As Told To essays allow members of our community to share their stories, often for the first time, with the help of mater mea writers. Here Mandisa Lee tells Satya Nelms her experience with postpartum depression.
I love my son, but my journey to becoming his mother was not easy. He is my second child. My daughter had been born five years before.
When I learned I was pregnant with her, I’d been living in Japan—I flew back home to the East Coast early in my first trimester so that I could be surrounded by family.
It was a challenging pregnancy. I was never officially diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum, but my morning sickness was severe. There were many days I could barely keep down water. I think the amount of weight I gained in the second half of my pregnancy ended up breaking even with the amount of weight I lost in the first half.
It was pretty bad, but when I had my daughter, the moment I held her in my arms, I knew I loved her. I had the usual concerns about what kind of mom I would be and how I would handle being responsible for another human life, but aside from that I was fine.
Then when my daughter was 5, I found out I was pregnant again, and I was shocked. There were things in my life that I wanted to have achieved before having any more kids. I had to deal with the loss of that vision I had of my life during my pregnancy.
I expected to feel that instant love that I’d felt with my daughter, but it wasn’t there…
Struggling With Becoming A Mother Again
I didn’t have the extreme nausea that I’d experienced with my first pregnancy—all of the physical symptoms were pretty normal—but I wasn’t in the best head space.
I struggled with the idea of becoming a mother again, and I don’t think I’d entirely made my peace with it by the time my son was born.
When I saw him for the first time, I expected to feel that instant love that I’d felt with my daughter. But it wasn’t there, and it made me feel so guilty. I felt like something was wrong with me. It was like this slow fog that just kept creeping over me.
I would have these terrible thoughts about my son. They were so bad, I didn’t even want to tell the people who were closest to me because I was afraid of what they would think.
Also, I wasn’t sleeping well. As I tried to go through the motions of my daily life, I constantly felt like I was barely keeping it together.
Then one day my mom made me go to a barbecue at my sister’s house, and I just couldn’t keep it in any more. I broke down and told my mom and my sisters how I was feeling.
‘You can’t just snap out of it.’
My parents, my sisters—my whole family really—sprang into action to support me and get me the help I needed. They called the birth center where I’d had my son, and after I told my midwife what was going on, she told me I needed to go to the ER.
While I was there, I wasn’t even allowed to hold my son. That made me feel like a monster. The psychologist in the ER listened to the thoughts I was having and the fact that I was having them several times a day, and told me that I had postpartum psychosis.
My mother was with me, and he let her know that I could not be allowed to be alone with my kids. Someone had to be with me, watching me, every day. I wasn’t even allowed to sleep with my son. That made me feel terrible, but I accepted that that was what had to happen for me to get better.
I felt less alone knowing that a lot of moms suffer.
My midwife and I were in constant contact. I spoke with a therapist, did some alternative therapies, and let the people in my life help me.
My mom stayed with the baby night after night while I caught up on sleep, and she and my sisters took turns watching my kids for weeks following my diagnosis.
As I was going through all of this, my friends and family opened up about their struggles. Nobody had been through what I had, but I felt less alone knowing that a lot of moms suffer.
Not a day went by that somebody wasn’t calling me, coming by my house, or sending me a message to check on me, and ask if I needed anything. I’m so grateful for that. I tell all of them to this day that they saved my life.
It took months, probably the better part of a year, but I started to come back to myself.
When I first found out I had postpartum depression it felt like it came out of nowhere. But when I look back on it, I can see how my headspace going into the pregnancy helped fuel the depression. Plus, I’ve always struggled with anxiety, and I read that those people who already suffer from depression and/or anxiety are more prone to postpartum depression.
I also probably made it worse by feeling guilty about how I was feeling.
If you have postpartum depression, you have to know it’s not your fault. I didn’t and still don’t understand why people don’t talk about the challenges so many women face after giving birth.
Postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis are real illnesses. You can’t just snap out of it.
There’s no shame in getting help. Don’t suffer through it in silence. As hard as it was for me to tell my family what I was going through, it was the best thing I could have done.
This post is a part of our Mental Health Awareness week. Read on for more stories that address mental health in the Black community.