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Postpartum depression: Rachel's story

  • Rachel Czachor didn't want anything to do with her new baby.

    "From the beginning, I had these irrational fears," she says. "I have a good relationship with my mom. But I was convinced that I would have a bad relationship with my daughter, that she would run away."

    Those fears put her into a panic attack on her way home from Abbott Northwestern Hospital.

    During her first week home with her baby, Czachor recalls, "I could not sleep. I was not eating. I was crying all the time.

    "My husband would cuddle my daughter. But I would just feed her and put her in the crib."

    Czachor knew something wasn't right. So she called her clinic and spoke with a nurse who told her to come in for an "emergency doctor's appointment." That's when Czachor found out she had postpartum depression.

    Postpartum depression affects at least one in 10 mothers a few days or even months after childbirth. Although it's one of the easiest mental health issues to overcome, it's also easily misunderstood, says Rosalyn Voigt, RN, parent educator at the Birth Center of United Hospital.

    Deeper than 'baby blues'

    Voigt helps facilitate a postpartum depression support group. She describes postpartum depression as deeper than the "baby blues," which affect 70 to 80 percent of new moms.

    "The baby blues come and go with the normal hormonal shifts caused by childbirth and breastfeeding. They're also from the sheer exhaustion of taking care of a newborn around the clock," says Voigt. "It is a mixture of tears and joy that lasts for a few weeks, then seems to disappear."

    In contrast, postpartum depression consumes your life.

    "The women I get concerned about experience anxiousness with everything," says Voigt. "Being left alone with the baby is a big worry. The baby crying or even just the thought of it can cause them to work themselves into a state of mind where they cannot do anything."

    The women Voigt works with also report

    • not eating or sleeping, even when they have the chance
    • crying easily
    • feeling isolated—that no one is helping

    Intrusive thoughts

    Many women with postpartum depression also dwell on intrusive thoughts.

    "You're walking past the cutlery set in the kitchen and think about hurting the baby," Voigt explains. "Or you wonder, 'What if I throw the baby on the floor?'"

    Such thoughts come from sleep deprivation, not the desire to harm. A woman with postpartum depression feels bad about, but does not act on, these weird thoughts that pop into her head.

    Postpartum psychosis

    In contrast, a woman with postpartum psychosis may act on intrusive thoughts. Such cases may attract media attention and be reported inaccurately as depression, Voigt says.

    The National Mental Health Association reports that postpartum psychosis differs from postpartum depression. The psychosis is also rare, affecting only 1 in 1,000 new mothers.

    Postpartum psychosis can occur within the first three months after childbirth. The mother suddenly loses touch with reality and may harm herself or her child. That's why immediate medical attention is crucial.

    Seek help

    Media coverage of postpartum psychosis cases and worries about what people will think can make a mother with postpartum depression feel too ashamed to seek help, says Voigt.

    "It's not something to be ashamed about," she adds. "It's a huge, bold step to come forward. It comes from a deep concern for your baby."

    Ideal treatment plan

    The American Psychiatric Association outlines this "ideal treatment plan" for postpartum depression:

    • medical evaluation to rule out physiological problems
    • psychiatric evaluation to confirm the condition therapy with a therapist who understands postpartum depression
    • support group involvement
    • possible medication

    Gaining support, feeling better

    After confirming Czachor's postpartum depression, her doctor prescribed medication and encouraged her to attend the support group that Voigt helps with.

    "Going to the first meeting was the hardest thing," says Czachor. "I thought I'd be the only one—but five other people were there. It was nice to know that I wasn't alone."

    Adds Voigt about the support group members, "These are women who are trying very, very hard to be good moms. They want the best for their babies. And it's pretty brave to admit when you cannot give your best.

    "Within three to five weeks, it's fun to see the relief they feel and how they're attaching to their babies."

    Czachor attended the weekly support group for at least two months and continued taking antidepressants under the direction of her doctor.

    "It took a good nine months to feel better," she says. "I still have time when fears come up, but I can handle them now."

    Nearly two years later, Czachor still gets together with two "really good friends" she met through the support group. "Our kids play with each other," she says.

    Czachor's daughter will soon have someone else to play with because her mom is expecting her second child.

    Czachor realizes that her depression may or may not return after this pregnancy. "But I know what to watch for," she says.

    Warning signs

    Czachor now knows that a family history of depression pointed to her postpartum depression.

    Voigt outlines other warning signs:

    Advice from a fellow mom

    Czachor gives this advice to fellow moms who might have postpartum depression: "Don't be ashamed to talk about it. Seek help. There are people who can help."

  • Postpartum depression interview

    We really don't know much about what causes postpartum depression, but we do know that support groups can help many women successfully deal with it.

    Rosalyn Voigt leads a free postpartum depression support group. Nikki Miller is one of the many women that group has helped. They shared their stories with 5 Eyewitness News.