True joy and heartfelt giggles. It has been a while since I have felt them naturally. Until today…
Today as the snow blanketed the south, I ran outside before the sun went down to photograph this rare event. I found myself surrounded by silence, aside from the soft sound of snow falling down and felt the world was still. I sat in reflection of this beautiful day at home with my family. Some felt trapped inside all day but I felt at ease after feeling so incredibly blessed to experience this day through my three year old’s eyes.
I have waited to share this, not out of shame, but for the right words to flow freely. I hope by sharing this that someone going through this alone, secretively struggling to keep it all in, will know they are not alone. Sure. We see celebrities share their battles with postpartum depression on the regular, but I believe it helps to hear it from someone on your same level. The girl next door. Your colleague. Your neighbor. Your family member. Your boss. You are not alone in this journey and so many have walked in these same steps that you walk through now.
As I sat reflecting in the peaceful snow today and feeling raw and organic joy, the kind that flows naturally and makes you both laugh and cry, I knew it was time to share my story.
Postpartum Mood Disorders
It is having all of this happiness around you, but you can’t feel the joy in it. You have sadness and total fear of that love being taken away from you. To sum it up, it’s all an intense fear of LOSS. – anonymous, mother of two.
With my first child, it took months to recognize the symptoms of depression. I wrote it off to lack of sleep, poor diet, and exhaustion. I was a rock star nurse who could handle a full plate so there was no way having a child would change everything for me. I honestly cannot remember the first portion of Micah’s life. Postpartum depression robbed me of it. It was a blur and as I look back, all I see is tears and beating myself up constantly. Micah was colicky, but how much of that was reflective of my own mood?
So let me explain what postpartum depression looks like for me. It is not crying and sadness. Not a fear of harming my own child. It was pure anxiety caused by irrational thoughts and dreams of losing my child.
Thinking please Lord, don’t ever let me part from this beautiful child… all while having daydreams of dying a horrible death. Still having those dreams at 9 months out. anonymous, mother of two.
I noticed things were taking a turn when I was on a euphoric high days after having Celia. I felt joy and a bond so deep that I didn’t have immediately with my son three years ago. Celia was an angel baby with very little crying and was such a snuggler. I thought we had made it and I would not experience this postpartum mood disorder with my second child. However, the honeymoon stage abruptly ended with our struggle to breastfeed. She lost a pound at her first visit, her latch was so extremely painful that I spent hours crying because she was feeding non-stop, every hour. I found myself in the emergency room at 2:00 am with postpartum preeclampsia and scary high blood pressures. I was sitting in the bed, hooked up to IVs with the gown down, doctors and nurses coming in and out, no privacy, breast pump going and echoing throughout the department, and tears falling down my face. I was desperate to make it work, but in the end it didn’t work. This snowballed into intense guilt. A highly educated nurse that understood the ins and outs of how the body works, eating all organic, trying to give her child the best nutrition ever, but could not perform the one task she was made to do. Feed her child. (Side note, these were irrational thoughts because I am a firm believer of Fed is Best, however, when experiencing it firsthand, your thinking may be skewed). To feel like a failure in the first few weeks after being blessed with a miracle baby is a tough pill to swallow.
Irrational nightmares were soon to follow. Once I had a vivid and realistic dream that woke me up in a sweat. I dreamed that I found my toddler drowning in a pool. It was so realistic that I experienced a panic attack the following day when my husband wanted to take my son swimming. This was the first sign that my anxiety was coming back and I called my doctor that day. I recognized this because with my first child, I had those dreams and thoughts daily.
For example, with my first child, in our old neighborhood there were coyote spottings. I had fears of coyotes breaking down my door and taking my new baby away while I was sleeping in the next room. This was not a dream, it was an every day thought. I was on edge leaving the house thinking a coyote was waiting by the door. Another day, we were walking at the park where alligators were occasionally spotted in the ponds. Living in South Carolina, that is not abnormal, it is part of our daily life. I could not relax to have a conversation for glancing over my shoulder for an alligator on my heels, coming to take my baby away, stroller and all.
Once I accepted postpartum depression, I felt ashamed. Acceptance did not mean that I was okay with this diagnosis. I was only further ashamed. Like going to the pharmacy and whispering the name of the medication because I could not accept that I needed an antidepressant. Shame in calling to make an appointment and discussing my mood with a fellow nurse. I’m a nurse, I should have had a handle on these things right? It all changed when I started talking to a few of my closest friends and realized that they were also experiencing the same thoughts and shame. I went with one of them to the Mom’s Run on Daniel Island and was blown away by the number of participants who openly discussed and supported fellow mothers suffering from depression.
You Are Not Alone
When you are going through this, you debate putting out there because of many reasons. It is highly personal and you don’t want to seem weak. You don’t want sympathy glances and statements like “Awe, it will get better” with shoulder pats. You don’t want to be coddled. You want to think clearly and return to your normal.
I am sharing this because I want others to know they are not alone. You should not feel secluded or isolated in this journey. You can’t talk to celebrity A or B and expect feedback. Find someone to talk to and share these irrational thoughts. There are several mommy groups that will not judge you. Your doctor will welcome you with open arms if you need to discuss your struggles. You will be amazed at how common this is, how widely accepted it is, and that there are many people within your circle that have walked in your shoes. Also, please know it is normal. You are no less of a person and should not feel ashamed for experiencing a mood disorder after giving birth.
This journey has caused a lot of self reflection. It has caused me to slow down and take in each experience around me. Hugs mommas, lets lift one another up and stop shaming, one small step at a time!