It’s Not Just the Baby Crying: My Struggle with Postpartum Anxiety

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.

ferry ride

Mae and I on the ferry to Ocracoke

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.

 

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19 thoughts on “It’s Not Just the Baby Crying: My Struggle with Postpartum Anxiety

  1. You are not alone Megan! I felt like I won the lotto if I remembered to brush my teeth those first few months. Let me know if we can bring you guys dinner sometime soon or lunch, I’m off for the summer!

  2. Megan,

    Thanks for sharing this. I think there’s this unspoken idea of motherhood where most women feel that they can’t show any weakness when it comes to the early days/weeks/months of rearing children. As a participant in several classes and sort of a co-reader of plenty of articles, I can’t imagine the social pressure of being a mother. (Much less the actual mental/biological aspect.) I spent weeks next to my wife while she cried in the middle of the night while nursing because despite her best efforts she wasn’t producing enough milk, compounded by the guilt she felt by having to move Griffin to formula despite him losing weight and it being a true necessity. And it turned out fine, for both mother and baby. (And going to the bottle allowed me to help out more.)

    Point is, everything from feeding to how much eye contact you make to screen time to the soap you used is seemingly a potential weapon other folks can use in this war of “perfect motherhood.” But the truth is, not just from my own wife’s experience but from talking with a bunch of other recent mommy friends, is that there are a lot of tears, and a lot of guilt, and a lot of “missteps” that aren’t really bad in the slightest, and not a lot of support from those who can’t walk in your shoes. You’ve had it real tough, and you’ve persevered, and while you’re probably a decade away from a real true good night of sleep, your care and your love for your little one will prove you’re doing things right.

  3. Excellent article, Megan! I went through a similar experience with my firstborn who, like Mae, was colicky. I had no family nearby to help me and had to soldier on by myself. My husband didn’t understand what was wrong with me, why I was in tears when he came home from work and why I hadn’t ironed his shirts or cleaned the apartment. When she was five or six months old I found a new mother’s discussion group in my neighborhood. Talking to other new mothers who were going through postpartum depression and anxiety really helped. I applaud you for sharing your experience and bringing these issues out into the open.

  4. Thank you for sharing! Having also gone through this, your words describe it beautifully, as tough as it is! May others find encouragement to get the help they need after reading your gracious and kind words!

  5. Thanks for helping us guys understand what you have been going through. Early parenthood is tough, but to be able to acknowledge and confront the above average difficulties you have had is a gift to you, to Jimmy, and to Mae, as well as to those you may encourage to get help if they need it. Lots of love,
    Uncle Jim

  6. Megan,

    Your bravery and honesty in sharing your story is so impressive. (The writing, also. Man, the writing.) Thanks for letting us in on your world. I find your success in “figuring out [baby @] home”–whatever that looks like, however unexpected and viciously tough and agonizing that has been– is downright inspirational. You are surviving (and from where I’m standing, thriving, but it may not look/feel/seem that way from where you’re standing/bouncing) and you owe no one explanations, defenses, or reasons (even yourself). Mae is a well-loved, well-fed baby, receiving excellent care and consideration from savvy, candid, and humble parents; you guys have an endurance that puts marathoners to shame, and she’s got a hell of a role model for enduring, accepting, thighs-of-steel womanhood in her mum. I’m so proud of you, and ready to help in any way, any time.

    Much love,
    Em

    • Just to clarify, now that I’ve read that over: I mean “enduring, accepting” along the lines of “ability to accept help/own the fairy-tale-less-ness of life” … you know, of course, that you’re also fiery as hell (and that Mae very clearly already seems to be traveling that way as well!)

  7. Wow! This is an amazing story and I admire you for putting yourself out there. You are an amazing woman, friend, and most of all mother. I am greatful to have such a strong person in my life. Love you girl…

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