Pamela Northrup is a 39 year old stay at home mom to a 20 month old little girl in Bowie, Maryland. Here, we discuss the severity and stigma of postpartum depression.
I have dealt with depression in one degree or another at least as far back as junior high that I remember. Looking back and looking at the pattern, I think it was primarily seasonal depression. I grew up in Pittsburgh, so, major seasonal changes. Winters were kind of dark and dreary and gross, so it happens. I had good years. I had bad years. Actually, interestingly, the year I met my husband was a particularly bad year, and he actually got me through that year, which is probably part of the reason that I knew he was a keeper. If he could handle that and still want to hang around with me, I was like, “Oh, okay, well, let’s hang onto this one.” We’ve been married for 15 years now.
We tried for about ten years to have a kid. No luck. Nothing worked. We looked into in vitro and all of that and realized, for the amount of money it was and the odds, we really just weren’t willing to put ourselves through that. After about ten years, we just said, “You know what? It’s clearly not gonna happen,” and we moved on, which was fine. It took a while, but after about probably two years, we had really reached a point where we had accepted that we really genuinely were okay with it.
I had kind of a bad fall–autumn, not gravitational fall (although I am a klutz, so that’s not out of the question). Kind of a rough time, and finally started on antidepressants. My doctor put me on Pristiq, which worked like a champ, except that I had absolutely zero appetite. None. I mean, I dropped probably twenty pounds in the space of about a month. I just…food just did not appeal. I tried. I couldn’t eat anything.
Well, apparently that shift in my weight was enough to shift some other things, like the hormonal imbalances, and come January I’m not feeling well. I’m thinking, ‘Oh, it’s side effects,’ because they had changed my dosage. But still it wasn’t going away. It wasn’t going away. It wasn’t going away. And Valentine’s Day, I had actually just gotten back.
My mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a very rough year. My parents live in Las Vegas. I had gone out there for her for what was supposed to be her surgery. Ended up it was more widespread than they thought, so they couldn’t do the lumpectomy they had planned. They canceled the surgery. She was gonna have to have a mastectomy. I came home.
It’s Valentine’s Day. I just feel like crap. My husband and I both worked with a community theatre group right near us, and he had to run a shipment of scripts over ‘cause they were having auditions. He’s like, “Can I get you anything on the way back home?”
I’m like, “Alright, yeah, just pick me up some crackers or something so I can actually eat,” because anything with fragrance was just like, ugh. I said, “You know what? Just for the hell of it, pick up a test.”
I get up the next morning. I go downstairs. I let the dogs out. I am walking back upstairs thinking, ‘I don’t even know why I am bothering to take this test.’ And the damn thing was positive. So, after twelve years, surprise, I was knocked up.
The pregnancy itself was actually not bad. I was fairly lucky. Had sort of typical morning sickness, but nothing much. The only thing I ran into was that I had kidney stones. The problem with kidney stones while you are pregnant is all they do is go, “Oh, yeah, that’s a kidney stone. We’re really sorry. Have some pain meds.”
Because, of course, what they normally do to break them up is the sound waves which, you know, not so good for tiny developing bones in the adjacent area. I ended up in the ER about three different times during my pregnancy. Came home with a couple of prescriptions of Percocet and Vicodin, and I don’t even remember what all I had. Had my little girl in October of 2011, and was doing okay. It was kind of a shift because I was now at home with her instead of… I had been working for a local yarn dyer, actually.
Now, all of a sudden, I’m at home. I’m alone with this tiny, helpless thing that is completely dependent on me. I went back [to the doctor] because, of course, I had to go off the Pristiq while I was pregnant. That one [medication], in particular, is counter indicated. Some you can take. My doctor put me on Zoloft hoping to stave off postpartum. Switched back to the Pristiq not too long after I delivered because the Zoloft didn’t seem to be doing much. The Pristiq did even less. Didn’t realize it at the time, but my body chemistry had changed just enough that it was no longer working, and I just slipped further and further and further, very slowly, so none of us really realized how bad it had gotten.
And then, one Sunday morning–it was actually Memorial Day weekend–I was outside on the back porch, and I just had this sudden decision in my mind, and I went inside.
My daughter was upstairs napping, and I stuck my head in and I said to Kris, “I’m gonna go lay down.”
He was downstairs futzing with something on his computer.
I was like, “Yeah, I’m gonna go lay down for a little while.”
He says, “Okay.”
