Before the nurse released me from the hospital after Kate was born, she came into my room with a giant packet of information for us to go over. We talked about sitz baths, what to do about hemorrhoids, and when my milk would come in.
And then we got to the page on postpartum depression.
I’ll never forget how she looked at me. She stared me dead into my tired eyes and said two weeks of weepiness was normal. After that, something’s not right. And I need to come back in.
That hardly seemed like enough time. I would need longer, I was sure of it. How could I be expected to adjust to my new life in a mere two weeks? It takes me longer to adjust to a new coffee flavor or a fresh pair of sneakers or a different toothpaste.
How could I only have two weeks to feel crazy?
But I just nodded my head.
After the nurse left and I spent the next hour struggling to get Kate to latch to my breast, I thought, it’s okay, two weeks is plenty of time. I can adjust. I’m adjusting right now! I’m totally fine. In control. Feeling weepy? Heck, no! Not me!
And then Kate had jaundice. So I spent my two weeks crying in random places and at random times that jaundice was code for fatal and no one wanted to tell me.
But then she got over that. And I thought I’d feel better. But I didn’t. I spent the next several weeks listening to her breathing on the monitor. I had to hear her breathing. And if the monitor didn’t pick it up, I’d tip toe into her room and gently place my hand on her, so I could feel her chest rise and fall.
When I wasn’t listening and feeling for her breathing, I was consumed with things that could happen to her. I couldn’t watch a Law and Order or CSI episode without spinning a web of anxious thoughts. Someone was going to break into our house and steal Kate. The next time I turned my back for a second at the grocery, someone would grab Kate and take off before I had a chance to notice. We’d get in a car accident. Something would happen to Dan. Something would happen to me. She’d stop breathing.
The cycle of anxious thoughts would go round and round in my brain. And I was a master at conjuring up terrible scenarios. What’s worse, I thought, if I worried just enough, then nothing would happen.
At one point, I worried I had postpartum depression. Could that be what I’m feeling? But I didn’t exhibit the “classic” signs. I wasn’t depressed or sad. I bonded completely with Kate. I didn’t feel like harming myself or others. I didn’t want to run away from my family.
It was the anxiety that was crippling.
For about three months, I felt the strongest non-stop parade of anxious thoughts I’d ever felt. The days seemed almost painful. And I feared the nights. I was anxious about being anxious. I thought I’d always feel this way. That I’d never feel a sense of calm ever again.
I can’t say exactly what happened after those three months. I became active in my mom’s group, found friends, and got out of the house. I spent hours talking to Dan and my mom about my anxious thoughts and let them help me see how my fears were controlling me. Kate didn’t feel so fragile or breakable. I got more sleep. I ate. I received support from the breastfeeding group at the hospital. I went back to my spin classes. I asked for the help I needed.
Every month I got a little better and a little better and a little better. And I used my family and friends to help me cope with anxious thoughts that crept up (like when Kate started rolling over in her sleep, sending me into orbit).
Now, after 17 months, I don’t feel the constant string of anxious thoughts. They creep up, every now and then, like when I see news reports about crimes against children, but I think those are worries any parent would feel. I don’t let myself get tangled into the web of what could happen. I take comfort in the fact that I am an attentive mother, my pediatrician’s office provides me with good support, and I voice my anxieties when I think they might get the best of me.
But when I read Jill’s post on postpartum anxiety last week, I wondered about how I would feel the next time around with a newborn? Would I feel better? Worse? The same? And then I thought, not only about myself, but all those other new mothers. How even if they don’t exhibit postpartum depression per se, it seems all new mothers still face bouts of weepiness at the dinner table for no reason, find themselves dry heaving in the Safeway parking lot, lie awake at night listening to their baby breathe on the monitor, wondering when food will taste good again.
But no one wants to say that is what happens. But I’ll say it. I’ll scream it from the rooftops. I faced a postpartum hurricane of hormones that took time and a lot of work to overcome. And it doesn’t make me a bad mother.
So be kind to yourself, new moms. And work to help remove the stigma of postpartum depression and anxiety. Postpartum anxiety isn’t any new mom’s fault. And it’s not something she can just get over. And it doesn’t make you a failure. Or a terrible mother. You might need help. Or you might just need some time. But you are definitely not alone.