Looking back, it was such a blur, day in and day out….
After delivering both of my baby girls, I remember being on autopilot. Wake up, feed, change diapers, sooth baby, snuggle, change diapers, take millions of pictures, and do it all over again the next day. Someone once told me that the days drag on but the months fly by. A perfect explanation!
I’ll start with the postpartum experience after my first daughter was born.
Tyler was working at a different job then, commuting over an hour each way, working from dusk to dawn. He is one of the most supportive and compassionate men I know, he supports me and encourages me in anything. It is fair to say that he definitely tried his best through this season, but his best wasn’t enough.
I would cry and cry and cry. Unimaginable thoughts would come flooding into my mind day in and day out. My nipples were bleeding. The sound of the breast pump made my anxiety go through the roof. The house was a constant disaster. I still looked six months pregnant and I just wasn’t myself.
I’ll never forget one day in particular. I was waiting anxiously for my hubs to get home, yearning for an adult conversation. We sat up together for a little while and chatted about our days. I showed him the hundreds of pictures I took of Bryer that day. Then he showed me his photo album… and that’s when I realized just how bad it was. I saw some ridiculously perfect, photoshopped, naked girl in his photos. My blood started to boil, tears started to stream, and pure anger set in.
He tried to explain that his buddies at work sent him the photo, “You know it’s just guy talk, it doesn’t mean anything, it’s just what guys do.” I didn’t care what he said, there was nothing he could have said in that moment to stop my intense and overwhelming feelings.
I ran into the other room, in a panic, not sure how mad I should be, but knowing I was really furious. I just thought to myself; should I just play it off, should I ignore it, ignore him? Surely I need to pretend this isn’t as painful as it really is. What should I do? Then the more I thought about it the worse I got.
The comparison set in. If you are a mother, you know what I am talking about. Our bodies go through an incredible amount of change in such a short period of time. I was already feeling so insecure about how I looked and then seeing that perfectly shaped, photoshopped, perky, skinny, naked figure on his phone sent me to the deep end.
Self-harm thoughts started spilling into my brain without any wanting, control, or rational reason. Thoughts like, I just want to be done, I’m tired, I’m over it, I want to run away. The worst part for me was knowing exactly what was happening. It is my job to assess suicide and self-harm, so I started asking myself the same questions, and it was scary. Am I hopeless? Do I have a plan? What am I looking forward to?
I can confirm with 100% certainty that I was in full control of my actions, that I would not have hurt myself. But I was not in control of my feelings. I didn’t know what to do.
I think this picture and the feelings it brought in the situation truly allowed me to recognize the feelings I was actually having about me and what was going on.
Postpartum and maternity leave really are a beautiful time! It’s filled with love and wonder and joy while we soak up the miracle of a blessing in front of us. And then it hits; the overwhelming feeling of sadness, irritability, irrational fears and frustration.
It then leads to guilt. Guilt that we shouldn’t be feeling anything negative because of our little miracle. For having such ugly thoughts about yourself, your partner, and sometimes even your baby…. and not having the control to stop it. It isn’t all rainbows and sunshine like everyone expects it to be.
I was indeed feeling intense emotions that needed to be worked through, but that I feel are very common with new moms.
I tried ignoring these feelings for a couple days, then weeks and clearly that didn’t work because that never works. I tried consoling with a couple close friends that I was willing to be that vulnerable with. Again, it helped a little, but not much. Anxiety went through the roof. I became obsessive about what my husband was doing, what he was seeing, what his buddies were sending him. It was unbelievably unhealthy. Don’t get me wrong, he felt bad, he tried to fix it, but he just didn’t get what the big deal was.
Also, it’s important for me to say that my husband has always been so crazy in love with me. He never showed any sign that he wasn’t attracted to me anymore during and after pregnancy. He’s always so kind and sweet and respectful to me and my body. I sincerely believe him that he didn’t think it was a big deal to him (but, of course, to me it was).
Not all postpartum depression (PPD) looks like this, although some of you may have a similar situation. But PPD is real and it is hard. After realizing just how much this one incident was affecting my day to day life, my husband and I’s relationship and my overall wellbeing, I finally decided to go see my own therapist. I chose to see someone trained in Eye Movement Desensitize and Reprocessing (EMDR) to help desensitize the strong emotional reaction I had to this situation.
She was a life saver. I scheduled one session every two weeks. I showed up in my sweat pants and Bryer in her carseat. Most sessions I would just cry. Cry over the pain I felt, cry over the thought that I have nothing to cry about. I have this beautiful healthy baby girl sitting next to me, a husband at home who loves me dearly and is trying like hell to right the wrong, a house to live in, an income to feed us… I had a great life. Which made me feel guilty and I would start crying all over again (someone please tell me I’m not all alone in this).
Finally, after a few sessions of getting to know my story and identifying the main trigger, we did EMDR. I remember being and feeling super skeptic (shhh… don’t tell the counseling community that me, a counselor, was a skeptic). I wasn’t sure what to expect but the best part was the reassurance that there is no right or wrong way to process this. No right or wrong way to grieve. No right or wrong way to freak out! She guided me through the eye movements and I was able to slowly but surely desensitize myself from the intense emotions I was feeling.
A few weeks later, my husband asked if he could join. At first I thought, no way! This is my hour. But I realized this would be great for the both of us. He needed to realize that he can’t fix it like he wanted to, and like most men naturally do. He needed to understand that he simply just needs to be there with and for me. I needed him to hear my words and I needed him to tell me how we can move forward. And that is exactly what we were able to do; move forward.
I will never say that it is perfect, we still have our ups and downs and we did after learning our new roles as husband/wife and mommy/daddy. But I will say that it has made us stronger. He respects me and my after-baby body more. I love him for that respect.
Back to the postpartum depression…
I always knew PPD was a possibility for me. I knew that if I had it I wouldn’t be able to “just get over it” since I’m a therapist and all. But now, I sit here, at 4:32a.m. rocking my second baby girl to sleep and I’m exhausted. I’m sad. I’m happy. I’m scared. I’m excited. I’m overwhelmed, but most of all I’m in love.
These negative emotions are, unfortunately, completely and 100% normal to experience in postpartum. The more I speak to my mommy friends, the more I realize just how normal this is. We must figure this out ahead of time. We have to make a safety plan, know the symptoms, have coping skills ready to go, and have a support system lined up.
Postpartum depression, and other mood disorders like anxiety, may not be avoidable and we may not have control over it, but we can absolutely come prepared and have a plan to work through it.
IOME created a Prenatal Emotional Awareness Online Course to help:
- shed light on the perinatal mood disorders
- define what they are
- know what to look for
- (and most importantly) have a plan if you do experience perinatal mood disorder
Most importantly, this course is developed to take before welcoming a new baby.
I know how challenging it can be to make sound decisions in the middle of postpartum depression and/or anxiety. It’s nearly impossible to make the decision to call for help or talk to you husband when you’re having these feelings.
So do it ahead of time. Make a plan. Know what to look for. Communicate with your partner.
This isn’t about how to take care of your baby, it’s about how to take care of yourself while taking care of your baby.
P.S. if you’re in the middle of postpartum and are experiencing any of these symptoms, call someone today, PLEASE, just call. Or if you know someone going through it or may be pregnant, please send them this to read. Not for the sake of anyone or anything else, besides her.
IOME is happy to help. Click here to schedule a consultation.