Recently the mom of an infant with Fibular Hemimelia posted a question on a support group asking if was normal to be crying all the time. She received many kind responses but oddly enough mine was the only one that mentioned counseling or therapy having helped me work through the emotions of having a baby with a birth defect. I should not find it odd considering there is a huge stigma regarding mental illness. Not that having a baby with a difference and being sad about it should qualify as an illness. I didn’t suggest she get mental health help, I simply wrote that it had helped me. Maybe others had counseling and didn’t write about it or worse maybe no one else had any professional help at all?
When Nicholas was a baby I did not think I had postpartum depression. I didn’t have thoughts of suicide or of harming him. I was going to school, working weekends and taking care of my boy. I loved Nicholas and I loved my life with my husband but slowly and in such a familiar fashion this underlying sadness moved in. No one really knew. I didn’t talk about it. Functioning well hides a multitude of emotions. This mom from the support group seemed, from the little I could see of her life, to really be functioning well to, enjoying her baby, living her life. But that’s what I looked like too and I still needed help.
I was fortunate that when Nicholas was born I was in college (as a psychology major mind you… hello… if I hadn’t realized I needed help I’d have been in the wrong program) and I received free counseling. I needed to talk about my history of depression and having a baby with fh, I needed to talk about the decision we had to make (amputation versus reconstruction and leg lengthening) and I needed a neutral person. I was judging myself as much as I was afraid of being judged by others. I really thought that if I showed that I was sad or upset that Nicholas had a birth defect it would mean I didn’t love him enough. I put so much pressure on myself to keep it all together. I wish I had realized that there is no shame in asking for help. Nothing I was feeling was wrong.
Obviously not everyone who has a baby with a birth defect will have postpartum depression or depression of any kind but I still believe talking to a professional is hugely helpful, even just one session. Having a baby can open old emotional wounds. It is the best and most amazing experience but it’s an emotional roller coaster at best and an emotional mine field at worst!
This was not my first time in therapy. A few years earlier I was diagnosed with Chronic Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia). It’s a kind of milder long-term depression and I have probably had it since childhood. When I was diagnosed I was so relieved. There was a reason I felt the way I did. I wasn’t crazy and it wasn’t my fault. I bet I am not the only gal with a mental illness to have had those feelings! The psychiatrist I saw asked if I would consider an antidepressant but I said no and opted to try therapy alone. Here’s a little info on Dysthymia:
“Dysthymic individuals, on the surface, may seem to be fairly productive; they may be employed and involved in social and marital relationships. However, impairment of physical and social functioning, a requirement of diagnosis, is often more significant than it appears to be, and is often the motivate for an individual to seek professional assistance.” … “Dysthymia is often misdiagnosed and undertreated due to the low-grade severity of the disorder. Because the symptoms of dysthymic disorder have been apparent for so long, many people do not seek treatment, or they delay seeking treatment for 10 or more years. In fact, many patients who delay seeking treatment indicate that they do so because they believe depressive symptoms are part of their inherent personality. Most do not recognize that they are experiencing symptoms of depression.” Understanding Depressive Disorders
So while I didn’t necessarily have the baby blues I still had the blues. I went to counseling and saw my GP to get on an antidepressant. I started with Lexapro and that seemed to help for a while. Then I went off it to have our second baby, Charlotte, and went back on it a year or so after that and back off it to have our third baby, Christopher. I thought it worked well at first but eventually it made me tired and hungry (among other unfortunate side effects). Not exactly helpful when you are combatting depression!
I never went back to Lexapro but after my Aunt died three years ago (Nicholas had surgery for his 2nd leg lengthening two weeks later) I went to a psychiatrist to get help. This time I was prescribed Bupropion (aka Wellbutrin) and the current diagnosis reads “Depressive disorder, not elsewhere classified”. The medication has changed my mind for lack of a better fitting term. By the way I stayed on this medication through my 4th pregnancy and while nursing Bess.
On the Bupropion I feel like a different person. I don’t always feel good and if I did I suppose I’d need another diagnosis. I still experience the full range of human emotions but I am able to navigate them and not get lost in them. My treatment was considered a success and my depression controlled.
By the fall of last year my counselor and psychiatrist had been trying for months to spread our appointments out further but I was hesitant (they were already about two months apart). Finally as I left my last session (not planned to be the last really and I do have to check in to stay on my medication) I turned to my counselor and said “I know I am ok. I know I can function like anyone else (maybe better), with some of the most stressful life events happening all at once, I am not depressed” and my counselor replied “That is exactly what you need to hang on to and remember”. So I do.