Updated: Mar 30, 2021
Many say depression feels like being shrouded in fog. When it slowly dissipates you are left feeling empty, hopeless, and profoundly sad.
Postpartum depression (PPD) has the same beastly intensity. Sometimes it's mistaken for the baby blues. This is common among new mothers and brings feelings of worry, sadness, and tiredness after giving birth. But when the feelings linger and worsen for weeks it is considered PPD with treatment options of medication, therapy, and often both, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"I felt broken and so unhealthy, not wanting to be on this earth," recounted Brianna Coulter of Detroit, Michigan who suffered two bouts of PPD, the first time shortly after having her son's birth almost 20 years ago.
She remembers the desperation. She wondered what benefit she was to her young baby. "It was definitely not fun. It was challenging," Coulter recalled.
She recounted having her first child at age 23, young for her peer group. "It (PPD) started off with what you'd think was the baby blues. I thought of my girlfriends. I was just out of school. My friends hadn't had children or lived out in the country. I really rushed everything. I was still an incomplete young adult. To introduce a baby into that time was premature," said Coulter, 42.
She felt disconnected from her friends and other people in her age group and talked to her doctor about the depression. He wanted to give her medication, but the new mom was nursing and worried about how that would affect her infant.
Weeks then several months passed and Coulter continued to feel depressed. She went back to the same doctor, a general practitioner, who again wanted to prescribe antidepressants.
"She was adamant that I should take medication because it had gone on well over several months.
"But I was still exclusively nursing. I didn't feel comfortable with taking medication. I was wondering, 'What am I plugging into my baby if I take medication?'" she recalls.
Life continued, and eventually, Coulter felt relief from the depression, but "it took a long time," she says today.
Five years after having the first baby, Coulter gave birth to another son. She remembers thinking she was happy at the time. "I thought I had escaped the postpartum depression," she related. But within weeks, "It reared its head."
"It never does go away. The pregnancy was lovely, but when I had the baby there, it was again," says Coulter, who describes herself as an "emotional and sensitive" person who "feels things deeply." However, she hadn't experienced depression before having children.
Coulter met with healthcare professionals - seven total - and each time, they offered her antidepressants, but she refused. "I started poring over self-help books trying to claw my way out of the sadness," she says.
Finally, about six years ago, she found a therapist and recovery from her depression. A shared history with this new therapist, whose practice was equally based on science and faith, opened the door to recovery for Coulter.
"He had so much faith in God and felt he could go there with me. Choices he made in his own history that I knew about before I turned to him for therapy really propelled me to see this (depression) was not the life that was meant for me. He was the genesis for my improved mental health," she says.
Today she is in remission. Her experience led her to begin a career in coaching, primarily for high-achieving professionals seeking balance and clarity. Some of these individuals, Coulter says, were like her -- high-functioning, successful in their careers, but confused and alone in other arenas. "I took everything I learned and put it in practice to help other people."
"(My therapist) reintroduced me to prayer, mindfulness, humor, and meditation. We unpacked a lot of things from my past. It was an awful 10-plus years of living with this darkness. In retrospect, I see all the things I learned. It's been a really long road. My faith, my ability to read that what's happening in my head is I'm not a bad person, and I was never a bad mother for being ill."