Let me begin this by saying I am not a medical professional. This is not intended to diagnose or treat anything or anyone. In my immediate family I have a nurse supervisor/paramedic, critical care nurse/paramedic, two other paramedics, an EMT, and a dental hygienist, but I am none of those. I do, however, love google… enough said! This is my experience and only that.
Ok, now that we have that out of the way, I want to share my story. Hopefully, you have never, nor will you ever, experience postpartum depression or anxiety; but, if you have or do, it is my prayer that this helps you. One thing I’ve learned through opening up about my experiences is the peace in the freedom that comes from admitting my struggles.
So here it goes.
I wanted to be a mom so badly that I could taste it. After months of begging my husband to start our family, he agreed. He wanted children as much as I did, but our living situation just wasn’t ideal. Long story short, of which I will share more soon, at the time we were living in about 500 square feet. We had not started remodeling our home and were living in our renovated one bedroom over-garage apartment that sits 300 feet behind our house. It was blatantly obvious that bringing a child into that living space would be tight, and the reason why it took some serious convincing.
Thankfully, the month he agreed we could start trying for a child was the month the Lord blessed us with the positive pregnancy test. I certainly did not think it would happen that fast. Freaking out, but trusting His will is greater than ours, we did what we had to do. We set up a bassinet beside the bed and made sure we had a loud sound machine to drown out noise.
When the time came, my labor and birthing experience was ideal. I was 39 weeks pregnant (exactly), and worked after my OB appointment that morning. I took a shower and laid down at 10:00 pm only to wake up to my first REAL contraction at 10:45 (when they say, “Oh, you’ll know when it’s the real deal” about contractions, they mean it!). By 4:36 am, I was holding my screaming baby boy. It all happened so quickly.
From the second my son entered the world, I was different. I had an immediate fight or flight sensation. Like I said, my son came out screaming and, after almost 4 years, still is (kidding of course… well kind of!). Looking back, my first mistake came just moments after his birth.
Setting the stage.
Our hospital has what’s called the “Magic Hour” immediately following birth to encourage family bonding. During this hour, it’s recommended for mothers who choose to nurse to allow the infant to latch and begin nursing. Even though my husband and I had taken the breastfeeding class prior to the birth, I made a huge rookie mistake. Not knowing how long to let the baby nurse in the beginning, what a “good latch” was supposed to feel like, or how a good latch was supposed to look while you’re looking down (now there’s an idea for any lactation consultants out there), I started off on a bad foot. He wanted to nurse nonstop, so I let him. The only time he didn’t scream was when he was nursing, and because his latch was not good at all, I ended up miserable (TMI) and bleeding.
I got into a room around 7:30 am, the perfect time for visitors to start trickling in. Being blessed with so much love and support, we had many wonderful family members and friends come to see us and our new son. Having said that, we never had more than twenty minutes alone the whole day. By the time visiting hours were over, I had been up for 38 hours (with the exception of my 45 minute cat nap before contractions). I. Was. Tired.
Jude didn’t sleep. I always heard that newborns sleep magically. Nope, not this kid. The only time he slept was when he fell asleep nursing. Leaving the hospital, I was panicked, overwhelmed, and exhausted. This made the forty-five minute drive home with a screaming baby awesome (yes, more sarcasm). I dismissed any help in the hospital and also when I came home. That fight or flight sensation I referenced earlier became even more intense. I fought… hard.
Cue the mom guilt.
Something that was difficult to put my finger on for months, much less admit when I did figure it out, was that I didn’t immediately bond with my son. I did have the sudden “Mama Bear” instinct, and I loved my baby boy, but I didn’t have warm and fuzzy feelings like I expected. I longed for them to be there, but they just weren’t. This caused my first dealings with mom guilt. This precious baby deserved a mommy who looked at him and had an instant connection. I didn’t.
That lack of connection made me think that I deserved the horrible self-loathing thoughts and feelings that quickly began. As troubling as it sounds, I felt I deserved the hours of constant nursing and crying. I deserved the colic and the blood, scabs, and pain I felt every time this sweet baby boy latched on; even if he wanted to stay latched on for twenty-four hours straight. I looked at this beautiful, healthy gift from God and felt empty and helpless. I knew roller coaster hormones play into the postpartum experience for all new mothers, but for me, the perfect storm for postpartum depression was brewing.
Pumpin’ ain’t easy
I went back to work at seven weeks postpartum and boy, it was really, really hard! While I loved my job and worked hard to make it a career of which I was proud, leaving my crying baby was tough. Thankfully, I had amazing family members and a nanny who helped me in the beginning, but I was afraid he was going to stress them out as much as he stressed me. After all, I was his mom and should have been able to handle it. My anxious mind was on my baby and those taking care of him. Add to this, I took thirty minute breaks every two to three hours to pump. Anyone who has pumped knows it’s miserable.
Unfortunately, my body didn’t respond well to the pump. To make up for the milk he needed while I was away, I would get up in the middle of the night and pump after one or two of his multiple nightly feedings. Because we didn’t have a kitchen table, I sat on the floor of the kitchen to pump, hunched over and exhausted. I ate the lactation cookies, took the herbs, drank the teas, tried various pumps, and pumped after every feeding I possibly could in attempt to increase my milk supply. It worked to maintain, but I never got ahead. It was the second time I felt mom guilt. Why couldn’t I provide for him? I was physically spent, my baby seemed miserable, and in my mind, no one would understand how I felt.
