I Thought I Had Postpartum Depression. It Turned Out to Be Something Else Entirely.

I Thought I Had Postpartum Depression. It Turned Out to Be Something Else Entirely.

“You’re so hormonal after you have a kid.” I’d heard this all throughout my pregnancy. So when I finally gave birth at 37 weeks, I knew it was only the beginning. But for the first little while postpartum, everything seemed fine. Sure, I wasn’t getting any sleep and felt like a drippy, on-demand cow a lot of the time, but I didn’t have any major complications. I figured I must’ve dodged whatever postpartum bullet was supposed to be headed my way.

Then at month four, I stopped sleeping. Not an unusual situation for some new parents, but at this point, my baby was rocking a 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. sleep schedule. It was just me who was having the 3 a.m. heart palpitations. I was flighty and anxious all day at work, lost an unusual amount of weight for a postpartum mom, and the glamorous kicker? My hair started falling out in chunks. I felt like a husk of a person.

Something was very wrong. My brain told me that it must be postpartum depression—right?

Leahy with her husband, Charlie, and their baby, Tavie.

Courtesy Carly Leahy

At our pediatrician appointment that month (the U.S. doesn’t have any ongoing care for postpartum parents, which is a story for another day), they handed me a clipboard with a postpartum depression survey. I’d gone through the motions at previous checkups, circling “no,” “no,” “no” to the questions about feeling sad. But this time I thought, “You know what? I feel like shit.” I circled “yes” to a few and asked for a referral to a postpartum therapist in my neighborhood.

It took some time to find the right fit, and I didn’t think I could—or should—wait to feel better, so I decided to take a hormone test. I co-founded Modern Fertility in 2017, a company that’s all about checking in on fertility hormones before you have a kid. I’d tested my own hormones many times already, but I couldn’t ignore the similarities between what I was feeling and what many of our users had described when suffering from hormone imbalances, particularly thyroid issues.

I remember feeling equal parts fear and validation. The results confirmed what I already knew: Something was very wrong.

I popped the hormone test in the mail, and after a few days, I got an alert that my results were ready. About an hour later, our head of clinical responded to my text with: “You’re going to see a doctor, right?” My thyroid stimulating hormone was off the charts. Like way off the charts, which can be a sign that your thyroid isn’t properly producing thyroid hormones. Your body is essentially flooring it on the gas to try and stimulate the thyroid into doing its job. I remember feeling equal parts fear and validation. The results confirmed what I already knew: Something was very wrong.

I made an appointment with my general practitioner for the next day. I’d never had a thyroid issue myself—at least not that I knew about—but could my underactive thyroid, also known as hypothyroidism, have been spurred on by my pregnancy? My doctor took one look at that high TSH and immediately ordered more tests to rule out other issues.

Two days later, the results were in: I had a confirmed elevated TSH, positive TPOs, which are basically antibodies that signal your body is attacking your thyroid, and super low T4, confirming I wasn’t operating with enough thyroid hormone in my body. My doctor told me that it looked like I had postpartum thyroiditis, and specifically a condition called Hashimoto’s disease, which is a scary-sounding name for autoimmune hypothyroidism. I learned that postpartum thyroiditis can cause an overactive thyroid, and then it can lead to an “injured” thyroid that enters an underactive phase. That experience can come with a slew of symptoms like fatigue, weight fluctuation, rapid heart rate, thinning hair, muscle weakness, depression, decreased cognitive function, etc. Check, check, check. The bottom line: My body was attacking my thyroid, preventing it from doing its job.

The good news is hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s are extremely treatable. Almost dream-state, best-case-scenario treatable. My doctor prescribed a synthetic thyroid hormone that can essentially do the job your thyroid is failing to do. Call it a placebo or a victor’s mindset, but I felt better soon after starting the medication. Three months later, I felt completely like myself again.

carly leahy and her husband charlie with their baby lying on a blanket in the park

Charlie, Tavie, and Leahy.

Courtesy Carly Leahy

It’s been difficult to get answers about why and how this happened in my body. January is Thyroid Awareness Month, but our society is still largely silent about thyroid issues. Apparently, about 1 in 20 women develop postpartum thyroiditis, which is a hell of a lot of people for something I’d never heard of that had the power to throw me so off kilter. It made me angry. It made me want to shout from the rooftops: “Check your thyroid, friends!”

During this Thyroid Awareness Month (I suppose it’s my first year actually observing), I feel incredibly lucky that I knew to turn to hormone testing early. That kind of empowering information is something everyone should be able to access. Having more data like that in our back pockets can only expand and encourage these important conversations. People with ovaries deserve to be able to advocate for themselves and prioritize their own physical and mental health. Not feeling OK is not OK. “It’s just the way it is” isn’t a good excuse anymore, and suffering through our conditions doesn’t and shouldn’t just “come with the territory” of postpartum. And you better believe I am telling every pregnant person I know to get that thyroid checked before, during, and after pregnancy. Check your thyroid, friends.

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