To end our Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month, we're sharing a post from a mama who has been there. Her story isn't easy and it may trigger some intense feelings, so please be aware of that before reading. But her story is one of hope, and we are so honored to share it. Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders are not shameful and can not be swept under a rug. There is help. There is hope. There is healing. #Askher
We hear a lot about postpartum depression, but not as much about postpartum anxiety. I would like to share my personal story with you because I truly hope it can help even one person who is wondering what is wrong with them; I hope I can help even one person get help sooner than I did.
I struggled with some depression in college mostly due to homesickness and being away from my mom who was very sick at the time. I was on medication for a short time and received counseling, but really had no issues once college was over and I was out in the real world. After my first daughter was born, I was told to expect some baby blues, and I did have bouts of crying and emotions as hormones fluctuated in those first few weeks.
My second pregnancy was a whole different story. About three-quarters of the way through the second trimester, I began to have crippling anxiety. I suddenly just knew that my baby would die before she was born. I had dreams and visions of standing at her grave and of staring into an empty crib. Every time I bought something for her nursery, I pictured having to bury it with her. I would sit in her room and see it as forever empty. It was very hard for me to talk about this to anyone, and in fact, only my best friend knew.
My daughter was born a week after her due date, seemingly healthy and fine. She screamed for the first three hours of her life and I didn't know what to do with her. I didn't want to hold her and I couldn't handle the screaming; my first daughter hadn't cried at all after she was born. It felt like I was in a state of shock, and nothing made sense. I do remember holding her later on and having my older daughter come to visit and I remember feeling well and happy for a short while. I had always wanted two girls, and here they were, perfect as could be.
The first few weeks at home were wonderful. My older daughter adored her baby sister and I did the usual mom-zombie routine of getting up all night and then having to be awake during the day. At some point, I'm not exactly sure when, things went downhill very quickly. It started with me not being able to carry the baby down the stairs, because I just knew in my head that I would throw her down the stairway. I didn't want to, and I was horrified that I would even think such a thing, but I was terrified that I would do it impulsively. If my two year old was in the kitchen, I couldn't pick up a knife to cut vegetables for dinner because I knew I would stab her if she walked over. I laid awake at night wondering what kind of monster I was for thinking these terrible things. My then husband tried to give me some needed rest by keeping the baby with him downstairs while I slept from 8pm until her 11pm feeding. But I couldn't sleep. I just knew she had stopped breathing and that he wouldn't notice. So I would make multiple trips to and from the basement to check on her.
As these obsessive thoughts continued to swirl, I became more and more lost. I literally could not do anything. I stopped cooking, cleaning, taking care of my children...I zoned out. I truly don't remember much at all, but I do know my best friend came daily to take care of us. There are parts of me that remember my older daughter saying she loved me as I sat on the couch with a blank face and tears silently running down my cheeks...just thinking about this now breaks my heart. I was too scared to go to the doctor and tell him about my thoughts because I was sure he would take my kids from me.
Finally, when my baby girl was about six months, someone from church set me up to see a doctor who was also a church member...they were able to get me in quickly. I told the doctor everything and to my absolute shock, he assured me that what I was going through was normal for postpartum anxiety. It was something he could help with, and I was not a horrible mother at all. He started me on medication and was able to work out counseling to begin right away.
Looking back, I wish so much that I had done something sooner because I barely remember that stage of my life, and as we as moms know, the early baby stage is so fleeting even if you are fully present. If I can leave you with anything, it is this:
Please don't wait to get help. Please know that you are a good mom, an amazing mom. If you are going through something that you need help with, please get help as soon as possible, you will not be judged. If this is something that you did go through, and it has passed, please know that you did everything you could. Enjoy your now. You may not remember those scary and hard days in the beginning, but you can make memories starting today.
Remember, you are not alone. If your family, friends, or doctor will not help you, please find someone who will. Please get in touch with the Motherhood Collective and they will help you find the help you need. You are cared about and loved, no matter your circumstances.