My name is Sylvia and I’m married to Michael, and we reside in Franklin Lakes. We’ve been married for, it's going to be 16 years this October.
When I had my daughter, and I was suffering from PPD, no one had ever mentioned those words, maybe once after. A few months after I went to go a psychiatrist who was pregnant herself, about seven-and-a-half months pregnant, and she maybe mentioned it once. But it was never mentioned in the hospital when I gave birth.
In fact, I still have the handbook that when they discharged me. It spoke in this handbook about how to care for your child, the umbilical cord wound, how to feed, how to change its diapers, you know, when to call a doctor, but it never mentioned anything about baby blues or postpartum depression, and that was eight years ago, so we’ve come a long way.
But the first time I ever heard of postpartum depression was probably a few months after birth, where someone would say, maybe what you're going through is called postpartum depression. And then things started to come in to fruition. I started to do my homework on the Internet, but there wasn’t much there. There were a few websites, but no resource centers or support groups I could contact. And I also, I was still in denial, there was a lot of shame for me, so it was tough.
I found out when I was going through postpartum and I was starting to heal, my mother had a nice conversation with me and told me that she had suffered postpartum depression with one of my younger brothers John, but they diagnosed it years ago in the '60s as a nervous breakdown. And I couldn’t understand why she didn’t tell me that, because she still felt that shame.
And to this day there's still a special bond between John and my mother because you feel like you need to make up for it. But as for depression, no, before I gave birth to Melina I was, my husband and I were both running two restaurants, well, we were running the first restaurant and in the works to open our second. So things were working very well, we were married seven years at the time and the birth was planned. So there was no depression or serious depression as I was growing up, no.
The doctor visits were all fine, I had a scheduled C-section, because I was a little small so the doctor was concerned. But Melina, my daughter, arrived two weeks early. But the pregnancy was fine, I worked all through the entire pregnancy. I was in the middle of painting our wine cellar in our new restaurant we were opening up, barefoot, I was literally barefoot and pregnant and tired, and I came home and my water broke. I never had the opportunity to nest.
I mean there were a couple times during the pregnancy where I was a little edgy or stressed but I always associated it with working too much. I still kept the same hours. But the pregnancy went well, thank goodness. I didn’t have morning sickness. I felt tired the first trimester, but I knew when I finally gave birth to her it was about 2 in the morning and I was concerned because I didn’t hear her cry, but once I heard her cry and Michael had taken her and given her to me and I was just lying there and I looked at her and that was the first and last time I looked at my daughter, and looked into her eyes and after that I knew something was wrong.
I felt like, oh my God, what did I just do? I made the biggest mistake of my life. I was in the hospital for about five days and I did talk to a couple of the nurses and they said, ohhh, you’ll feel fine after the first week, it's just the baby blues. And I talked to the nurses about actually giving her up for adoption.
So I knew immediately, hey, this isn't just going to pass, this was the baby blues. I knew that something was seriously wrong. And I didn’t have that bond, I didn’t feel anything. I felt sad, there was a little bit of anger, a lot of sadness, a heavy weight on my heart. At that time I had regrets, here we are we’re married, we’re happily married, what did I just do? So immediately I knew, something was off, and it hurt.
I did not try breastfeeding, because at the time, I didn’t want her near me. The first few days I didn’t sleep. I didn’t look at her. Michael was home, and my aunt who helped us at the restaurant came and helped me, she was going to help me out for the first couple weeks and then my mother would come.
I came home, and from the moment I got out of that car when I was leaving the hospital and my parents were outside with their video camera and my mother was holding her cappuccino, trying to capture every moment on video camera. I just started to cry, handed her the baby, and ran upstairs and shut the door and sobbed.
It was very, very difficult, and when Michael was leaving for work and I was screaming at him, here he was, just going to work as he always has been, and I was just so angry because nothing changed for him, and everything changed for me. And here I am, I’m so depressed, and he doesn’t know ... I just gave birth, maybe my hormones are a little off balance, but I was angry and sad. And I just put her in a bassinet and my Aunt Lina had gone to work with him and it was a struggle, it was very difficult for me the first three days, and things started to fall apart.
I was in denial, the stigma in any depression is heavy, but to have that associated with a mother not wanting her child, the stigma is just so heavy and so severe. What had happened was I had taken a nap, and Melina was in her bassinet in my room, and I had a nightmare which seemed so real. I had a nightmare I had gone over to the bassinet and smothered her. So in the middle of that I woke up and was literally wet with sweat and I was so afraid to walk over to the bassinet and see what I had done because it had felt so real.
