Guest Writer Wednesday: Candal's Postpartum Depression Story
Guest writer, Candal, opens up about her experience with postpartum depression. She is honest, courageous, and vulnerable. We hope that speaking openly about postpartum depression will help decrease the stigma surrounding postpartum mental health issues. Fun fact: Candal and I have known each other for over a decade. We went to the University of Colorado - Boulder together. I am grateful that this blog has connected me to gems like Candal from my past. Thank you for joining the Unicorn Mission and for sharing your story.
When I was four years old, I declared to my daycare teacher that I wanted to be a mommy and a teacher. Those goals would never leave me. In July of 2016, all of my dreams were becoming my reality. I was teaching preschool at a prestigious and well-loved private school, when I found out I was pregnant. My husband and I had been trying to conceive for over 18 months. We, just like many of our peers, were under the wrong impression that getting pregnant happened the second you stopped taking birth control. If you even thought about getting pregnant before you were married or “ready”, it would happen and your life would be forever altered. We had been waiting for this moment for years; me for 26 and my husband for about 2. I had to explain to him, numerous times throughout my pregnancy, just how important and self fulfilling this was for me. I was born to be a mommy.
There were a few times when we were trying to get pregnant and failed, but I wouldn’t get too discouraged because I had backup plans. I was always researching alternatives. Adoption, foster care, even surrogacy. I attended information meetings and was a part of online mommy groups. So when we learned that we were pregnant, I felt prepared but mostly grateful. I knew this wasn’t easy and wasn’t how everyone became a parent. I took nothing for granted. I embraced my easy pregnancy with the utmost gratitude and (hopefully) grace. I rarely got sick, I tried to not read scary articles about what could happen to me or my baby, and glowed while preparing for my new role as a mother.
My first experience with depression came at our 20 week ultrasound.
It was on the day after the presidential election, and I was emotional, to say the least. We found out ecstatically that we were having a boy, but he had fluid on his kidneys, and especially the left one was enlarged. We would later find out this was fairly typical in boy babies, with most outgrowing any issues. However, our son and I would now become a high-risk pregnancy with the possibility of delivering at 32 weeks, if necessary. I initially started bi-weekly ultrasounds, which later turned into weekly ultrasounds. The certainty, and anxiety that came with it, that we would deliver early was always looming. Our doctor decided that we would be induced at 38 weeks and I was sad. I was grateful for the doctors and our mostly healthy baby, but I didn’t want to stop being pregnant. I wanted to keep him inside for as long as possible, knowing that he was safe and not in pain.
We delivered on the eve of my 31st birthday, to a beautiful, screaming, peeing (this was a positive indicator, given the condition) healthy, baby boy. He would see specialists in his first 24 hours of life and they would decide that he needed further follow up care.
This would begin my second depressive episode.
I had failed my baby. My body had failed in creating him and he could have a lifelong condition, thanks to me. This would all be false, but something that would play in my head on a loop. We took our baby home with the excitement that a newborn brings, and the ever continuous scheduling of appointments that a baby with special care would need.
We had many issues with breastfeeding, another way my body was failing both of us. I had an oversupply of milk, which is typically not the experience most women have, and didn’t have the tools or education on how to correct this. I went to a breastfeeding group that the hospital put on each week. I sat in a room with four breastfeeding moms while my baby slept in his car seat because he couldn’t latch. The nurse provided me with different sized pump parts, laughed with other moms who said they didn’t have enough time in a day to eat, and sent us on our ways. This group would stick with me for a long time. These women who were saying they couldn’t find time to eat were asking, albeit pleading, for help and this kind nurse seemed to mistake that for a joke. Personally, I have always loved eating, a self proclaimed “foodie”, if you will. When you’re breastfeeding, you typically feel thirst and hunger like you never have before. But, when you’re going through a depressive episode or time in your life, the desire to eat can be difficult. I didn’t know this at the first breastfeeding group, but I would quickly learn this in my own time. Your mind and body can convince itself that you don’t have the desire to eat. The need to eat was something that soon would become foreign to me.
