I sat across from my doctor eight days after giving birth, trying to remotely look like I had myself together.
“I always want to see you in person if you’re concerned about postpartum depression,” he said. “Some people may sound okay on the phone, but then you see them face to face and they look like The Joker.”
I definitely felt like The Joker. I wasn’t sure if the crippling self-doubt and suffocating anxiety was completely normal the first week after having a baby, but it scared the hell out of me. I felt like I was swinging on a pendulum of emotion and mental demons, gliding from “Okay, I got this,” to “Ohmygod I can’t breathe and there’s a neverending knot in my chest and I don’t like my baby and I’m so tired but I can’t fall asleep, what the hell is happening to me.”
The question on the table was medication, but breastfeeding was the hiccup. I was trying my damnedest to figure it out, and already it wasn’t going well. My daughter had yet to have a pesky tongue and lip tie remedied, and I was feeling the weight of failure already in that department. My doctor gently reminded me that “fed is best,” but my frazzled brain couldn’t accept that grace.
“Think of it this way. If you weren’t breastfeeding, would you be open to taking medication for depression?” he asked. I was too disoriented to understand the question really, but I felt I knew enough to say I didn’t want to try medicine yet. Throwing in that towel felt like failure this early on, and I thought it might make me spiral even deeper into new-mom-failure.
So no meds. He gave me advice to survive the newborn days and take care of myself — things like exercising, getting sunshine, eating well, accepting help, etc. And that worked for the first three months of surviving.
But after we started to hit a new normal and come out of the newborn haze, I was not the best version of myself. I’d look around our house and imagine every way something could go horrifically wrong, like the outlets in baby’s room catching on fire. I’d lay down at night and remember our walk earlier that day and envision a car slamming into us. I’d nag at my husband because every single thing he did grated on my nerves. I’d lay in bed for two hours wishing for sleep before it finally came to me.
I finally realized I needed help. I was taking care of myself the best way I knew how, but it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t happy, and my poor husband was downtrodden and lonely while his wife lived in a violent thunderstorm.
So I found myself sitting across from my doctor again, saying, “I think it’s time to try medication.”
He didn’t whip out the prescription pad and shower refills on me like candy. Instead, he had a long talk with me to understand where I was mentally and emotionally. The largest caveat was that I was still nursing, so he wanted to make sure I understood what that meant.
“Obviously no meds while nursing is the best option, but this medication is regarded as safe to take while nursing. The only thing you might notice is a delayed achievement of milestones in your baby, but even that is rare,” he told me.
He wanted to make sure I understood the weight of the decision, and I carried that weight heavily as I contemplated whether or not to start medication. Ultimately, I did become best buds with this medication, and it changed my life for the better.
Here were the determining factors:
Medical professionals I trusted supported my decision.
My doctor, whom I trust to no end, has always been an honest advocate. Because he approached the conversation of whether or not to take medicine period, not just while nursing, told me he took my mental health incredibly seriously. His weighty conversation on the matter of taking it while breastfeeding told me how seriously he took it, but giving me the support to continue nursing while taking medicine also told me he had no qualms with it as a medical professional.
Also my best friend is an ER nurse, and she frequently gets my panicked, hypochondriac inquiries via text. So naturally, I consulted her.
“Can I take this medication while nursing without poisoning my child? “I asked her.
She went all super-nurse and asked the psychiatrists on her floor, and they gave the medication a glowing review to use while breastfeeding.
Having the thumbs-up from them gave me immense peace of mind.
My situation was not sustainable.
It was a dark time in our home. I was a shadow of my former self, and everything was tinged with an acidic glow of negativity. I didn’t realize just how unhappy and unhealthy I was until I came out of the fog, but my mind felt like a poison that seeped into every aspect of my life. I alienated my husband. I over-worried about my daughter. I had a negative supply of patience. I even saw my big fluffy puppy as a burden. I wasn’t me — at all. And letting that continue would have only driven me deeper into that dark hole.
The positives outweighed the negatives.
This was a new way of thinking for me. I initially recognized it when we were asking my doctor if it was okay for Grandma to come stay with us and the newborn even though her recommended TDAP shot hadn’t had quite the right amount of time to kick in.
“Having help with a newborn is so important, and unless Grandma has a cough or any symptoms, it’s highly unlikely she’d be a risk to transfer whooping cough. So in this case, the positives outweigh the negatives,” he told us.
The positives outweigh the negatives. Mind. Blown.
Taking that approach, especially as a new parent, has been life-giving and freeing to me. So often, there is no perfect situation. There is no one-and-done answer that’ll solve all of our problems. But if I could weigh it out, if I could imagine the scales tipping to one side or another based on this one decision, where would that leave me?
When I weighed the decision to take medication, the scales tipped heavily in favor of positive. The risks to my child were miniscule, and more likely nonexistent. I had the opportunity to experience relief, both mentally and emotionally, from the pistons of chemicals firing off in my brain. There was a promise of a better version of me by trying the medication. And the better version of me was far better for my child and my husband than the empty, haggard, and sour woman they had at the time.
Ultimately, it’s up to you.
Popping a pill is not the ultimate solution to postpartum depression. For me, it was a supplement to a lot of other efforts that helped me come out of the haze. Things like therapy, exercising, resting, and self-care have been immensely helpful. But choosing to take medicine has given me the extra oomph I needed to feel whole again.
Every woman is unique. Every situation is one-of-a-kind. And ultimately, taking medication for postpartum depression while breastfeeding is a deeply personal and heavy decision. I didn’t take it lightly. But I see how common it is to shun the notion of medication in favor of more natural, holistic approaches. Or to consider yourself a failure of a mother for needing help from a pill bottle, or for thinking you’re putting your health above your baby’s well-being.
I struggled with all of those thoughts too.
That’s the reason I decided to share about this very personal decision — because I know there are other moms trapped by those same suffocating thoughts, pushing their chances at maternal mental health further and further away.
So if you think you’re in the trenches of postpartum depression, medication is another weapon on your hip ready to help you fight your way out. Whether you use it or not is up to you. But I encourage you to at least consider it.