“Eat an apple and exercise,” she said.
The five words hit me with an unexpected feeling of despair. I’d waited six weeks for my therapy appointment, arriving with a printed list of my concerns that might be exasperating my emerging postpartum depression.
Lack of support.
She had plenty of ammo to scratch the surface of some substantial issues, and she’d started with the food triangle.
“You just need to get some fresh air. Eat healthy. Take a walk in the neighborhood” (this, after I told her that: a) I couldn’t walk; b) I’d been attacked by two dogs while walking ours in the neighborhood just a few months before and still couldn’t close my eyes without reliving each moment.
“Will you call me if you think it’s getting bad, like, you need meds?” Wasn’t it bad already? Why call, to check on my fruit intake and log my pedometer? I suppose she missed the part about not being able to walk after the episiotomy.
The therapist placed her hand on my shoulder and ushered me to the door, which clicked shut behind me. I braced myself against the wall, wincing in pain. I checked my phone – she’d kicked me out 9 minutes before our session was scheduled to end. A baby cried down the hallway, my boobs tingled and leaked and I decided it was probably time anyway to return home to my weeks-old son. Glancing down, I noticed I’d forgotten my breast pads. Sneaky leaky. At home, I assumed he’d try to feed, have a few sips and give up. He’d cry himself to sleep in my arms and I’d transfer him to his bed before collapsing in the shower, a mess of tears and frustration. Just another day.
As I walked down the corridore, a heat gathered inside my body, starting in my heart, gripping my neck, tears welling up in my eyes. I slid out the front door of the facility, unable to find my sunglasses to conceal my watery eyes, finding it hard to care. The sun outside felt nice. Wasn’t it just a perfect Maui morning.
This was nearly seven years ago. I still hear her pen scratching paper as I poured my heart out, wondering what she thought of my parenting style, if she cared at all as she glanced repeatedly at the clock on the wall. The screaming baby down the hall. The business card she placed in my palm as she gently dismissed me. What had just happened?
Baby blues is an umbrella term that minimizes a serious diagnosis.
As a new mom you hear a lot about “baby blues”. We’re supposed to differentiate between minor and lasting sadness all while caring for new life, willing ourselves to accept our new bodies, learning how to feed, learning to be a mother. The ability to look after ourselves seems to quietly exit the building, assuming it was there in the first place, and whether it returns is, in this flurry of changes and responsbility, up to us. Baby blue is a color, postpartum depression is an emergency.
I was “lucky”. I’d experienced bouts of depression in anxiety throughout my 30 years which always stemmed from important life events and milestones. I knew the signs, and knew they were coming once our baby arrived. I was proactive in finding a therapist after my birth but even then, even with such diligence, I found myself lost. She wasn’t a match for me, my will to seek professional help was broken. I navigated my first postpartum recovery feeling isolated despite the constant support from Adam, who was also knee-deep in new parenthood. If I’d experienced this before, why did everything feel different? I think it’s because while depression wasn’t a new chapter in my story, motherhood certainly was. How was I supposed to write this story with tears clouding my eyes?
Eventually, with a lot of work and support from my husband, I healed. I can’t recall whether any fruits were consumed, will get back to you on that after my walk.
Postpartum depression affected me differently each time
I experienced postpartum depression and/or anxiety with both our children, and want to run through how it affected me. Maybe you’re a mother-to-be who can keep these words in mind. There’s a reason I’m sending it out in the middle of the night – that’s the time I was scrolling my feed while feeding our babies, texting friends or checking e-mails in search of connection. Perhaps you’re a partner or friend of an expecting mom, maybe it will help you help someone you care about. If anything, it might allow me to vent a bit of frustration that certainly won’t be cured by fruits and sunshine.
So, without further ado… these are the things I’d recommend you do before and during the postpartum period, based on my own experiences. For me, “help” meant therapy. That might not be what you’re looking for, but I hope it helps to know that if it is, you’re not alone!
How to prepare for and see yourself through postpartum depression and anxiety
PRIORITIZE MENTAL HEALTH BEFORE GIVING BIRTH
Make an appointment WELL before the birth of your child. I’m talking as soon as you find out you’re pregnant. You check on the baby throughout pregnancy, right? Check in on yourself, too. If you start early, you’ll have time to make an appointment, and also, ideally, find someone with whom you’re comfortable fully sharing your postpartum experience.
I waited until after my birth to get help, and was paired with a therapist who clearly wasn’t a fit. Therapy isn’t taboo, it doesn’t mean you’re broken, there’s no shame in seeking help to be the best version of yourself for yourself – and your baby. My dad always told me there’s no reason to do everything you can to live life at 100%. Therapy is one tool that can help. The ability to seek professional help sounds like a no-brainer now, but the decision to do so may be clouded when you give birth.
