I still feel the need to defend my postpartum anxiety. After a three day long induction process, an emergent c-section and breastfeeding issues, the first few weeks were no walk in the park. I wasn’t sleeping (but what new mom does?), there were lots of tears and constant worrying. I dreaded when the days would turn into night because I would spend the entire night watching my son obsessively, fearing he would stop breathing in his sleep. I had no interest in holding him and I would cry every time I had to breastfeed him because I absolutely hated it but I chalked it all up to the baby blues and being new at this motherhood thing.
It was at my two week check up that I realized I was suffering from postpartum anxiety and depression. My sister came over to watch the baby so that I could go to my appointment and I remember feeling so relieved for the break from the constant breastfeeding and pumping. I broke down in tears in the car to my husband. This was supposed to be such a joyous, happy time. After going through infertility I was over the moon when I found out I was pregnant yet here I was thinking “What have I done? I hate being a mother. I don’t have this immediate love for my baby like everyone else does, I’m not cut out for this. What is wrong with me?” I made the difficult decision to stop breastfeeding and once I went back to work I started feeling like my old self again.
10 months postpartum and the demons crept in again, this time worse than ever. I felt like things were spiraling, I had lost control of everything and I literally wanted to escape my body. I walked around in a fog and felt so selfish for what I was feeling. “What do I have to be so depressed about? I have a beautiful, healthy family I should feel grateful.” I felt shameful for the way I was acting but I had no control over it. I wished I could feel happiness when my son smiled at me. I remember the day I was driving to get my hair done and I felt like I was having a heart attack. My heart was beating out of my ribcage, my arms and hands were all tingling, my lips were numb and it felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest. I pulled into the urgent care that was in the same parking lot as my hairdresser, convinced I was having a cardiac event. I am a nurse after all. I can recognize the difference between postpartum anxiety, panic attacks and a heart attack when I see it.
Well I was wrong. The thing is postpartum depression and anxiety looks different on everyone. Depression doesn’t always look like an unkept, person who hasn’t slept or eaten in weeks. Anxiety doesn’t always look like fear or panic attacks. Successful, put together people can suffer in silence as we’ve recently seen in the tragic cases of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate.
I’ve learned there is nothing wrong with reaching out and asking for help from family or friends, going to talk to a counselor, or taking something to help ease your anxiety or depression. You are not illogical in what you are feeling and you are not “burdening others with your problems.” I wish it didn’t feel so embarrassing and shameful and I hope that one day it won’t. So until then I will keep sharing my story and I hope that I can encourage you to reach out to someone you trust and ask for help.
(For more information on ways to cope with postpartum depression and anxiety check out this article I wrote for Consumer Health Digest.)