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Advice Column for Wacky Mothers & Others: Post-Partum Depression

January 30th, 2007

Dear Wacky Mommy:

I think I have Post-Partum Depression. It does not affect anything at this point except how I feel about and deal with my baby’s father. I have no money (as I have a baby and am a single mother) to pay for therapy, am breastfeeding and am not comfortable taking any medications.

Like I said, it only affects my relationship with the baby’s father (okay, and my self-esteem, but that’s cuz I am huge and stretchy now), so what the fuck do I do?


New Mom

Dear New Mom:

First, a disclaimer: This column is not meant to take the place of medical attention from a doctor, witch doctor, or mental health professional. Please seek professional attention when needed. Can you find someone who does counseling sliding scale? Check with your baby’s doctor, check with your doctor, check with Baby Blues Connection. (Their site has phone numbers to call.)

I think Tom Cruise really did us all a favor when he insulted Brooke Shields and went off on his whole anti- anti-depressants spiel. It got us all talking about a previously-taboo subject. I remember breaking down in my ob-gyn’s office after my second baby, because I’d found out that my doc was leaving her private practice to work for an HMO. The thought of being without her did me in. She gave me the hugest hug, and we talked about different ways to build community. (It’s hard. It’s embarrassing to say, “I need help” because in our society, and especially in some families, you had better well pull your own weight — and your baby’s. And your baby’s father’s. Or else. This is garbage. Please do not buy into this. You’ve signed up for the most difficult job on earth. But I know you can do it.)

Sometimes anti-depressants are the only way to go, and if it means weaning the baby, and if that’s the only solution — then so be it. The nursing really helped my depression — all those endorphins were great, as well as the bonding. I was twitchy about exposing my babies to meds, so I hear you. However… weigh your options.

Are you getting financial support from the baby’s dad? Can you ask family or friends for help to pay for babysitting and/or counseling? I remember feeling so beat-up the first two years after each baby was born — it’s just been recently that I’ve been able to work-out regularly, go to the doctor’s alone, go to the bathroom alone. When people do that whole, “oh you think it’s hard now just wait!” thing — don’t believe them. Once kids are verbal — and in school all day — life is but a dream. (Mostly.)

I read Down Came the Rain and liked it a lot. Do a library search with your county library and check out a few books on PPD. Read up online.

You’re not the only one. Although I went through it with both babies, it wasn’t as bad with the second one. Of course, we’d just been through 9/11 so I think we had a huge time of national depression and mourning, anyway, so who knows how bad I was feeling. I remember just feeling a sense of despair at times, or as my friend N described it, “It wasn’t like I was really, really depressed. I would just look at my baby and think ‘I should be happy. Why am I not?'” That’s how I felt, too. I got depressed during my first pregnancy, too, because of the morning sickness. Not wanting to die, but not being able to come up with many reasons I wanted to live.

If you think you are going to do harm to yourself or your baby, please get help immediately. Join a mom’s group, if you can, or check on Craig’s List and try to find some parents in your neighborhood to do swaps with. My neighbor saved my ass by swapping childcare once a week with me so I could get a few minutes alone. Don’t feel guilty about this — you’re not doing your baby any favors if you’re weeping and unable to get out of jammies.

Re: drugs. It bothers me that we don’t have any long-term studies on the impact that drugs have on breastmilk and nursing babies. Are they doing any studies? Who knows. They need to, though — especially for anti-depressants, antihistamines and decongestants. Vistaril is a antihistamine that they are not recommending for nursing or pregnant mothers, but that works well for anxiety and depression. (As well as clearing up your sinuses. Ha.)

Talk with your doctor and see if there is anything — Tylenol PM, Vistaril, anything — that wouldn’t be as harsh as a full-scale anti-depressant. Talk with a naturopath and/or acupuncturist about herbal treatments. My doctor (general practice) gave me a ton of grief because I refused to go on anti-depressants while I was pregnant and nursing. She was not kind. She offered me no alternatives, no support, and it made me feel alone and like a horrid mother. Do not see this kind of doctor. (I no longer see this one.) She kept repeating, “All of these medicines are totally safe for nursing babies,” and I kept asking, “Says who?” They don’t flippin’ know. My mom’s doc insisted she take DES when she was pregnant with me. Thank God she had more sense than he did and refused.

I am in way over my head here, and I apologize, but I’ve been reading some studies about people who have bi-polar disorder and the new studies are showing that anti-depressants are possibly the opposite of what they need? Jeez, I’m starting to sound like Tom Cruise here, I apologize. But I would see what a mental health professional has to say. PPD? Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? Depressive Disorder?

Check with your doc about taking prenatals (I took them the entire time I was nursing both kids); also check about calcium (they told me to take 1,500-2,000 mg. of calcium citrate — easiest to digest; no Tums — the absorption is not great); drink enough water; no booze or recreational drugs; try to get some exercise, even if it’s only half an hour three times a week; get enough sleep.

Ha. Ha. Ha. Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa. You’re a new mom. You’re probably getting no sleep. Your hormones are on overdrive. You’re a single mom, so you don’t have someone to kick in the middle of the night and tell, “You get the baby this time.” Find someone awesome to kick in the middle of the night, someone who (of course) adores you and the baby. Here’s some fairy dust while I’m at it, to make that happen. “Mr. Wonderful needed, Aisle 14!” For real — build whatever support system you can. I didn’t find a group of mommies to hang out with until my second was born, and the moral support and the knowledge that you’re not alone in this — you can’t buy that at a store.

Check the blogs, post frequently, e-mail people off-list and ask them for help (like you’re doing here).

And make some calls.



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