Post-partum quite literally means “following childbirth.” So technically, if you think about it, we are forever in post-partum. Some doctors classify this period as the 6 weeks following your birth until your check up, some acknowledge it extending through the fourth trimester (3 months after birth). For some women this term means nothing. Some women were able to embrace motherhood gracefully, others, not so much. This term may still be affecting some women months to years later. For me, post-partum was and is a scary thing. I remember getting spoken to about the warning signs of post-partum depression and what to do if I ever felt like I wanted to harm myself or my baby. I remember them talking to my husband about being the one to notice small changes and to start getting concerned if I seemed withdrawn or not wanting to get out of bed. What we didn’t get spoken to about was the less drastic feelings that still took over my mind.
Bringing home a baby was terrifying. I’d just gone through a pretty traumatic event that yes, did lead to an amazing and beautiful gift. But, all in all, my body really went through it. I was sore, swollen and leaking fluids from more than one location. I was overwhelmed, sleep deprived and my world had just been fully turned around. I had friends and family wanting to visit and welcome the new baby and a dog that was not adjusting well. I pleaded for an instruction guide that didn’t exist and held on to the unrealistic expectation that my Mom would never go back home. I thought I had done everything I could to prepare for those days following bringing my baby home but in reality; there was no preparing for that post-partum period.
My daughter was born in November when the weather was transitioning from the crisp but tolerable fall days to the harsh temperatures of winter. The sunlight was limited and the nights fell early. We had had our first snow storm the night before she was born. I was excited to look out the view of my hospital window to see the collection of snow fall and remember being so pumped to hibernate all winter and soak up all the baby snuggles. I had no idea that those winter months were going to hit me like a ton of bricks. Now when you’re a new mom, the night brings a lot of anxiety no matter the season. But for me, when the night started at 4pm with the sun going down, that anxiety just took over. Every day for several months as soon as the darkness would settle, I would cry. Cry that it was night time. Cry that I felt exhausted and without sunlight I wasn’t sure how I would physically keep my eyes open until an acceptable bedtime. I was worried about how the night would go. Would she sleep? Would I sleep? Would I be able to stay awake during our 3 step feeding process of nursing, bottle feeding and then pumping? Would my husband be snoring or awake and having silent thoughts of misery because he had to be up at 4am? I hated the nights. Sometimes I would convince myself I didn’t and I would try to get excited about the 2am feeding. I would collect some snacks for my bedside table and line up a few Netflix shows. I had a system. Volume down, subtitles on and a chewy granola bar for some energy. The nights were lonely but I did have help. I was and still am so incredibly lucky to have a husband that is so hands on. Without him helping out with the bottle feeding, the process would’ve taken hours. Together we made it work and eventually those dreaded nights became routine.
I found myself occupying my days by doing way too much. I was packing up my pump and my baby and getting out of the house as often as I could. My sister was my chauffer and my diaper bag carrier. She didn’t know I needed to slow down but neither did I. Looking back, I was most definitely just trying to escape my thoughts of being overwhelmed. My excitement of being able to hibernate all winter had quickly turned into fear that if I sat home all day, my mind would catch up to my world and I wouldn’t be able to deal. On the days I would stay home, just myself and the baby, I would get completely wrapped up in her schedule; keeping track of feedings, diaper changes and naps. Eventually it became a mindless rotation of events that I felt like I wasn’t even present for. I’d count down the time that my husband would be home by the number of rotations left in her schedule. I was holding her and loving her and also quietly thinking how I ever thought I would be able to manage this.
I would mourn my old life, but also get excited about planning for my future. It was the strangest combination of thoughts. I’d cry happy tears just from sniffing her little head and then it would switch to tears of sadness because I felt so alone, even if I wasn’t. I remember having family and friends and even my husband tell me to go lay down and take a nap. The thought of this made me more anxious than relieved. I would think to myself, “Why would I go take a nap? When I wake up, everything is still going to be the same. How would a nap help me”? You know that feeling of counting down the days of school until your summer vacation? That’s how I felt. I was excited about the days but for some reason, I felt that they were short lived and that soon I wouldn’t have to have all those extra responsibilities. I looked at her and what I was doing as temporary. I felt like she wasn’t really mine and sometime soon, someone would come take her. Those thoughts were the ones I mostly kept to myself.
There came a time where I was crying as much as I was smiling and I couldn’t name a reason as to why. I’d google the signs of post-partum disorders while sitting in the back seat of the car because I was too scared to leave her alone. My husband was concerned, my sister was concerned and so was I. I found myself getting mad at my emotions. I’d get angry that I was crying all the time and didn’t understand how I could be acting so weak. At my 6 week appointment I hadn’t mentioned anything aside from the exhaustion and being a bit emotional to which they deemed completely normal. I had another appointment a few weeks later and knew I had to talk to my provider then. I explained to her what I had been going through, my thought processes and emotions all while sobbing the entire time. To my surprise, she told me this was normal. She said it seemed very much situational to her but agreed to send the nurse back in to complete the post-partum depression questionnaire. On one hand I was glad I was “normal” but on the other hand, I didn’t know how I was going to continue with this new “normal”. I sat through the nurse’s evaluation of me and answered her routine questions with a response option of “more than, less than, the same.” I had taken this questionnaire several times while bringing my baby to her doctor’s appointments and thought in my head that clearly someone needed to be suicidal to be diagnosed with any sort of post-partum disorder. One of the questions asked if you felt that you were enjoying things that had always made you happy more than, less than or the same as before you had a baby. How do you even answer that? The questions didn’t make sense and clearly my answers were not checking off the boxes that met any sort or diagnosis.
After that visit, nothing changed but life went on. I struggled daily with crazy control issues, minimal patience and a constant lump in my throat; crying over the smallest things. I beat myself up thinking to myself that I should be able to snap out of this, I teach people coping skills as a part of my job, I’m educated in mental health, why can’t I fix myself? Not many people knew what I was going through simply because I didn’t know what I was going through. Was this actually normal?
Finally, at 10 months post-partum, with tears in my eyes, I pleaded to my doctor to help me. I told her that I had forgotten what it was like to not feel sad. After a mini therapy session and prescriptions for Sertraline and Hydroxyzine, I was officially diagnosed with post-partum depression and anxiety. Apparently, any diagnosis of anxiety or depression less than one year from giving birth is considered post-partum. From that day forward, I took my medications, gave counseling a shot and tried not to be too hard on myself. I’d never been a fan of medication but I was so relieved when I started to feel myself again.
With or without post-partum depression and/or anxiety, I’ve learned that motherhood is emotional. It’s heartbreaking but beautiful. It’s overwhelming but so much fun. It is what I am making it. And with one step and a few pills at a time, I’m choosing to make it wonderful…tears and all.