I’m going to make myself vulnerable by writing this. I’m going to feel a little ashamed and embarrassed for you to read this. But I am going to write this because that’s what good writing is about, facing what we want to turn away from, and I’m going to write this because women need to talk about postpartum depression and anxiety.
I had a difficult labor (30 hours ending in a c-section), and then I had breastfeeding issues (my daughter had a tongue tie), and then my daughter was also colicky and is still high needs. It’s been tough.I say all this because I still feel the need to defend my postpartum anxiety.
Somewhere around the six-week mark after Mae’s birth, everything caught up to me. The sleep deprivation, the crying, the worry. I would wake up in the morning with a sense of dread and anxiety that is hard to explain. It felt like my body was simultaneously being held down by a cement block as well as stretched in a thousand directions. I wanted to crawl out of my skin. Walking to the shower felt like running a marathon.
It’s hard to write about this because so many people make you think those first days, weeks, and months of your child’s life should be the happiest of your life. And yes, I was overwhelmed with love for Mae, but I was also paralyzed by anxiety and worry. I was able to take care of Mae, but I couldn’t do a thing for myself. I wasn’t eating or sleeping. Food tasted like cardboard and sleep wouldn’t come. It was like my body buzzed with worry. I would get up, feed Mae, change diapers, sing to her, but my mind was constantly looking into the future at the next possible catastrophe. My body was going through the necessary motions for Mae, but that was all I could muster.
I didn’t want to see anyone because I knew they’d expect me to be a new, glowing mother, and I was far from that.
I kept telling myself this was just the baby blues and it would pass. But it didn’t pass. It got worse. I was a bad mother. I couldn’t cut it. I was so ashamed. A low point that I can clearly remember is my mom spoon-feeding me yogurt and I wasn’t physically able to swallow.
I “woke up” one morning and literally thought I might die from lack of sleeping and eating. My heart was racing and my head was fuzzy. I’d forgotten to eat for 24 hours.
I hit rock bottom. I wanted to feel better for my family, my husband, and most importantly, my daughter, but I just couldn’t do it on my own. My family and husband decided I needed help. They were in pain just watching me.I was in agony.
I saw my midwife. I got on medication that’s safe for breastfeeding. I joined a support group. I took baby steps. It took two weeks for the medication to start working. Those were the longest two weeks of my life. Bit by bit, I started feeling a little better. It’s still tough some days. I still get worried about the future or trying new things with Mae, but I force myself. We went on a ferry ride a few weeks ago and last night I took care of her by myself while Jimmy was out of town.
But I wish I hadn’t let myself struggle for so long. I wish I’d known more about the anxiety-side of postpartum. I’d always heard about depression, and I wasn’t really depressed. I was overwhelmed with worry, a worry so intense that I could barely move. What if she started crying and never stopped? What if I couldn’t soothe her? What if my breasts weren’t producing enough milk? What if her intestines were twisted? My mind was racing and never rested.
So I want other women to know they aren’t alone. That you aren’t less of a mother because of postpartum anxiety or depression. I am still having to tell myself this daily. But, I am strong. I never stopped mothering Mae. I’m still breastfeeding her even if it is from a bottle. And I’ve kissed her and loved her every day in spite of my anxiety.
So that’s my story, and I’m scared that I’ll be judged and I’m ashamed, but I’m working through those feelings. I know I’m a good mom, and that I’ve worked hard to regain my mental and physical health. And I’ve met a lot of amazing women who have also had a similar experience, and I’m proud to be among them.
Also, if you have a loved one suffering from PPDA, here are some things that are NOT helpful to say:
1. “Cheer up!”
If it was this simple, don’t you think we would? Saying something like this means you have no idea what real depression and anxiety are.
2. “Put your big girls panties on” or “be strong” or “pick yourself up by your bootstraps.” They are doing the best they can. They are not able to be any tougher. Living inside their body right now is like fighting a war.
3. “But you’re so blessed. Look at your baby!” Yes, and I feel so guilty because I should feel that way and I don’t, and I can’t explain to you why I feel this way.
Here’s what is helpful:
Drive them to a doctor’s appointment or support group. Help them get help.
Talk about your own struggles with anxiety or depression or find someone who can. It’s common. You know someone who has or is going through this. One in seven women suffer from PPDA.