CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - 1 in 7 women will get postpartum mood disorder. That’s more than half a million women every year in the US.
And for those women, a time that’s supposed be filled with joy can be overwhelming to the point where treatment, and even medication, is needed to help them through it. Not only does it take a toll on the woman, but her entire family as well.
Still, a disorder that affects some 571,428 women every year in America isn’t talked about enough. It’s why Sarah Chang and her husband Dan are sharing their story. Sarah, a registered dietitian who is now a stay-at-home mom, battled a debilitating bout of postpartum depression and anxiety for more than a year after the birth of their second child.
She called it crippling and said, “It’s so incredibly debilitating. I think that’s something people don’t know about post-partum is it very hard to live a normal life and to function and to just get dressed and get your children dressed, prepare meals when you’re feeling so sick. It just got really, really hard for us.”
They have two young children: three year old Annabelle and Everett who’s almost two and remember they joy of Everett’s birth being overshadowed by Sarah being diagnosed with postpartum depression and anxiety.
“There were days where we really didn’t know how we would make it through,” she recalled. It threw them for a loop because Sarah had no issues adjusting after they welcomed their first child, Annabelle. "We thought we were not one of those couples that has to deal with this after our first,” said Dan Chang.
As a result, Sarah brushed off her concerns – at first. “It crossed my mind could it be post-partum but I was like, no he's three months old,” she said. “It was probably building over the course of those three months but I just didn't recognize it until it got really bad.” So bad Sarah could barely function. "I was very nauseous,” she said “The sight or smell of food just made me feel so sick. Then I started losing sleep. He was sleeping through the night but I would be up all night unable to sleep.
Once the panic attacks hit, that’s when we were like, ‘Ok, this is not normal’." Still trying to come to terms with the diagnosis, the couple started down the winding -- and often dark -- road to recovery. “This voice sort of starts playing in your head, ‘I’m a terrible mom, I’m unfit’,” said Sarah. “You know, ‘why did God give me these precious children, I’m not taking care of them well’.”
Thoughts that were tough for Dan to hear. "Every minute seemed like a challenge on certain days,” he said. “There were dark days, dark thoughts and it would be scary for me to hear some of the things that she was feeling." To stem the tide of dark thoughts and overwhelming anxiety, Sarah began therapy -- with Dan often going with her.
“Whereas hearing it from the doctor was really important to me to be there and be the advocate for Sarah when she couldn’t really advocate for herself in many ways,” he explained. That devotion to his wife is something their psychiatrist, Dr. Darlene Ifill-Taylor says every partner should be willing to give.
“He was here every time I asked him to be here,” she said. “Any time she needed him to be here, he was here. I prefer the Dans; that get all the way in there and really help their spouse through that process, knowing they’re going to take a hit. It’s going to affect them.”
She also said a supportive partner is key and recalled the most common negative viewpoints she’s heard over the years. “I mean, ‘women have babies every day’,” she said. “ ‘I just don’t understand. I mean you weren’t this way the last pregnancy. You just had a baby. I think you’re just -- I hope you’re not just trying to lie around. I mean you just had a baby. You gotta get back together now’. What a woman needs during this time is as much support as possible. From their partners, from their moms and dads, from their siblings. Not feeling like this is so odd and you’re so weird that you’re having this reaction. Postpartum depression is real. It happens many more times than people are thinking. It’s a real diagnosis and it’s not just in someone’s head.”
Yet, Sarah realizes she prolonged her recovery by refusing medication. "I just had in my head this sort of like, stigma about it,” she admitted. “That you know it wasn't the right thing to do and because of that, I prolonged the suffering a long time. Admitting that I needed medication meant I was weak and I couldn't have been more wrong -- and I know that now. But at the time, it felt like the weak thing to do."
And, she says that admission -- along with divine intervention -- proved to be the turning point. “I was back in our woods, praying and God just gave me this vision of my son’s first birthday party,” she said. “Of him with cake all over his face and um, I used that to help me through. I would just fixate and picture that birthday party and plan out the details in my head. And, I got to enjoy that first birthday party and just, oh my gosh relish, relish how beautiful life is after surviving post-partum.”
They now want to pass on some of that same hope they received. We had neighbors, rally around us, said Sarah. “Family - our church family was incredible during that time. I really- I do not know how anybody survives without of a community of support. It would have been, I think impossible, had we not had all of our neighbors and pastors and doctors. It took a village for sure to make it through.”
Dan said he also received a lot of support from his colleagues at work – once he decided to open up to them. “When I told my boss what my wife was going through he was incredibly understanding,” he said. “It's not something that I've ever heard anybody talk about and it's mostly male environment that I work in so when people have a baby, the husband is out for a week than he's back at work as if nothing happened. When I was able to open up and share with my colleagues at work, a lot of support and a lot of assistance to say we're here to help you be the husband that you need to be so that you can be as productive and effective when you're here.”
Sarah, in particular wants other moms to know you will come out on the other side. “So many women shared with me struggles they had,” she said. “They were the ones who gave me the most inspiration to keep going when things were hard; seeing them come out the other side, thriving and having an amazing life and being amazing moms - that gave me a lot of hope. That’s one thing I want to tell moms that are in it right now. You will not always feel this way. You will get better. And, I can honestly say, I’m a better mom because of it. I’m stronger. I’m more empathetic, I’m more grateful."