It wasn’t until I joined Facebook that I reconnected with a friend from high school, Rachel Huber. Then, I learned Rachel experienced Post-Partum Depression and anxiety.
I think there is a lot of misinformation and stigma around Post-Partum Depression. We all know new moms are hormonal, but it’s an actual medical condition which should be taken seriously. I think new moms should talk about this and share their experiences and what to look for in themselves and others.
In this guest post, I asked Rachel about her struggles. She is the mom of two, Shiloh (4) and Callie Jane (18 mos.), and incredibly eloquent and generous in sharing her journey. Through her words, I learned about Post-Partum Anxiety and the gifts of hope, friendship and grace.
Here is what Rachel had to say about her experience…
What were your expectations of new motherhood?
I expected having a second baby to be hard, but less hard than having the first. I already knew what it took to care for a baby: everything. I knew the first few months would be hard, but I thought my first experience would be my guide and I would ease into the transition naturally.
How did your expectations compare to your reality?
I never expected things to go the way they did. Instead of being easier than the first child it was much, much harder. Now I not only had my newborn to care for, but also a 3 year old as well. I didn’t know it at first, but I was also dealing with Post-Partum Anxiety. Post-Partum Anxiety made even taking of myself a huge challenge and there were days I could not take care of myself let alone my two kids as well.
Additionally, my first was an “easy” baby, but the second was not. She was super colicky and cried most of the time. I didn’t know what to do!
What was the first inclination you felt something was amiss?
The first time I knew something was wrong was about two weeks after I had my baby. It was late one Thursday night and I was wearing Callie in her baby carrier trying to get her to stop crying. I began to get dizzy and short of breath. I tried sitting down but it only got worse. I thought I was having a heart attack. We called a friend to come stay with the kids and my husband took me to the ER. After running tests it turned out that my heart was fine but my blood pressure was extremely high. And, every time they gave me medicine to lower it, it got higher.
I was terrified. I had every worst case scenario running through my mind and did not know what to expect. Looking back I think it was largely my anxiety which had my blood pressure rising. My BP did eventually come down and they sent me home. But, this was just the first of three times my anxiety-related health issues sent me to the hospital within the first month of Callie’s life.
How did you address it? (Did you eventually seek professional help? What would have kept you from getting help?)
I was very fortunate to have an OB who stayed on top of my blood pressure as well as my anxiety and depression. He emailed with me almost daily for the first several weeks. He was the first to say that I probably had Post-Partum Depression and recommended seeing a therapist. He also put me on medication. For these reasons, I credit my OB doctor with much of my recovery.
I found a therapist and she was amazing. She validated what I was feeling and emphasized I had an actual illness. This was not a figment of my imagination.
My therapist taught me coping mechanisms and helped me to see through the lies my anxiety and panic were telling me.
Each week I’d bring her something I thought I couldn’t get past, and each week she helped me overcome whatever it was.
I also had a very supportive spouse who supported me in every possible way during all of this.
I think I would not have sought help if the people around me – my friends, family, and doctors – were not as accepting. Likewise, if they believed I could somehow “get over it” on my own. If I had felt pressure to minimize what I was feeling and experiencing, I probably would not have been as quick to treat the PPD and would not have recovered as quickly.
What NOT to say to a new mom who may be experiencing PPD:
“You just need to get out more. Go buy yourself a new dress.”
“This is just the baby blues. It will pass with time.”
“This is no big deal. I had a touch of it too.”
“It’s just the adjustment phase of having a baby.”
What’s the best thing someone could say to a new mom who may be experiencing PPD?
The best thing someone can say to a woman experiencing PPD is to tell her she is not alone. Tell her it is ok for [new motherhood] to be hard, and encourage her to get help if she hasn’t already.
On one of my darkest days came when I couldn’t see a way out and one of my friends told me, “Let us carry the burden of hope for you.” That was such a relief to me! When I couldn’t find any hope, my friends did the hoping for me.
I want moms to know that Post-Partum Depression can come on any time within the first YEAR after having a baby (or a miscarriage). It does not always happen right away.
Furthermore, PPD can look very different from person to person. Mine expressed itself more as anxiety and panic than depression, but there are also women who experience it as OCD, severe depression, detachment from the baby, and many other things. It can manifest itself in a variety of ways from person to person.
Lastly, PPD can happen with any pregnancy: if you did not have it with your first, this does not mean you won’t have it with subsequent pregnancies. I did not have it with my first, but did with my second.
If you could go back in time, what do you wish you could tell yourself about PPD?
I wish I could say, “Give yourself some grace.”
I felt horribly guilty for not being present during much of the first weeks and months of Callie’s life. I was there physically, of course, but mentally and emotionally I struggled. And on top of the struggle I felt guilt, which compounded the issue. I wish I could tell myself what I was experiencing was real and it would pass. Then maybe I would have given myself some more grace and space to do the healing I needed to.