My Postpartum Journey - Part 1: Denial
So this week I’m getting a little personal with you, friends. I’ve been thinking about this post a lot and I decided it needed to be split into a series just because it’s not a very light topic and there is so much I would like to share with you all in hopes that it might help one of you.
After Vera was born, I struggled hard with postpartum depression. I was officially diagnosed by my family physician in January 2018. Vera was only 2 months old.
Let me start by saying that I have never had any episodes of depression before in my life. I was extremely lucky and had a very easy-going pregnancy. Like most women, I was so excited to be having this baby and — just as exciting for me — a baby girl!. Of course all I wanted was a healthy child, but I was really looking forward to having a girl.
In this post I’m going to focus on my denial that there was anything wrong because I denied and denied this to my husband and family. I felt like I was perfectly normal.
At the hospital I felt like I had been hit by a train but full of so much love for my new baby girl and little family. But, oh my gosh, I didn’t even realize how exhausted I would feel. After giving birth, you are trying to heal your body and take care of a tiny human on top of that. Your mind doesn’t even have time to play catch-up with everything that has happened to you in the past 24 hours. It is sink or swim, folks. And friends, I was doing the doggie paddle just trying to keep my head above water.
I also got sick a day or two after coming home from the hospital. I was septic and had to go back into the hospital and get some antibiotics, but luckily didn’t have to stay overnight. Thank God for being married to a doctor, he recognized the signs right away.
We were incredibly lucky to have my mom staying with us so she could watch Vera while this was all going on. She stayed with us for a month. At this time, Anton was working long hours finishing his residency and doing some side work as well. It was nice to have the extra hands and someone to go grocery shopping for me. If there is anything I’ve learned from this, it’s to take the help if it’s offered.
During the first month I just felt like I was trying to get a foothold and regain my balance and control over my life. Ha ha, what is balance and control with a newborn? That is not real life, Amy.
See, my expectations were this: I would do all the things that I read about and I’d master breastfeeding and I could be the perfect mom and wife. I could cook and clean and take the dog out and stay on top of all the laundry and get my pre-baby bod back and smile and life would just pick up right where it left off and we’d go dancing into the sunset. I’m a very optimistic person, guys.
I realize that these expectations sound absolutely ridiculous. But tell me, which one of you had the same dialogue flowing through your head? Our expectations are never met by our reality.
I struggled. Breastfeeding was way more difficult than I had imagined and I realized that I knew absolutely nothing about it other than what was briefly explained to me in the hospital. Vera was not the mythical unicorn newborn that started sleeping through the night or in 4-5 hour stretches. She woke up every hour sometimes to be fed. Some humans can function on little to no sleep — this human does not.
Vera wouldn’t sleep in the bassinet at night and I was practically falling asleep on top of her nursing her. I would doze off and jerk awake, thinking she was falling out of my arms. For a few days we were caving and letting her sleep in between us in the Boppy. A huge no-no in all baby books, but we were desperate to get a few hours of shut-eye.
One night I was having an especially rough time. I was trying to nurse Vera and get her back to sleep. She kept crying and crying and Anton was sleeping next to me. I felt like I couldn’t handle this. I had to set her down and ask Anton to help me because I just felt the anxiety closing in on me. Now this is what I would say is a fairly normal feeling. The feeling of anxiousness when your baby is crying and you can’t seem to calm them down. What’s not normal is replaying this scenario over and over in your head to the point where you are saying to yourself: “I am a terrible mother,” “She would be better off without me,” “I can’t do anything right,” etc.
After my mom left, Anton’s parents came to visit us for a couple of weeks over Christmas and Anton’s mom was going to stay with us for a while to help. This is where things took a turn for the worse for me.
My in-laws are the kind of people that will bend over backwards to help you. They were trying to give us advice and I was so incredibly sensitive at this point, I was taking every single thing they said and twisted it around. Remember that inner dialogue that was already playing on repeat in my head? It made it worse. I already felt like I wasn’t doing anything right and I took their advice and tips as confirmation.
One of my biggest demons was breastfeeding. I had quit nursing at this point and was strictly pumping. The disconnect I felt from Vera was horrible. Instead of feeding her, I was pumping alone in my bedroom for at least 30 minutes every 3 hours. I felt isolated and like a failure for not continuing to breastfeed. I will admit that I put a huge amount of pressure on myself with this. I wanted to continue so bad that I was neglecting my own happiness. And I was a huge supporter of “fed is best!” But for some reason I just had this in my head that if I switched over to formula, I was a bad mom. Which is just silly.
When your mind is in a dark place, you cannot think clearly. It’s as though you are looking through a blurred lens and you are trying to describe what you see. Everything is distorted.
I’ll never forget the night that I had a complete melt-down in front of my mother-in-law. Anton was working and Vera just wouldn’t stop crying. I was trying to calm her down and rock her to sleep, but she just wouldn’t stop screaming. My MIL was trying to help me soothe her and I felt the anxiety creeping up on me and I felt as though I was going to explode. I pushed Vera into her arms and told her, “You just do it, I can’t do this anymore!” Something inside me just ripped open and I was pacing back and forth inside the apartment. I remember the thoughts going on inside my head: “She can do it better than you can,” “you’re not a good mom,” “you can’t do this.”
Not long after that, I told Anton I was going to set up an appointment with our family doctor and talk to her about postpartum depression.
I never thought it would happen to me. I thought, I am such a happy person and have so much support around me, that could never happen. But the chemistry of your body changes in ways that you can’t predict. We make the outside preparations: decorating the nursery, picking out outfits, toys, a pediatrician, a daycare provider, but internally? Those changes are much harder to prepare for.
In order for me to become a stronger version of myself and the mother I wanted to be to Vera, I had to look my demons in the eyes and tell them that I no longer believed in them. That they no longer held value. I had to rewrite my narrative. But before I could even start working on this, I had to accept that this was a problem.
So that’s what I did.