When my baby was born, I was the model of awesome. I was happy, energetic, and even finding time to write between feedings and nap times.
That was the first five days.
When the adrenaline wore off, so did the shiny new mom glow. I didn’t know it then but I know it now: I suffered from postpartum anxiety and depression.
We hear some about postpartum depression but postpartum anxiety is less well known. (Here’s an article on both.) In fact, I didn’t even know it was a thing until I was more or less out of the woods. For me, the anxiety manifested as insomnia and y’all, I was TIRED. Even when my baby started sleeping most of the night, and then all of the night, I could not. I was awake. All. The. Time.
I’m sure I talked to my mom and husband about it but the first time I really remember “disclosing” my sleep deprivation was when my sorority sister was in town. She’d been here in the weeks following the birth when I was struggling with breastfeeding, sleep deprivation, wacky hormones, etc and wanted to know – had it gotten any better. Well, yes, it had. Baby was eight or so months now and our breastfeeding journey had ended (happily) but though I was sleeping a little better, it was still a challenge. I thought my body had forgotten how to sleep eight hours straight after all that middle of the night business. She suggested seeing a doctor, trying melatonin, stress reducing tactics and (what probably felt like to her and me) 50 other very reasonable, healthy options, all of which I declined because they “wouldn’t work for me.”
For a long, long while that was my reality. I kept on keeping on in a bad place. I didn’t sleep well and I lost weight (which my silly post-pregnancy, vain girl-self considered a victory; I literally remember texting a lifelong girlfriend bragging that I was 3 pounds below my high school weight. Woot woot!). I was impatient and irritable, both of which I chalked up to my new reality as a working mom. Ignore the fact that pre-kid me was relatively patient, level-headed maybe tightly wound sometimes but not anxious, and logical. Motherhood, I thought, had changed me to the core but it was OK/normal because, ya know, kids change everything.
Finally though, the exhaustion at least had to be tackled. Under the supervision of my doctor, we sought out a prescription remedy. Ultimately Ambien worked for me and I started sleeping better. For a while.
I was taking it 6-7 nights per week and after a few months, the effect wore off. I was out of options. I had tried new sleep aids and was not happy or comfortable with any of them. My mom started pushing me to tackle it from a different angle, to see a mental health professional. Finally after one exceptionally bad night, I conceded. She immediately sent me the information for a sleep therapist on my side of town that accepted my insurance. No more excuses.
The first session was me saying “everything is wonderful and perfect in my life – my baby is healthy, my marriage is happy and my career is awesome. We’re even going on vacation soon!” So we talked sleep techniques, the same things I’d heard a million times. “Dim the lights.” “Turn of the TV.” Blah, blah, blah.
Before my next appointment I had a sleepless night and my now toddler woke up early early on a day when my husband had to go to work. I was going to be home and in charge of entertaining a 15 month old ALL BY MYSELF with no sleep. Hello mommy meltdown.
Hubby and I agreed – I needed to confess this meltdown to my therapist ASAP so that I couldn’t avoid it in my next appointment. So I sent her a lengthy and honest email about how intimidating caring for the sweetest 20 pounds I’d ever known was when I was exhausted like this.
I think that was the beginning of the end. It allowed me to start having more honest conversations and made it impossible to play the “everything is perfect” card. Everything was NOT perfect.
The real turning point, the lightbulb moment, happened a month or two later when I saw the same sorority sister. She asked how I was. And this time I quietly told her “I think I have an anxiety disorder.” Once I said it, it clicked. YES. I was experiencing postpartum anxiety which had led to at least mild postpartum depression. I remember she asked how we were addressing it and I said “I don’t know; I just realized it.”
Then it started to get better. Within a few months, I was gaining weight (in a good way). I was sleeping more often with just melatonin and only relying on Ambien a few times per month.
It’s been more than two years since I came a mom. Is it perfect now? Hell no. When I switched jobs, the anxiety came back. When I hosted Christmas, the anxiety came back. But you know what’s different – now it’s run-of-the-mill anxiety. And not to downplay anxiety but this anxiety is distinctly NOT related to my child. Though it is not fun, the separation from motherhood makes it more manageable.
It’s clear as day to me now what I was going through. So why wasn’t I, my husband, my mom, my girlfriends able to spot it then? Frankly, because I didn’t admit to it, I didn’t share it, I didn’t talk about it.
So there you have it, my stream of consciousness story. My battle with postpartum anxiety and depression.
What do I hope is gained from sharing this? I hope if you are feeling anxious, sad, like there is no end in sight, like maybe this motherhood thing was a huge mistake that you cannot take back, like WTF did I sign up for – if you feel like that I hope you’ll know, I did too. You are not alone. I felt that way too and it is the absolute worst. But if you will tell someone, if you will talk about it, if you will confide in the people who love you most, you can get to the other side. You can find ways to cope, you can receive support, you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, you can start to enjoy motherhood. You are strong, smart and capable; you are a loving mom; and YOU CAN DO THIS.