I didn’t expect it, but as soon as I started talking, I was pushed back into a corner with her words. The room was bright and cold; I was naked under a thin hospital robe waiting for my annual exam. I tried to speak, but before I could express myself completely, she was answering me with her own questions: Do you work out? When was the last time you went on a date? Are you sleeping eight hours a night? You’re still nursing your daughter?
The questions, which maybe seemed to come from a place of empathy, felt like they were meant to disprove my own reasoning that I was still suffering from postpartum depression. I found them condescending, but I tried not to. “You will be fine,” she kept saying, “if you do those things.” Those things would make me feel better.
As I answered her questions, in mostly unsatisfactory ways, she decided that she’d proven her point and she moved on. It was decided that I needed rest, time for my husband, and exercise. She was also emphatic that I needed to stop nursing my daughter. I needed nothing else but those things, and I couldn’t help but feel as if I was vanishing there in front of her. My words meant nothing. If I did those things enough, I’d feel better. I’d be better. I would then be enough in all the ways. The monthly feelings of depression and anxiety—fleeting but there—would disappear. I just needed time. “It’s just being a woman,” she said.
As I sat there and listened to her, I could feel myself shrinking under her eyes that didn’t see me at all. My shoulders slouched; my back arched into itself; my eyes were to the floor. Sitting there, I felt unheard and exposed, vulnerable and stupid. And that’s not the me most people know. She was content to move on, satisfied that in less than five minutes, she had solved my problem.
And I almost caved. I almost walked out of another doctor’s office without being heard. But in an act of conviction, I raised my eyes from the floor and caught her gaze. I stared right into her eyes and said, “I need you to listen to me.” I could tell right away that she wasn’t used to being challenged, and I couldn’t help but wonder how many women had shrunk like a wilted flower and acquiesced, just like I almost had, under her gaze and her medical confidence. How many women had she pushed into a corner with her patronizing words?
In the most confident voice I have, in the tones I know people respond to, I spoke clearly and articulately about what was going on:
“It’s not the need for a date with my husband. It’s not the sleep. It’s not the nursing. It’s not the exercise. Something is wrong, and I need you to hear me. Ever since the postpartum depression I experienced early on after the birth of my daughter, I just haven’t felt like myself. I need you to listen to me. It hasn’t truly gone away.”
I did not look away, and she listened to me, finally. I had to make her listen, and I did it. But I also realized in that moment that I would have to seek out other avenues and health care professionals in order truly to feel more like myself again. And part of the solution was to find another doctor altogether, one who was willing to take the time to listen to me.
As I walked out of the office, I couldn’t help but think of the women who go in to ask for help and are turned away, dismissed and pushed into a corner. I wasn’t feeling terribly bad; however, I was trying to tell her that I still didn’t feel like the postpartum depression had gone away. I’m not negating the value of personal time, exercise, and the like; however, it’s hard enough to go to the doctor to ask for help and then be immediately disregarded. And I know many, many doctors who don’t do that.
This needs to change. It is difficult to find the courage to admit that something is wrong. And then when one does voice it, it’s even harder to be assured that when you can figure out how to be enough you will feel better.
As for me, I found another doctor, and in the end, I learned I was still struggling with some postpartum depression. While I ended up making more time to exercise and do things just for me, those things were only part of the solution.
I have spoken to so many women with similar stories of being disregarded when they’ve asked for help. Maybe you’ve been in this same situation or maybe you’re in it now. If you are struggling and feel like you’re not being heard by the health care professionals you’re seeing, find someone who will listen to you. There are many wonderful doctors who are willing.
If you or someone you know is suffering from postpartum depression, visit Postpartum Progress for more information.