In August 2016, my husband and I discovered we were expecting our third child. We were overwhelmed with joy and surprise after trying to get pregnant for over a year. Within weeks of the good news, I was doubled over with morning sickness, as I expected, but I was also experiencing something new and different from my other pregnancies ― depression.
I could barely move off of the couch, I was so exhausted, sad and weary. I cried constantly and began to have suicidal thoughts. My husband, Daniel, brought me to our doctor, where I was diagnosed with severe perinatal depression ― a form of depression that occurs during pregnancy.
I spent my entire pregnancy fighting against the darkness, clinging to whatever I could to keep me from drowning. I took my medication daily, saw a therapist regularly, practiced deep breathing when I remembered, and reminded myself that simply getting to the next hour was enough. Some days, the only thing that kept me alive was the life inside of me, that little flutter in my stomach a reminder that there were two people in one weary body.
On the morning of my baby’s induction date, I leaped out of bed, ready to meet the little girl who I just knew would change my world. Everyone told me that third babies just slide right out ― the birth canal was like a well-worn path that had been traveled before.
Not so for us. After a grueling and exhausting labor, an epidural that didn’t work and many hours of obnoxious meditation music, my daughter finally arrived, pink and soft like a newborn kitten.
The moment she was born was one of the greatest highlights of my life. I was a veteran mom, but that didn’t make the moment any less special. As she was placed on my chest, slippery and so new, I cried out in joy, the most delighted sound I had made in over nine months. We had survived. We were both on the other side.
I had assumed that the postpartum period would be a quiet, restful and relaxing time for me. Daniel had two weeks off, and I planned to use those two weeks to recover and prepare for being home with three small kids. But once we were released from the hospital, when my daughter was 24 hours old, I was flooded with an intense amount of energy.
“Maybe the depression cleared once the baby was born,” I said to Daniel as I nursed our sleepy newborn. I couldn’t believe how good I felt.
When my daughter was 4 days old, we decided to have extended family over to meet the baby. My milk had come in the night before, leaving the baby full and sleepy, and me feeling well-rested in the morning.
“Let’s go to the mall!” I said, racing to the door with my diaper bag over my shoulder, my breasts bursting with milk, and my perineum sore and swollen. Daniel looked at me like I had two heads, but I was ready to go out. I needed to get out.
We shopped for over an hour. The entire time, Daniel checked in with me, asking if I was OK or needed to sit down and rest. I walked with a waddle because physically, I was in a lot of pain, but mentally, I had never felt better. I didn’t want to go home, I wanted to keep shopping.
“Once we were released from the hospital, when my daughter was 24 hours old, I was flooded with an intense amount of energy.”
We eventually returned home, unloaded our shopping bags, and I started cleaning the house. Our family would arrive shortly, so I needed to get the house presentable. My depression had made me feel useless, embarrassed by my lack of motivation and energy. I felt like my family thought I was lazy, but I wanted to prove them wrong. They’d be astonished by how well I was managing with a newborn and two older kids; I just needed to make the kitchen sparkle.
The visit went well. My grandmother even commented that she couldn’t believe how good I looked. I glowed with pride over my beautiful family ― everything felt perfect. After our family left, I collapsed on the couch. I was worn out. Daniel brought the baby over to me to nurse and then went upstairs to give our older girls a bath. As I nursed, I began to feel sleepy. I closed my eyes, and blackness embraced me. I knew the baby was in my arms, but then everything was fading away. I called out to Daniel for help, using every ounce of remaining strength. I knew something wasn’t right.
Daniel rushed down as our girls lay in their beds dripping wet from their interrupted bath, and found me unconscious. My body was present in those moments, but I have no idea what happened. I felt cold, ice, I heard the gravelly voices of men, a meaty hand on my shoulder. I wanted to use my words, I wanted to say something, but I couldn’t.
I started to regain consciousness in the ambulance, an oxygen mask on my face, a giant IV sticking out of my arm.
“He’s picking up formula for the baby and meeting us there,” I heard the paramedic say.
No. I had failed my baby. I had ruined everything. All because I wanted to prove I was some superwoman, because I wanted everyone to see me triumphant over depression. I still couldn’t find the energy to talk, so I closed my eyes, a tear sliding down my cheek.
The hospital ran a series of tests to determine what was going on. I was asked, over and over again, if I had been using drugs or drinking. I was so embarrassed and ashamed as I shook my head no, terrified to tell them that I had simply shopped until I dropped.
I received IV fluids because I was so dehydrated and weak. My midwife visited me, my husband and baby arrived and I nursed her ― holding her beautiful, tiny body against my broken, bruised and bandaged one.
The most likely reason I had lost consciousness was that I was severely dehydrated and physically exhausted. I had pushed my body to the limits and beyond. I was told that I would need to go on bed rest for at least a week; it was time to rest and restore all the energy I had used up.
Months later, I was researching postpartum depression and came across the term postpartum euphoria, also known as the postpartum pinks or postpartum hypomania. One of the lesser-known postpartum mood disorders, postpartum euphoria is categorized by increased activity or energy, impulsivity, racing thoughts, sleeplessness, irritability and fast talking. I read the symptom list, found a few articles on the subject and felt like I was reading my exact story. All these months, I had lived with the guilt and shame of those early postpartum days, but really, I was suffering from a serious mental health issue.
After reaching out to my doctor and discussing my symptoms, it was confirmed that I did, in fact, have postpartum euphoria. In my situation, hypomania was triggered by the birth of my daughter and the symptoms subsided within the first four weeks. My hospitalization was a scary result of postpartum hypomania, but it also ensured that I actually stopped and rested for the remaining postpartum period.
“Postpartum euphoria felt like a triumph over perinatal depression, but instead, it was just a different version of a sickness I already had.”
I still struggled with sleep and felt high-energy, but I listened to my body more. Generally, postpartum euphoria lasts four to six weeks, but if symptoms appear, medical care should be sought. There are a variety of treatment options, but it’s also important to follow up with your care provider and ensure that the symptoms don’t worsen and develop into postpartum bipolar disorder.
When my daughter was 14 months old, I weaned myself off my antidepressants, but I continue to see a therapist and evaluate my mental health regularly. I share my story of postpartum euphoria because nearly every single person who hears it hasn’t heard of this particular postpartum mood disorder.
I experienced a mental health crisis and thought that I was perfectly healthy, better than fine. It landed me in an emergency medical situation and left me hospitalized. I wish I’d know that feeling extremely energized and motivated when my daughter was only days old wasn’t a sign of superhuman strength, but a serious medical concern.
Postpartum euphoria felt like a triumph over perinatal depression, but instead, it was just a different version of a sickness I already had. In a world that celebrates superheroes, it’s easy to celebrate a postpartum woman vibrant with intense energy instead of seeing this for the warning sign that it is.