Becoming a mother is a journey filled with immense joy and overwhelming love, but it's also a path laden with unexpected challenges. While many of us prepare for the sleepless nights and the relentless diaper changes, what often takes us by surprise are the emotional storms that can hit after the arrival of our precious little ones. My journey through postpartum anxiety and depression was a tumultuous one, and I want to share my story in the hopes that it might help other mothers going through a similar experience.
I vividly remember the day we brought our bundle of joy home from the hospital. The world seemed like a perfect place. Our baby was beautiful, and I was elated. It was like living in a dream, but reality hit me like a sledgehammer. As the week progressed, I realized that I was not as prepared for motherhood as I thought.
At first, I brushed off my persistent worries and unshakable sadness as typical new mom baby blues. After all, we're told that being tired, overwhelmed, and emotional is all part of the package. However, those feelings did not dissipate with time. Instead, they grew stronger, and they brought their friends: anxiety and depression. It was like an unwelcome party in my mind.
Postpartum anxiety and depression are distinct from the baby blues, which are temporary mood swings experienced by most new mothers. Postpartum anxiety and depression are more pervasive and persistent mental health conditions that affect only some women after giving birth.
Postpartum Anxiety: New mothers with postpartum anxiety experience excessive worry, fear, and nervousness, often about their baby's safety and well-being. These anxious thoughts for me were overwhelming and disruptive to daily life.
Postpartum Depression: Postpartum depression, on the other hand, manifests as persistent sadness, low energy, and a lack of interest in daily activities. It can interfere with a mother's ability to bond with her baby and for me engage in self-care.
Both postpartum anxiety and depression can occur simultaneously, compounding the challenges faced by affected mothers.
Intrusive thoughts are unwelcome, distressing, and sometimes disturbing thoughts that pop into a person's mind seemingly out of nowhere. They can be a particularly troubling aspect of postpartum mental health.
Many new mothers experience intrusive thoughts related to their baby's safety or well-being. For example, I had thoughts of dropping my baby, accidental harm, and even more distressing scenarios. Importantly, these thoughts do not indicate a desire to act on them. They are a manifestation of anxiety and fear, not a reflection of the mother's true intentions.
I struggled with this emotional turmoil in silence. I felt ashamed, guilty, and utterly alone. How could I, a new mother, feel this way when I had this beautiful baby in my arms? I couldn't bring myself to tell anyone about the storm brewing within me. I feared judgment, and I believed that I should be able to handle it all on my own. It was a lonely battle, and I knew I needed help, but it was hard to admit it.
Eventually, I realized that my silence was not helping me or my child. It was, in fact, driving a wedge between us and my husband. One day, I mustered the courage to speak to my husband about what I was going through. He did not fully understand, and thought I was crazy, but he encouraged and supported me to seek professional help.
I started attending therapy sessions. While taking that step was incredibly hard, it was also life changing. It was like reaching a lifeline in the midst of a storm. Suddenly I was not so utterly alone anymore. I began to understand that I was not weak or a bad mother for needing help. In fact, it took immense strength to admit that I couldn't do it all on my own. My therapist was amazing! She was my support when my family could not be because they did not understand. It felt so good to talk to someone who did not think something was wrong with me. She was so supportive and helped me work through my thoughts and feelings. It was a crucial part of my healing journey.
During my battle with postpartum anxiety and depression, one of the most challenging aspects was establishing and maintaining boundaries. I needed space to heal, bond with my child, and address my emotional turmoil. My husband and I also needed space to figure out this new life as three. Unfortunately, my family did not always understand this need for personal space. It led to a whirlwind of emotions – guilt, anger at myself, self-doubt, and so utterly alone. I have always been a people pleaser. These feelings were not needed during this time.
It's vital to understand that setting boundaries is not selfish; it's self-preservation. My therapist was instrumental in helping me grasp this concept. Through therapy, I realized that my well-being and my child's well-being were intricately linked. If I needed this space to heal and bond, then it was more than okay; it was essential. I add this because this was something I needed to hear from another mother that went through this. So I really hope this reaches at least one mother that needed to hear this as well.
Now, let me insert a moment of humor into the mix. At some of my lowest points, I found myself sitting shirtless, from the constant breastfeeding, covered in my own tears, and surrounded by baby paraphernalia. It was like a scene from a dramatic movie. I can not help but laugh now at the sheer absurdity of it all. Life had thrown me this challenging role, and sometimes, the only response was to embrace the chaos and shed a few tears, both happy and sad.
Recovery was not a swift journey. It was filled with good days and bad days, moments of hope and moments of despair. But slowly, very slowly, things started to change. I learned to be kinder to myself, to forgive myself for the moments of impatience and frustration. I also discovered the power of other mothers who shared similar experiences. Talking to other mothers, I realized I wasn't alone, and that everything I was going through was, in fact, “normal”.
Today, I'm in a much better place. I won't say that I'm completely free of anxiety or depression, but I've learned how to manage them. And I've come to realize that there is no "normal" when it comes to motherhood. Every journey is unique, and it's perfectly okay to ask for help. It took a long time and a lot of self-work, but it got better.
If you're a new mom going through postpartum anxiety and depression, I want you to know that you're not alone. Your feelings are valid, and it's okay to seek help. Don't let the stigma surrounding mental health prevent you from taking the steps to heal. Your journey may be long, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Remember, your baby loves you unconditionally, and your well-being matters. There is strength in reaching out, and the journey to healing is a testament to your resilience. The storm within may be fierce, but you can weather it, and you'll emerge stronger on the other side. You are not alone, and there is a community of mothers who understand and support you. There is hope, and there is help. And, amidst all the chaos and stormy weather, there's also room for laughter and moments of joy. It's a journey worth taking, even on the toughest days.