I’ll be honest. I never thought I would write this post. I thought I would tuck away this story, along with the shame it makes me feel, in some dark corner of my brain until it became only a distant memory, but then I read one story that sounded like mine, read another blog post that sounded like I wrote it, and even started having conversations with friends who opened up that they were going through the same struggles I was.
So why does no one talk about it? I asked this question to myself. Why did I refuse to talk about it? I know for a lot of women there comes the pressure to be the best mom or the fear of being judged by other moms. Frankly, that’s not me. I will easily admit I really don’t care what people think of my parenting skills, so for me it wasn’t judgement.
For me, it was weakness. I thought that by going through postpartum anxiety, it made me weak. How could other women have babies and carry on without their minds getting warped like mine? I equated my anxiety with not being able to suck it up and just be a mom. I’m the kind of person that hates to ask for help, that loves to be independent and wants to conquer it all, and admitting that a baby of all things was the thing that made my mind crumble, was almost impossible for me.
May is National Maternal Depression Awareness Month so what better time than now to share my story. I want to say that I can share it now because I am in a place where I feel like myself again and a place where I have had the time to reflect on this. I won’t say there aren’t days where the anxiety creeps in, there are, but these days are fleeting. I am now able to prevent my thoughts from getting swept away like a tide taking me to a dark place.
Most of you know Bria’s birth story. She was three weeks early, and came so fast she was almost born on my bathroom floor. I think this is where the problems started for me. I’m a planner and this didn’t go as planned. As riveting and funny as my birth story is, I have a hard time thinking about it. When I picture it, I see myself on the bathroom floor, screaming to the 911 operator. I feel fear and panic. I remember after Bria was born the nurse had taken her away for something and I was alone in the room. I burst into tears because it was like I could finally release that fear, worry, and panic that I had tried to hide while going through my labour and delivery. Add to this the fact that I was supposed to go to work that morning. I still had another two weeks of work and then was supposed to enjoy some time off and prepare for my baby. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for the fact my labour and delivery was only four hours long, but for someone that likes to mentally prepare and plan for something, this was a hard thing to accept.
Bria was, and has been, a phenomenal baby. We didn’t deal with colic and we had so much support from family, friends and neighbours. Believe me, I was set up for success. I had freezer meals, a supportive husband, a best friend that had a baby a day earlier, a group of moms on FB for advice and support, so where did it all go wrong? I think this is a huge part of why I feel so much shame about my postpartum experience. I had everything I needed, yet it still wasn’t enough. After hearing so many stories like mine though, I know that postpartum depression and anxiety do not discriminate. Heck, there are even a bunch of celebrities coming out and sharing their experiences like Hayden Panettiere and Chrissy Teigen to name a few.
In the beginning, things went pretty smooth. Breastfeeding was established the first day and we were able to continue breastfeeding pretty effortlessly the first month. I was lucky in that I had an amazing team of midwives that came to the house for the first four weeks, meaning I didn’t leave the house. I started to notice things change probably around the five week mark. Bria started to have issues latching. We would try different techniques and eventually find something new that worked for a few days, but then that would stop working and we had to try something else.
I remember going to my six week appointment at my midwives’ office. It was one of the first times I had to bring Bria out of the house alone. I remember driving the short fifteen minutes and thinking about everything that could go wrong from simple things like a long wait in the waiting room to getting hit by a car. We had to wait about fifteen minutes in the waiting room and I was paralyzed with fear that Bria would start to cry and that I would not be able to stop her or that she would get hungry and I would need to feed her. I know this type of worrying is probably common for most new moms, but I can see this was the beginning of what would become my reality.
Around weeks 6-8 is what experts deem the peak of crying for infants. Bria would cry usually two hours a night from dinner time until around 7:00 PM. I could not handle her crying. During this time, Mark and I would take turns eating dinner. I would never want to eat and would literally choke my food down. I became anxious as dinner time rolled around. When Bria cried I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I wanted to be sick. I would think irrational things like, What if she never stopped crying, even though she always did.
Around two months old, breastfeeding was going downhill fast. I opted to visit a lactation consultant whose tips did help, but again not for very long. I noticed that I would be severely anxious all day. Because sometimes Bria would latch easily and other times she would freak out and scream, I never knew what to expect and thus just became constantly worried. There would be stretches of days I didn’t leave the house. When it would be time for a feed, I would start sweating and I would notice that while Bria ate my jaw was clenched the entire time. I developed pretty bad neck and back pain from breastfeeding her in awkward positions because it was the only way she would eat. There were times I’m not proud of where I would get frustrated with her and there were times when she wailed and I sobbed alongside her. I became a bundle of nerves. I lost ten pounds in a week because I had stopped eating and was consumed with worry.
