I sobbed hysterically through my six week follow-up appointment. Ben was still in the NICU, my sleep was disturbed by flashbacks, and I was pumping breastmilk every three hours. I’d planned that day to go to my morning OB appointment then go next door to the NICU and be with my baby.
I couldn’t do it. I got in my car, still sobbing, and drove home without seeing my son. The guilt consumed me.
I was taking Cymbalta again and had been for weeks, but I wasn’t any better. Most days were full of tears and worry. When I was at home, I felt guilty for not being in the hospital with Ben. When I was in the NICU I was anxious and jittery, and I just wanted to go home. No place felt safe and happy. I felt like no one – not the therapist I was seeing, not my OB – could see how much I was suffering, how much every waking moment was painful to live in. I begged them to help me, but they were reluctant to give me more medication since I was still breastfeeding, and ultimately I discovered that the therapist and her office didn’t support the use of medication.
These people were supposed to be my lifeline; they were supposed to know how to help me out of the dark hole that had become my life. Their specialty was the care and treatment of women, but it took a trip to an inpatient facility a month later (with worthless ER and crisis center visits between) to truly set me on the right path, to find a doctor who listened, who agreed that I needed medication, and validated that all I’d been through was truly terrible.
Providers need to be better prepared to treat maternal mental health. Surveys need to be done both during pregnancy and postpartum, and beyond the six-week assessment. ERs need to have protocols for treating mothers in mental distress. Maternity wards need psychiatrists on staff. And special attention needs to be paid to those women like myself, with a host of risk factors: previous history of depression and anxiety, illness during pregnancy, premature birth, c-section and complications, and a child in the NICU. Set them up with mental health care before they even leave the hospital. Because it is going to come, and hit hard. We can do preventative mental health care, and at-risk mothers should be first in line.
I wanted to ask so many doctors and caregivers, where were you? Where was the help I begged for? It didn’t have to be like this.