With the breastfeeding and oversupply issues, came mastitis.
Mastitis is a clogged milk duct in a breast and it becomes infected. You begin to experience flu like symptoms (fever, chills, nausea, and pain) while your body is still providing nourishment for your baby and recovering from birth. I had to leave my 3-week-old newborn with my in-laws, while my husband took me to the ER to get a proper diagnosis. I was put on antibiotics for 6 weeks because the infection wouldn’t go away. My body did not respond to the first two rounds of antibiotics, and my body kept producing more milk. Over the next 10 weeks, I would meet with lactation consultants, radiologists, and a breast surgeon who would extract infected milk from the top of my breast, all while continuing to breastfeed. With much prodding and asking important questions on my part, it was determined that I could slow my milk flow with less pumping, and altering some of my diet. I needed to eat more food, drink less Gatorade (a major milk producer, for anyone who’s struggling to produce milk) and listen to my baby. With excruciating patience and little by little progress, I was able to slow my flow and breastfeed as a typical mother would. We went on to breastfeed until my son was 15 months old. I can’t recall anything that I’ve been more diligent to or proud of accomplishing, in my life.
Once we started to get nursing under control, our lives took another turn. My son’s kidney issues weren’t resolving themselves and at the age of 3-months-old, he would need surgery. I tried to remain strong and act like this wasn’t a surprise. We had known about this for nearly 7 months, and now the time had come for us to “step up”. I don’t know where we were stepping or who was expecting anything from us, but the pressure and sleepless nights took their tolls. I began losing my hair in handfuls and I was losing weight rapidly. I continuously received comments about how great I looked and I had gotten my pre-baby body back in record time. I didn’t have answers for these types of remarks. I wasn’t doing anything to have this happen to me, I didn’t want it to be happening to me. They were just unfortunate side effects of this life changing time, I was experiencing.
During this time, I began to really become entrenched in postpartum depression, and the scariest thing for me was I didn’t know it.
I just knew that I didn’t feel like myself, but I couldn’t articulate much more than that. I cried every single day, sometimes often times a day. I would try and count how many hours I had gone without crying, never quite making it to 24. Many mothers can recall taking a depression “quiz” over and over at every appointment you go to. The main concern is if you want to hurt yourself or your baby. Once it’s determined that you don’t want to harm anyone, and you pass or fail these ten questions, the nurse or doctor then decides that you don’t have depression. Or if there are some concerns, they recommend that you talk to someone about your problems. They have a list of accredited therapists, some your insurance might not cover, and unless you already have a therapist, they would be a stranger to you. I have a psychology degree and I couldn’t bring myself to make more appointments where my baby would have to be dragged along too. I felt like I had a safe haven in my husband and my immediate family and close friends, and I just needed to shake this off.
I can’t pinpoint one day or week when things started to get better but, eventually, they did. I became more confident in myself and my parenting, and with that confidence the tears begin to decrease. I began listening to my body. Eating when I knew it was what I needed, which wasn’t always easy but became something I enjoyed and looked forward to again. I started watching The Price is Right, everyday, instead of folding laundry or doing dishes - knowing that laughter was the most important feeling that was needed in that moment. I began taking the baby to library groups and scheduling play dates with old friends and new acquaintances, because I needed to converse with someone other than my newborn. I didn’t realize how much I had previously talked and interacted with people, adults and children alike, in my old day-to-day routine. I also started to tell people, other than my husband, how I felt. How I felt about their comments about my weight, how motherhood had changed me, and how nothing had changed at all.
How I was going to continue to be myself - before, during and after this season of my life.
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Bio: Candal is a stay-at-home mom, wife, and nanny. She has always enjoyed working side-by-side with children and began her “career” of babysitting at 11. She continued to work with kids through adulthood, eventually landing her dream role of teacher! She loves to read, swim, try new food, all things sports (especially CU), and time spent with others. She has a close knit family, starting at home with her husband and son.
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