My anxiety was also fed by the fact that I didn’t know if Bria was getting enough to eat. Sometimes she would only feed for only five minutes and other times she would stop and not be able to latch back on. Some would say, why didn’t you stop breastfeeding and give her formula? Well, because that opened a whole other can of anxiety. What if she was allergic to formula? What if it made her gassy or upset her stomach? Also, I was producing more than enough milk so who was I to stop providing her with breastmilk? It wasn’t her fault I was slowly going mental.
Since Bria took a bottle no problem, I made the decision to switch to exclusively pumping. I would pump up to 8 times a day and because I knew that the most milk was produced during the hours of midnight to 4:00 AM, I would make sure I got up at least 1-2 times in the night to pump, even when Bria slept through the night. What I thought would take away my anxiety, only served to make it worse. I became obsessed with pumping. I stopped going out because it would interfere with my pumping, which I tried to do every two hours. I would become frantic if Bria wouldn’t nap because I used her nap time to pump. While other friends with kids would use nap time to get cat naps in, or do something for themselves, I’d literally run and strap on the pumps, wash bottles and pray Bria didn’t wake up. I wasn’t getting enough rest in the day and I was getting up 1-2 times a night to pump. I constantly felt like I was on the verge of getting a cold. My chest hurt. My body ached. I cried all the time. I was exhausted and I was going through mental turmoil that I told no one about. My brain was constantly going. When did I need to pump next? How much milk did I have? What if my milk dried up? Why did I only get 6 oz from pumping when I usually got 8 oz?
I remember at my lowest point I was in Bria’s room with her during the day and I thought I had heard the front door open. Instead of being afraid that there was an intruder in the house, I had wished someone had broke in and was going to come upstairs and murder me. This is so incredibly hard for me to admit that I had this thought, but I did. I wanted to escape this never ending loop of anxiety that plagued my brain. This was when I knew I wasn’t okay.
I opened up to my husband Mark about what I was going through and he suggested I see my family doctor to get a referral to a therapist. For me this was out of the question. I had been with my family doctor since I was born and had a grown to know the nurses and receptionists well over the years. I was too ashamed. That was when Mark suggested seeking therapy from the employee assistance program at his work. He got me all the information and I was able to sign up confidentially, and for free, online. I learned there were various forms of therapy I could partake in either in person, on the phone, and even through email. I was able to download an app and speak to a therapist via messages on the app. How crazy is that? I found this to work perfectly for me. I was able to look at the therapist’s responses, take my time and reflect and then draft up a response when I had time, either from my phone or computer.
This, along with implementing a plan with Mark that included more sleep and scheduled free time for me, really helped me move in the right direction. I found the anxiety crept in the most when I was sleep deprived and when I had been alone with Bria for long periods of time (days) without going out of the house. Mark made it so a few times a week I could go out and either go to the gym or to the mall or go out with friends.
Probably the most helpful piece of advice my therapist gave me in all of this was to take a moment and grieve my old life. She said I had to reflect on it and let it go because if I didn’t I would keep comparing my current life to my old one and what I was missing out on. This was a really big part of my journey. I would get anxious and depressed when I would think about how I was falling behind in my career, or missing out on events, or even just getting less sleep than my husband. I was constantly comparing others’ journeys to mine and once I made peace with what I had lost and what I had gained, I enjoyed my day-to-day much more.
I don’t want to say the past seven months have been all bad. Having Bria has been the most amazing experience of my life. Even though I have experienced anxiety and waves of sadness, I have also experienced great joy, pride and happiness. This is the face of postpartum anxiety and depression and I think this is what makes it so hard and confusing for us who experience it. We can feel our hearts explode with love for our child one minute, then a few minutes later be crippled by a panic attack. We can get up everyday, do our hair and makeup and from the outside look put together, but inside can be fighting a mental war with ourselves.
Fast forward to today, Bria sleeps 12-13 hours a night and naps twice a day (thanks Weesleep!). I think having this structure and being able to know what to expect has played a huge part in my progress. I’ve also stopped pumping and am relying on a mix of my freezer stash, solids and formula. The freedom of more time, along with sleeping through the night, has had a huge impact on my ability to get back to this new normal. In addition, I realized I missed having goals to work towards, something working full time provided me with. In April, I started a small makeup business and this has exploded into a whole new venture that is not only keeping me busy, it is getting me interacting with other ladies, getting me out the house and doing something non-baby related that is for me.
I did not write this post for sympathy. I wrote it because I know a few months ago it would have been a post that would have helped me in where I was at. I wrote it to humanize postpartum anxiety and I wrote it to take away its power in creating shame. Don’t get me wrong, I will be scared when I hit the Publish button on this post and I’ll probably worry what those close to me will think when they read this, but when I started this blog I made a promise to myself. I promised I would share the good and the bad if it had the potential to help someone else.