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My Birth Control Gave Me Postpartum Depression

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 fit.

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.

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“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.

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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 month.

Nothing is worth that.

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