t any information out about it when he had kids. It wasn’t normalized.”
As she sat on her couch, not cradling her baby but instead cradling her pain, she said she thought, “I just want to go back to not having a baby.” But she knew that wasn’t right and she needed help.
It was at her first postpartum check-up where she honestly answered her questionnaire and was flagged for the diagnosis.
Sage Therapeutics states that up to half of PPD cases may go undiagnosed and untreated. This is largely due to women fighting to “suck it up” and choosing to painfully press forward. But based on treatment practices by the Mayo Clinic, it has been proven that counseling and medication have benefited mothers during this process to better help them manage and get to the other side of their diagnosis.
Jones, choosing to openly share her diagnosis on Facebook, was overwhelmed with responses from mothers she never knew felt the same way.
“Nobody ever said anything,” she said. Although military communities can be tight-knit, people’s challenges weren’t shared.
Both Jones and Blain started counseling. Jones attended a PPD and anxiety support group once a month where moms shared their symptoms and coping methods. Blain received private counseling and also joined a supportive Facebook group where she found comfort in knowing she wasn’t alone in her struggles.
From their experiences, Blain and Jones encourage other mothers to talk to someone and get help.
“Those intrusive thoughts are the hormones talking,” Blain said. “It’s not you. Help is a call away, so that you can get better and bond with your baby.”