My Journey With Postpartum Depression Symptoms Taught Me It's OK To Ask For Help

Black people are less likely to receive treatment for postpartum depression symptoms. The prescription my doctor gave me was an important reminder that if I needed help, it was available.

Black mom holding infant and toddler daughters
Photo: Courtesy of Katrice Taylor

I've spent most of my life on a smooth emotional and hormonal ride. I ran into general anxiety shortly after I started teaching as I questioned whether I had made the right career decision. I experienced more anxiety around other major life events that I've always kept private. Still, other than that, I can confidently say that I have not had to face much depression.

This is why my postpartum depression symptoms—and later postpartum anxiety—smacked me in my sweet little face.

I became a mom in January 2020. I had a C-section, so eight weeks later when I was cleared to start more actively enjoying the fruits of my very long labor, the country and world literally shut down. I must say that this incredible turn of events had a huge impact on my postpartum journey, but that's another story for another day.

My daughter was diagnosed with GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disease. This chronic digestive disorder caused food to leave her stomach and return to her esophagus at around 4 months old. I was breastfeeding, but she wasn't keeping any of her milk down. She didn't have a mild spit-up, nor was she a "happy spitter," and we were dealing with something beyond what people call a "laundry issue." She started to slow down on weight gain, which was a problem. GERD can cause many issues, including poor weight gain and persistent respiratory symptoms.

Managing my daughter's condition as a new isolated mom prevented me from properly assessing my postpartum depression symptoms. But even though I didn't address my mental health in the time frame that I would've wanted, it never left me.

Researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sanai in New York City found that African American women were twice as likely to experience postpartum depressive symptoms as white women. Additionally, while women of color are more susceptible to PPD, they are less likely to receive treatment. There are racial and ethnic disparities in receiving mental healthcare for postpartum depression. Black women are 57% less likely to start treatment for PPD.

As I eased out of the fourth trimester, I knew depression and anxiety were there as I cried uncontrollably when my husband went to Publix to pick up groceries and when I would become hysterical for fear of accidentally dropping my baby. I knew it was there when I had constant thoughts of running away from fear that I was not the right person for the job of mothering my daughter. I knew it was there when I had such intense rage I would lock myself in the bathroom and scream at the top of my lungs. I knew it was there when I would hallucinate that my baby was trapped in the sheets because I fell asleep while nursing.

There were so many times when I would wake up screaming and wake my husband, frantically crying and looking for her—only to find her asleep in the bassinet beside our bed. Despite these struggles, I lied on the multiple choice mental health surveys I'd get during pediatrician visits.

I selected "no, not very often" for every option. I told myself that I didn't have time to deal with the real answer because my baby needed me more, so I didn't. My pediatrician took one look at my eyes as they filled up with tears and said, "I think you should reach out to your OB." I didn't.

For six months, I masked my postpartum anxiety by doing everything in my power to make my baby's life perfect. We had a perfect schedule, a perfect morning and nighttime routine, and a perfect wardrobe for her. I'd eventually accept these things weren't making anyone's life perfect, nor were they for my baby. They were a defense mechanism that I used to hide that I was in the deepest depths of hell, trying to process my mental health and my daughter's health needs.

I was able to breathe and felt peace after the radiologist conducted tests and informed us that our daughter would grow out of her GERD soon. But as her symptoms improved, I discovered I was pregnant with my second baby. She was 6 months old.

I decided to see a new OB because my old one dismissed my birth trauma. I broke down into tears during our first visit and told her, "I don't know how I'm going to do this. I throw up every day, I'm selling my house, I have no help, and I think I have postpartum depression." She listened to everything and validated that I was dealing with a lot. But I don't know why I didn't oblige when she offered me some anti-anxiety medicine.

I have never been opposed to any type of medicine. Of course, antidepressants have a certain stigma attached to them, especially in the Black community. I wasn't sure if shame caused me to decline or the sheer stress of remembering one more thing.

Being pregnant with a baby during a pandemic is rarely reviewed in pregnancy books. I was drowning. I was still working full time and being a mom to my firstborn. I was physically and emotionally worn out completely by the time I gave birth to my second. But my perfectionism rollercoaster continued.

To overcompensate for the temporary guilt I felt for having another baby so soon, I spent most of my spare time curating the perfect experience for my toddler. Although I managed to be a mom of two decently, my emotions were still all over the place. I was driving myself literally into a dark hole by forcing myself to be the mom I just was not ready to be.

By the time our newborn turned three months old, I was back at my OB's office, visibly shaking and crying. I could barely piece together sentences through the tears and sniffles. I told her everything I felt in excruciating detail, and she prescribed me 50mg of sertraline. I picked it up from the pharmacy the same day.

I stared at the bottle for an entire week. I finally put it beside my sink on my side of the bathroom counter. I thought, "I'll take it when I'm having a bad day."

The pills sat beside my sink for one year.

I never took them. But the idea of having the pills saved me from going down a spiral of intrusive thoughts and loss of hope. Knowing that I had an option at my fingertips that would probably put my mind at ease was strangely all I ended up needing. I may never use my anti-anxiety medication, but I will never forget how having that little bottle saved my mental health. I realized having routines did wonders, too.

I was adamant about having our daughters on a perfect, consistent schedule. The schedule saved me many times on my postpartum anxiety and depression journey. Many resources encourage families to just go with the flow. This might be true for many, especially in the fourth trimester. But it didn't work for our family. I realized relatively early on that my lack of sleep was directly correlated with my anxiety. So, we decided to bust out some baby books, take a few classes and sleep train. It worked wonders for us and our entire household.

I am now 16 months postpartum with my second, and my oldest is 30 months old. I can confidently say that I had a very long, two-year road with postpartum depression symptoms and anxiety, with a pregnancy right in the middle. The pills still sit in the top drawer of my nightstand.

I feel the best I have felt since before I had my kids. I feel incredibly confident; the fog has lifted. And lately, I've even started to feel like a new version of my old self. There's a quote that says, "each time a baby is born, so is a mother." I've morphed into a version of myself that I am falling in love with every day. While in the deepest depths of PPD, I did not think this was possible.

My journey was rocky, emotional, and full of highs and lows. We aren't sure if we are going to continue expanding our family or not—so I don't know that I'm completely out of the postpartum weeds. However, I know what it looks like on the other side now, and because of that and a little orange pill bottle, I know I got this.

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