I was sitting in my therapist office one day and we were talking about guilt and shame and why I always feel like if something goes wrong, it’s automatically my fault.
“Well, that’s the depression talking”, she said so calmly.
We had talked earlier on in our sessions about my anxiety and it was very clear that I was struggling with Postpartum Anxiety (PPA) but we had never talked specifically about Postpartum Depression (PPD).
To me PPD felt so much more real, so scary, and it honestly just made me feel so much more broken.
I felt like I could ‘deal’ with having PPA, I mean isn’t everyone just a stressed out mom? But PPD was so foreign to me. I felt fearful that people would think I was a bad mom, that I couldn’t take care of my kids, that there was something wrong with me. I mean I didn’t feel depressed. I wasn’t under the covers crying and unable to get out of bed (which was my previous experience with my depression when I was in high school) and I felt like I was getting better.
But there it was, clear as day and right out of my therapists mouth. I was a woman who had Postpartum Depression and Anxiety.
Did you know that 1 in 5 women suffer from either PPA or PPD? And so many moms out there just suffer in silence. They are afraid, just like I was and sometimes still am.
“What will people think of me?”
“Am I really crazy?”
“Why can’t I just get it together?”
For me, my anxiety isn’t always panic attacks or heavy breathing like they show so often on TV but more of a mental tug and what we refer to in my home as my ‘spiral’.
It starts with the smallest trigger, mostly connected to me feeling like I’ve made a mistake or am inadequate in some way and it turns into spiraling thoughts that I struggle to shut down. Something as simple as getting the wrong thing at the grocery store can become catastrophic.
“Ugh, I don’t have time to go back out”
“I always do this”
“I am so forgetful”
“See this is what happens because you never pay attention”
“Why are you so stupid?”
“Ugh, why are you thinking like this again?”
“See, now no one wants to talk to you because you’re crazy and ruined dinner.”
This spiral is followed by some tears on my part, my family looking confused because they don’t know what to say to me, and me feeling even more guilty because I ‘ruined it again’.
It wasn’t until this pattern had happened for a few months in a row, and a LOT more crying on the middle of my kitchen floor that I realized I needed help. I told my husband I had to do something, I was tired of feeling so tired, and life was just exhausting me. As a life coach, I felt like an even bigger fraud because I felt even less together than I ever had been, and I knew that it was going to have bigger repercussions for my family if I didn’t get help.
So one day, I bravely walked into a therapist office and just said it “I think something is wrong with me”… followed by those ever flowing tears.
After a few sessions, she had diagnosed my PPA (and later my PPD) and we had come up with some coping techniques that have helped me get through my days better. I share them openly with my husband, though honestly I sometimes worry that I am TOO vulnerable with him, and they help him help me with my anxiety when it gets really bad.
In the 5 months since I realized that I needed help, I am proud to say that many of the techniques (from counting, to breathing, to reframing, and more) have really helped me when I am in a spiral. And while I would love to say that my spirals are gone, at least I can say that when I am in the moment, I can self identify what’s happening and bring myself out of it much quicker.
So many of us are afraid to speak our truths because we don’t want to be judged. We don’t want to admit that something is wrong with us. We love our kids and want to be seen as a ‘good mom’. But in keeping our struggles silent, we not only harm ourselves but our family and other women who are suffering in silence.
In that vain, I’ve had a few amazing women be willing to speak out on their struggles and share their personal experiences with PPA/PPD. Because the things is, it affects everyone so differently, which is why it’s also hard to identify right away. We might just think we’re stressed or hormonal or just having a bad day. But mama, if you feel off, if you’re struggle lasts a bit, if you know something just doesn’t feel right, can I encourage you to go and talk to someone, be it another mom, your doctor, or a family member? Because you don’t have to feel stuck, you don’t have to feel alone, and you don’t have to feel lost. Because YOU are not alone!
I’ve wrote a bit more about my PPA on other pages so feel free to check out my guests posts over on;
What Postpartum Mental Illness Looks Like; 4 Moms Stories
I got pregnant with my 1st child within 2 weeks of going off the pill. My 2nd was not as easy and I had secondary infertility. After many doctors appointments, medications, and months of tests I got pregnant.
