There are many things about labor and motherhood that I wasn’t expecting.
I wasn’t expecting to go two whole weeks past my due date.
I wasn’t expecting to spend 48 hours in labor at home, with only two hours of sleep, vomiting every two or three hours, and still have no baby.
I didn’t expect to shake continuously through labor.
I didn’t expect to need to transfer to the hospital at one in the morning, carrying a puke bucket, shuffling into the childbirth ward in my fake-Ugg boots and my bathrobe, my midwife holding high a bag of fluids dripping into my arm.
I didn’t expect to ask for an epidural, and I sure didn’t expect to like it. I didn’t expect to get to sleep for five hours while they pumped me full of pitocin to open me up. I didn’t expect any of this.
I visualized my baby being born in a room of candles and water tubs, with an ethereal voice singing a gentle welcome into the world while sweat glistened off my forehead and my husband told me how amazing I was.
Instead, my baby was born somewhere in between Sir Mix-a-lot’s Big Butts and Pink’s Raise Your Glass, while I sang along, with the midwife exclaiming that she’d never delivered a baby to those songs before. I didn’t expect my baby to not cry when he came out, and instead be whisked away to the corner of the room where they could suction out his tiny nose and angry, pursed lips. He had pooped in the womb and they didn’t want him to swallow it.
And I sure as hell didn’t expect my baby emit what the nurses exclaimed as Rivers of poop! as my tiny son was placed on my chest. But we rolled with that one, happy to have him here. And although we also weren’t expecting an extended stay in the hospital, we became grateful for the two extra days we were required to stay. They brought us food, helped us breastfeed, and monitored our health after such a long road in labor.
When it was all over, I was elated. I had done it!
As those first days passed, and days turned into weeks and weeks into months, I kept wondering when I’d finally hit a new normal. I expected to feel different – I was different. I expected to have to question my identity, my calendar, my time and my engagements. But I didn’t expect to have to question my sanity. Although I was on the lookout for postpartum anxiety and depression, it kind of snuck up on me. It took me a while to realize it for what it was.
At first I just thought it was identity shift. Once I figure out who I am with this new change, I thought, I’ll feel better.
But I didn’t.
Although I wasn’t afraid for my son’s safety, I was continuously worrying about my milk supply, how he was sleeping, how I was sleeping, how my husband was sleeping, how we were getting fed, if I was eating too much, if my son was eating enough, if it was time to exercise, if I would ever lose the baby weight, if I cared to lose the baby weight, what kind of stroller to get or should we get two and on and on and on and on.
Inevitably, I’d decide that my husband wasn’t helping out enough, and come every Friday night or so, I’d explode about some issue. Or non-issue. And I’d try to turn it into a productive conversation, and sometimes it would work, and most times I ended up more confused than when I started.
I couldn’t think. My brain didn’t work. It was like I was trying to think inside of a hurricane.
I couldn’t think, so I couldn’t work. Or read. Or do much of anything that required focus. I thought working would make me feel better, so I tried a little. But I couldn’t think through the fog, so instead I spent my son’s naps watching TV and drinking decaf coffee.
I thought it must be lack of sleep. And if I just got enough sleep, things would be better. So I made sleep a priority. Which meant that I worried about sleep. So all the sudden, I wasn’t sleeping, even when everyone else was. I’d just lay awake at night in a hurricane of thoughts and anger. So. Much. Anger. Anger that I couldn’t sleep, anger that my husband could. And anger that was simply unexplained.
My pediatrician saw me at my son’s two month visit and dug into me a bit. When she realized I hadn’t strung together more than four hours of sleep since my son was born, she told me I must. And when I went to take a nap that day and found I couldn’t, instead laying awake getting more and more wound up even though I was past the point of exhaustion. I completely broke down. I cried to my husband that I just couldn’t do this anymore. I was done. Something had to give.
He started taking the first night shift. From eight until midnight, I was off-duty. I could now get four straight hours of sleep. We changed a few other things, too – I stopped co-sleeping with my son because I didn’t sleep well with a wiggly infant beside me. Turns out he didn’t sleep well with a sweaty adult beside him. Suddenly, we were all sleeping really well at night.
And yet, I still didn’t feel better.
If anything new was thrown at me, I freaked out. For example, my husband had been sleeping on the couch for a week to give me better sleep. One night, he said he’d be coming back to bed. My husband, who I’d slept next to for four years. And yet, I freaked out, cried and panicked. Finally I asked him to give me one more night alone to get used to the idea. I still had to use deep breathing that night in order to get back to sleep.
I did more to try and feel better. I thought it must be something I was doing wrong. So I tried all the things. I got more sleep. I exercised (arguably too much). I ate well. I drank enough fluids. Took vitamins. Saw a therapist. Went on dates with my husband. Used my energy tools. Got out of the house everyday. Walked. Joined a parenting support group. Saw friends. Saw my doctor, who gave me herbs to calm my mind. And acupuncture. And meditations before bed. And snacks at night so that the cortisol didn’t spike adrenaline and keep me awake.
I was doing all the things and I still didn’t recognize myself.
And I still wasn’t any better. I still got wound up in worry all week, only to inevitably crash into a sad and crying puddle for the weekend. I didn’t recognize myself. And while I loved my son and usually enjoyed taking care of him, I couldn’t feel the enjoyment.
In fact, unless I was crying in despair, I realized couldn’t feel anything at all. I was ambivalent. Ambivalent, with a side of worry.
And when that worry got out of control, I had dark thoughts. My mind went into scary places. It was like there were mind monsters lurking about, and unless I did everything perfectly, they’d get me.
That was when my therapist said, It sounds like you’re doing an awful lot just to feel normal. You shouldn’t need to do so much just to reach baseline.
I went back to my doctor for a check in. I told her everything, and she said she thought it was time for a new tool. She said we’d tried all the other things, and based on what I was describing, there weren’t enough acupuncture needles in the world to get me where I needed to be. This was clearly postpartum anxiety and depression and it looked like I needed additional support. I’d tried so hard, and now it was time for a better tool.
She offered to prescribe me a medication.
I knew this was coming, and there was a part of me that was resistant. A part of me that thought that if I just did a few things better, all of this would go away. That part of me has always been wrapped up in perfection, limiting beliefs and scarcity. That part of me I’d worked so hard to get rid of. So I knew I could not listen to her. Instead, I listened to the part of me that believed I deserved all the tools available to me, all the tools to help me regain my health. I chose to listen to the part of me that allows me to have.
The reward wasn’t instant, but it came. First, I started thinking more clearly. Next, I started feeling. I had satisfaction again, and when my son smiled and laughed it touched not only my mind but also my heart. I could focus. I could problem-solve without pangs of anxiety in my gut. Slowly but surely I regained my sense of humor and my wit. Piece by piece I came back together.
I still take the herbs. I still meditate at night and eat snacks after night nursings. I still exercise, eat healthy and drink enough water. But I also give myself a medication that allows all those other tools work. A few years ago, I might not have given to myself in that way. I’m so glad I’m able to now.
If you’re struggling with with postpartum anxiety and/or depression, please get help. You’re not doing it wrong, and there’s not a list of things to do better in order to feel better. Get help, because I’ve found that there are so many people willing to help and so many ways to get help. You are not alone, mama. And you’re doing a great job.