Managing Depression as a New Mom

By Bianca Chapman … As a first-time mom, I felt ecstatic about my pregnancy and the idea of having the ideal new mom experience. Depression robbed me of that. But the less-than-ideal journey has taken my daughter and I to a good place anyway.

Mind you, I tried. I ate plenty of kale, walnuts and salmon to make sure I got enough omega fatty acids. I attended natural childbirth classes and learned as much as I could about having the most natural birth as possible. I opted for the natural fiber-organic baby mattress over the less expensive versions. I played Mozart while the baby still resided in the womb. Already I had visions of Little Einstein, mommy-and-me play dates and breastfeeding support groups planned for after delivery.

Depression altered my plans

But like most things in life, it didn’t really go as ideally as I’d planned. My depression symptoms started to worsen. They forced me to face the choice between letting the symptoms run rampant in my brain or trying to take psych meds. I ultimately decided not to take meds until my third trimester, and I felt okay with that decision. The risk to the baby measures low during a third trimester. The best thing for my baby was to have a healthy mom, I figured. Relieved, I thought I’d get all better and go right back to that perfect newborn experience I had so carefully planned.

Again, real life doesn’t always work that way. After delivering my daughter, my symptoms got worse than before the pregnancy. So my choice was to take even more medications, including those that would prevent me from breastfeeding. I wrestled with the decision, but resolutely decided that I had to breastfeed, the most natural and healthy thing for my baby. I happily breastfed while in the hospital, and my daughter latched on like a champ. I felt pure euphoria at my breastfeeding experience. It so thoroughly convinced me that I could make it through without my increased meds that I didn’t even purchase any formula.

When I returned home from the hospital, all heck broke lose. I could barely think straight; I felt so depressed and drained. By the first afternoon at home, I reached for the meds I needed. I dug into the back of my closet and pulled out the free formula samples I’d gotten in the mail. And broke out the baby bottles.

Depression spills the milk

As I fed my daughter over the next few weeks, I quietly wept inside as the nutrient God prepared for my baby dripped from my breasts onto my shirt. I felt crestfallen with a tinge of guilt. Not only had my disability decided to profoundly affect me, now it affected my ability to nurture my baby. I thought to myself, “Should I have been so bold as to even attempt having a child knowing I had depression?”

Although I still feel disappointed that I didn’t get to breastfeed, I learned to recognize the beauty in my non-perfect childbirth and new mommy experience. My daughter grew every day. She gained more than one pound by her first month check-up.  She has continued to thrive since then. Two years later, my daughter is a happy and healthy toddler who has met or surpassed every developmental milestone.

Through this experience, I realized a couple of things.  First, with the help of medications and a doctor’s care, people with depression can overcome the odds and be great parents. Second, although you may not have the ideal pregnancy, sometimes good enough is just that – good enough.

So I’m not crying over my spilled milk anymore. Instead, I’m enjoying my baby (now toddler) everyday!

(Bianca Chapman is an attorney and member of the NAMI St. Louis Board of Directors.)