Postpartum Depression – Case Example

Valerie: A Case Example

Valerie and her husband Josh were very excited about having their first baby. Valerie’s pregnancy was uneventful and the labour and delivery were normal. They happily welcomed Heather, a beautiful and healthy baby girl, into their family. Valerie was doing well at the hospital. Except for a couple of unexplained crying spells that the nurses dismissed as “The Blues”, she was coping well.

However, two weeks after she got home with the baby Valerie started feeling down. She was extremely tired, her breasts were sore, and she was getting very lonely. As much as she loved Heather, she found that taking care of her was time consuming, exhausting and sometimes frustrating, especially when she cried for hours with no apparent reason. Josh was working long hours at his business and when she would call him and tell him she was upset, he would try to comfort her on the phone but would be unable to leave everything and come home.

Valerie’s mother, who lived in a different province had planned to come for a couple of weeks, but unfortunately Valerie’s father fell ill and her mother had to stay and take care of him. As the weeks went by Valerie felt worse and worse. She was unable to sleep even when the baby was sleeping, she lost her appetite completely and she felt anxious, irritable and hopeless most of the time. She told Josh one evening that she thought she had made a mistake having the baby. “I am just not fit to be a mother,” she said, “and I’m afraid Heather is going to hate me.” Valerie was having thoughts about death and dying. She fantasized driving her car off a bridge and leaving everything behind. She thought to herself that Heather would probably be better off without her, since she was useless anyhow, but she never mentioned those thoughts to Josh.

Nevertheless, Josh was very concerned about Valerie. He did not expect this to happen. Valerie was such a competent, bright woman who loved children. He was sure she would be happy and a wonderful mom. He did not know what to do to help Valerie. After all, he was working hard to ensure the business kept bringing in the money that they needed so much, especially now with the new baby. Josh decided to phone his sister, who lived in another city and see if she would come and help Valerie. When Laura came the next week and spent time with Valerie, she realized that Valerie was depressed.

“Valerie, Laura said, “I know what you’re going through…I had it too after I had Natalie…it’s Depression…Postpartum Depression.” Laura encouraged Valerie to talk to her family doctor who referred her to a psychiatrist for assessment. Valerie was diagnosed as having severe Postpartum Depression. She was prescribed an anti-depressant and later started seeing a psychologist for therapy.

Six weeks after she started taking the medication, Valerie felt for the first time that her depression was lifting. She was able to eat again, and her sleep improved. She became less anxious and somewhat more hopeful. In therapy, she learned about self-care and about the connection between thoughts, feelings and behaviour. She learned that she was not helpless and that she could be proactive in her own healing process. She learned to ask for help when she needed it, take breaks and express her feelings more effectively.

After 12 weeks in therapy, Valerie’s symptoms of depression were almost completely gone. She was still somewhat tired, but she was hopeful about the future and she enjoyed Heather more. She joined a group of mothers and babies and made a couple of friends. She felt more in charge of her life and she started to believe she was a “good enough” mother. Maybe not perfect, but definitely not as horrible as she had believed herself to be. Valerie was well on her way to full recovery.