Have a friend or family member hold you accountable for making and meeting appointments. Because our nearest family is several thousand miles away, Adam and I have always been each other’s greatest support. Let your partner or a trusted friend know if you’re prone to bouts of depression, and that you’re seeing a therapist. Give them the appointment dates and have them hold you accountable for keeping them. If you’re taking medication to manage anxiety, have them check in to ensure you’re staying on track. The best part about therapy today is you don’t even have to leave the house – virtual appointments are common, meaning a difficult postpartum recovery doesn’t stand in the way of your talking to your support person.
WATCH FOR SNEAKY POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION TRIGGERS
Postpartum depression and anxiety may appear in ways that are not immediately obvious. When I had our son, depression roared into my life like baby #3 flying out of the birth canal. Too much? Perhaps. LOL. Because my birth experience with him was traumatic and came on the heels of a dog attack that left me with PTSD, the deterioration of my mental health was easy to spot and treat.
THE VILLAGE MAY NOT EXIST – IS THAT OK WITH YOU?
Get this wondervillage out of your head RIGHT NOW. Because while many people do have large support systems, that doesn’t mean everyone has one. And you’re not alone. Say it again – not everyone has a village. The Village that Never Came was a source of intense anxiety and discomfort for me as a new mom. It seems as if everyone else had community. Friends to hold the baby while I showered, grandparents living nearby to give bottles while I popped out for groceries, neighbors overloading our freezer with frozen meals. Social media intensified my feelings of anxiety and had me feeling less-than and unsupported when we finally brought the baby home.
It took me several months to realize my community is my husband, and that was okay. There was no one coming to help, clean dishes for us, get work done. Constant survival mode. I think someone told me to sleep while baby sleeps, a well meaning but entirely unhelpful, recycled sentiment to someone who took three days of maternity leave so we could make rent. My community was and still is my husband, and I’m his. We developed a partnership on an entirely new level, experiencing new parenting together. We were lucky to have each other but realistically our village never came, we adapted.
Side note – If you’re triggered, like I am, by the perfectionism running rampant on social media, I’d recommend straying from IG, especially for late-night scrolling. As weird as it sounds, I played a game called Words with Friends while feeding our daughter at 2am, because it usually meant my best friends on the east coast of the US were up and ready to support me by intentionally losing to boost my confidence 😉 The village can be an online community. The village can be a friend far away. The village can be one person. The village can be your therapist. The village can be your baby/ Just make sure you’re connecting with someone, somewhere.
WHEN MENTAL HEALTH SUFFERS, BONDING CAN FEEL DIFFICULT
After giving birth to our second child, I felt as if I wasn’t bonding well with her. Something felt flat. I was actually feeling moments of joy as a mom, just blah. At the same time, I was super anxious. Honestly, I’m lucky I recognized this. I knew it wasn’t the experience I should be having. Motherhood is exhausting and stressful, but this was different. After hours weighing the pros and cons in my overactive mind, I ended up taking medication to manage my anxiety and the joy was surprisingly quick to return. I also, of course, ate some apples and exercised, so my therapist of yore would be pleased. How many other mothers were feeling this, who weren’t tuned in to or prioritizing mental health? I’ve experienced anxiety throughout my life and still missed the signs the second time around, because the signs manifested completely differently to what I expected.
Which brings me to…
With our daughter, born three years after our son, like I said above, my struggles manifested differently. I had happy days. I wasn’t sad all the time. I wasn’t anything. The birth was quick and “easy”. I carried her out of the hospital unassisted, and practically gave high-fives on the way out. A night and day to the experience I’d had with our son, when walking without pain wasn’t an option for nearly a year.
The sight of her perfect face in the nightlight as we fed for the thirteenth time just felt like another day. It wasn’t until The Roach that I realized something might be off. Oh my f*$&. The Roach.
I had just put our daughter to sleep after hours of bouncing, boob and rocking when I heard its legs clattering on the floor.
THEN IT FLEW.
That thing launched at me, landed on the bed and crawled across the sheets. My heart raced. What if it found the basinet amd crawled on my new baby? She’d get sick. She’s too little to get sick! She can’t go back to the hospital, I can’t be separated from her. Do you see how my thoughts spiraled? I spent a full hour moving furniture around the room, chasing it with a broom and roll of paper towels, crawling on all fours as it scurried from space to space. I tried my best no to wake my family in pursuit of Roach. Finally, I won, smashing its feral little self against the floorboards, texting Adam, who sound asleep with our son in the next room, about my victory. Funny as the story sounds, after treating my anxiety I realized the level to which the roach affected me wasn’t “normal”. My heart was racing and I was in tears, instantly firing off to the worst possible scenario.
Ok, ok. Yep, this is it, I think I’ve got anxiety.
That’s all for now.
I hope you’ll forward this post to someone who might benefit from the read, share it to Pinterest, help the world stop and notice mothers who may struggle in silence. If you want to get more parenting truths in your inbox, feel free to hit subscribe.
We may be strangers, but we can be friendsies. My inbox is always open if you need a cheerleader!
Black and white image of me taken by Undressed Moments. Aundrea brought me groceries during my recovery and supported/photographed the birth of our son. Thank you.