I thought I knew what postpartum depression felt like. And maybe I did.
After my first little guy was born, my Husband reminds me that I felt awful–and I probably did.
But, what I do know is that nothing–absolutely nothing–prepared me for how I felt in June of last year.
My son, Asher, was born 4 weeks early in a fast and furious delivery. He was beautiful, just like his two big brothers, except for his two silly little feet that would not pink up. Nobody thought much of it, assuming they would follow on their own timeline just like he had that morning.
But, hours later, those two feet were still an angry plum color–like a storm in the black of the night. There was something terribly wrong with our newest sweet boy. In a whirlwind, words like “septic” and “shock” and “may not make it” swirled in the space between the neonatologist and my understanding.
He was so sick, but he got well. That really is the very beginning of my story with postpartum anxiety, the ugly twin of postpartum depression.
Asher was transferred in the middle of the night via ambulance to a better equipped hospital. I was left in an empty hospital room until I could be released in the morning. Complete and visceral fear wracked my body, mind, and soul. My body couldn’t contain the violent sobs that flowed without my control.
Somehow (grace and mercy, probably) I got through the 3 weeks Asher was in the hospital fighting an intense infection. I feigned being a great mom to 3 boys for about another 2 weeks after that at home. And then for some reason when the threat was gone, I fell apart.
I don’t even remember how it happened, but I began to live every single moment in utter fear. I couldn’t carry a conversation with my husband because I was so preoccupied and consumed with irrational fears. I was very fearful, in particular, that I was developing a quick and fatal illness…one that has no cure and no relief. I can’t even name it here, because saying it still brings me great (yet still irrational) fear.
By the time it became apparent to my husband that I couldn’t care for myself, let alone he and our boys, I was in really bad shape. Luckily, I had a drastic and steep decline–so he noticed and got me into a doctor and counselor immediately. I’ll never forget the day we went into the doctor, I was so exhausted and despondent I couldn’t sit up long enough to be examined. I just laid on the examination table and stared off, tears dripping onto the floor. I had wanted to lay down in the waiting room beforehand, but my husband whispered that maybe it wasn’t socially acceptable.
At the doctor, I was prescribed some medication and then went to my first appointment with a counselor. She thought that it would benefit me to have a whole weekend without having any parenting responsibilities. I thought she was ridiculous. That was not going to solve my problems–I thought my biggest problem was that I was developing this awful disease.
But, somehow my children were cared for–I’m sure my husband and family made it super fun for them. I, in the meantime, started the medication and slept the majority of the weekend. I didn’t feel like I could ever move off that couch. I hoped I never had to.
Monday, though, I had to begin back towards real life. It felt impossible. I don’t know how I did it, but I know that I inched my way through the next two weeks with a lot of help from friends and family. After about two weeks, the medication began to become effective. I saw my first rays of sunshine since it all began. My fears lessened to just below completely and horribly unbearable. Within two weeks after that, I felt more like myself than not.
We went on a vacation at the end of the summer, and in my mind that is when I really became “me” again. I remember distinctly thinking, “I feel good.”
I continued to see a counselor weekly through the summer until the holidays. I still take a daily medication and see it as a complete gift from God, allowing me to think clearly enough to get to the root of the problem. I’m sure I had a touch of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder along with Post Partum Anxiety, but it shocked me how vicious a foe the anxiety was. I was looking out for feelings of depression and hopelessness. I was completely blindsided by my feelings of utter fear and gripping and consuming anxiety.
If your postpartum mental health issues don’t look like textbook Post Partum Depression, please do not be afraid to talk with your doctor and explain how you are feeling. The symptoms vary greatly, and the onset varies as well.