Sarah is extremely self-aware, so self-aware that a constant low hum of anxiety is always present in her life. She was used to this anxiety, though. This was herself and her life.
However, anxiety during her pregnancy amped up when after attending hypnobirthing classes and planning a natural birth, her son was breech.
Sarah is smart and capable. She did all the research—there wasn’t a doctor in North Carolina that would deliver a first-time mother with a breech baby. Sarah did all the yoga moves and techniques she could to get her son to turn. It didn’t work. And during all this work and worry, Sarah’s anxiety increased.
She doesn’t like going to the doctor for even routine visits. She doesn’t like watching bloody or violent TV shows. She really didn’t like the thought of being cut open. But a C-section was inevitable if her son stayed breech.
Sarah became “very anxious and mad” as she continued to attend her hypnobirthing during this time, in hopes that her son might turn and she could still have a natural birth. Having a family-centered C-section wasn’t covered in the class. The only reading about C-sections was an article about all the risks, an article to instill fear in its readers and motivate them to birth naturally, but that wasn’t going to be a choice for Sarah. “I was in this weird place of trying to reconcile where I was” and what her birth was going to be. She felt “betrayed and invalidated” by her birthing class experience.
And while Isaac, her son, didn’t arrive on his scheduled date, Sarah’s C-section didn’t go badly, per se, not in medical terms. But she felt out of control and not connected to her body. Her doctor was “calm and experienced” but this didn’t matter. Sarah’s first glimpse of her son was through a photo her husband took on the other side of the curtain. In the picture, Isaac’s “arms and legs are splayed out and eyes wide open and he looks like ‘this is too much for me.’” It wasn’t until the recovery room that Sarah held Isaac. He was swaddled and put on top of Sarah, but she couldn’t feel his skin. There is a photo of her husband John holding Isaac by her head. Her first actual memory, not a photo, is of Isaac trying to breastfeed for the first time. He wouldn’t latch well, and it felt very unnatural to Sarah.
In the back of Sarah’s mind was a photo her mother had, a photo of Sarah’s birth: “she has that beautiful picture of mother and child. She has that moment. What I really wanted was the picture with my child. The bonding. Time to take him in. What I really got was being hooked up to an IV and feeling out of my body.”
But for the first few months postpartum and during Sarah’s maternity leave, she stayed in denial about her mental health. She was just trying to survive those days and weeks. Breastfeeding was extremely stressful for her. She felt “low and extremely isolated,” so she made every effort to get out of the house. She thought returning to work would help her mood.
However, “when I went back to work and it wasn’t the fix that I thought it would be, that’s when I recognized my PPD. I was so irritable. John and I were fighting. I was still very stressed out about breastfeeding and thinking about my birth a whole lot.”
Sarah works as a social worker, and she’d also sought help from a therapist before. If anyone knows how to find resources, it’s Sarah: “I’m a woman with insurance and resources, but I still almost gave up.” She found it very difficult to find a therapist who specialized in PPD and could see her in the immediate future. And when you are feeling depressed, “you don’t feel like anyone or anything can help you,” but Sarah kept pushing and finally found a good therapist.
She also found Moms Supporting Moms, a Raleigh-area support group for new moms experiencing overwhelm. Sarah said MSM helped combat what she called “the social media effect.” The way in which new moms and just women in general are inundated with photos and updates from friends about how wonderful and beautiful motherhood is. Photos of perfectly dressed babies. This isn’t the truth or reality. The support group helped Sarah hear from real women about real experiences with a variety of postpartum mood disorders.
With the help of a therapist, support group, and medication, Sarah still felt like she was “in it” and not yet recovered. Her medications were still being adjusted. And like many new mothers with a postpartum mood disorder, Sarah grapples with what is depression and anxiety and what is the normal overwhelm of new motherhood.
I struggle with identifying if it’s new motherhood or PPD. There are times with it is clearly PPD. Like the fact that I am so triggered by my husband simply walking around and asking me questions when I just want to be alone. That’s not a typical feeling for me. I’ve never had such a strong feeling of wanting to be alone. I adore my husband. We can have a great time together. So it’s very strange for me to just want to be alone.
Sarah’s first few months of motherhood were spent minute to minute. There wasn’t any time to develop confidence in mothering. Motherhood was just a “series of tasks” that she must finish and do, and at the same time, she must process and heal from a birth that was traumatic for her. Sarah is now slowly but surely trying to find that bonding time with Isaac, but Sarah, and all mothers, must first get themselves on somewhat solid ground, and that takes a different amount of time for each woman.
**I conducted my interview with Sarah within the first year of motherhood. However, her soon is now getting close to two years old and Sarah has now become a volunteer and helps mom who are experiencing a postpartum mood disorder. **