I remember after my first son was born and being asked by everyone “Don’t you just adore him?! Isn’t being a mom the most amazing thing?! Have you ever loved anything so much?!”… I’d smile and nod and then beat myself up because I didn’t feel those things; I didn’t feel an instant connection. To be honest the only real emotion I felt was rage.
Mostly I was exhausted, scared, and filled with rage.
Exhausted from nursing a tiny human every hour. Exhausted from only sleeping in thirty minute increments. Exhausted from a five day traumatizing birth experience. Exhausted from constantly worrying about everything that could possibly go wrong.
I was scared that any little thing could kill my brand new baby. Scared that if I slept he would stop breathing. Scared that his airway would be restricted if he slumped in the swing. Scared that the car seat wasn’t installed correctly. Scared that pretty much anything I imagined could end in death, decapitation, dismemberment or any combination of the three.
Now for the unexpected emotion, RAGE.
Rage that being a mom was a big crock. Rage that my relationship was filled with constant fighting and a huge amount of resentment. Rage that this role that I had so desperately wanted was not at all what I was expecting.
At my 6 week appointment I was evaluated for ppd but knew all the “right” things to say to avoid a diagnosis. I wasn’t depressed- I wasn’t. I was a rational and sane individual who fully understood all the implications of being a parent that got glossed over. How could any sane person be blissful while having cracked nipples, no sleep, an aching body ravaged by birth, and a tiny helpless thing that you could never put down?!
These other moms were either lying, delusional, or beyond dumb to be blissed out covered in spit up and poop.
There were times I wanted to punch walls. I wanted to scream. I wanted to get in my car, drive away, and never come back. I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t lonely. I didn’t want to harm myself or my child. This wasn’t baby blues. I started questioning if being a mom is what broke my mom. I wondered if motherhood was going to be the final straw that triggered a mental illness in me that so many women in my family had suffered from.
This wasn’t postpartum depression.
This was more like seeing every way something could go wrong and having to have an emergency response ready at all times just in case. What if Logan stopped breathing? What if he had an allergic reaction? What if there was an earthquake? What if he fell and hit his head? What if I died in my sleep? I obsessed over the what if’s so that I could always be “ready”… it was exhausting and made me a neurotic mess. This severe anxiety coupled with sleep deprivation made me feel like I was a ball of rage that could explode over anything and everything no matter how seemingly inconsequential it seemed.
My symptoms didn’t fit the picture that the mass media paints of what postpartum depression looks like.
I didn’t become a recluse. I didn’t let my housework or regular work fall to the wayside. If anything I took on more work and scheduled more things. It was better to be busy than to sit and listen to the constant stream of anxious thoughts that ran through my head.
I lived every day tired, anxious, and angry.
At 18 months, combination of a miscarriage, a car accident, and the resulting debilitating panic attacks finally made me realize I was not okay. Unfortunately things had to get even worse before I could get better. I went from being able to function before the car accident to not being able to drive my car without triggering a full blown panic attack. I couldn’t drive on the freeway. I couldn’t function. Each panic attack made me feel like I was dying. My ears would start ringing, my mouth would go dry, my heart would start racing, I couldn’t swallow, I couldn’t breathe, my vision would go blurry, and my mind would kick into overdrive with anxious thoughts.
I needed help.
Enough was enough and I finally sought help. I made an appointment with my general practitioner and voiced my concerns, what was going on and that I needed to see a therapist. You know what she told me? That she was more concerned with the 15 lbs of baby weight that I hadn’t lost. She was more concerned about me being fat than my debilitating panic attacks. I called 5 times to get a referral. I finally had to go to my OB instead to get a referral.
Do you know how hard it is to ask for help?
Do you know how hard it is to admit you are not ok? I thank god every day that I’m a strong, educated, resourceful woman who knows how to advocate for what I need because it would have been so much easier to say “I tried, but my doctor didn’t seem too concerned so oh well” and just continued on in the joyless hell I had already been living. I could pop a few pills and take the edge off and I could “manage”.
Over two years later, I’m still a work in progress. I still have panic attacks, but they’re far fewer and less intense.
I’m now entering my fourth year as a mother. I have two rambunctious beautiful boys. I go to therapy once a week. I am happy. I am connected to my children. I do feel THAT joy people gush about. Through a lot of work in therapy and on my own I have reset my baseline to “normal” so that when I am reacting to something it is actually in line with where it should be. I am still sleep-deprived but I find joy every day in little things. Postpartum depression and anxiety can present in a million different ways. Just because I wasn’t crying or suicidal didn’t mean I didn’t have a serious problem.
It’s so important to talk about these things. It’s important to share. Sometimes it’s reading something and having an “ah-ha” moment. If there were more open conversations and less stigma surrounding mental illness more people would get help. It’s ok to not be okay.