Written by Megan Patterson
This post was written to contribute to the topic of Motherhood and Real Talk for the What Lola Likes blog by Megan Patterson. All facts, opinions, and professional tips are Megan’s.
I’m sitting here trying to gain the courage to write honestly about my experience with Postpartum Depression and the lesser recognized condition, Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex (D-MERS). While society has made an honest effort to open the conversation up about postpartum depression, it is hard not to associate shame with the experience. So many people can share their different stories or say, “Hey, yeah, I felt that, too!” but to actually dig deep and share some of the actual darkness of it is incredibly scary.
I used to have a blog 3-4 years ago where I frequently talked about how I struggled with depression and anxiety, among other topics. When I found out I was pregnant with my son, I was eager to start talking about pregnancy and motherhood related topics. That was easier said than done because my pregnancy was not as I had expected it to be. I was diagnosed with Hyperemesis Gravidum, a condition that makes you extremely nauseous and sick 24/7. I threw up around 10 times a day, fainted, spent many stays in the hospital getting IV’s, and eventually had to leave work and file for short term disability. Many women who experience HG experience severe pre- natal depression. HG is a topic for another day but it is imperative to my story because I experienced it with all three of the pregnancies I had over a four year span (oy vey).
During my first pregnancy, due to the above circumstances, I was extremely depressed. I lost an extreme amount of weight and it was really hard to even get through the day. To everybody else, it was normal morning sickness but if you have experienced HG, you know that’s not the case. My OB was a saint (shout out Dr. Johnson) and sent me to the in house prenatal psychiatrist who prescribed me Zoloft in my 8th month of pregnancy. Her prescribing me this DURING pregnancy is why I am such a big advocate of talking to your doctor prior to giving birth if you think you might be at risk for postpartum.
When my first son Max was born, I was HAPPY. I did not think that I had postpartum in the least bit. I was on a 25mg dose of Zoloft and Max brought me true joy. Something specific to my experience started popping up though and everyone in my life was noticing it. If you ask anybody in my life, I am very non-confrontational and avoid fighting at all costs. During postpartum, I was raging like I was on steroids. EVERYTHING was setting me off. While I was obsessed with my new baby…I could not stand ANYBODY around me. I also was having a really hard time breastfeeding but not for the reasons most would say caused them trouble. I’ll get to that in a second.
I felt really isolated because as a person, I felt I lost my identity when I became a mom. I didn’t fit into the typical mom blog niche but I also didn’t relate to my friends in real life, I was the first one to have a baby. I stopped finding joy in things I usually would. I stopped laughing. While I stopped laughing, I continued to make jokes. I’m the type of person who is constantly trying to make people laugh or who handles hard times with jokes because I don’t want people to think that something is wrong. My friends stopped showing up, my parents were going through a divorce, and the entire experience was isolating. The happiness I felt right after the birth eventually wore off and I was in a deep, dark place. I realized something was wrong because I was drinking a bottle of wine a night. It was kind of the way I could escape (this is also a topic for another day because I think this is something many could relate with, whether they want to admit it or not). I remember crying one night in front of my six month old baby feeding him, trying so hard not to. He was so little and innocent and he was just laughing at me crying. He kept me going when I didn’t want to. I eventually felt alright around the time my son turned one. I went off my Zoloft around month seven and had some really, really dark days. I remember I would literally drive around for HOURS after I got off work with Max because I was scared to be in the house alone with the dark feeling that was like a cloud following me everywhere.
My first child is when I first started experiencing D-MERS, as well. Of course, I didn’t know what D-MERS was at the time. I think that it’s extremely important for me to share my experience with D-MERS as hard as it is because it is something A LOT of people experience but NOBODY talks about. Not until my third baby would an actual medical professional give me a clinical explanation of what I felt during breastfeeding. The first time Max latched on he was a champ. He got his fill, he had no issues, and the lactation nurse even said that he was one of the best she had ever seen. I felt pride when she told me that but deep inside I knew that something was not right. The moment he would latch on, my body instantly felt incredibly dark. The best way I could describe it is like in Harry Potter when the dementors showed up. I felt like something was extremely wrong and it’s honestly still hard to fully describe the feeling. I ended up breastfeeding for five months before eventually stopping because I was having a hard time pumping when I went to work. Or at least, that what I told people. I felt so much shame that I hated the feeling breastfeeding gave me so much that I had to switch to formula. I kept the experience and feelings beyond that to myself.
When Max was 1 ½ years old, I became pregnant with my second child, Esaias Job. While I was excited, I was really nervous because of my previous experience. I went through HG again and a similar difficult pregnancy. Esaias ended up being born six weeks early. When you have your second child there is no down time. I was up and moving the second we were out of the hospital and keeping myself busy. I knew that I wasn’t okay but I was avoiding it. The theme was the same. The rage that would make me angry about the way somebody was changing a diaper, the way somebody looked at me, or the lack of help I felt I wasn’t getting. I had never felt that angry in my life. I was secretly drowning but I couldn’t speak up, I felt shame for being so angry. I felt shame for hating breastfeeding because it made me feel like I was in a deep, dark funnel that I couldn’t escape until my baby was not latched on to me. I obviously loved my baby but I dreaded the moment people engrained in me was supposed to be so special between us. I made it 12 weeks breastfeeding him before I threw in the towel and went to formula.