I went upstairs… I sent a text message to a friend of mine and said, basically, “Take care of Kris and [the baby] for me. Please just look after them. They’re gonna need you.”
He texted me back and was like, “What the hell is going on?”
I didn’t answer. He tried to call. I didn’t answer.
He called Kris and was like, “Where’s Pam?”
Kris said, “She just went upstairs to lay down.”
He’s like, “I think you need to check on her.”
He came upstairs and… called 911 and the whole deal. They came. They took me to the hospital.
Des: Why did you decide to tell your story?
Pam: I think it’s important that it loses the stigma. I think it’s something that people have been… depression and mental illness, in general, but also suicide attempts and all of that, have been, “You don’t talk about that.”
It’s kind of in the same category as when you get pregnant, all of a sudden, all of these women come out of the woodwork who’ve dealt with miscarriage because nobody talks about it. It’s one of those things that is uncomfortable and it makes people sad, so they don’t want to talk about it. It makes the people dealing with it feel completely isolated and completely alone, and I think it’s really important to realize that you’re a lot less alone dealing with this than you think you are at the time.
Des: So, what about postpartum depression? Do you think that’s another one of those things that’s shamed into silence?
Pam: Oh, absolutely because you have a baby. And, especially for me, after trying for 12 years, I’m supposed to be over the moon. I’m not allowed to have a bad moment about this. That’s horrible and ungrateful, and what about all those women who would love to be in my position but still don’t have their miracle?
No, I didn’t feel like I could talk about it. I was able to talk to my husband about it sometimes because he understood. This was a huge shift for us because we had looked ahead at what the road was gonna be, and then all of a sudden, no, going in a different direction now. It meant a lot of changes for both of us. Like I said, we were both really involved with community theatre and we used to do shows together all the time and can’t really do that now, ‘cause somebody needs to be at home with her. She’s a little young to be babysitting herself…
It’s huge in that most women go through some degree of it, partly because, the hormonal changes that you go through during and after pregnancy, they just screw with your mind. They really, really do. Plus, there’s the sleep deprivation and the pressure and… it’s rough. There are a lot of women who… there’s the baby blues, which makes it sound like it’s no big deal, but there’s degrees of it clear up to what they consider postpartum psychosis where it can get really bad. There are times when women can actually become dangerous to themselves and to their kids because they just… their minds just snap. Something just lets loose because they don’t have the support, somebody to lean on, the understanding that it’s not all sunshine and roses. Sometimes it’s really disgusting diapers and spit-up and…
Des: Lots of poop.
Des: Do you think that’s a thing doctors need to look out for more?
Pam: I do. I would like to see it being something not just that they’re more aware of, but that they are more understanding about. That it’s not, “Oh, you’ll get past it, you’ll be fine, you’re just tired.” That it is actually genuinely acknowledged as something that needs to be treated, not just blown off…
I think it needs to be discussed as, “This is what to look for. This is the point at which it’s not just that you’re tired. This is the point at which you need to go, ‘Okay, something’s not right.’”
You’re so exhausted at that point that you’re lucky you trust your judgment to look out and go, “Yes, the sky is, in fact, blue.” You’re so tired that it’s tough, and you start thinking, “Oh, I’m just…”
You chalk everything up to “I’m just tired.”
I do think it would be a good idea for more doctors to say, “Okay, look, postpartum depression happens. It happens to a lot of women. It’s just one of those things, but this is what to look out for to make sure that it doesn’t get to a point where you’re in really bad shape, where you can kind of nip it in the bud and maybe look at and go, ‘Okay, this is the point at which maybe I should find somebody to talk to.’” Of course, that can be a crapshoot because you never know for sure where you’re gonna find a therapist you click with or not.
Des: Has it gotten bad again since?
Pam: No, and I was most concerned–usually for me, the bad months are either November or February–and I think it’s just the typical seasonal affective [depression] when the sun starts to get crappy, or when it has just been too dark for too long. I actually made it through okay this year. I actually did fine, which was a big relief, ‘cause I was worried. I didn’t know how it was gonna be.
Fel: What do you think about… mothers who attempt suicide are so often criticized. Like, “Why didn’t you think of children, family? Why didn’t that go into your brain?”
Pam: The reality is in that moment I was thinking of them. I was thinking they were better off without me. And, I guarantee you, that is probably the case for most mothers because, when you reach that point, you don’t think of you being gone as a problem for anybody. You are a problem being eliminated. Their lives would be easier not dealing with [you].
If you’re feeling suicidal, please talk to somebody. You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.