I knew on paper that everything was good. The baby had finally
pulled his act together and was not only sleeping through the night, he was also becoming a happy, easy-going little person. My husband was supportive, modern,
funny and smart — a real best friend. My parents lived a mere four miles away. I
was creatively fulfilled. I actually had a job that I liked. I was physically
So, I wondered, how come every time I glanced at a knife, I couldn’t help but imagine
picking it up and sticking it somewhere in my body. What was going on that warm summer
day when, walking along Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, instead of enjoying the moment I envisioned
laying down on the asphalt as the cars rushed by?
All the signs pointed to a form of late-onset postpartum
depression. Motherhood had finally tipped the precariously balanced scales of
my life, and I could no longer manage my work, my hobbies, my health and this
baby boy without some sort of mental breakdown. It was strange that I started
feeling this way seven months after he was born, but stranger things have
happened, right? I had just started a new job, a job that, for the first time
in my professional career, I actually liked and cared about. So maybe that was
it. Maybe this is what happens when you try to have it all.
“There is one thing,” I told my longtime therapist, who had
given me a referral to someone who specialized in PPD. It was just an
afterthought, really. “I switched birth control four months ago.”
“From what to what?” she asked, looking at me, pencil in the
air. I used to be on a low hormone pill. My
OB switched me to Ortho Tric-Cyclen in an attempt to bring down my high blood
pressure. I had been on Ortho Tri-Cyclen earlier in my adulthood, with no
problems. I figured the switch would be fine.
I was surprised to hear that so many women I knew — smart, stable, busy, successful women — had also such dramatic reactions to hormonal birth control. Why didn’t I hear of this back when I switched pills?
“That could be it,” she said. What an understatement. Once I
finished my cycle, I went off the pill completely, and I felt the difference almost immediately. I stopped seeing the PPD
therapist, wondering if she believed me when I told her I actually felt fine. But
it was true: while I still felt normal monthly (and weekly) mood swings, I no
longer had a dark cloud over me that made me feel incredibly conscious of the
fact that I couldn’t be happy about anything,
even things that I should be happy about.
Since I’m 35, married and have a baby, I am clearly no
longer a virgin. I don’t feel the need to keep that fact secret. I felt no
shame talking about my extreme mood swings publicly. “I’ve gone off the
pill,” I proclaimed on Facebook and to friends. “Good riddance to that. It was
making me crazy.” What I didn’t expect was to hear back from my friends that
many of them had gone through the exact same experience: mood swings, suicidal
thoughts, bad interactions with alcohol.
I was surprised to hear that so many women I knew — smart,
stable, busy, successful women — had also such dramatic reactions to hormonal
birth control. Why didn’t I hear of this back when I switched pills? How come
nobody brought this up until I did? Does the pill make you react differently
when you’re over 30 or have had a baby? But more importantly, how come not a
single one of us had been warned by our prescribing doctors that severe mood
shifts was a potential hazard of taking the pill? If I had had a heart attack
while taking the pill, I wouldn’t have been as surprised, because I sometimes
socially smoke and have had it drilled into my head that smoking while on the
pill increases risk of heart attack.
But nobody told me about this.
Is there a good reason why doctors don’t say, “Now, you may
want to keep an eye on your mood once you start taking this.” Had I known, I
wouldn’t have wasted so much time feeling sad, feeling ungrateful, thinking
that I needed to see another doctor, contemplating my own death and inability
to appreciate all the good things in my life. I’m off hormonal birth control,
probably for good. I don’t care to even experiment with different levels of
hormones, because I don’t want to risk feeling the way I felt for even one