And it continues
When my son was roughly four months old, we found out he had food allergies. After eating rice cereal, he aspirated on his vomit while sleeping. I completely flipped at the sight of my blue baby and literally just stood there screaming. Thankfully, my husband was level headed and got him breathing again. I’ve heard of moms lifting cars off their kids in life and death situations. Adrenaline is supposed to make a mom supernatural. What did I do when faced with a life and death situation? I stood there and just screamed. And again, cue yet another layer of mom guilt.
This horrible incident led us to learn all about food allergies. I cut dairy and soy from my diet and became obsessed with finding out everything I could involving his FPIES diagnosis. At the time, I felt like I deserved to be on such a restrictive diet. After all, it was a way to productively channel and ease all of my mom guilt… or so I thought.
Speaking of survival…
Around that time, I also became obsessed with prepping. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, I was determined to make sure my family of three could survive if some horrible disaster happened. The stock market dropped 1,000 points in one day and I just KNEW it was a sign that my gut was right, it was about to get bad! I had “go bags” completely stocked with anything we needed to survive for three days. I stored up gallons of water and enough rice and beans to get us by. I do still think it’s great to be prepared, but during that time I lost touch with reality.
While styling a client’s hair one day, I began answering her questions about my life as a new mom. Three other clients were within earshot, and it was like squealing breaks when I started talking about my feelings. My client turned around and asked, “Have you talked to your doctor about these feelings?” I thought it was a strange question for her to ask, especially since I hadn’t told her about my true feelings or anything really “crazy.” I was simply going on about the typical hard stuff that comes with being a new parent.
Years of working with the public taught me not to share the ugly parts of my life. Typically, I keep answers vague to questions about myself. I strive to keep it real and personable, but also professional. With that said, I thank God she recognized something was off. As a Christian, I don’t believe in coincidences. I know she was ordained to be in my chair at that moment, and I’m thankful she heeded to the Spirit and asked me that hard, awkward question. It was the push I needed to go get help.
Less than 6 hours later I found myself crying with my OB. It was the first time I was even a tiny bit honest about my personal experience with motherhood. She helped me understand that what I was experiencing wasn’t normal. I didn’t have the simple “baby blues.” I was diagnosed with postpartum depression, and anxiety (PPD/A), and she recommended a very low dose of an antidepressant.
Google to the rescue.
Naturally, me being me, I had to go home and read about the good, bad, and ugly of taking the medication. I was completely shocked, caught off guard and tremendously torn. I also dealt with questions of why my faith as a Christian wasn’t enough to get me through. I heard what the doctor said, and read the words as I researched the diagnosis and medication, but I still didn’t understand that the situation was outside my control. It was a medical condition and I needed help.
So, after a lot of prayers and consulting experienced moms, I decided to take the medicine. It was a game changer. It took about a month, but over time I started noticing a difference in myself. I was like a ball of yarn slowly being unwound. I didn’t cry in the shower as much, or have the self-loathing thoughts. The drowning in air feeling I had in my chest was loosening. I actually remember looking down at my son and feeling the overwhelming, indescribable wholeness that I longed to feel for months. Yes, he still cried a lot, but I was able to cope much better.
I remained on the medication for 9 months and weaned off by the time he was 13 months old. I was terrified I would experience the same PPD/A upon learning I was pregnant with my daughter. Thankfully, it was a completely different experience. Oh there were still some times of touch and go, but I am grateful that it was nothing like what I experienced with my son. I was able to think rationally, keep my emotions in check, and realize “This too shall pass.” – I believe the ‘normal’ postpartum experience.
During this dark period we had several other outside traumatic events occur including death, crime, and cancer. Each of these individually would rock a person to their core, and combined with PPD/A, I began questioning everything. It was nothing but the grace of my Heavenly Father that got me through one of the darkest years of my life. As a family we grew closer together and to Him.
The other side.
I want to preface that what I’m about to say next is not my attempt to place blame for my experience on anyone. However, it was a reason why I didn’t think what I was going through was out of the norm and why I didn’t seek help until I was told it was not normal.
In their attempt to offer advice and console me, I had a few trusted people tell me I experienced so much hard stuff with Jude because he was my first child. I believe they had the best intentions, and they did speak some truth when telling me it would get better once I had experience under my belt. The flip side is that they were dismissive of my reality, not having gone through it themselves. They meant well, but they were wrong and it was detrimental to my mental health. They had no idea how raw my wounds were or how much self-hate and guilt I was carrying around. No one did.
If you get nothing else from this post, I want you to understand the importance of mental health. It effects everything including physical and emotional health. This wasn’t my first time dealing with anxiety or depression, and it may not be the last. But, through my experience, I’m now more self-aware and by sharing this, hope to create awareness for others. I pray we can create a community of help and support for those struggling.
A word of advice.
Unless you go through it, or are going through it, depression and anxiety can’t be understood. From my personal experience I know we need this open conversation. I wish I knew then what I know now and had reached out for help sooner. I hope my transparency will encourage others who may be dealing with depression, anxiety or other mental health issues.
My closest friends and family had no idea the depth of the pain and darkness I was going through. My own husband had no clue. So much can be hid, even from those closest to us. Please don’t hide. If this post spoke to you, if you can relate to any part of it, if you are feeling ANY of what I felt, PLEASE reach out to someone. I promise you’re not alone. I promise.