From the moment I got pregnant with my 2nd child, Reilley, she did things her own way. The pregnancy was rough. I felt like a beached whale from day one. A few months into the pregnancy I found out I had placenta previa. I planned my C-section and little miss decided a few days before it was time to party! The C-section went well and I felt physically okay afterwords.
In the weeks after getting home with the most beautiful baby girl on Earth, I felt sad, emotional, and disconnected from my entire family. Nursing went very well. (It was the opposite of my first.) I began to resent her for never taking a bottle and her constant need for me. She hated my husband for the first 9 month of her life. (I wish I was joking.)
I knew something was not right and I talked to my OB at my 6 week check up. I recognized depression from years before and explained exactly what I was feeling. At the time I didn’t talk to anyone other than my doctor about my feelings. They put me on a safe for breastfeeding, antidepressant. It helped BUT it put me to sleep! I couldn’t fall asleep on the sofa with an active toddler running around.
After about 4 weeks I just stopped the medication. I don’t recommend this to anyone! I was already told I was on the only medication safe for breastfeeding and my baby girl wouldn’t take a bottle EVER (and never did!) I went back to not feeling myself and feeling disconnected from the world. I didn’t take as many pictures with her as I did with my first. I didn’t snuggle her or sing to her as much as my oldest. If she was happy with someone else, I let them hold her for as long as possible. I cried while nursing her all the time. About month 8 I started feeling myself. I had eaten my feelings and felt awful in my own skin.
Now, 5 years later, Reilley is my little mini me! She is the sweetest and sassiest little girl you will ever meet! I catch myself taking more pictures of her and snuggling her more now! The guilt I have for my feelings toward her are sometimes overwhelming. We now have 3 children and after her baby sister was born I had a moment of panic in the hospital. I cried in my husbands arms because I was so scared of feeling the same way again. I was ok but very aware of every little feeling I had in those first few month postpartum. I look back and know I could have done more for myself and my family but I can’t go back. I was lucky because everything turned out ok and hope to help other women now they are not alone!
I think when I had thought of PPD/PPA initially, prior to my postpartum experience, I thought it was something that hit you like a ton of bricks right away. You’d give birth and just know right away that this was something you were going to have to deal with. This was not my experience at all…and the more I speak with other women who have dealt with PPD/PPA, this is not their experience either.
For me, PPD/PPA crept in really slowly, building overtime mysteriously in a way that it was disguised underneath sleep deprivation, sleep training, lack of proper nutrition, a huge life transition from being a full-time working mom to a stay-at- home mom, and a long cold winter setting in.
One day, I realized that my husband was looking at me differently and treading softly around me. I thought back to the past week or two and realized that he had asked me if I was “okay”multiple times and called to “just check in” numerous times in a day. I had been losing my patience with him and our 8-month old boy pretty regularly, especially around naptime, bedtime, and middle of the night wakings.
PPD/PPA did not feel like what I thought it would feel like. I did not feel “sad” or “unable to bond” with my baby. Instead, I felt angry and frustrated…but with what I didn’t know. It almost felt like really intense PMS.
I reached out on social media to my mom friends and found so many had been through this as well. I received a lot of sound advice on ways to deal with it, but most importantly, I found support.
I am now 13 months in to my postpartum journey and I’ve been dealing with PPD/PPA for five months. I have learned that the most important piece is giving yourself a voice. A voice to say “I’m having a difficult day,” or “I need to get out of the house tonight,” or just “I need a hug.” My advice to other moms is that if something doesn’t feel right, no matter what that “feeling” is,
talk to someone. Ask others around you for help. You don’t have to silently deal with it alone.
PP Anxiety.... you never think it will happen to you.
With each child the anxiety grew stronger, but I hid it. Why? I felt so ashamed like it was something I should have controlled, something I could have prevented. Four years later and hear I sit, writing about my story. My struggle, still raw and real.
