I shared this link yesterday on my Facebook page but have felt compelled to talk about it more. I’ve had 2 1/2 years to mull over my experience of postpartum emotions and hormones that reared their ugly heads after Ella Grace was born, and I’ve had countless friends who have had their own babies in these 2 1/2 years. With each friend, I wonder if they’ve gone through the same emotions I did. But I’m always left wondering because if any friends did struggle with postpartum depression, it hasn’t been talked about and I don’t know about it, thus feeling like the only mom to have ridden the rollercoaster. Despite the “social norm” to keep things quiet, I’ve been itching to talk about my experience now that I find myself on the sunny side of motherhood.
I had been told to expect a dip in hormones in the days after Ella was born but to not let things “stay bad” after the two week mark. I was told it’s not normal to continue to have raging emotions after two weeks. Well, as I struggled through the first two weeks, I kept waiting for the magic point in which all the crying and babbling (on my part) would go away. However, what the doctors don’t realize is that at the two week mark, that’s likely when your husband will return to work, leaving you home alone, exhausted, with a baby you know very little about. That happened to me when Andrew had to start back to work, and the anxiety and overwhelming feeling started all over again as I faced the task of being at home with Ella on my own.
I must also say that the majority of accounts of postpartum depression that I’ve read about talk about depression and even suicidal thoughts. I didn’t experience that type of emotional state. I was overwhelmed with fear and anxiety. I was scared…all the time. I was scared to be alone with Ella. I was scared to breastfeed. I went to bed anxious each night because I was already anticipating the sleepless night, filled with Ella’s fitful nursing and constant crying. I literally cried and cried about going to Ella’s first pediatrician appointment when she was just four days old because the thought of going out in public with her for the first time, even with Andrew, was overwhelming. On the first morning Andrew went to work (at the two week postpartum mark), he reluctantly left me crying on the couch, looking like a zombie and holding a crying infant. And when Ella was four weeks old, I obsessed and melted down over a small road trip to a cousin’s birthday party. Nothing seemed do-able without the frantic thoughts, anxious emotions, racing heart, and uncontrollable crying. I was a mess.
I’ll also confess that I didn’t feel instant love for Ella…or at least what I thought I was supposed to feel. Based on what other mothers had professed as their first thoughts and feelings when they bonded with their newborns, I felt wrong and not in line with what was “supposed” to happen. I became engrossed in simply surviving with a newborn that the bonding and loving and cooing didn’t quite fall into place. Yes, there were moments when I held her while she slept and looked at her beautiful face, and I thought, “Who are you, little creature? How did you even get here?” It was an odd out-of-body period in which I didn’t feel like a mother to this baby. I didn’t know how to take care of her; I didn’t know what to think of her; I was lost.
To add even more layers to this experience, unbeknownst to us at the time, Ella was experiencing reflux and that’s why she screamed and cried if we tried to lay her down too soon after eating. So in the middle of the night, every couple of hours and every feeding, Andrew and I had to stand and “dance” while we held Ella upright on our shoulders. Andrew was wonderful in helping and doing some of the “dancing” during his two weeks at home, but when he started back to work, I assumed all of the nighttime chaos in order to let him sleep and function during the day. I struggled with my recovery from my C-section, and most nights, standing and moving/bouncing with Ella was very painful. Another issue to occur, that extremely battered my minimal level of confidence, was trouble with nursing Ella. She often choked and sputtered while nursing, crying and fussing the whole time. Miserable experience; painful experience. We finally learned that I was blessed with an oversupply of milk and a too-fast letdown during feeding while Ella had a minor swallowing problem and was aspirating while I was basically drowning her. Those issues only compounded the reflux problem. So put all these factors together and it made for the longest several weeks before we got things figured out. I quit nursing after a month (don’t even get me started on the stigma behind that kind of decision), we bottle fed Ella while I pumped, she had a swallow study, started baby Zantac, and under doctor’s orders, we began putting rice cereal in her bottles with the milk. Things began to improve with everyone’s physical needs, but I was already six weeks into a mental and emotional hole.
When I returned to work after eight weeks, I won’t lie – I was relieved. I felt odd for leaving Ella because I’d actually become used to being with her 24/7, but I wanted a sense of my old routine back. I still had the fear and anxiety of how I’d manage the lack of sleep with functioning at work or how I’d figure out a pumping schedule during my work day. But to return to work and be around adults and do my normal things was like a sigh of relief. I humored everyone’s giddy excitement for me and humored their notions that I should be devastated to have left my child to return to work. I put on a fake smile and did my best to act like I thought people expected a new mother to act. I was probably a nice little picture on the outside of keeping it together, and I wanted to be. I didn’t want anyone to know what was going on inside my head or with my emotional state.
Andrew finally encouraged me to contact a professional after months had passed. I had settled into a routine and felt much better about being a mother and loving my child. We interacted and bonded; we shared smiles and did all of the things new moms and babies do together. But even months after Ella was born, I was still having spells of anxiety, crying, and meltdowns. I was finally treated for anxiety when Ella was several months old. With the help of the medical professional, who was like an angel and made me feel less guilty about my situation, I was able to understand that the anxiety and fear was part of the spectrum of postpartum depression. And with anti-anxiety medication, I began to emerge as a calmer and happier person.
So is my journey with postpartum depression over? No. When Andrew and I talk about the possibility of having more children, I mentally freeze up and think, “No, oh no…I don’t want to go through that again. I won’t be able to cope with another baby AND Ella Grace. It’ll be so much worse, and I can’t do that.” I was brave enough to bring up my concerns during my yearly OBGYN check up a year after Ella was born, and my doctor (another angelic medical professional) told me that now that my issues are identified and being treated, I could be “managed” much better with a second pregnancy and postpartum period. It’s a relief to know there’s an open line of communication between me and my doctor for the future…and a potential plan for action…but I still hesitate when I think about the potential for the same kind of situation as before.
My bottom line for sharing this lengthy post is that any time I’ve thought about starting a blog or sharing stories with others, this is the story in my recent history that I think of first. I feel a personal passion towards new mothers and want any mother, new or old, to know my experience, even if she can’t relate to it. But if there’s a mother who can relate to my experience, I’d like to say to that mother that what is happening emotionally needs to be talked about and helped. It can be helped! I’ve felt guilty and ashamed of my experience too often because I feel like no one else has had the same “problems,” but deep down, I know that’s not true. There are mothers out there every day who are struggling, and the worst part about it is that they feel alone in it. I still feel a sense of loneliness when I think about how the first months, and even the first year, of my daughter’s life were played out because of my struggle; therefore, my hope is that someone might read this and not feel the same loneliness. Or maybe someone who reads this will know of a mother he/she suspects to be suffering from postpartum depression and will share this experience to help break the stigma of having to be quiet about being unhappy. There is support out there, but it will never be felt by a hopeless new mother until she feels able to be honest.