I should start by saying becoming a mother has made me happier than I ever thought possible. I get these geysers of joy bursting from my heart multiple times every day because of my sons. I can feel this love I have for my two boys physically- it’s so strong. But the strength of this love is pretty overwhelming sometimes. It engulfs me completely and the first time around I sort of lost myself a little while adjusting to motherhood. Hell, I’m still adjusting. I don’t think mothers ever consider themselves fully “adjusted” because being a mother is this fluid process that never stops.
When I had my first, I hadn’t really heard of the term “postpartum anxiety.” I had only heard of “postpartum depression” and those women were on Oprah for driving off a bridge with their kids in the car. I didn’t feel like that! I was so in love with my new baby boy. It was so intense, my whole heart and mind and identity was engulfed in this love I had. I didn’t have anything wrong with me! But this is what my mind was doing: you know on cable news how they have the main show but there’s that news ticker at the bottom of the screen running other nonsense all the time? That’s what my brain was doing. I was trying to be present moment by moment, but there was this other stream of thought happening in the background all the time. “Is he breathing? Of course. He’s snorting all night. But wait- is that normal? Is he gasping for air? Is it the crib? Is it the fan? Google it.” Wormhole after wormhole, I couldn’t see what was happening. The only time I was truly able to “shut off” enough to relax and sleep was when there was someone else taking care of the baby. Then I could sleep. Because I was hypervigilant.
At my 6 week postpartum checkup, when my doctor asked me how I was doing I just burst into tears, weeping. I said “I don’t know what’s wrong with me! I should be fine but I am having a harder time than I expected.” She hugged me empathetically and talked more about my sleeplessness, anger, sadness, repetitive thoughts and diagnosed me with postpartum depression and anxiety. She prescribed me a very low dose (25mg) of Zoloft. Of course she told me it had been studied in breastfeeding mothers more than any other antidepressant and was considered safe…but because of my anxiety, I didn’t actually take the medicine because I was afraid of it getting in the breast milk.
Things got worse. I couldn’t relate to my friends that didn’t have babies yet and I’m sure they didn’t know how to support me then either. I didn’t want to burden my family by asking for help, because I didn’t even know what I needed help with. I was angry at my husband for the most random things, he was the easy target because he was the closest to me. And all I could think about was that I wasn’t enjoying my maternity leave “enough” and that I could just not go back to work because I was going to miss out on everything. I felt so alone. I also felt like I didn’t need anyone else, though, because I had my baby to focus on. I just kept thinking “soon you’ll get to the happy and easier part. It will get easier.” But it was really hard.
I found out about this new “postpartum support group” via some random post on Facebook in the breastfeeding support group I was part of. And after trying to talk myself into going, I went. The group is run by a real counselor and has rules that make us moms able to let down our guard and talk about what’s really going on with us. Finding a group of women I had no previous connection to, no social obligation to, and of course the expert interaction of a counselor who specializes in motherhood adjustments helped me more than anything I can name. Even sleep sometimes. Because going to these twice monthly meetings with other moms to talk about our struggles helped me get the courage to take my medicine. To start sleeping again. To ask for help. To catch myself before spiraling. I also learned how to identify anxiety and depression and coping mechanisms to break the cycle that was running in my head.
I’m thankful still, almost 3 years into being a mother, for finding this support group. I didn’t stop going when I felt out of the woods. I kept going to be a support to others, and to continue caring for my own mental health by checking in with what I was feeling. We’ve formed some amazing friendships. I went through a missed miscarriage at 9 weeks along, and it was this group where sharing my experience helped me grieve. Almost everyone else also shared a miscarriage story. Each loss is so heartbreaking, but somehow having a community who understands exactly what I was feeling gave some relief.
Exactly 1 year and 1 day after the D&C for removing my missed miscarriage, I gave birth to another little boy. He’ll be 6 weeks old this week. His name means “healing” which describes what his birth has made me feel. I was able to VBAC and recovery isn’t as hard. Breastfeeding is easier. I’m sleeping better. I’m not worried about everything I was as a first time mom. I’m enjoying my husband so much more this time! I’m accepting help from family and friends who offer it. But I still catch myself having repetitive and intrusive thoughts. It’s still too early to say I won’t have postpartum anxiety and depression this time, but it is so much better. I have better coping skills now.
It seems like motherhood is what brought me to the realization that I might have had an anxiety disorder before (like for years and years) but it was motherhood that made me do something about it. Managing my own mental health actively is probably the best thing I will ever do for my sons, so I keep at it for them!