7 hours of active labour, 45 minutes of pushing, no medication and one beautiful baby boy later-I was a mama. I don’t remember much right after he came out. I know that one of my midwives plopped him on my chest and I remember a moment of looking into his very clear, bright eyes. He was very awake. Then they took him away to do whatever measurements and other things they do. I was busy shaking uncontrollably while someone gave me a shot of pitocin in my thigh to help deliver the placenta. I was released to go home 4 hours later.
In the first few weeks that followed my son’s birth, I felt really good. I dropped about half of my pregnancy weight. I wasn’t overwhelmed (yet) by the feedings every 2 hours, my husband was a champion helper and for the most part, things seemed to be going well. People told me I looked really great and I love sharing my birth story. I was really proud of myself that I had accomplished what I set out to try, which was having an all natural birth. I had no idea my world was about to change.
It was around the 4 to 5 week mark that things began to crumble. My parents were in town to meet my son for the first time and we had planned his baby dedication at our church. Sleep deprivation had started to take its toll on me. Breastfeeding had not worked out and I felt like a failure. I was up every 2 hours at night pumping, then I would spend another half hour feeding my son and then by the time I fell asleep I managed maybe a half hour before it was time to pump and feed again. I would sit in the dark of my living room, feeling absolute terror come over me. I felt so incredibly alone and then I remember the anger that came. I would feel rage inside when anyone would tell me to just “go rest” or “sleep when the baby sleeps.” I would fight the urge to scream at the top of my lungs at random moments throughout the day. I would lay awake at night and my mind would race. I would have absolutely horrendous thoughts of my husband dying, me dying or something happening to my son. I would hear him crying when he wasn’t crying.
By the night before my son’s dedication, I was going on 9 hours of sleep in 72 hours. That’s an average of 3 hours of sleep per 24 hours. All our friends and family would be at the dedication the next day and then we were to have a big family lunch/dinner afterwards. I was up all night, in the throes of the worst panic attack I’d ever had. My son was also not taking breast milk or formula at this point, to make matters worse. With the help of my husband, we made it to the dedication the next morning, but barely. I pasted a smile on my face and pretended to hear what people were saying to me. I could barely stand when we made it onto the church platform. All I saw before me was a blur of faces.
I was screaming inside.
That afternoon at home, while my son napped, I sat on my couch with tears streaming down my face. My husband sat across from me, worried and tense. I began to tell him in words what I was feeling. Things like not wanting to wake up to face another day or thinking about banging my head against the wall so I would knock myself out. Feelings of detachment and resentment towards my son. I felt like God had left me, that it was all a mistake. My husband looked at me and said, “You need to get help. Whatever that looks like, do it.” He was right.
The first step I took was to do some research on post partum anxiety and depression. While I greatly identified with the description of “post natal anxiety” I did not feel as though I had depression. But the only way to really nail things down would be to talk to my doctor. When I went in for my appointment, the staff had me take a questionnaire that would give my doctor an idea of where I was at with my anxiety. (A family member who’d also been through similar experiences encouraged me to be completely honest about how I was feeling and I’m glad I was!) I was diagnosed with “extreme anxiety .” I had no idea it was as bad as it was until I spoke with my doctor. After some discussion, we decided together that I would try a small dose anti-depressant and meet back with my doctor in a month.
I was terrified to try medication because I grew up believing that this type of medication was unnecessary. I know it’s a common thought and belief among Christians and it’s one I identified with my entire life until now. I was SO wrong and I want to say this, it’s an incorrect belief and a dangerous one at that. I’m not going to debate theology, faith and medication on here. But until you’ve been through the trenches with something like depression, anxiety etc. I caution you to tread carefully with what you say to someone going through it who is choosing medication. It’s a highly personal decision to choose medication. It’s not one I took lightly.
Medication didn’t end up working for me the way that I thought it would. Perhaps I should’ve stuck it out longer but I found that it made my insomnia worse. I’m glad I tried it though and I know for some, it’s a game changer. I was able to try some all natural supplements like skullcap and a sleepy time tea that helped. Reading my bible, praying and having a relaxing bedtime routine also helped. I learned to ask for help when I needed it, with my son. And when we started sleep training him, things improved drastically for me, with my anxiety. Things didn’t improve over night. That is unrealistic. It was a day by day process. It still is! Some days I had to take things hour by hour and I still practice this when things feel overwhelming. I’ve found that talking about it helps and that so many moms have struggled with this.
Lack of sleep is a huge trigger for me as well as social situations that I feel forced into or that I find overwhelming. I still cancel plans or appointments at the last-minute if it’s been a rough day or night with my son or if I just feel like I need to. My son is 7 months old and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been to church since he was born. Sometimes I don’t answer text messages from anyone but my husband because I need a break from technology and social media. I’ve learned to safeguard myself by knowing what triggers my anxiety. I practice not feeling guilt about these decisions because self-care is the only way I can take care of my son. *Your normal and what helps you get through each day is not going to look like anyone else’s either, so don’t get caught up in that. I’ll be honest-until I had a child I didn’t understand the moms who never left home or weren’t a part of social gatherings or who talked about how hard motherhood was. I was so judgmental and naive. I would think to myself, “Why can’t she just get it together? What’s the big deal?” I would say things like, “Well my kid is going to be flexible and I’m going to have a life.” I ate all those words and I was very wrong to think that way. Again, until you go through something like this, you can’t really have an accurate opinion. You can have an opinion but it won’t be relatable or accurate. It doesn’t help anyone, especially the mom going through it.
We are pregnant again. I’m sharing this as I’m about 12 weeks along. While this isn’t exactly the way I envisioned things going, I’m believing that God knows so much better than I do! I’m learning to find the joy in it and appreciate the community of support that I have. I have my husband, family (in the US and Canada) a mama friend here, and 2 mama friends back home whose support has been invaluable through this journey. They’ve never compared, questioned, or judged my journey. God knew I needed these people and brought them along at all the right times! I am still struggling through the anxiety, honestly. I’ve felt a big setback being pregnant again and going through really bad morning sickness. But I realize all the more why self-care is important and if I need to call my doctor again and figure out something new, I know that I can. I also know that I have a great support system to draw from if I need them.
That’s my mama with my son when he was about 6 weeks old!
I love my son and while being a mom is the hardest job, it’s also the most rewarding.
If you are a mom experiencing something like this, don’t wait to get the help you need. You aren’t a failure for seeking help. You aren’t any less than the next mom. If anything, you are so BRAVE to take care of yourself. It’s not wrong to practice self-care. For me-it was crucial.
There are some links below to connect you with information and help when dealing with post partum depression and anxiety. If at any time you feel like you might be a danger to yourself or your baby, please don’t hesitate to call 911 for help. Remember, you are never alone in this!