~Number of pregnancies and births: 1
~The age of your children, or how far postpartum you are: 18 months
It’s been 18 months since I gave birth. It was a wonderful experience. I was surrounded by family, love, and affection after I came home with my dear daughter. My husband was supportive and woke up during the night every two hours to help me feed the baby. My daughter was healthy and thriving. But something was not right with me….
After the endorphins from a drug-free labor wore off and the joy of sharing the new baby with family waned, I started to feel exhausted – really really really exhausted. It felt like a chore to wake up and get out of bed and take care of my daughter. I felt guilty for not being ecstatic over the fact that I get to stay at home and raise my daughter. I felt guilty that I couldn’t enjoy every single smile and coo and aah that my daughter made. I felt isolated and depressed and angry. My energy levels were so low that I was literally dragging my feet….I felt as if I was walking through Jell-O. All I wanted to do was sleep….I was so numb, emotionally, and intellectually.
During my 6-week post-partum appointment, my OB/GYN diagnosed me with depression and encouraged me to go on antidepressants. Because I was breastfeeding and due to side effects related with some antidepressants, I was reluctant to take the antidepressants. I am a scientist by profession, so I did research on post-partum depression and anti-depressants and their side effects. While reading scientific articles, I came across one that linked post-partum depression to low thyroid function (hypothyroidism). I remembered that a blood test done in my last trimester had shown my thyroid function to be low, but it hadn’t raised any major red flags. So, before I agreed to go on antidepressants, I asked my doctor to do a blood test and check my thyroid function. I had other symptoms of hypothyroidism (constipation, dry skin, loss of appetite, gaining weight, joint and muscle aches and pains, bald patch on my scalp, carpal tunnel in my left hand, and sensitivity to cold). The blood test showed my thyroid function to be low (normal levels of TSH are 1-2 and mine were 4-5). The diagnosis was post-partum thyroiditis and post-partum depression was a symptom of the underlying hypothyroidism. I was prescribed a low dose synthetic thyroid hormone (which is safe for breastfeeding and pregnant women) that I have to take every day for the rest of my life.
I have routine blood tests every few months to check my thyroid function and make sure my hormone dosage is correct. Since I began the hormone replacement therapy, almost a year and a half ago, all of my physical symptoms have disappeared. I no longer have unexplained joint and muscle pain; I feel emotionally balanced; my brain fog has lifted; my hair, nails and skin are healthy; and I have lost all of my pregnancy weight. Most importantly, I feel that I have all the energy to chase around a toddler, exercise, clean the house, do the laundry, cook dinner, and be a loving companion to my husband.
Very often, we get confused by medical terms and take the doctors’ advice as the ultimate word. I want to share my experience so that women who read my story can be empowered to ask questions and become partners in their own health. You know your body and self better than anyone – take an active role in your well-being. For me, researching family history and seeking a second opinion from an endocrinologist specializing in thyroid function has been an immense learning experience. I believe that being an advocate of my own health and partnering with my doctor to delve deeper than the superficial symptoms has helped me achieve my life back. I hope I can help others who might have similar symptoms and experience after giving birth.