Breastfeeding Saved Me
Ridgecrest CA USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 24 No. 2, March -- April 2007, pp.71
This is a difficult story to tell, partly because it's not easy for me to look back and remember the struggles I went through for the first four years of my son's life. It's also difficult because it's about something that isn't talked about a lot -- postpartum depression.
My son, Liam, was born critically ill, put on life support and airlifted to Loma Linda Hospital with a very slim chance for survival. He survived and we were home with him after only 10 days in the neonatal intensive care unit.
I wish that my doctor had told me that women who suffer trauma during or immediately following birth are more likely to suffer from postpartum depression. In addition to dealing with the unexpected outcome of Liam's birth, I had unresolved grief from three miscarriages that I'd had before his birth. At four months postpartum, I read an article about thyroid disease and it listed all the symptoms I was suffering from, including depression. I took the article to my general practitioner, who gave me the necessary blood test (which turned out normal). He also gently broached the subject of postpartum depression, which I immediately denied.
For the next year, I continued to suffer increasing depression, exhaustion, anxiety, and doubt about my mothering. Friends and family knew I was struggling, but I don't think I ever let on to anyone just how bad it was getting.
At about 14 months postpartum, I hit my all-time low. I started having days where I wouldn't get dressed, brush my hair or teeth, or do anything. I would stagger out to the family room so my son could run around and play, and I would lie on the floor or sit in the recliner in a state of utter exhaustion.
On one dark day, I began to wonder why I was even alive. There was only one thing that I could come up with that gave my life purpose: I had to breastfeed my son. If I wasn't around, my son would no longer be breastfed.
That one thought made me take action: I called my doctor and within 24 hours I'd had an appointment and was back at home with an antidepressant. (There are several antidepressants that are safe for breastfeeding mothers to take.) I finally started to feel human again. I got dressed every morning, I went to a playgroup, and I worked hard to pursue my goal of becoming a La Leche League Leader.
After three more miscarriages, in 2003 I gave birth to my daughter. This time I had the wonderful homebirth that I would've liked to have experienced with Liam. I went off medication during my pregnancy and went back on again about 10 weeks postpartum.
In 2003, my son was diagnosed with autism and being on medication helped me to deal with it without falling back into deep depression. In the fall of 2004, I took a grief recovery program at my church. I finally got counseling and worked through the unresolved grief from my miscarriages, my grief over Liam's birth not going the way I'd planned, and my grief over the fact that because of his autism, my hopes and dreams for Liam have had to change.
We moved in the fall of 2004, leaving our cramped city lot for a large home on acreage outside of city limits. Our whole family was more relaxed and I think this change, along with the counseling, was the real catalyst that got me over the hump.
By the end of 2004, I had weaned off my medication and was feeling normal with just an omega-3 supplement to help keep me in balance. Almost two years later, I am still doing well. In July 2006 I gave birth to my third child with no depression. I continue to take an omega-3 supplement and will watch for any signs of depression after the birth of any more children. I won't hesitate to go back on medication should I start to feel that I need it.
While my depression is gone, I am not the same person. I will never be the same again. The events of Liam's birth have permanently changed me. I am happy to be alive and healthy. When I think back on the years that I struggled with postpartum depression and the doubts about whether I was doing the best thing for my children, there is one thing that I know, without a shadow of a doubt: breastfeeding is the best choice I've ever made. And on a dark day in the fall of 2001, breastfeeding saved my life.