Here’s my story discussing PPA:
To prepare for the birth of our first baby, my husband and I didn’t take any classes or read any books. Our baby girl was born, and we winged it. I vividly remember one (of many) bad nights, thinking “Why won’t you go to sleep!?” I was frustrated, over tired, but, to be honest, not overwhelmed. I knew this was part of the whole parenting gig. Once we figured out that swaddles and pacifiers are a new parent’s best friends, life was good. She slept pretty damn well for a newborn and ate like a champ (Breast? Bottle? She loved it all). She was predictable and super chill. Our first year with her went so well. I thought I had everything down to a science; I was a pro. So, when our second baby came along 21 months later, I never considered that things may not go as smoothly.
Our son’s first month of life was great. He latched well, was sleeping surprisingly well, and I was soaking it all in (and juggling two kids under two, apparently). Then things started to change. He had minor reflux. He became fussy. He wouldn’t take a bottle. He wouldn’t sleep. Ever. I was doing everything that I thought I should be doing; everything I successfully did for our firstborn didn’t work for him. I was completely lost. On top of that, he was puking up what appeared to be every last ounce of milk he would consume while nursing (I also had a ridiculously fast let down, which didn’t help matters). There came a point where he would cry every time he nursed. Then I would cry. I was a failure. I was inadequate. My body wasn’t allowing me to feed my baby properly. I couldn’t get him to sleep, so he was always overtired. Everything I tried to do was wrong. This is what I told myself. And when it was just me and my newborn at home while my husband was at work and my daughter in daycare, I would break down. This overwhelming feeling of complete helplessness and hopelessness would consume my body. I’d tense up, making myself feel sick. My husband witnessed it a few times, and he knew this was not me. This is not how I handled stress… or motherhood. All new mothers cry… a lot. Our hormones are so out of whack; but I knew I was crying much more than with my first. And I worried much more. Is he eating enough? Is he sleeping enough? I am producing enough? I am doing enough? I am enough for my baby? I am doing everything wrong.
I delivered both babies at a teaching university, so I ended up participating in some research studies. One in particular during my second pregnancy was on postpartum depression and the mom brain. I’d have to go in a handful of times before and after birth, and I’d get two MRIs (which I thought was pretty cool). During all of my interviews and conversations with research assistants, none of their questions reflected what I was feeling. I was able to honestly answer “no” to many things they asked me regarding depression. I shared my all-consuming breakdowns I had, but I felt as if my “symptoms” did not fit the term “postpartum depression.” If anything, I was simply a mom with a newborn having normal postpartum feelings. But was I? I knew what I felt wasn’t normal or healthy for me. But the moments came and went, and that was that.
I briefly looked into seeing a perinatal therapist for postpartum anxiety to help me maneuver these feelings and moments but never followed through. My son had great pediatric well checks, was growing and healthy, and slowly but surely got better. Sleep was better. Nursing was better. I was better. I still have those moments of “I can’t handle any of this!” but I remind myself that, yes. Yes, I can. I am doing everything I can for my children. I am not inadequate. I am not a bad mom. When my 2.5 yo is upset over something, I always tell her to breathe. I have her look at me and help her take deep breaths. During that fourth trimester with my son, why couldn’t I say that to myself? When you’re in that moment of helplessness, you cannot blame yourself. You have to leave the moment and knock some sense into yourself.
If I could go back in time to ten months ago and give myself some words of encouragement, I’d tell myself to not give up on myself. To not let the overwhelming feelings of doubt and inadequacy take over. To not get angry. To say yes to help. As mothers, we feel this need to be in total control 100% of the time, and that’s just not possible. I should get this plastered all over my house!
My son taught me to not be so hard on myself. Housing and birthing and loving and raising a child are not easy, so we, as mothers, need to give ourselves a break. We are doing the best we can.