I planned on Esaias being our last baby but God clearly had another plan for us. Seven short months after Esaias was born, I became pregnant with my third child. Shiloh was born in April in the midst of a global pandemic. My pregnancy was tough. Due to a number of different circumstances, I moved home to Oregon while my partner finished school and football in Texas. I have been staying with my dad and while he is helpful, I had essentially been raising two boys under the age of three while pregnant with HG alone most days. My depression while pregnant was the worst I had ever experienced so my OB got me back on Zoloft to avoid a deep spiral into postpartum depression again. I felt some relief but not much.
Before Shiloh was born, I really contemplated not breastfeeding from the get go. I knew that I had experienced really dark feelings with breastfeeding but every time I had expressed that to one of my many doctors or nurses throughout my two previous pregnancies and births, I was shut down. I decided to breastfeed because I felt that was best for Shiloh. She, of course, was a natural breast feeder like my two older babies. The nurses ooh’d and awe’d over how great she was. I, of course, felt the dreadful feelings the moment she latched on. This time though, it was 100x worse. This is really, really hard to admit but the moment she latched on, I was instantly suicidal. I really would start thinking of ways I could take my own life. Obviously, I knew I wouldn’t it do it and couldn’t do it but the urge was there. It was absolutely terrifying. Mind you, I was experiencing all of this while still in the hospital.
I knew I was feeling these intense feelings and it was causing me to lash out immediately. I can’t even begin to describe the amount of rage I felt when she was latched on to me. I was getting upset at my loved ones about the most minor things. The second she was done, I felt fine. The postpartum was there but it was bearable compared to the feelings I felt while breastfeeding. As we were leaving the hopstial, the nurse I had was incredibly encouraging about breastfeeding. I mentioned, in a light way, that breastfeeding made me feel what I thought was postpartum in a really intense way. She immediately told me that this was a real thing and it was called D-MERS. Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex is the dark feeling that affects some women during the time they breastfeed. There is little research done or known about it that so many women experience it have no idea that it’s an actual clinical condition. It took me four collective years of pregnancy, three different OB-GYN’s, a few lactation consultants, and over a dozen labor and delivery nurses to inform me that what I was experiencing was REAL and that there was a name for it!
I made it three weeks breast feeding with Shiloh. This time, the feelings were darker and more severe than ever. The rage I felt….was scary. I woke up dreading to feed her because I wasn’t sure I would survive the day. I don’t want to go into details but during those feedings, I was really okay with not being here. I know that I didn’t have control over what I was feeling and I knew that the best option for us was to probably stop breastfeeding but I wanted to at least make it to twelve weeks. Around three weeks, I woke up one morning and I was ready to be done. I was so scared by the way I was feeling. I don’t think I can describe the deep, dark feeling I had but I was convinced I would not make it till the end of the day.
I felt so much shame that day. I felt like the worst mom. How could I really want to leave this Earth when my children are so miraculous? I realize now that I really had no control over my mental health and that breastfeeding was really actually DANGEROUS for me. I was sobbing and praying that I could pull myself out of this dark place. If you have ever had to pull yourself out of a deep, dark, depressive state you might be able to relate to my story. If you’ve ever had to do it while you’re responsible for three babies under the age of three, you have a strength that most people don’t even know exists within themselves. I cried for a solid three hours that day and then knew that after four years of pregnancy and postpartum related depression, I was not capable of fighting this battle on my own.
While that was absolutely the darkest day of my entire existence, it was the day that actually ended up saving my life. If you have ever been suicidal, you know how terrifying that feeling is. You know that you don’t want to leave but your mind is telling you something completely different. My babies saved me that day and even though that wasn’t that long ago, it feels like ages ago. That same afternoon, I knew the only way I would make it was if I called somebody for help. I immediately searched for a mental health counselor and a psychiatrist. I was on an extremely low dose of Zoloft and have slowly but surely increased my prescription to fit my needs, regardless of any judgement from those in my life. I stopped breastfeeding and I think that truly saved my life. I did my own research on D-MERS because I want to inform other women who might be going through it that it is a REAL condition.
I don’t think it’s any secret that I love my children so much. They saved my life during my darkest moments and if it weren’t for them, postpartum depression and D-MERS for sure would have claimed my life. I feel better now but I still struggle with the anxiety and some depression. I felt so much shame and embarrassment for the feelings I felt for so long but now I am really optimistic about using my platform to inform people and let them know that they are not alone in these feelings.
Just this week I spoke out on my Instagram about my feelings with D-MERS and SO many women came to me to say that they experienced the same thing and NOBODY was able to tell them what it was. This is terrifying. I hope that if anybody reading this is experiencing anything I described above, that it gives you the courage to advocate for yourself and know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. You’re not alone and you’re not crazy. I hope that my experience can make somebody feel not so alone in the postpartum and breastfeeding journey. There is a way to free yourself from it and it takes courage to ask for help.
Megan Patterson is a mom raising three children under the age of three in Oregon. Before she had children, she had a lifestyle blog that focused on style, beauty, and travel. She often times wrote about her struggles with anxiety and depression. She is starting to write openly on her social media platforms about the prenatal and postpartum mental health, the realities of motherhood, and other topics she is passionate about!
VISIT HER INSTAGRAM HERE.