Sixteen months after the birth of my son and I finally feel my mental health returning. It was like I had been split in two less than 24 hour after the birth of my son and over the past few months through recovery, therapy, and treatment I have been gradually stitched back together. It is only now that I feel stitches dissolve and I am 90% healed. The scar, however, will remain and be a part of me and may even return with future births, but I accept that reality.
May is Postpartum Awareness month and having been one of the 90% of women who experience postpartum mental health issues (“baby blues” and postpartum mental health disorders), I finally feel comfortable enough and compelled to share my story.
If you read K.C.’s birth story then a few things may stand out to you as impacts on my mental health. K.C. was three weeks early. I thought I was mentally prepared for his arrival, but in many ways I was experiencing denial and feeling almost detached from the birth process. Do not get me wrong, my husband and I were so excited for his arrival and I was emotionally invested as soon as he arrived and I saw his little cherub lips and big blue eyes. But the experience that followed in the hospital with K.C. struggling with jaundice, losing weight, and doing physical therapy to learn to suckle, and many tears (both his and mine) was my “trauma.” I have always been someone who struggles with anxiety and I have dealt with depression before, but this was a whole new bag when someone depends on you and your hormones are going haywire.
The days and weeks following K.C.’s birth seem to all blend together until one pivotal moment. I was sad, anxious, exhausted beyond belief, struggling to bond with my son, feeling like I had to provide everything for my son, but knowing I couldn’t or I was unable to. My husband, our parents, my whole support system was there to help, but I either refused their help because I had this instinctual urge to take care of him or I would get mad that they were ordering me to bed and then sad that they got to feed him and I was struggling to breastfeed.
I was exhausted, couldn’t stop crying, wanting desperately to take care of my son and to be able to bond with him like I wanted to, and Kenny, unbeknownst to me, called my mom to come over. K.C. by this point was 39 weeks gestation/2 weeks old. We were just getting breastfeeding down. I couldn’t remember the last time I showered. My mom helped me shower. Bathed K.C. Brought me tea. Put me in bed with the baby to nurse and ordered me to sleep. I was still struggling to bond. I denied that I was struggling with depression and that I didn’t feel the bond a mother should feel. I needed a band-aide just to find the “reset” button.
My band-aide couldn’t come soon enough and it came in the form of good friends. Friends who came miles away to meet K.C., lend me a hand, take me out of the house (which I hadn’t done since his birth), and helped me start to feel human again. I didn’t share with them what I was going through or feeling. I just wanted some normalcy and at the time ignore the issue. Even at my 4 week postpartum appointment I said I was feeling fine. I marked my postpartum survey with mostly 8s and 10s. I didn’t have a problem. It was just the “baby blues” and I was over it. At least, that is what I thought…
In the weeks to come I had mood swings, random cries and spurts of anxiety that I could not explain. At times I felt like I was going crazy. I was going to have to go back to work soon. My mood swings accompanying by stress of new parents, were causing problems with my relationship with my husband and my over-all ability to function. We both knew I needed to see someone. With some advice from an other mom who experienced this and encouragement from my husband, I set up an appointment to meet with a postpartum mental health specialist.
Going back to work was the hardest. I went back before I was healed, physically and mentally. I struggled with sleep deprivation, anxiety, depression and I was expected to function at my job?! There was no way I could perform my best. I felt guilty. My students weren’t getting the best version of their teacher. My husband wasn’t getting all that he needed from his wife. My baby was only getting 25% of his mother (any energy I had during the day went toward my students—another reason to feel guilty). I cried every morning going to work and often time cried at work. I combatted panic attacks with my “five senses” exercise my therapist was having me do whenever I felt one coming on (daily). Sometimes it worked and I only had to do it once in awhile. Other days I was doing it every five minutes to stay sane. Some days it wasn’t helping at all and I couldn’t even get out the door.
Every time I thought I was getting better I had a setback. It always seemed like two steps forward, one step back. The summer break was healing. I went to my therapy sessions regularly, I checked-in with my self at least once a day, I spent as much time with my son (by this point we had bonded and we’re growing more and more in love with each other) and husband as possible. I thought I was completely healed. Then had to go back to work in the fall. It was like a dozen steps back and I had to start over again. I couldn’t meet with my therapist because her work hours were my work hours. We had a few phone sessions, but it was never enough. Then I had a panic attack at work. I sequestered myself in my admin’s office unable to breath and stop the tears. I was overwhelmed. I was frustrated. I felt like the world is pilling on top of me. I missed my son. I was in her office for two hours unable to calm down enough to go back to my classroom, so I was excused to go home.
This was a wakeup call for me. My family depended on my health and my ability to work. I needed to get it together, but I also needed to stop ignoring or “faking” that I was ok. I wasn’t ok. Giving myself permission to “not be ok” and accept that I was dealing with postpartum depression (and that my depression wasn’t me, that it was something happening to me—a separate entity from me), that I wasn’t alone, that if I just asked I could get support from all areas of my life. I also found homeopathic remedies to help: Holy Basil, essential oils, and most importantly sleep and mental health days/breaks. I needed to help myself heal and allow myself heal. I couldn’t ignore it or “fake it to make it.” I faced it head on and became more proactive about my health. I allowed myself to take breaks. I needed it. My family needed it. My job needed it. Everything was going to be ok.
It wasn’t until this moment where I really stopped denying what was going on. I worked through the “trauma” of the early days of new parenthood. I accepted it. This was my truth. I was a new mother with postpartum depression and I needed to let myself heal. This has been a gradual process for me. I am realizing how much birth takes a toll on your physical and mental health. It took me at least six months for my body to feel normal again after birth. But it has taken my brain and my hormones sixteen months to return to normalcy.
Just as some of your child’s DNA remains inside of you after their birth altering your very state forever, postpartum depression changed me into a woman who is surprisingly stronger than I thought I was.
My hope is to bring more awareness to the mental and emotional turmoil postpartum can create. This is not something to be pushed under the rug, whispered about, or ignored (I wanted and did do all of these things), but that we bring PPD to light in our health care arena so more women with PPD and PMD can be diagnosed early and treated. If you are reading this and have experienced postpartum depression you are not alone. We all experience it differently and at varying levels. There are so many resources. Hopefully my story can help encourage someone to get the help they need to heal, but we most definitely cannot do it alone. Our babies and our families depend on it.