*Read with Caution as the following may cause triggers*
Becoming A Mother
When I found out I was pregnant, it was a complete shock and not planned at all. I was finishing up my last semester of graduate school and no where ready for a tiny human. It took me a couple months to process my feelings and to come to terms with the fact I was going to be a mom. In the beginning of my second trimester, the stress and depression began to pile on and I was having a hard time dealing with school and my personal life. I spoke with my doctor about my concerns, we decided the best route was to put me on a low dose of Zoloft. I was already considered a high-risk pregnancy due to my medical conditions and I didn’t want to put anymore un-needed stress on the baby.
The rest of my pregnancy continued without any major issues. With having depression throughout my pregnancy, we knew that I would be at a higher risk for postpartum depression (PPD). We talked in detail about signs and symptoms to look out for after birth. We also talked about the difference between baby blues vs PPD. My family was all on board in supporting me and being cautiously aware of any symptoms that might occur. I ended up having to have an emergency c-section and the cord was wrapped around his (Maverick) neck. He didn’t cry at first and had a low APGAR score. The doctors were concerned, they waited and tested him again. The APGAR came up and we were sent to recovery. In my line of work, I know that a lot of children with Cerebral Palsy (CP) is caused from a c-section, cord being wrapped around the neck and a lack of oxygen flow. The anxiety was building, and I pushed it to the back of my mind. The nurses assured me he was healthy and perfect.
The first few weeks was a time of adjustment, bonding, and feeling comfortable in my new role. My hormones were crazy, and I was emotional but that was the normal part of motherhood. I had the normal anxieties about if he was eating enough, was he too warm or too cold? I was still concerned that he had CP as he was so stiff and rigid. I saw two different doctors’ and they both saw no signs of CP; I was finally able to let that anxiety go. My family and loved ones made sure to check in with me to make sure I was doing ok, not only physically but mentally and emotionally too. I had never felt so cared for and maybe that was the mommy bliss.
Between weeks 5-6, things started to shift. I didn’t feel like myself. I wasn’t bonding with my son. I felt a distance. It’s like a switched turned on and he never stopped crying. My relationship was also rocky. There was so much going on and I felt so overwhelmed, but I couldn’t express my feelings. Maverick would start to cry, and it felt like my circuit board was on overload. I didn’t feel the need to go to him and comfort him. When I would go to him and hold him, I couldn’t comfort him. It made me feel like a horrible mother. How could I not be able to comfort and console him? There were so many tears for both of us. His father and I would argue often and that didn’t help anything. Maverick would pick up on the negative energy and cry. I felt so numb inside. I would walk out the front door and not say anything to anyone. I would take a walk to calm down and the tears would just roll down my cheeks. There were many times that I thought I wasn’t cut out to be a mother and that I should just get in my car and drive away. I started to withdraw and isolate myself. I stopped texting friends, I didn’t want to talk to my family and Maverick’s dad. I just wanted to sit on the couch and zone out into the tv. Maverick was finally diagnosed with colic and thrush. I struggled with my milk supply from stress. It all became to much and I decided that for my mental health I needed to stop breastfeeding. I had a really hard time with this. Breastfeeding was our time. It was our time to cuddle. I enjoyed watching his little face as he drank my milk and his little hand hugging my breast. This was something that I could give him that no one else could.
Things began to escalate, and I knew something was wrong. Upping my dose of Zoloft was not helping. I knew the signs and symptoms. There were moments of clarity where I knew I wasn’t myself and I needed help. I felt like I was just treading water and I was tired. I began to look for a psychiatrist and therapist to help get a better handle on the situation. I struggled to get into somewhere. I would call and the receptionist would tell me they aren’t’ taking new patients or there was a month waiting list. A month waiting list?!! Are you kidding me? I knew I couldn’t wait that long and needed help NOW. I was getting frustrated with the health care system and the lack of attention on mental health. Here I am, knowing I need help, am actively seeking it, and I can’t receive it. I was finally able to get into a facility and started seeing a therapist. The psychiatrist changed my medication and dose. I was still having a lot of difficulty at home. I couldn’t concentrate, I was irritable and annoyed. Maverick’s dad and I argued a lot. I didn’t feel understood. Simple tasks were overwhelming. I still wasn’t bonding with Mav. He was 3 months, and I should have felt this unconditional love and happiness and I didn’t. I knew it was getting worse when I had the thoughts of shaking my baby because he wouldn’t stop crying. His cries were like nails on a chalkboard. It reached something deep inside me and lit all my nerves on fire. I would then feel bad for having these thoughts and breakdown and cry and it was a vicious cycle.
