Postpartum depression and anxiety: Why doesn’t anyone talk about this? Well I’m talking about it now. Where to start…
Loading up my toddler and all our stuff to leave the house triggered that anxious feeling. “I can’t fucking breathe!” I exclaimed, leaning against the car. It’s still morning. It’s too early for this. Next I’m googling “anxiety” and “trouble breathing” and “tension.” Then I’m googling, “can childbirth cause PTSD?” and reading women’s stories of postpartum depression and anxiety. I was identifying with it all. I found myself crying, remembering my first year as a mother. Well she’s 2 years old now, and to be cliché, it does get better — and yet I still feel some type of way.
By midday, I decided to transcend these uncomfortable feelings and try to do something useful something healing. I wanted to blog about it, interviewing local Reno moms who have had postpartum depression and anxiety and came out the other side. Their kids are older now. Here are their stories (names have been changed, but stories are their words):
I think I struggled hardest with PPD after my fourth baby. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely had it after ALL of my babies were born, but I think it was most obvious to me after Baby #4. When Baby #4 was born, I also had a 6-year-old, a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old (she was only 23 months, if we’re being technical). Oh, and I had just started a new job. So, you might say that I had a lot going on. I had to go back to work four days after Baby #4 was born. FOUR days. As in, my hooze was still bleeding, and I was still wearing granny panties when I was expected to be up and fully functioning on a daily basis. The disgusting lack of accommodations in this country made for women with new babies is probably a subject for another post entirely. I mean, my milk hadn’t even come in all the way, and I was back to work FULL TIME.
Fuck it all.
Anyway. Let’s just put that aside for now.
So there I was with a newborn, three other small children, a husband, two dogs and a full-time job. Even now when I think about it, I feel like the situation was hopeless.
I was hopeless.
I guess if we’re looking for silver linings in this situation, it’s that I was able to do most of my work from home during those early days. Which didn’t really help all that much at the time because, well, I wasn’t sleeping and basically felt like I was dying.
I remember one morning my husband getting up and getting everyone ready for school. I was still in bed when he came up to say goodbye. I think I was holding the baby. Maybe I was feeding her. Maybe I had just finished feeding her. It was probably 8 a.m., and I had slept, at most, four hours the night before. He gave me a kiss and said, “Don’t stay in bed all day.”
And I started to cry. Don’t stay in bed all day? Is that what he thought I was doing? Staying in bed all day? Just laying here, enjoying life? My fucking vagina was torn to pieces. I was bleeding like a stuck pig. My boobs were raw and bleeding, which didn’t matter in the least to the squawking 8-pound dictator who insisted on shredding my nipples to a bloody pulp every three hours. Fuck you, dude.
But I couldn’t even be angry. I was too tired. I was hopeless. All I could do was sit there and cry. And cry. And cry.
I remember sitting on the couch in our front room, holding the baby and crying. All day. Every day.
Then at night I would move to the couch and I would sit there, holding the baby and cry. And cry. And cry.
My husband told me he was worried about me. And that just made me cry more. Why was I crying, he’d ask. But I didn’t know. All I knew was that I couldn’t stop. Even if, in that particular moment, I wasn’t struggling, I couldn’t do anything but cry. I knew that the baby would be up, she’d want to eat, my boobs would hurt, the other kids would cry and fight and whine and need me to do this or that for them. There were emails I was supposed to answer. There were meetings I was supposed to be at in person, but instead I was calling in and praying I wouldn’t fall asleep. It was too much. It was all too much.
I was hopeless.
Baby #4 is almost 2-and-a-half now. As I sat here, typing the paragraphs above, I found tears forming and then falling down my face. I don’t think about it often because it still hurts. It’s still very raw. Maybe it will be that way forever. I don’t know.
Life, overall, is much less intense now. But those memories are still very painful.
I know my husband was worried. And I know he wanted to help me but didn’t know how. Now, more than two years removed from that situation, I wish he had done more than just tell me he was worried. I wish he had offered to sit with me while I called the doctor to make an appointment. I wish he had offered to go with me to the appointment. Or had offered to keep the baby so I didn’t have to take her with me. Because at the time, calling the doctor, making an appointment, getting up and dressed and getting the baby ready to leave the house to go to the appointment was so much. It was almost too much. Like adding one more thing to my to-do list was almost enough to make me not want to do it at all. I know it’s hard to know how to help. But if you’re in a position to help someone who is struggling with a new baby, do it. Don’t be afraid of seeming too pushy. Give her a hug. Tell her you’ll call to make the appointment. Tell her you’ll drive her to the appointment. Tell her you’ll hold her hand or you’ll wait in the waiting room or you’ll stay at home with the baby. Help make it easier for her to ask for help. Because it’s hard. And she may not even realize how badly she’s struggling.
When I sat down to write this, I never imagined that I’d get here and barely be able to see the words on the screen through my tears. But that’s what has happened. The months after Baby #4 were born were hard. So hard. They were so hard, that almost two-and-a-half years later, the mere thought of them brings me to tears.
Reach out. Don’t just tell her you’re worried. DO something. Anything. Don’t let her feel the way I felt about the first few months with my baby.
I remember driving to CVS to pick up a prescription for my newborn, and fantasizing about driving my car into a wall or over a bridge. I didn’t want to die, but the thought of being back in the hospital was comforting. It took nearly four months for me to seek the help I desperately needed.
I felt sad, helpless, rage, and desperation. Everything felt hard. My son wasn’t a good sleeper. No, he didn’t have his days and nights mixed up like most babies do. He simply never slept. He cried non-stop. He was sick with chronic ear infections. He ended up having the first three surgeries (of many) in those first four months. I was unable to breastfeed, and finding the right formula for my son was challenging and expensive. My husband at the time helped, but it wasn’t enough. I forced myself to take a shower maybe every seven to 10 days.
My oldest son is now 12. When I look back, I wish I’d gotten help sooner, but I also know that the feelings subside.
I’ve learned that it’s important to pay attention, and to reach out to others after they’ve had a child to make sure they are really feeling okay; to dig deep and ask the tough questions, so that if they are struggling, I can help them find the help they need or stand in the gap until they can jump to the other side.
Thank you for your stories, “Angela” and “Mona.”
In addition to interviewing moms who have been there, I brought it up with my OB/GYN in Reno:
Medical assistant: “What is the reason for your visit today?”
Me: “I’m here for x, y, z, and…deep breath…I think I need to talk about postpartum anxiety and depression.”
Medical assistant: “How old is your child?”
Me: “She’s 2”
Medical Assistant: “Postpartum depression and anxiety lasts for the first year. This is just life now.”
The doctor was better. He explained that an OB/GYN is trained to notice and encouraged to help their patients with this. He said he can usually see it immediately on a mother’s face if he has seen them regularly throughout the pregnancy. He believes exercise is key. He explained that there are two avenues for treatment: The first is talk therapy, called cognitive behavior therapy; the second is medications. He gave me phone numbers for therapists, and I was excited. But the excitement faded, because the thing is as much as I want to go to therapy, realistically I have no time during the week to go without bringing my child with me, and that’s not going to work. So I called the OB/GYN again and asked for antidepressants. I have a prescription, but I haven’t started them yet.
All I know is that I want and am ready for a change for the better. I want to breathe easily.