About 1 in 8 women (or as high as 1 in 5) experience symptoms of postpartum depression according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Admittedly, I am one of those women, and it’s taken me a long time to accept this truth and talk about it openly. Mental health is still a taboo topic for most people, and there is a lot of shame and stigma specifically around postpartum depression.
When I first came to terms with the fact that my feelings and thoughts were a result of postpartum depression, I was embarrassed and upset with myself. How could I be depressed when I had a happy and healthy baby boy? If this is what I wanted all along, why aren’t I happier? Shouldn’t I just enjoy the good and the bad moments since he won’t be little forever? Isn’t this how I’m supposed to feel being a new mom?
These were questions I kept asking myself as I grappled with what I had been experiencing for the last year or so. I’d gone to therapy in the past and found it helpful, so I decided that maybe it was time to talk to someone again about what I was going through now. As I started seeing a therapist weekly, the conversation came up about taking antidepressant medication after about two months.
When I first came to terms with the fact that my feelings and thoughts were a result of postpartum depression, I was embarrassed and upset with myself. How could I be depressed when I had a happy and healthy baby boy? If this is what I wanted all along, why aren’t I happier?
From the get-go, I was apprehensive because I have always been hesitant about using medication for anything. For me, I’d rather find the root cause of my physical or mental pain before resorting to using medication. This goes for even something as simple as a headache or sore muscles—I’d rather hydrate, foam roll, do yoga, or go to bed early than to pop a few aspirins. The only time I’ve ever, without a doubt, known I wanted to use medication was deciding on an epidural while delivering my son. Other than that, I’d prefer to go the all-natural route if possible.
That being said, as my conversations developed with my therapist, taking the antidepressants started to seem like a positive choice. When it came to how I would heal my depression, I always thought that if I just relaxed a little bit more, leaned into motherhood a bit more, or started working out more, that I would start to feel better. So, I would try my best to take a weekly bubble bath after my son went to sleep, embraced the tantrums, read the same books repeatedly, and tried to find some zen with an at-home yoga practice.
Truth be told, all of these things were positive improvements in my life, but my depression still didn’t go away.
My therapist said it best: you can’t self-care your depression away because it’s a chemical imbalance in your brain. When she said this in one of our sessions, a light bulb went off. It finally made sense to me why, no matter how hard I tried to include a self-care moment into my weeks, I still felt depressed. In one session, I asked my therapist how I could decide if taking medication was the next right step for me. She responded with, “Think of where you want to be in one month and reflect on if you could get there as you are right now, or if you’d like a little extra help getting there by using medication.”
After hearing that, I took a few moments to think about that scenario and knew that I at least wanted to try getting help to feel better in a month. I decided to take the medication prescribed by my psychiatrist.
Choosing to take medication for your mental health is a big decision to make. When I first started taking my medication, I didn’t want to tell anyone because I feared the silent judgment I might get from others if I told them. Now, it’s been a few months, and I’m feeling more comfortable with sharing that I’m on antidepressant medication and that it’s helping me feel better. As I slowly work through releasing the shame and embarrassment of taking medication, I understand and know that others may be feeling this too.
If you’re one of those people, here are a few things I tell myself about why there is no place for shame when it comes to taking meds for your postpartum depression.
1. It doesn’t have to be forever
When I first started thinking about taking medication, my mind automatically went to thinking about how I was going to have to remember to take a pill every day for the rest of my life. When talking to a friend who has been on medication since she was in high school, she reminded me that taking medication doesn’t have to be forever. Sure, there are situations where women begin taking meds and believe it’s the best decision to stay on them long term. On the other hand, some women begin taking meds after becoming a mother and realize that after a year or two, they feel less overwhelmed and more capable and no longer need the medication.
How long you take the medication for is a decision you must make alongside a healthcare professional, but know that just because you start doesn’t mean you can never stop. If you are at the place where you’re ready to change your medication dosage or want to stop taking them altogether, it’s best to do so with the aid of your healthcare professional rather than stopping cold turkey. Making these decisions without the guidance of your doctor can have serious ramifications.
2. A little bit can go a long way
Depending on your situation and symptoms, you may not need a large dose of your medication. When I was talking to my psychiatrist about my options, she said that some doses start as low as 10mg and can go up to 40mg or higher. Another thing to note is that your dosage level can shift and change alongside your emotions and situation, so just because you start out taking 30mg doesn’t mean you’ll have to be there forever.
Why does your dosage matter? For me, my concern with the dosage level was how strong the possible side effects would be. With each drug, there are known side effects that could or could not affect the person who’s taking them. Some common side effects are low libido, weight gain, fatigue, or nausea. While it’s not always the case, sometimes the higher the dosage the stronger the side effects. I found this to be the case when I decided to up my dosage for some time: I began feeling nauseous every morning with a higher dose. When I explained this shift in side effects to my psychiatrist, she recommended we go back down to the lower dose for now.
No matter where you are on the spectrum, know that how much you take can always change, but again, make sure you discuss this shift with a mental health professional.
3. Feeling better is the end goal
If you’re feeling embarrassed or ashamed about taking medication, shift your mindset around it. You’re not taking meds because you’re a bad mom or that you don’t love your child; you’re taking them because you want to show up as the best version of yourself for you and your family. Your end goal for taking medication is to feel better, enjoy motherhood and parenting in your unique way, and to find positive ways to be present in your one and only life.
I’m going to pose the same question as my therapist did to me: think about where you want to be/how you want to feel in one month. Can you get there on your own, or would you like a little help?
4. There is no shame in getting help, no matter the form
No matter where you are on your journey, we all need a little bit of help in life. Depending on your life circumstances, that help can present in self in many different ways. Maybe the help you need right now is from a mom group as a support system or maybe helping yourself is getting out of the house once a week by yourself. Most of us wouldn’t shame ourselves for doing either of those two prior scenarios, yet we beat ourselves up when help looks like taking medication.
As moms, we often struggle to get the help we truly need and sometimes believe that we should be able to do it all on our own. Whatever help looks like for your right now, whether that’s a babysitter, asking your partner to chip in more, or taking the leap and starting medication, you should be proud of yourself for asking for what you need.
Editor’s Note: If you, or someone you know, are experiencing postpartum depression, please seek help from your healthcare provider or reach out to a close friend or loved one. If you are having suicidal thoughts, or thoughts of hurting your baby, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline immediately at 1-800-273-TALK.