I have written, and re-written this post so many times over the past 3 years. I just wasn’t ready. To be honest, it was a really hard time in my life and reliving my postpartum journey is returning to some of my darkest times, it’s hard to revisit those feelings. Postpartum anxiety and depression are not hot topics you typically discuss with friends. However, I have recently felt in my heart that it is time to share my story. What started as a brief overview of my experiences unfolded into a pretty long blog post that I know many of you won’t want or need to read. That is OKAY. I wrote this for the mama that needs to read it. I wrote this to remind her she is not alone.
First and foremost this post needs to let you know; if you are feeling anything like I was, or having your own unique symptoms after having a baby, know you are not alone. Going through the monumental experience of having a baby and then having your mind play tricks on you to tell you you are something you aren’t, well its not fair. I felt alone, and it if wasn’t for my husband, my counselors/doctors and a few select people, the ending of my story could have been a lot different. It’s important to tell you this in the beginning of my story, because here I am, on the other side, telling you that what you are feeling will not last forever. Things will get better. God, what I still wouldn’t give to go back in time and have someone tell me those exact things. I hope that I can provide those words to someone, anyone out there, who needs it.
First and foremost, what I am about to share, is an experience that I went through. It is not who I am and it does not define me. Many of these details I have never shared with my family or friends and to be honest, never thought I would publicly write about. I am writing and attempting to articulate my experience in hopes of being a light to even one person who needs it.
So here it goes…
A little background. I have three children who are all 18 months apart in age. After the birth of my first baby I felt euphoric – I literally was so happy I cried at everything and anything. With the birth of my second daughter I experienced a mild case of baby blues but I chalked that up to a December/winter baby.
My story begins during my final pregnancy of my son. There were warning signs during pregnancy that I noticed, but maybe should have gave more attention to. I started feeling pretty lousy right after turning 25 weeks pregnant. For some reason or another I ended up with severe heart burn. I thought at the time it was due to my baby having a full head of hair. Looking back and considering I am mostly bald myself, I should have realized the indigestion was due to stress. After talking with my doctor we decided to start me on Zantac (which was proven safe at the time). The medicine gave me a little relief from my heartburn but in turn caused a great deal of side effects that were only the beginning of my long journey.
Now I want to make it clear that this blog post is solely MY personal experience. What happened to me may not happen to you, and your situation will likely look different. We all have our own journey, this is just mine.
Intrusive Thoughts and OCD behaviors
A few weeks into taking Zantac I began waking up in the middle of the night feeling very anxious. I remember weeks on end feeling like I had a million things to do and a million thoughts in my head. Unfortunately I started developing what is called intrusive thoughts. They actually started to consume my life. Thoughts of harming myself, my children, my husband.
They got so scary I woke my husband up in the middle of the night and just begged him to take me to a psychiatric hospital. I was terrified but mostly embarrassed. Because of how badly I felt for having such disgusting thoughts, I would beat myself up over and over and over again, all day long. My therapist later taught me that I was ruminating. Continuously cycling the thoughts in and out of my head. I would have one, and instead of acknowledging the thought, allowing it to come and exit, I would fixate and convince myself that I was now a monster.
Now I know I was not myself-though at the time I thought this was my new self. I started identifying my anxiety before my son was born and attempted to get set up for help ahead of time. Unfortunately the end of my pregnancy did not go as planned and I ended up hospitalized with pre-eclampsia and a baby who was taken to the NICU immediately after birth. Although I attempted to prepare myself for my postpartum anxiety, realizing the likelihood of increased intrusive thoughts and depression, there was nothing that could prepare me for what I actually experienced.
Frequent Panic Attacks
My first panic attack came hours after my son was born. I experienced them on and off for a few days following birth. It felt like I was living an out of body experience. Like I was watching my life happen but not participating in it. Every attempt to ground myself was unsuccessful – I tried anything and everything I could to prevent another panic attack from happening and sometimes it worked but most times it did not.
Looking back I don’t think I was ever fully honest with my friends or family with how bad I was truly feeling. Postpartum anxiety has such a stigma attached to it that, although I attempted to tell them about my journey, it’s such a personal experience that it’s hard to see another perspective. At that time I didn’t really know anyone who had an experience similar to mine. I felt alone. I felt scared all the time. Nights were the worst-I would dread the darkness. It felt like impending doom day after day. It is hard to imagine feeling what that is really like so my best attempt at describing it is feeling like you are going to die at any moment at any given time for days on end.
Because I had developed those ruminating OCD behaviors of repeating those terrible thoughts over and over in my mind, the scary ones continued to haunt me day in and day out. Holding my son and doing skin to skin did help some. Being with my children and seeing them smile helped. Unfortunately these things just weren’t enough.
How I Fought Back
Somehow I made the decision to begin therapy, I started seeing a therapist 2x a week and then a psychiatrist who put me on some new medications. Because of how severe my panic and anxiety was the medication was pretty significant but I honestly know I wouldn’t have gotten through this safely without it. I felt like I was losing control of my life and taking the medication allowed me to rationalize things.
The guilt associated with my anxiety
The level of guilt that is associated with postpartum anxiety and depression is absolutely next level. You read about it, but until you experience it, it really is just a foreign topic. Like most women I would get so frustrated with myself for feeling the way I was. I felt it was my fault and if I could just be better or if I could just do one thing differently, maybe I wouldn’t feel so awful. My brain kept telling me you should be happy, and I wanted to enjoy my beautiful family, I wanted to be happy. I just couldn’t be. Not at first.
Finding my way
After finally finding a good mix between therapy, exercise, essential oils, and writing, I started to feel better. It was hard work to find my way back to myself. There was such a tremendous amount of work required and it did not happen over night but I am here to tell you, its worth the fight. I remember so many times thinking to myself this was my new normal. That these terrible, inadequate feelings were my new normal, and I would be stuck like this forever. I was always going to have awful thoughts and I was never going to think normally again. I realized now that was my anxiety talking. That was my postpartum anxiety, my emotions and hormones attempting to take over my life.
What Postpartum Anxiety/Depression really is
I think what a lot of people don’t understand about postpartum anxiety or depression, is that it is an actual chemical imbalance in our brains. It can happen to any mom, after any pregnancy and each experience is unique to itself.
My Message to those mamas thinking they are all alone…
What I also need to tell you, is it does not last forever. I knew deep down I was still in there. I was just buried by the difficulties of motherhood no one wants to talk about. Now I realized how valuable and important it is to support our fellow mothers. We have to stick together and encourage one another to keep going. Sometimes things just get a little messed up in our brains after we have babies. It doesn’t mean we are changed for good. We just need a little help to find our way back. I promise you, things will get better.
I know this blog post was long, and likely not for all of you who subscribe, but I did feel it important to share my story. Like I said, even if I can remind one woman, one mother that things are going to get brighter, then this was worth it.
I am an open book and if you want to talk more about my experience or yours, always always feel free to email me. To my fellow mamas, we are not strangers, we are a tribe.