Oswald Letter

Invisible battle against postpartum depression: Survivor speaks up

Depression in nature!Note from Dan Oswald: The following, shared by Elizabeth Petersen, who is president of Simplify Compliance’s healthcare division, is a highly personal story about a struggle she faced. I believe her willingness to share it shows courage on her part. It contains a great lesson for all of us. There are certain subjects that I, as a man, cannot do justice. The subject of Elizabeth’s story is certainly one of many. I thank her for sharing it.

by Elizabeth Petersen

My baby turns nine in a month.

He’s a happy, clever, curious kid, and I find myself marveling at the depth of my love for him. Parenting, as I’d always heard, has changed me.

But this change didn’t come without its battles. Nine years ago, starting almost immediately after my son’s birth, I was diagnosed with postpartum depression (PPD), an illness that consumed me for nearly a year and a half.

At one of my prenatal appointments, a midwife conducted a PPD screening. On paper, I was low-risk. I was happily married and had been excitedly planning parenthood for years. I was healthy with a stable career and an extensive support network.

But on the second night after my son was born, when I woke up sobbing so loudly that a nurse came to check on me, those risk factors meant nothing.

PPD affects each sufferer differently. But for me, it felt as if I had an emotional virus. My ability to feel hope and joy was erased. Something in me had been extinguished, and I was terrified.

In retrospect, I was extraordinarily lucky. Thanks to the nurse who discovered me crying, I immediately started seeing a postpartum specialist at one of the best hospitals in the world. My husband was the picture of emotional and physical support. My parents temporarily suspended their lives to help care for our child.

But even with all of that, it was over 18 months until I truly felt well. During that time, I was able to patch together a relatively normal life. I worked. I met other moms and spent time with old friends. But privately, I was in agony. I was crippled with nausea and dizziness and rarely slept.I couldn’t remember what joy felt like, and I felt certain that I’d never be free from the terrible disease.

But I got better. It wasn’t overnight, and I can’t attribute it to any single thing. But I can tell you that I’ve never been so aware of the kindness and compassion of strangers and friends alike. Like the coworkers who sensed something was off and unobtrusively checked on me. Or, on one particularly dark day, the stranger in the parking lot who said he felt he needed to tell me that I seem like a kind person. And my husband, who fearlessly faced down this confusing, unpredictable disease while also facing his own new-parent challenges.

Why am I sharing such an intensely personal experience via such a public channel? Because chances are one of you has battled something similar. Chances are even greater that you work with someone who has suffered from the disease—and probably in silence. The CDC estimates that 11% to 20% of all women who give birth have PPD symptoms. Even more troubling, only 15% of those women receive professional help. One of the biggest barriers to the treatment of mental illness is the stigmatization of the disease. My hope is that by sharing my story in this small corner of the Internet universe, a few more people will feel comfortable seeking help.

While I consider myself fully recovered, I’m never certain I’ll be entirely free of the disease. I feel whispers of it, still, in the changing of the seasons or after emotionally charged events. But with my recovery has come an even greater appreciation for my life. I feel joy more freely now and never take for granted my ability to be optimistic and hopeful. I’m a happy, healthy wife, mother, and executive. And my experience with PPD is part of my story.

My baby turns nine in a month.

And on his birthday, I celebrate both of us.

Elizabeth Petersen is the president of Simplify Compliance’s healthcare division, HCPro. She also has held roles in HCPro’s sales, product management, and content development departments. Before joining HCPro, she held editorial positions at JBLearning and CCI Communications. Elizabeth lives in the North Shore of Massachusetts with her husband and son and is passionately interested in corporate culture, innovation, women’s leadership, and caffeine.

E-mail Elizabeth your thoughts, questions, comments, and ideas, or connect with her via LinkedIn.