When I finally walked over and saw she was OK, I ran over to my bed and there was some sleeping pills that I had and I emptied all the contents on the bed and I was about to swallow the pills, handfulls of pills and at that moment Melina just sighed and I just cried.
I couldn’t believe that I was going to do the unthinkable. So at that point I called my mom who lived about 15 minutes away, and she heard it in my voice. I said Ma, I just can't do this, and she said immediately, where's the baby? And I said, she’s sleeping. Is she OK? Yes, and she was like, don’t you do anything stupid, promise me. And before she hung up she made me promise her, because it’s a bond my mother and I have, my word is everything, and I promised her.
And she arrived in about eight minutes, she was flying. A little Sicilian lady, I can only imagine her going down Skyline Drive with all its turns, and she ran up the staircase, picked up Melina, held my hand, and we all just cried. About 10 minutes later, I heard Michael’s footsteps come up, my mother had called Michael, and he had all his chef clothes, and she just grabbed his hands and said, everything's OK, Melina’s OK, Silivia’s OK, and she looked at Michael and said, I’m going to take the baby home with me as long as she needs to be with me and I trust you with my daughter's life. Someone needs to be with Sylvia, basically 24/7. Which is what happened, it was family, friends, brothers, cousins, always around me.
So that was a very touching moment and a scary moment. At that point I felt like, I couldn’t care for her. I couldn’t care for myself. Prior to that, I didn’t shower, I didn’t bathe, just the thought of getting up and brushing my teeth was so strenuous. I would sit there and lay in bed for hours, for two hours talking to myself, OK, I have to get up, I have to brush my teeth, I have to go to the bathroom. I felt like a failure. What kind of mother, what type of monster, that’s the way I felt. So it was very very traumatic for that week.
At that time, Michael couldn’t understand, I couldn’t understand, nobody really understood. My mother knew I was going through some type of depression, she knew in the hospital that something was wrong, but not this severe. And friends and family just knew immediately. I never held her; I never went to functions, and like I said, everybody orchestrated my recovery process very well. My brothers and my friends would come to visit. At the time I had a doctor who was a friend of mine, she’s still a friend of mine, and who's actually a psychologist who knew what was going on but because we were friends couldn’t treat me with the postpartum depression.
So she helped Michael and helped my family deal and help with me, but the baby stayed with my parents for the first nine months. I was only allowed family supervision, if I was in the bathroom for more than five minutes, somebody would be at the door knocking, and if I was at my mother's house in the bathroom for more than five minutes she’d knock or literally break in. Because her fear is, what are you doing? It was a very, very tough period. I didn’t know, I was like a child myself, and all the guilt walking past the bassinet even at my mother's house I would almost scurry past it so I didn’t have to look at her. So it was very difficult.
Right around that point I had to, but I went through a few, the first psychiatrist was leaving because she was in the middle of her final trimester. Then she set me up with a colleague of hers, which didn’t work out for me. In fact, the first time I saw her I saw her with my mother, and she just basically looked at me and looked at my mother and said, your daughter needs to take her baby home and bond. And my mother basically leaped from her chair, that was the first time I laughed, I think. She leaped from her chair, she's 4'8" and went after the psychiatrist in her Sicilian slang, WHAT ARE YOU CRAZY? She wanted to see her credentials. That was a scene in itself because she couldn’t understand how this woman was telling me to not only take my baby home and bond with her but after everything I had been through, and she knew that I had tried taking my own life and she knew about the intrusive thoughts that I had to harm my baby, so my mother couldn’t get it.
So it was a few doctors I saw, and basically it was me and my family and their understanding of postpartum depression and the medication that helped me through it. But it was mostly family and friends, like I said, Maryanne helped in that sense because she was a doctor and explained what I was going through with the PPD, I didn’t know. It was so archaic, even though it was eight years ago, but going eight years ago, we’ve come such a long way that it was just a matter of time, and things started to turn around.
I wanted to be able to go visit my baby at my mother's house. Still, when I picked her up it was always in full view of my parents because they were always afraid if I would drop her, if I would do something, I couldn’t walk into the living room, I remember one time walking into the dining room and my mother is in her housecoat drinking her espresso and she’s following me, and I turned around and said, Ma I just want to be alone with Melina, and she’s like, not yet.
