Marie M. spent the first months of her daughter’s life keeping a debilitating secret. From the outside, she appeared to be a confident young wife and mother, going about her busy life with her characteristic energy and organization: Marie was used to setting and meeting ambitious goals. At nineteen years old, Marie had emigrated from her native Haiti and begun the process of completing her education. She married, and she and her husband soon decided to start a family. Marie’s daughter was born as Marie was finishing up her Bachelor’s in Social Work, while she was enrolled in an intensive internship program that rigorously tested her new knowledge. Four weeks after the birth, Marie returned to her classes. Two weeks after that, she was back at work full time. “It was quite an experience,” she remembers.
Although Marie seemed to be rising admirably to the demands of work, school, and family, however, she was struggling. “I was completely overwhelmed,” she says. “A new baby changes your whole life, your whole system. I wasn’t dealing with it.” In fact, Marie often felt nearly paralyzed by inexplicable feelings of fear and guilt, and found it increasingly difficult to complete even simple tasks. Worst of all were the horrifying—and baffling—thoughts of harming her baby: “I was too afraid to do normal chores,” she recalls. “I couldn’t cut vegetables, because I was afraid I would cut the baby. I couldn’t bake, because I was honestly afraid I would put the baby in the oven. I was so scared for both of us.” Marie emphasizes that she had no desire to harm her daughter. Nevertheless, she says, “I couldn’t stop thinking that I might.”
Even the thought of hurting her child made Marie feel guilty and unworthy—and far too ashamed to tell anyone. “I couldn’t even tell my husband what I was going through,” Marie says. “I just couldn’t tell these thoughts.” Finally, after a terrifying dream in which she seriously injured her daughter, Marie realized that she could no longer keep her secret. When her husband woke that morning, Marie told him everything. “He handled it well,” she remembers. “He just knew we needed to get help.” She accompanied him to a hospital that day, was admitted, and was kept for monitoring over the weekend. Although she was relieved no longer to be facing her problems alone, however, Marie did not believe that inpatient treatment was right for her. “I liked the therapy,” she states, “but I didn’t want the medication, and I didn’t want to be hospitalized. I knew I wasn’t getting what I needed.”
Still unwell, and very uncertain that she would be able to find appropriate treatment, Marie continued to attend her courses at Loyola University. Her path to recovery began when one of her professors raised the topic of postpartum depression during class. Intrigued, Marie stayed afterward to talk with her. Their conversation resulted in a referral to the Postpartum Depression Program at HAS. “I knew from the first day that I was in a healing place,” she says.
At HAS, Marie received appropriate medication and participated in group and individual therapy that addressed her anxieties: “I learned not to obsess, not to worry about things I had no control over,” says Marie. The PPD program was able to help her, Marie believes, because it is what she describes as “patient-centered.” “People here really want to help each individual overcome the problems in their lives,” she explains. At the same time, she observes, understanding that her problems were not unique was helpful. “Women going through PPD need to be around people who can understand the struggles, who know what they’re going through,” she states. Perhaps the greatest benefit to Marie was simply the ability to speak up about her experiences and give up her secrets: “Just being able to express myself, to be myself, was so important. I wasn’t judged. I was treated with respect. And every day, I saw progress.”
Marie is now looking forward to a bright future with her family and in her career. She is currently authoring two books: one a self-help guide to overcoming depression, the other a memoir of her experience with PPD. She plans to earn a Master’s in Social Work and work with women experiencing domestic violence. According to Marie, however, the best part of her recovery is being there for her daughter. “She depends on me, and I can meet her needs. I cook for her, play with her, bathe her, everything. We’re bonded. It’s nice at home now!”