What else could I title this but what it is? My first experience with postpartum depression should have been a no brainer. I’m a postpartum nurse, it’s part of my discharge teaching, I should have recognized the symptoms. But did you know that ppd can occur anytime in your baby’s first year? Did you also know it can happen during pregnancy as well? “Ppd” as we’ll call it, is actually a range of perinatal and postpartum mood disorders including depression, anxiety, ptsd, and others. Symptoms might include extreme irritability, anger, sadness, or worrisome thoughts. It is the number 1 complication of childbirth and as many as 1 in 5 women are suffering.
So to start, my first pregnancy was a dream. We had tried for a while and I was thrilled to finally be pregnant. No morning sickness, barely any nausea, still worked 12 hour shifts, pregnancy was easy. Childbirth was difficult and I had some complications, but I had a lot of family support and we adjusted well. I was a new mom and blissfully exhausted and in love. Fast forward to around 8-9 months postpartum. Everett started to self wean breast feeding and had developed a strong attachment to my husband. To some, this may sound ideal. To me, it was pure rejection. My baby. The one I had grown and birthed and nourished. What purpose did I serve if he didn’t need me for food? He already preferred my husband for holding, changing diapers, carrying around, everything. That was our last attachment and the only thing he needed from me that his dad couldn’t provide. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I felt angry and hurt. I became detached and irritable. I was short tempered with my son, even worse with my husband, and I felt so lonely. All I wanted was to be a mom, and I couldn’t even do that right. When my husband would try to engage me, I would either ignore him or try to enjoy their company, only to find myself upset and crying. We struggled through it, and slowly I invested my time in to connecting with my son in different ways as he got older and we rebuilt our relationship. It was hard though. And I came out of it, never even realizing I had been in it in the first place.
Then I got pregnant again, and it was so easy and I really loved it. I never even thought I was struggling because I loved being pregnant and always felt so in love with my baby. But I was so short tempered. I was irritable all the time. I would lash out at my husband over the smallest things. I would yell one minute, then act like nothing was wrong the next, then cry when my husband was upset with me. I could run through every emotion known to man in a 5 minute period, and I would do this over and over again. I felt out of control of myself and my feelings, which often just left me feeling sad and alone. But I was pregnant and hormonal and that’s how I was supposed to feel right?
It wasn’t until four months postpartum with my second son, when I went back to work and decided to attend a training for postpartum support groups, that it all came together. Right around that time, I had realized that I was struggling more with anxiety. I felt overwhelmed and would get worked up over little things. I would lash out and get frustrated very easily. And on top of that, I just felt like something bad was always going to happen. I would drive to work, and start crying thinking it was the last time I would see my kids. I would watch Everett jump around the living room and see him hitting his head into our brick fireplace. I would imagine laying Julian down to rest and be constantly thinking he wouldn’t wake up. It was happening multiple times a day, imagining that everything ended in the worst case scenario. I was so filled with fear and always on the verge of tears. It was exhausting and honestly I just didn’t know what was wrong with me or why I felt that way.
It was in that training that I realized what it was. That I had been dealing with it all along. But that’s part of the lie of ppd (and motherhood, really). The lie that you’re alone and no one else has struggled like you. The lie that your feelings are shameful and what would others think of you if they knew how you felt? The lie that you’re just not cut out to be a mom. The lie that you are crazy and you don’t love your baby, because what kind of mother would feel this way. They are all lies.
So right now, we are working through it. I haven’t done anything to treat my anxiety but it has gotten better. When I feel overwhelmed, I have learned to take a pause and think of the root of the issue, rather than lashing out at those around me. I have learned to give myself plenty of time to get things done because when I am rushed, I feel anxious. I have learned to listen to my body and if I get a minute that both kids are napping, then you bet your ass, if I feel like napping, I’m gonna nap. Having a clean (I mean as clean as you can have with two working parents and a toddler and baby..) house helps me feel like I have room to breathe, and is good for my mental state. And most importantly, communicating all of this clearly has helped my husband realize that I need help and that there are very real ways that he can help!
This is the first time that I have put all of my story together for anyone (especially a world full of strangers). I still feel guilty and embarrassed for these times in my life, like I am “less than” or a bad mom, that I somehow have failed my family.. I still can’t put it into words. But what I do know is that I am NOT a bad mom. There is nothing wrong with me. It is okay to not be okay. Motherhood is huge. Like HUGE and life changing and it is OKAY to struggle through it, but you don’t have to struggle alone. There is hope and healing, and you can get through it. Just tell someone. And if that person doesn’t listen, tell someone else. Keep telling them until someone hears you. Get the help you need so you can heal, and with time, you will be well again.
I’m going to try to keep this theme going and write a quick post next week about triggers and risk factors. So mamas who think “why do I feel this way?”, there are things that set you up for postpartum depression and anxiety, other than just having that history. If you feel like it, please share your story with me! Whether you’re a survivor or you’re right in the middle of it, let’s all be an ear for each other.