In hindsight, I thank her for it, because I still wasn’t well. So it was just clockwork precision, my brothers spending time with me, my husband, my friends Kelly, Donna and Janey, Karen. I just had such a great support group, I was just so blessed, and I’m grateful. You look back and I just don’t think, well, I know I wouldn’t be here today. You look back and you think, wow, how truly honored and humbled and grateful I feel having that network that many women don’t have that and I feel for that. Eight hundred thousand women alone in the United States suffer from this and it’s a disgusting, dark illness. A lot of them are suffering in shame, and blaming themselves and it's an illness, nobody wishes this upon themselves, just like nobody wishes to have breast cancer. So we have to treat it like an illness. I look back and think how people sacrificed for me, and I remember going down the shore with Maryanne and her husband, Chip, and they sacrificed weekends for me just to care for me, to watch over me.
So there was a lot of things going on behind the scenes which I'm so grateful for. And my husband who stood behind me and I remember sitting at dinner one time in Florida and barely able to speak and I said to him, you know, I think you’re better off finding a new wife because I’m not going to get better and you deserve the best and Melina deserves the best. And he stuck with me.
So there was that undying support and love from my mother, my father, my Aunt Lina, my cousin Anna, who all shared the responsibiliy of caring for an infant. My mother was in her 70s, she had raised five children, so they put their lives on hold. So I was truly blessed, for all my brothers John, David, Jim, and Nick, who were there, always at the right time. My sister-in-law Kim who would always just check up and see how I was doing. My mother-in-law who would call up to see how I was doing. So I just had this support group, but not many people have what I had, it’s rare. So many people are mothers who have family that are in different states, or further away, or husbands who have to work, but I was allowed the time to heal and acclimate my child.
And I remember when I was recovering I never wanted to speak about it again. I was so embarrassed, but I would never do that to someone else because if I can help one person, one mother, I can help a family, I'm helping a husband, a child, a grandparent, an uncle, the siblings so I would not, for me to never talk about postpartum depression is turning my back on these women, and I won't. I refuse to turn my back on women who are suffering like this. To embrace them and say hey, it’s going to be OK, I know what you're going through and you will be OK, that means everything to me.
I remember sitting on the couch with my brother because he had a newborn as well, Lara, who was a month old, she was born in July and Melina was born in August and we were both sitting there, and my mother plopped the baby on me and we're watching TV, me and John, and Melina is on my chest, And my mother's standing there and I could see her from the corner of my eye and she's standing at the end of the couch, at the other end, and we're watching TVat my mother's house, we had like 25 TVs and none of the TVs were less than 70 inches big so it was like a cineplex in every room and Melina is just fussing, she’s probably about 2 months old, and she's trying to pull her shirt and fussing, not crying but just to do something, and I knew she wanted me to look at her, and I just wouldn't give in. So finally, she kind of pushed her little neck and I looked at her and we just made that eye contact and I looked at her, and she sighed, she just went, siighhh, and put her head on my shoulder and she just slept, it was like a small miracle, but every miracle's a miracle.
And I remember looking over to my mother and she's crying and I look over at my brother John and he's emotional and I kissed her forehead and said, Mommy's here, I hear you, I feel you, and I see you and it was like the gates just opened, and it was like, this child with as much love as she was receiving from her grandparents, her uncles, her friends, she wanted to be loved by her mother, she wanted to know, hey Mommy are you here, because I’m here, and it was just a beautiful feeling. And I will never, ever forget that feeling. Her smell, what she was wearing, her little fingers, how everything in her body just released, as well as mine, and that was I think, the road to recovery.
The next week I started walking her. My parents lived in Ridgewood at the time at the end of a cul-de-sac and I'd walk her in the stroller, it was my mother and my Aunt Lina and we'd all walk around the cul-de-sac and I'd notice a few days later it was just me and her walking, and I realized, oh my god, my mother trusts me with Melina. And she would just sigh and make all these sounds just to be with her mother, and that's what a child wants, to be loved, it's truly God's gift. It's just an amazing gift having a child.
There's no better relationship, she's the lifeline to my heart. She's the air that I breathe. To hear her laugh, to hear her breathe, to hear her play outside or with her friends, there's no better feeling, it's priceless. You've acquired all the wealth, me and my husband have done it together, but nothing compares to your child's laugh or her hug, or her smile. She's truly a happy child, and a lot of that has to do with all the love she got when I couldn't be there for her. And she doesn't care about the first nine months or being at my mom's house, or me not picking her up or changing her, or me not feeding her for the first five days in the hospital, because the most important thing is that she has her mommy.
