Postpartum depression is extremely common. To be precise, 11 to 20% of women who give birth each year have symptoms–and since there’s about 15% of 4 million live births in the US each year, this equates to roughly 600,000 women, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Celia Behar was one of these women. Like these women, she was prescribed an anti-depressant (Prozac in particular), but as she described, it was like “a Band-Aid” and didn’t really solve the problem. She went on to tell Cosmopolitan:
“I could never really relax. But it got me functioning enough so that I wasn’t a sobbing mess. And I told myself that the rest of it, still feeling sad underneath and really anxious and full of rage, that was normal. I thought, ‘I guess this is just motherhood.'”
While Behar was grateful not to be struggling with suicidal ideation as much, it came with a lot of side effects. When she went off the medication after her depression lifted, she was told not to take anti-anxiety meds if she was breastfeeding. Instead her doctor “prescribed an endless supply of Xanax, Valium, Ativan and Ambien.”
A friend then suggested she started smoking marijuana. As pointed out by Cosmo, “PPD listed as a valid condition for medical marijuana, although post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was recently approved in 23 states, after years of campaigning by military veterans groups.” She eventually tried it, getting it from a friend in California–and has been changed ever since:
“What it feels like to me is that in that time of my life, I was living in black and white. And when I started using cannabis, it felt like living in Technicolor. Even just getting sleep changed the anxiety. Everything shifted. I didn’t feel high. I wasn’t stoned. I just felt leveled out and even.”
Since then, Behar moved to California in 2014, starting the online community, The Lil’ Mamas–she was also featured on KXAN Austin, and Yahoo! News. The stigma surrounding using marijuana for medical issues is still strong, but Behar wants to dispel these myths, in order to save other moms, saying:
“PPD has just as horrible a stigma as a mom smoking weed. I don’t know which one is worse. It was rare that a hateful comment didn’t attack both things separately. What was fascinating was that all the people that wrote me positive things did it behind the scenes. Nobody shared their stories in the comments, which told me that they were terrified. So even though I just broke this open a little bit, my work’s not even close to done here.”
It’s important to remember that for moms in low-income communities that are over-policed, smoking weed could result in losing their kids, too—and that stories like Behar’s come along with a certain degree of privilege.
If you suffer from symptoms of Postpartum Depression, we encourage you to seek professional and medical advice and help. Find a local support group for moms who have PPD here, as well as specialists who expertise treating PPD here.
This post is part of the Here.Now series, which seeks to destigmatize mental health,
and is made possible by UJA-Federation of New York and The Jewish Board.
You can find other educational mental health resources here.