I would look into the mirror and wonder who was the person looking back at me. She looked like me, but did not feel like me. There was no spark in her eyes. She was living, but she wasn’t alive.
This is a story of my journey with postpartum depression and anxiety.
It snuck in and quietly descended on my mind shortly after giving birth to my son. I felt detached from my baby, more like I was caring for a stranger. I cried all the time and had little motivation to do anything. Everything in my mind screamed run away! Why? I KNEW I loved my husband and my children even if I couldn’t feel it. My mind was betraying me.
I tried several natural options, nothing helped enough. Life was overwhelming, everything was overwhelming. Any small event could trigger crying or even worse anger. Postpartum anger isn’t talked about much, but it is very REAL. That feeling of being overwhelmed triggers anxiety and the reaction was anger. Anger that is all consuming and hard to get under control. This is when I decided I needed to take medication. I was not able to control this on my own and it was not working for me or my family.
On medication I felt even, flat. I was living, but not alive. I didn’t know who I had become. I had no interests, hobbies, or joys. In some ways that didn’t matter because I was no longer having mood swings and anxiety attacks. Still even on medication I was easily overwhelmed. So I pulled back. Phone calls where exhausting. Many times even replying to a text message was draining. I saved my energy for my children and my husband. I withdrew from friends and even family to some extent.
I unfriended or hid people on social media because they were able to enjoy their lives and it hurt to see it or I thought if I ever totally broke down and left they would help me. I knew in my HEART I didn’t want to leave, but my mind wouldn’t let go of the idea of running away. I KNEW it wouldn’t fix anything and would ultimately make things worse, but for some reason running felt like it would be relief.
Over a year passed and I wondered if I would ever be myself again. Would I ever find a way to enjoy my life and enjoy being a mother again? I’ve always LOVED babies, but I wasn’t able to enjoy THIS time with my last baby. I cried almost every night over what felt like the death of the person I used to be. I tried not to be in pictures so I wouldn’t have to look at them and see the shell of a person I had become. I rarely did my make-up so I wouldn’t have to look in the mirror into my own eyes. They were dead, lifeless, dull.
Even though I struggle with supply issues, I wanted to nurse my baby until around 2 years old because of the benefits for baby. We struggled so much the first two months to start nursing due to latching issues, tongue ties, etc. I fought to keep at it hoping it would help me feel more connected. In the end, I weaned much earlier than I planned or wanted. The postpartum depression made me want to be alone and not to be touched. Nursing became excruciating. My body felt like ants were crawling all over, my mind screamed every time we nursed. After a few months I couldn’t take it any more and began to wean.
A year and a half postpartum, I decided to slowly wean off the medication. There were days where I felt like I was back to my old self. Other days I was just exhausted. After a few months the anxiety, anger, and crying returned and slowly progressed, occurring more and more frequently. I became intuitive to my body. I could feel it building up: the heat, the rapid heartbeat, the fight or flight reaction. Anxiety that caused either crying or anger. I could walk away from the situation and take some time alone until it was over, but I couldn’t stop it or control it.
Around the time my son turned two, I decided to try medication again. It has been different this time. I feel more and more like me every day. When I look in the mirror I see me. I am no longer just living, but alive.
I still struggle. Not every day is a good day. I cannot look at old pictures of myself or the kids because it reminds me of how I felt during that time. I have a hard time seeing mothers loving on their little babies because I remember how I missed out. Postpartum depression robbed me of my sense of self, my joy of being a mother, my nursing journey, time with friends and family, and so much more. I KNOW I did the best I could and I KNOW it was all out of my control. They say time heals all wounds. Some day I will be able to look back and say I HEALED from postpartum depression.
If you are struggling with postpartum depression, even if you just suspect something is off, reach out. See your doctor. There is help. You do not have to do it all alone.
May is National Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month. May 6th, 2020 was World Maternal Mental Health Day. One in five mothers experience some type of perinatal mood disorder or anxiety. Many times it goes unnoticed and untreated which can have long term effects on the mother, baby, and family. Symptoms can appear anytime during pregnancy and up to 12 months after childbirth. Increased awareness will reduce the stigma around postpartum depression and improve the quality of care women receive after childbirth.