What I wish I knew about Postpartum Mental Health before my baby was born

This is a little more serious than I usually get on the blog, but I think it's SO important to talk about.

When I was pregnant I read books and articles, and went to classes, and I’m sure just like any other soon-to-be mom, I tried to be as prepared as possible (LOL). But when I would hear people talk about postpartum depression/the baby blues/ postpartum anxiety,  I just didn’t get it.

I remember being in my birthing class and the instructor brought up the baby blues. At the time I was 9 months pregnant, and all I could think of was how happy/excited/thrilled I would be to have that baby in my arms (and also not have her in my gigantic belly anymore). The instructor talked about the huge hormonal changes after birth and with breastfeeding, but I still just couldn’t grasp how I could feel sad or depressed after having my perfect angel in my arms.

I had suffered from anxiety and depression in the past. I was on medication in my early 20’s and was able to manage my anxiety for the most part with exercise after college. It wasn’t severe or debilitating, for the most part. I thought I knew what anxiety felt like.

The first few days after my Elle was born felt like a dream. Breastfeeding was way harder than i expected, but for the most part, I was just so happy and in love. A few days after my babe was born, the post-birth aura started to wear off and I started to get emotional. SO emotional. I thought I was emotional when I was pregnant, but this was on a different level. I felt like I had no control of my body. I couldn’t quite get the hang of breastfeeding, my nipples hurt like HELL,  I was sleeping 2 hours at a time. It was hard.

Thankfully, My mom came into town to help me.  She watched the babe while my husband ran to the grocery store. I will never forget pulling into the parking spot at Costco (about 2 minutes from my house) and completely losing it. I was SOBBING uncontrollably and my husband just sat there confused. He asked me what was wrong, and I literally did not know.

I felt so silly. Here we were, brand new parents on cloud nine, and I was losing it.  I sobbed for probably 30 minutes. We obviously didn’t go to costco. We went and got a smoothie and then went home (where the baby was still sound asleep).

I cried and cried to my mom, and she told me it was normal, and I could talk to my doctor and it was no big deal.

The weepy, emotional outbursts ended. I filled out the postpartum depression questionnaires at my pediatrician's office during all of my daughter’s appointments, and there were no red flags. I felt fine. I could take care of myself and my baby, I never resented her, or thought I would hurt myself. I obviously didn’t have postpartum depression, but in my heart I just kept thinking something isn’t right.

 

At my 6 week postpartum appointment I told my OB I was feeling anxious. Looking back, I probably should have said, I’m feeling really f***ing anxious and I need some help. But I probably said something like I’m feeling a little anxiety....

She promised me it was normal, and told me to check back in another month or two if I wasn’t feeling better/able to manage it with exercise like I did in the past.

At this point I desperately missed exercising and I wanted to get back into a fitness routine. But I was also so damn tired I couldn’t think straight. I would go on walks everyday, but my only real exercise was pushing a stroller and holding onto my bulldog who was hyper from not getting out enough.

Months passed, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed help. I felt more anxious than I had ever felt in my life. I was worried about everything. Paranoid that I was going to get in a car accident every day. SO freaked out about SIDS- just terrified I was going to wake up one day and she would be dead. Worried I was going to drop my baby.

On one horrible night, I accidently burned my baby with hot bath water. We had just moved into our new house and I wasn’t used to the sink. I turned the cold water off first, and then hot water came out. It scared her, and she freaked out (it didn’t leave a mark- it was a split second and she was still in the warm water) but she cried and cried. I replayed that in my head thousands of times. I felt such intense guilt that I had hurt my baby.

When my babe was 8 months old, I realized I had to do something. I was losing sleep (not that I had a lot of sleep anyway), staying up at night worrying, stressing out about EVERYTHING, and I just didn’t feel right. I knew that by now I should be feeling better.

I went to the doctor and started medication on my 27th birthday. He told my it would take over a month to start working and I almost lost my mind. My doctor didn’t feel comfortable prescribing fast acting anxiety meds because I was breastfeeding. For a while I thought about weaning my baby just so I could take something to give me a break. I couldn’t take the anxiety anymore.

I ended up taking a trip to stay with my mom in San Diego for a couple of weeks, and by the time I left the medicine had begun working. The combination of a cold winter mixed with anxiety, no sleep, and just feeling isolated in general was too much and I needed to get away.  I realize I'm so fortunate I even had this option. 

I wish I would have trusted my instincts and gone to the doctor way sooner. I wish I would have known that postpartum mental illness manifests itself in many different ways. Some people get ANGRY, some people just don’t bond with the baby right away, some people are deeply depressed and can’t get out of bed. I think just being more aware of what could happen would have been helpful. 

I mistakenly thought that since I could “hold it together” it wasn’t something that needed medical attention. I was SO wrong.

I wish I would have been more aware of what could possibly happen BEFORE it happened (aka before my daughter was born). I used to get so annoyed when people would say things like “you don’t know about [fill in the annoying blank here] until you’ve had a baby or until you’ve become a mom.

Well...for postpartum mental illness, you may not fully understand it without experiencing it, but it’s still SO important to be aware. From what I hear from other more experienced mamas, every pregnancy is different and the postpartum experience can be different with each child too.

Another thing I’ve learned about ppd/ppa is that it can take months to manifest itself. SAY WHAT??? You mean after months of being a mom, I can suddenly develop postpartum depression or anxiety?? Yes. It’s something to be aware of. Being a mom is tough.

Living in a sleep deprived state is so hard, and taking care of yourself is the last thing on the list at times, but I know first hand that I am a better mom and better wife when I take even just a little time for me.

I hope you are taking the time you need for you. Trust your instincts. If you feel like you should check in with your doctor, just do it. 

xoxo