We take our walks, we laugh together, we joke together, we get our nails done. She doesn't care about anything other than having her mother around and that's what mothers need to know that your child just wants you around, your child wants you healthy, and you will get better, so there's no better accomplishment I've done in life than having Melina. I couldn't imagine a day without her. And at times when I speak, or when I travel around, when I travel out to Washington, I miss her, she's a funny little kid, full of life, so it's wonderful having her.
I feel blessed I was part of that (change in awareness) with Mary Jo Codey who I'm dear friends with, we've traveled a lot together as we spoke a lot. And Susan Stone, who is a past former president of Postpartum Support International, who's now with Perinatal Pro. I feel totally blessed and so relieved that these women, anytime, anywhere, could go on the Internet, make a phone call and get the support and help they need.
We've come a long way, and a lot of people have plowed the way, and I'm just a part of the ride. I wasn't the entire force, but former Governor Richard Codey, Senator Menendez. I mean, there's so many support groups out there.
You're right, I think about wow, it's a lot more easier for a woman to navigate and get the right help, and search for the right help. Or even for the families, if they feel that their daughter, or their niece, or their wife is suffering, they can go on the Internet and there's 1-800 phone numbers that you can call to receive the right help.
There's so much more than eight years ago, but still there's so much more that needs to be done. There's so much more that needs to be done, legislation still hasn't passed, the Mothers Act, we have to pass the Mothers Act, and New Jersey is truly blessed, we have paved the way. We are in the forefront, we’re the pioneers, but we need everyone else to join on board now, and we will not stop until everyone woman in the United States can get the help, or before they're released or discharged from the hospital, it will be in that handbook that wasn't in my handbook.
A nurse will say to you, if you don't feel right or you feel depressed don't hesitate to call, here are the numbers, they'll talk to the husbands, there's so much more work that needs to be done. I don't want to sit here and gloat and say OK, everything's done, let's sit here and sit back and relax, nah uh, I’m not going to sit here and relax until every woman can speak about postpartum depression and come clean without the shame or the embarrassment and I will not stop until that happens.
So there's still a lot more work that needs to be done. I'm very proud in the state that I live that we're knocking out PPD. Everybody knows that if you click on postpartum depression, even in South Dakota, it will lead you back to New Jersey, because we are so ahead of its time. But we still have more room to grow also, so I think we have come a long way but there's still a lot more work that needs to be done.
If there was a screening tool available and if someone did talk about postpartum depression before I was discharged absolutely I would've reached out for help sooner. I didn't know what I was dealing with, my family didn't know, my husband didn't know. But we need to let these women know, they're not to blame. Don't feel any shame, when we're depressed or we're feeling sick about something else, we reach out for help. If we have diabetes or our cholestrol is high, we're put on the right medication. We should not feel ashamed to ask for help and if those tools were planted there when I had given birth, yes, I think the recovery process would've been a lot quicker, or my family wouldn't have endured the pain I went through.
Yeah, I wish, but I'm not going to look back, I'm not going to be angry. I still go to the same OB/GYN who at the time said, don't worry about it Sylvia, you're going to be fine. You can't blame the hospital, you can't blame the nurses. It takes so much negative energy to do that, let's move forward, let's instill, let's add these screening tools, let's talk to the mothers, let's talk to the families, prior to the birth, or when she gives birth, say hey, if you're experiencing this, this is where you can reach out, here's a number where you can call.
Let's not be ashamed. So I’m not going to look back and say, oh, I wish, or I should've, or they could've, or would've, let's just move forward and offer this, what I didn't have and what a lot of women didn't have prior to Melina, and a lot of women, Mary Jo Codey and all the women who suffered, let's offer this to all the women who suffer now. It's not too late.
My advice is to not be ashamed, you're not alone, you're not to blame, and with help you will be well, I promise you. Postpartum Depression is 100 percent treatable, but you first have to ask for help. And that includes the family, some women sleep too much, some women don't sleep enough, they cry, they're agitated, it's different for everyone, but if you feel that you're not right, and your husband knows that something's wrong, do not be afraid to reach out for help.
Sylvia's Video | Sylvia's story | Michael's Story (Sylvia's husband) | Michael's Video | Michael's Video Transcript