The Pain of Motherhood, Surviving Postpartum Mental Illness
Part 1, My story:
I will never forget the joy and excitement after seeing my first positive pregnancy test. I was ecstatic to know that my husband and I would be parents! My due date was in early June. He ended up being born at the end of April. Motherhood already wasn't turning out like I expected.
During my pregnancy, I had learned about the normal post-partum six week baby blues. I was definitely blue, but I didn't think I needed to ask for help. I lived away from family, in a town where I didn't know anyone. We eventually met very kind people at our church. But, I wasn't going to bother anyone with my stress and sadness. I felt like I had to be a perfect mother and couldn't ask for help. My husband was going through his own challenge. We had just moved halfway across the country, and he started a management job right out of graduate school. He worked long shifts. In my mind, he couldn't help.
I didn't allow myself to sleep when my baby slept, because how would laundry and chores get done? I didn't allow myself to enjoy hours of baby cuddles, because I was "lazy" if I sat down that long. I was stressed to the max to do anything. So much had to be loaded in the diaper bag to even take my baby grocery shopping. I was afraid to fall asleep because I knew my baby would need me again in only an hour. (It took me five months to realize my sweet son had a significant dairy sensitivity.) I made a couple phone calls to those who knew me best, but I received what I can now identify as passive aggressive condemnation.
I loved my baby, but I didn't feel a strong bond, even through nursing him. My freedom had been taken away, and I had an extremely hard time accepting that reality. Finally when my son was 10 months old, I voiced my suicidal ideation aloud to my husband. I honestly thought they would be better off without me. I was always angry or crying or numb. Mostly numb.
I am a Christian, and thankfully, I had had the privilege of hearing a sermon on suicide. I'll summarize it with, God is in charge, I am not. God saved my life with this sermon. Even in my deep postpartum depression, He brought the sermon to mind over and over again. I had to assure myself of the negative ramifications if I took my life. I followed up with a psychiatrist who prescribed an antidepressant. This medication did help a little at first. But, then I wasn't feeling much difference, and I found out I was pregnant with my second child! So I quit taking the antidepressant.
My second was born 20 months after my first. It was a better birth experience because she was born full-term, and we did not have a NICU stay! I loved and was thankful for my two healthy babies. So why did I still feel distant from everyone? Why did I still cry every day? Why couldn't I be happy? I went through the motions of mom life, but I was only surviving and definitely not thriving. My babies were happy and healthy, meeting every milestone. But, I still believed I was a terrible mother. I didn't feel like a nurturing person. Suicidal ideation never left. For three years, there was a battle in my mind everyday. I felt trapped, like I would never be happy again. I'm ashamed to say I actually had moments of regretting that I had children.
I knew after baby number one that I was prone to postpartum depression and anxiety. So I asked my OB for a different antidepressant to take after having my second baby. I took that medication for six months, and it did help me. I had moments of happiness, for which I was thankful!
Eighteen months after having baby number two, I had baby number three. There were a few complications with my third. I had to live 18 days in the hospital before I was induced at 34 weeks gestation. I was going to try to refrain from taking any medication this time. This was my third birth and second baby in NICU. Surely I knew what I was doing now. And, I actually felt a stronger bond immediately with this baby! But, after crying so much in the NICU and when I went home, I asked my OB for the antidepressant that had helped me before. And this time, I took it for one full year before discontinuing. Two years later I had baby number four.
By then, the grip depression had on me finally loosened! Thank God, my fourth was full term. We went straight home. Most importantly, I felt the bond! I felt like this was my first "normal" birth/postpartum period. I thank God I was able to experience the storybook happiness after a baby I thought I'd never be able to have!
This is my story, but maybe there are feelings/experiences mentioned that you can relate to. Postpartum depression and anxiety are real and can affect anyone.
Part 2, Compounding Factors
There are so many factors that can worsen postpartum depression & anxiety, including: drastic hormone fluctuations, severe sleep deprivation, lack of support and encouragement for negative emotions, societal ignorance or delusion on new mom life, comparing yourself to other moms who you think are "better." There are legitimate reasons for postpartum depression and anxiety! Don't shame yourself if you aren't exactly loving motherhood. Becoming a mom is a dynamic life change!
Part 3, What You Can Do to Help
Through my experience, there are things I've noticed that do improve my overall mental outlook.
1. Count your blessings. Sit down and write or make a mental list of what you're thankful for. This will direct your mind to a more positive place. You may have trouble at first, but keep at it, and you will be able to think of some beautiful blessings.
2. Don't have expectations. Motherhood is different for every single person! It was a total different set of circumstances, even for your mom. Loving your baby is the most important thing you can do. Love will lead you! Don't expect yourself to look like or be like someone else.
3. Move! Do some sort of movement such as: exercise, stretching, or yoga. This will make you feel stronger and more accomplished. It helps me feel more like a person instead of a robot.
4. Eat well. I'm not perfect, but I've noticed that diet does affect mood. I encourage you to research this! Find foods that trigger or decrease depressive symptoms.
5. Reduce caffeine. This is hard, especially when you don't get to sleep regularly! But, caffeine does affect and can worsen symptoms of depression and anxiety. Research the connection. Even recently, I've cut my morning coffee consumption in half, and I do not feel the extreme edginess I used to feel. It's disappointing not to have that extra coffee, but the benefit of feeling better and being nicer outweighs the lack of additional java.
6. Seek professional help. You are not crazy if you talk to a therapist or start a medication from your doctor. Those professionals have been trained to help! It's their life work. Stop the negative stigma from utilizing medical care for mental health.
I hope you feel encouraged and empowered after reading this. You are not alone. Postpartum depression and anxiety are a real threat to mothers. Honesty can save a life.
Don't hide how you feel.
There is a heavenly Father who adores you.
There is an innocent baby or child that depends on you.
There is so much joy intertwined with parental hardships. The sounds of my kids' laughter and seeing their smiles makes everything worth it.
I pray that if you are struggling with motherhood right now, you will keep fighting to find your peace and joy. You are a survivor!
© 2020 Jen Page