I told my psychiatrist all that was still going on. Her solution was to have me admitted to a mental hospital until I was stable again. I had never felt so low in my life. She had me convinced that I need to go inpatient and what I was experiencing was not normal. I thought this was my last option. In my line of work, I know what diagnoses are handled at mental hospitals and I didn’t think I was that bad. I also knew that I was falling down a very dark hole. I had been depressed before and this was nothing like that. I was worried for myself, my family, and friends. I spoke with my family and colleagues who work in mental hospitals and weighed my options. I ultimately decided that I was not ready to go inpatient and I am so glad I listened to my gut and chose to get a second opinion.
I reached out to the Postpartum Support Arizona Chapter. They provided me a list of resources for helping mothers and their families. I found a family therapist and nurse practitioner that specializes in women’s health and postpartum health. They assured me that what I was feeling was normal. That a lot of women struggle with PPD and it is just not talked about. My therapist let me know that the last thing they do for mothers’ experiencing PPD is send them inpatient. That would only increase the lack of bonding with the baby and you would spend more time away from them. I started to feel understood. I didn’t feel so alone anymore. The therapist and nurse practitioner told me they would be working together to ensure that the treatment plan was working for me and I was being monitored. I was so glad to have someone looking out for my best interest. I was to come in on a weekly basis and work through things with my therapist. The nurse practitioner wanted me to come in every couple weeks to do a medicine check. I was in constant communication with them. The most important thing I did was to remain honest with them. They were there to help me and not judge me. I let them know when I was still having thoughts of hurting my child and feeling overwhelmed. Oh, the worst feeling as a mom is realizing you are having thoughts of wanting to hurt or abandoned your child and having no control over it. It hurt my heart so much. How could I love this little human that I spent 10 months growing and want to hurt him? They would listen, empathize, and reassure me.
It took almost two months for me to start to feel somewhat normal and at a good baseline. I was making improvements in therapy and was on a medicine regimen that was working for me. While going through this process I went back to work full time. I had a small set back as I knew I wasn’t mentally ready to go back, and I had mom guilt for leaving Maverick. Maverick’s father and I decided to take a break and he moved out. There were a lot of transitions in a short amount of time and it was very overwhelming. That is the thing about treatment, it is not a liner path. It is a revolving door. I continued to attend therapy and work my way through the healing process so I could be the best mom for Maverick. My once a week session turned into every 2 weeks, and now every three weeks.
It has been a year since Maverick was born and 9.5 months in my PPD journey. I am still very much dealing with PPD every day. It is something that doesn’t just go away overnight. It is a constant struggle and process to recover. Some women recover in a couple months and some women it takes them a couple years. It is a slow process, but I know everyday I am making progress. I show up for myself and I show up for Mav. There are times when I have “flare ups” and I can identify my triggers. Sleep deprivation is a huge one for me. If I have a lack of sleep, I am irritable and easily agitated. Teething has been hard on the both of us. The increase in crying and clinginess and lack of sleep is not a good mix. I find myself yelling at Mav to stop crying and then I feel like crap because I know it is not his fault. Therapy has helped me to create a plan of action and to realize triggers. I know that I must step away and take a breath or I call my mom to come over and help if it gets to overwhelming. I feel very blessed to have such a great support system.
I am not one bit ashamed that I have PPD. If anything, it has made me more aware and compassionate for others going through it. Everyone tells you that you will tear, bleed, and will leak milk. That you will lose your hair and be hella tired. No one warns you about PPD. That you may hate your significant other. That you may not bond with your baby and feel love for them. That you may feel overwhelmed and have brain fog. That you may grieve and feel angry. All of these are possible. It needs to be shared, not to scare mothers, but to make them aware. We spend the whole pregnancy prepping for birth and bringing home baby. I read the books and blogs and made Pinterest boards. Heck, my masters was in Child Development. Nothing, and I mean nothing could have prepared me for this. Here is my advice:
- What you are feeling is 100% normal, don’t dismiss it.
- Build a strong support system before you deliver.
- Try to communicate your feelings as much as possible with your partner.
- Do not be ashamed to speak up and seek help.
- Speak the truth to your OBGYN and don’t hold anything back.
- If you feel you need to get in sooner than the 6-week checkup then do.
- It is ok to cry.
- Take a walk, fresh air is good for both you and baby.
- Practice self-care. Take a long shower. Go get Starbucks. Walk the aisles of Target.
- Feel confident that you are a good mom even in these dark times.
Here is a resource that provides great support: https://psichapters.com/az/