Author’s note: This is a part of a series written at different stages of my experience with postpartum depression and anxiety. If you feel like something is not right, please reach out. You do not have to suffer. You can read part one of my journey here, part two here, and part three here. I will write the last installment upon my baby’s first birthday. Thank you for joining me on this journey.
It’s been almost 8 weeks since I sought help. So much has changed in such a short period of time.
After my two day”sleep-in” (where we arranged childcare for our older children and my husband took over baby duties for two nights in a row so I could get uninterrupted sleep), things began to change. I continued with bi-weekly therapy appointments which were critical in my healing.
Expectations and Reality
There were two pieces of advice I found tremendously helpful. First, my therapist reiterated to me that all of this (the lack of sleep, the feelings, the anxiety, etc.) was temporary. It would not last forever. I clung to that hope. The second came from one of my dear friends who battled depression in the past. She told me depression often occurs when our expectations and reality are misaligned, and that in order to overcome the depressive thoughts, we must change one: either our expectations or our reality. That explanation was a lightbulb moment for me. I could not change much of my reality, but what I could change were my expectations. Reminding myself that this stage is temporary and adjusting my expectations of what life would look like as a mother of three.
In addition to continued therapy and medication, the third most impactful treatment was exercise. I had to work up the courage to face the gym. Not only was I weaker physically, I felt incredibly weak emotionally. But I went. I began to notice that just after I finished a workout, I would feel a wave of positive energy and thoughts. I felt empowered and hopeful. Endorphins are real. In those early weeks of my healing, I could identify the difference in my mood pre and post exercise. I was worried that I would need to work out every day in order to feel good, but I reminded myself to stay hopeful. There was a time when I noticed my session was nearing its end, and I felt a wave of disappointment. Sadness that I would have to go back home to my duties as a mom. Immediately following was guilt that such a thought had entered my mind. Similar scenarios would occur every few days, and they would take my breath away. I would be coasting along either slightly improved, or at least not any worse, when I would take a few steps back in my healing. Therapy helped me understand that recovery is like that … two steps forward and one step back. As moms, we often put our needs on the back burner. I have learned that self-care is vital to my ability to be a good mom. Self care for me includes exercise so I will always carve out time to get the endorphins flowing.
I tried to force myself out of the house more. Sitting alone with a newborn is incredibly isolating. Initially, it was difficult. The depression and anxiety made social interactions feel awkward and unnatural. I pushed through and slowly but surely it became easier.
I did see my OB/GYN during this time who provided some enlightening information. First, she encouraged me to continue on the medication for a minimum of 6 months. My therapist agrees with me that a year is probably more appropriate in my case. I will reevaluate closer to my baby’s first birthday. This is a huge step for me. In the past, I have always considered my anxiety to be productive and motivating. It keeps my life incredibly organized which is where I thrive. What I experienced during this postpartum period has changed my entire outlook on mental health, and for that, I am grateful. The silver lining is that I now have more compassion for those who struggle and will be able to better help my children and loved ones should they find themselves in a similar battle. The second thing my doctor told me what that she sees postpartum depression often when women have a traumatic birth experience or one that does not go the way they envision. This was another lightbulb moment for me. My therapist thinks, and I agree, that I had PTSD from my miscarriages. I didn’t celebrate the first half of this pregnancy because I was terrified of losing my baby and I was guarding my heart. Then I went into this labor being induced because my baby was not doing well according to the non-stress test. There was so much fear and anxiety during the first half of my pregnancy and then again for the labor and delivery.
Finally, the last puzzle piece that aided in my recovery was the encouragement by my incredible bosses to take a maternity leave. I am infinitely aware of how incredibly blessed I am to not only have bosses who want you to take the time to heal, but also to be able to afford to do so financially. I know it is not an option for so many mothers, but I would be remiss if I did not mention it because I am confident that the removal of that additional responsibility helped me more than I can say. I will never be able to adequately thank my bosses for the gift of time they gave me and my family.
In 8 short weeks, I have turned the corner. I cannot identify the date it happened; it was too gradual. At first, recovery was slow. I would only have moments in a day of feeling like myself, then it would increase to hours in a day. Soon after, it became that I had more positive thoughts and less negative ones in a day. My therapist encouraged me to not lose hope and reminded me that recovery can be slow. Before I knew it, I would go days without the lows or anxiety. I was sleeping even after feeding the baby at night. I was laughing again. I was happier more than I was sad. Now, here I sit, 8 weeks out and I am myself, a new version of me but myself nonetheless. I cannot recall the last time I had anxiety or depressive thoughts, but I know it has been over 2 weeks. I no longer use the word hopeful to describe myself but rather happy and excited. I am excited to raise this blessing of a baby and to be his momma. I am cautious that my anxiety will resurface. In those moments, I remind myself that help is out there and it is temporary.