Haylie Schwartz Perinatal And Postpartum Depression Story
The narrative around postpartum depression in popular culture today leads most people to believe that the biggest roadblock to treatment is recognizing you are suffering. Stigma, shame, and a profound lack of awareness are highlighted over and over again as roadblocks for women getting the help they need. Both real-life and fictional stories of women with postpartum depression depict a somewhat linear progression of how postpartum depression is supposed to go down — darkness and suffering, denial and uncertainty, diagnosis and treatment, followed finally by sweet relief.
My History With Depression And Anxiety
But my story is not one of not knowing the signs or symptoms — I have a long history with both depression and anxiety, such that by the time I got pregnant I carried both as badges of quiet pride, markers of the strength and resilience of which I knew I was capable. I was open with my doctor, aware that I was at an increased risk for postpartum depression, and I had many conversations with my husband about a game plan for what we would do should symptoms emerge after our son was born.
Turns out we didn’t have to wait until his birth to find out. About midway through my pregnancy, when most women report reveling in all the “feel good” hormones of the second trimester, a sinking feeling of dread began to creep into every corner of my being. This was something we had not planned for – this was perinatal depression.
On the outside, I kept up with all the appearances of a typically expecting mother – prenatal yoga, baby registry planning with friends, nursery room shopping with my mom and sister. Behind it all, I was terrified of being pregnant and increasingly certain I was going to give birth to a sick or somehow damaged baby.
Looking back I realize this was my personal flavor of depression rearing its awful head — it always happens this way where I start to see myself as worthless. Worthlessness turns into deep rooted self-hatred. In this new scenario of being pregnant, I assumed that any being that was an extension of me would also be “bad.” As terrible as that sounds, I truly felt that I couldn’t possibly give birth to a “good” or healthy baby. I prayed and prayed (and I’m not a religious person) that my child would be like my husband and nothing like me. I knew these feelings and thoughts were not normal, or remotely healthy. These were the signs I knew to look for. I was open with my husband, I was open with my doctor.
Treatment wasn’t so simple. In my highly anxious state, no doctor or scientific study could convince me that it was safe to take an antidepressant while pregnant. I agonized endlessly over Google searches and databases dedicated to perinatal and postpartum health. I consulted doctors and talked to both a therapist and a psychiatrist. Despite reassurances that it would be better to take a pill than to live in a heightened state nearing panic, I irrationally thought that an antidepressant would be the nail in the coffin, sealing my baby’s fate of some form of illness or lifelong condition.
So, I continued to suffer. Right up until my labor and delivery where I remember being told to push while thinking I didn’t want the baby to come out. I had a brief moment of peace and familiarity when I held my son in my arms for the first time, amazed at how much he resembled my sweet younger brother. But what followed was a predictable sequence of perinatal depression flowing into postpartum depression.
In my case, the often heard taglines and public service announcements encouraging women to ask for help did not apply. It’s not that I was embarrassed or too ashamed to ask for help, it was that I truly did not feel worthy of it. I didn’t ask for help because I didn’t think I deserved it — I thought the best-case scenario would be for me to somehow disappear and let my child grow up without me. Mercifully, my husband and mother stepped in and frankly didn’t give me a choice but to take medication. There was a baby now and they had the wherewithal to know that he needed a mother. Thankfully a combination of medication, therapy, and time paved a path towards wellness.
The Mom I Am Today
Two years later I feel like the best version of myself again. I have a hilarious and healthy toddler and a growing support system in place that I am beyond grateful to lean on when I need help. That’s not to say there aren’t hard days (and nights), or that depression is a complete relic of the past. I am better at advocating for myself and recognize that more than anything, it’s my responsibility to take care of myself in order to be the best mom, wife, sister, and daughter possible. But just as important, the people close to me have also taken a stance of responsibility for my health and wellbeing too.
The Lessons I've Learned
Looking back, I think there are two main lessons in my story.
The first is that success in treating maternal mental health conditions should not rely solely on women knowing “when to ask for help.” Women might know they need help, but feel incapable or too undeserving to ask for it. The onus to get help can’t just be on the person who is suffering.
There needs to be a collective societal responsibility towards supporting women who are experiencing perinatal and postpartum depression, not just in terms of de-stigmatization but in stepping up to insist on intervention. I was lucky to have people step up for me, but not everyone can count on luck. We need more people, resources and services dedicated to proactively reaching out and screening pregnant and postpartum women with consistency and reliability.
The second takeaway may sound cliché and trite, but I think it’s as true as ever, and it is that moms need other moms. When I look back on my desperate Google searches and doctor consults, I realize now I wasn’t looking for medical advice or professional guidance. I was looking for another mom like me. I was looking for someone who had felt the way I had, who had successfully gotten help and accepted treatment, and who had lived on to say that she was ok and that her baby was happy and healthy. So, if there is one thing I hope readers can take away from this story it’s that I’m ok, my baby is ok, and that you too will be ok.
Please Remember This
To mothers reading this story — harness the knowledge and presence of the community around you and ensure that they know this is their journey as well. Society’s future generations depend on healthy mothers, so as a society we each need to play a role in recognizing and taking shared responsibility for every mother’s health.
Mom to Mom
Majka is partnering with moms to create a Mom to Mom blog series. Here, we aim to highlight the unique stories and struggles of moms from all around the globe. We believe that as moms we share a common bond, allowing us to learn valuable information from each other, inspire one another, and connect through similar experiences.
What's your breastfeeding story? Let us know in the comments below. Be sure to tag us in your Instagram posts @lovemajka #lovemajka #fuelingmotherhood
With a background in marketing and political fundraising, clothing designer is not something Haylie Rudy Schwartz ever thought she would associate with her name. But after becoming a mother Haylie saw a major gap in the market for well-made, beautiful clothes catering to breastfeeding mothers. She is now the founder of Chapter Goods, a clothing collection that aims to redefine what people expect of postpartum wear. Haylie also has a masters in counseling psychology and aims to build content and community around Chapter Goods in order to support and explore topics around women's health and wellness.