Motherhood & Mental Health
I have postpartum anxiety (PPA).
I'm on medication.
And it's changed my life.
I'm sure some people will read those statements and think "wow, that's a bit of an overshare." Or, "that seems a bit exaggerated". Or maybe even, "is that even a thing??".
But to be honest, I've learned that the only persons opinion about MY mental health that matters is my own. And I am not ashamed to admit that I needed help. That I NEED help. That I may or may not always need help.
Before I had my first baby in 2016, I didn't know much of anything about postpartum. Had no clue I'd also be in diapers. Didn't know about the pain of contractions after the baby had arrived. Was shocked at the level of sleep deprivation. Why did no one tell me how hard breastfeeding could be? But more than anything, I didn't know about the signs of postpartum depression, anxiety or mood disorders.
In the early days, when I saw my doctor for check ups, I was told that hormones after birth can lead to the baby blues. A cute little way of saying it's okay that you're crying every day, that you don't feel like yourself, that you are so tired it feels like your eyes are bleeding. But I was told it will pass, just give it some time. So I did. And each day, I felt myself sink a little deeper.
For me, it felt as if the sun didn't rise. An endless night, filled with darkness and fear. It was hard to breathe. Was this normal? Is this motherhood? How was I supposed to know? So despite losing myself more every day, I continued pretending everything was fine. Distancing myself from my friends, my family and my husband, I was ashamed that I wasn't happy. I didn't want them to see, to notice I wasn't the "perfect" mother.
But they did notice something was wrong. My sisters, my parents, they reached out a lot. They wanted to visit, they wanted to help. But I refused. I didn't need help! How dare they think I wasn't capable. (Am I not capable? Am I failing? Am I not made out for this??). My husband, he did his best, despite me pushing him away with such a force I'm still shocked the foundation of our marriage didn't crack. Friendships faded fast. I held on to some. To the ones who could hold a space for me, to the few that had children too, who may have realized what was happening but didn't want to overstep. They stayed. They checked in. They asked if I was okay. Questioned if maybe I needed help.
But I Googled. I didn't want to hurt my baby. I didn't want ANYTHING to hurt my baby. That's why I wouldn't leave the house. Google says to have postpartum depression I have to want to hurt my baby. I don't have that. I don't want to hurt myself. Sure, I feel like I want to jump out a window. Smash my head against the wall. Peel off my skin, rip out my hair. But I'm not ACTUALLY going to do that. So, I don't have PPD. No way. I DO NOT NEED HELP.
As time slipped away, I convinced myself I was fine. I was taking my baby to a music class, I attended family events, I smiled. I knew I was a great mom. I still know that. But as a wife, a daughter, a friend, I had become a shell of the person I once was.
Fourteen months after my daughter was born, I started woodworking. Throwing myself into my new business, any time I felt the brick begin to form in my chest, preventing me from taking a breath, I went to the shop. I thought it was the cure, that I had found something to heal myself. I didn't need help. I didn't. I could build myself back BY MYSELF. I convinced myself of that.
As more time passed, I really felt that things were okay. I could talk about it. The dark days, maybe I did have a bit of PPD, but hey, look at me now, I fixed myself up! But as we talked about having another baby, the fear began to take hold again. Could I do it? What would happen? Would I fall back into that scary place again?
My first birth experience was traumatic. It was long. It was hard. There were complications. We had an extended hospital stay. I blamed this for what I went through after my daughter was born. So the cure to NOT have postpartum depression was to not have a traumatic birth! Once we found out we were having our second baby, I felt prepared to take control.
I got a midwife.
A birth and postpartum doula.
I planned every detail.
And I told everyone I was worried about PPD.
It felt like a big step. And in truth, it really was. Even though I still wouldn't admit that I likely suffered from some kind of postpartum mental illness, I knew I had to lean on my support system to advocate for me even if I didn't want to admit I needed help.
Everything about my second pregnancy and birth experience was different. It went amazing. It was exactly as I had hoped and planned. That first week at home was beautiful. I knew what to expect. I knew it was supposed to be hard. But as the first week turned to the second, and then the third, the signs began to present themselves.
Loss of appetite.
Fear of the future.
Inability to sleep.
Feelings of desperation, worry, and anxiety.
Physically, I felt as if an electric current was running through my body. I felt sick to my stomach, dizzy all the time.
And this time, instead of turning inward, I reached out. It was hard. It was so, so hard. But I couldn't go back to that dark place, not with two little girls who needed me. I remember as a sat crying with my postpartum doula Sarah, she told me that I didn't need to feel this way. That there was help available that I didn't even know about. That if I needed help, to just ask for it.
My husband drove me to our family doctor and my mom came as back up. As I broke down to my doctor, he looked at me and told me that I'd tried talking about it, I tried therapy, I tried doing it alone. Maybe it was time we tried medication. I wanted to say no. To say that medication meant I was crazy. Medication meant failure. Medication meant that I couldn't do it myself. Medication means I'd be numb, a zombie. Medication would make me even worse. I wanted to say no because I was scared. Really scared. Scared to the point that my husband, who I will never be able to thank enough, took an extended paternity leave because I was so worried that I wouldn't be okay. But in spite of that fear, I said yes.
Because I didn't want anxiety to rule my life.
I wanted to be present.
I wanted to be happy.
I wanted to be myself again.
And it wasn't instant. At first the medication made me feel sick, one of the side effects. I didn't sleep right away, the fog didn't clear. I felt defeated. Every few weeks, I'd visit my doctor and he would adjust my dose. And every few weeks he reassured me that once we got to the right level, I would just know.
I was frustrated. I wanted it to be instant. I wanted to feel better. I wanted to stop crying. As the months passed, and my husband had to return to work, I realized I cried a lot less. I didn't cry every day. I didn't even cry every week. I smiled, I laughed. And suddenly, I knew it was going to be okay. I COULD handle it. I COULD do it all. Was it going to be easy? Hell. NO. But could I do it? Hell. YES.
For the first time in years, I am myself. I am happy, I am sad, I am angry, I am joyful. I am HUMAN. And it took medication to get me back here. I'm not a zombie, I feel it all. But I'm not clouded by the current of anxiety coursing through me. I don't isolate myself. I reach out. I have good days and bad days, and if I miss taking my medication, I get light headed and feel those physical symptoms of anxiety returning. I need it to be okay. And you know what? That is OKAY.
I'm extremely lucky to have the support system that I do. That they confronted me with their concerns when I wasn't willing to listen to them. That they stuck with me, even when I wasn't myself. That my husband, my family, and some of my closest friends held a space for me knowing that I would come back to it eventually. That because of this support, I was able to admit when I wasn't okay. And I needed their help.
Not everyone is so lucky. Not everyone has support. And not everyone is going to be able to admit they need help.
If you're scared, trust me, I know how that feels. I was scared too. But you don't have to feel this way.
If you need help. If you think you need help. If you have any thought that maybe you aren't okay. Listen to that voice. All you have to do is ask. I'm always here if you need me.