post partum anxiety
i had expected the first three months of my baby's life to be challenging. i was prepared to face lack of sleep, nursing difficulties, lots of crying, and all the loss of life as we knew it. but i expected the arrival of our beautiful baby girl and the joy she would bring us to overshadow all that and give us strength to get through.
everything about her birth was unexpected. i expected to have an uncomplicated vaginal birth with an epidural. i expected to go past my due date. but at our 36 week ultrasound we found out that she was breech and that we would need to have a c-section if she did not turn. we tried the external version procedure and it was unsuccessful so i came to grips with the reality that i was not going to have the birth i envisioned. and i focused on the positives of having a c-section at 39 weeks: my baby's head wouldn't be a weird shape from being shoved through the birth canal, i wouldn't have tearing, the surgery would be scheduled so i would know when it would happen, i wouldn't be going past my due date. but then my water broke three days before the scheduled surgery and surprise! our daughter was born on my dad's birthday, june 1.
the first week post partum was a whirlwind. recovery was much harder and more painful than i anticipated. i didn't have realistic expectations regarding that. we had family come to help us with life and they were so incredibly helpful that the first week after we were home, i felt the only thing i had to do was feed my baby!
i was feeling optimistic about things. i remember telling a friend who had come to visit with her son who was born just a few days before my daughter that i loved being a mom. i had read that it's important to take care of yourself and shower and get dressed to keep some normalcy and fight off post partum depression so i did all those things and even though i was in pain, i felt good about my appearance and my role as a new mom. and then. my michigan family returned home to michigan. and i crashed.
i started feeling like i had no idea how to care for my baby. she would cry and cry and cry and i had no idea how to soothe her. the things i knew to do, like bounce, i didn't have the strength to do. breastfeeding became very painful due to cracked nipples. my husband would be at a loss after walking around the house with her in the middle of the night and trying everything he could think of. then he would bring her to me and say i think she's hungry. and i would cry because i didn't want to feed her because it hurt so much. i was also scared. was she getting enough? how could i know for sure? was what i was eating causing her stomach trouble? is that why she was crying?
we called the pediatrician i think every day that week after my family left. i was so paranoid about everything. a nurse suggested my baby was crying because i had had a chocolate chip cookie. and chocolate can give babies stomach cramps. i looked up what to avoid when breastfeeding and was shocked to find such a large list of possible culprits. i was paranoid about everything i ate. i started eating just chicken and rice. then i lost my appetite completely.
when i woke up in the morning i would dread the day. i just wanted my old life back. my dogs and my husband brought me some peace and normalcy. they were the only ones i wanted around. i didn't want anyone else to see me in such a state of panic and despair. i felt so helpless, like i couldn't do anything, and like i would never get myself back. because of my recovery i had no endurance to bounce on an exercise ball to soothe my baby. anything i would have done normally to soothe her i could only do for a minute or two before i couldn't go on because of pain. her cries made me cry because i just didn't know how to make them stop and felt like i was physically unable to.
the things i would normally do to relieve stress, i couldn't do. i didn't have the strength or endurance to walk to the mailbox and back. i would have walked my dogs for hours if i could have. my frustration in my inability to do that compounded my despair. since i chose to breastfeed, i was also the sole source of nourishment for my baby. i couldn't just leave for several hours. she was feeding every hour during the day the first two weeks, and every two hours after that. i felt trapped. i couldn't escape. i had no idea what i was doing. i mourned the loss of my life before my baby's arrival. and i felt like the worst mother on the planet.
i began crying all the time. i couldn't see things ever getting better. i started to wonder why we had even wanted to have a baby in the first place. this was clearly a mistake. i got to the point where i honestly didn't want my baby. i never thought about hurting her, but i just couldn't see how i could possibly care for her.
one morning about three weeks post partum i woke up with the same dread i had been feeling every morning and i didn't want to get out of bed. i didn't want to face the day. i couldn't face the crying. the pain from breastfeeding. the pain of recovering from the c-section. i was worried david was going to get sick of me and my despair and not want to deal with me anymore. i was terrified of losing his love and support. but i couldn't get myself to snap out of it. i couldn't fight the anxiety and dread that consumed me. i couldn't function.
i remember that morning having to tell myself that i had to get out of bed. i knew it was a choice. i had to get up for my baby. i had to go through the motions even if i didn't want to. i had to take a shower. and i had to call my doctor and get help. i wasn't the mother i wanted to be. i wasn't the mother i needed to be. i had no joy in my perfectly healthy little girl. i didn't even want her. i wasn't me. i had lost myself and my ability to function and dread, panic, anxiety, and despair were ruling my life.
i got an appointment with a doctor in my obgyn's practice and was prescribed some medicine. i was told it would take several weeks for me to notice a difference, and it could get worse before it got better. i was given a list of counselors i could set up an appointment with. i started the medicine and i made an appointment with one of the counselors. i also reached out to a friend of a friend who had dealt with post partum depression and anxiety. i had to take my life into my own hands and do what i needed to do to get myself back because i could not go on this way.
it took time. it was two weeks before i noticed a real improvement with the medicine. and then it was almost like i couldn't get anxious if i tried. it was a weird feeling, but welcome after being so crippled by anxiety. i received different strategies for coping from the counselor. facing one day at a time, one task at a time and not letting my mind run to the future when surely everything would go wrong. i had to combat my thoughts. i had to fight for my mind. and i didn't always do it well, but i got there with the help of the medicine and friends and family. and most importantly, jesus.
i felt so alone the whole time and i had to keep telling myself that jesus never left my side. even if i didn't feel him, he was there. my husband suggested i start reading the psalms and i did. those words comforted me. the psalmists were often in despair. it didn't mean that god wasn't there or that they had lost him. it is in those times that we most see our need for him. i've never felt like i needed god more in my whole life. he placed people in my life to speak truth and encourage me. he placed my husband on fellowship over the summer so he could be home to support me in my time of greatest need. i was never alone, even if i felt that way.
seven months post partum now i am weaning off the medicine and feeling confident that i will not relapse, though if i do i know what to do. i love my sweet babe more than i ever thought possible. the love i have for my daughter is like no other love i've experienced. and it's amazing to think that god loves me so much more, and he loves her so much more. david and i have so much joy in watching our daughter grow and develop. it's hard for me to think back on those first weeks and months now and the feelings i had. i felt like i was robbed of that precious time. that post partum anxiety stole it from me, stole my summer maternity leave and the hope i had had for it. i mourn the loss of that time to crippling anxiety. and i am so thankful that i was able to find help and get healthy for my baby, for my husband, for myself. i was robbed of that time, but now i am able to enjoy my precious girl and love her the way i want to and be the mom i want and need to be.
i share this because post partum anxiety is real and it is crippling, and it is important to understand the signs and seek help as early as possible. post partum anxiety and depression can look different for everyone. but they are not the normal baby blues and if you experience them, it is important to seek help quickly. be it counseling or medicine or what else, women cannot bear this alone and need love and support to take back control of their minds. and it doesn't happen over night. but there is hope, and there is healing. my story is a testament to that.