I always thought I would be the Mom who has it all together. Even when my first was born, overwhelmed and unsure I put on my face, fake it til you make it right?
Until one day, It happened... I had an anxiety attack. It came out of no where, I couldn't stop it. I sobbed, felt terrified, felt like a bad mom for the overwhelming feelings. Feelings that started out of what felt like no where.
I've realized a few things since that night over three years ago;
Post partum anxiety doesn’t make me weak. When I look at my wonderful (and wild) toddlers I see the beautiful things I created! Wow!
It's okay to need help; we lost my husbands parents, one around the time we brought each of our beautiful children into the world. That's hard. That huge loss and becoming parents at the same time triggered anxiety that wasn’t explainable; that hasn't really stopped since.
I struggle every day, trying to balance being a good mom, holding a career, trying to save money, helping women through my blog and passion, maintaining great friendships. Adulting is SO HARD. Add in parenting, no wonder we struggle right?
I have finally realized something.... it’s okay. It’s okay to ask for help. To struggle sometimes, feeling overwhelmed and unsure. To admit that it's too much, that I need rest too.
I'm not weak, I'm strong and I'm brave, because I fight the odds. I’m raising two brave and beautiful kids who love me no matter how I’m feeling; unconditionally through the good or bad. I remain positive (99% of the time) and continue to do what's best for myself and for my family.... each and every day.
If there’s ever a day you feel you aren’t good enough or strong enough, please remember this. Tomorrow is a new day, thank God!
With each new day I hope to be the mom, wife, person I need and want to be without limitations.
To anyone else struggling, I'm here. You are not alone. You are God’s masterpiece just as you are.
These three pictures were taken at very different times. True, they are only a few years apart, but the person in them is different. The first was taken in December 2012, The second in May 2017, and the last, in April 2018. It’s the same person on the outside, but a very different person on the inside.
The girl in the first picture is scared, haunted by obsessive thoughts and feeling like a bad mother for wanting nothing to do with the baby she can’t believe is hers. This girl would be put on medication for the short term, but then suffered with crippling anxiety and rage long after. This girl was a one and done with children. This girl thinks she just made the biggest mistake of her life. She hates the baby, her husband, and herself. She overcompensates by keeping her house obsessively clean and working out for hours on end. She cooks months worth of homemade organic meals and keeps herself up at night making homemade graham crackers. She is not me anymore.
The girl in the second picture can’t believe she did this again. She can’t believe she’s feeling this way again. She had it right this time: exercised and ate healthy all through pregnancy, switched from her OB to a more natural minded midwife, had a natural birth, encapsulated her placenta, took magnesium supplements and had read every book out there. Yet, once again, she’s plagued by sleepless nights, panic attacks, and a crippling depression. She’s heartbroken to see a safe haven sign and learn that she can only drop off a baby 30 days old, and her son is 33 days old. She has visions of dropping her newborn down the stairs. However, she’s acting as if nothing has changed, and she can totally handle life. She repeats to herself: This is normal. It will pass. She is not me anymore.
Then that girl got the help she needed. That girl started therapy, found the right medication, and met her people. She made it her job to go to every possible event at the Center for Perinatal Mood and Anxiety disorder. She learned she has struggled with anxiety her entire life. She learned that therapy, meditation, mindfulness, writing, exercise in moderation, medication and acupuncture could help her thrive.
The woman in the third picture is not without her battles. The difference now is that smile is genuine. Sure, her kids drive her nuts sometimes and she still struggles with anxiety and not having a constant sense of order. But, she knows how to handle it. She laughs more and stresses less. She’s found a sisterhood of amazing women who accept her for who she is. It’s hard work changing her mindset, but she’s committed. She loves her boys fiercely and knows that she was brought to this place for a reason. This woman is me.
Maternal Mental Illness is a REAL thing and 1 in 5 women (at least) will struggle with it post partum. There is nothing to be embaressed or ashamed about. Know that YOU mama are strong and if you, or a mom you know is suffering, there is help out there for you. Mom life is hard. Don't do it alone!
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