Postpartum depression and anxiety. I looked fine, but I did not feel fine.

I am pretty sure that someone who was aware of Postpartum Depression (PPD) warning signs would have identified me as someone at risk while I was pregnant.  I was preparing for the birth of my baby, but not really in the right ways. In retrospect, I was treating it more like another task to check off my to do list rather than a life transition.

Here’s what I did…

I had figured out my maternity leave.

I was going to recover quickly because that is what healthy active women do.

I was going to learn another language because babies sleep a lot so I would have time.

I was going to check work email regularly because three months away from my job was too long.

I wouldn’t ask for help from others because I wouldn’t need it.

I would figure it out as I went along (I have always been resourceful).

There’s more…

I set up a baby registry and had a baby shower.

We went on a baby moon and I went to prenatal yoga.

I went to my doctor’s visits.

I didn’t fill out a birth plan but I had the “key things” I wanted figured out; wait to clamp the cord, skin to skin contact right after birth, etc.

I stopped work the day I went into labor. Yes, I worked until I birthed my baby. I actually asked the doctor how long labor would take and if I could still make a meeting at work that day.

And then I had a baby…

I had a relatively easy delivery with a couple moments that gave me a scare. Trying to establish nursing was painful. Nursing was not an intuitive experience for me.  In the moments before we left the hospital with our baby, I started crying, really crying. I couldn’t stop. They were not tears of joy.  I cried because I was afraid to go home.

I just wasn’t prepared. There are so many ways in which my preparation failed me. I will be the first to admit, I tend to take on new experiences with an intensity and a focus that can be extreme. I researched and read and talked to people. I visualized and read about ‘the real experience of childbirth.’ Yet I don’t think I actually allowed myself to experience my pregnancy fully and I definitely didn’t prepare myself for what I would actually need, support wise, once I had my child. And yet, the toughest part of the experience was not even that I struggled, but that I felt so alone in the struggle.

…and started my new life with another companion, postpartum depression and anxiety

Shortly after bringing my baby home, I started having panic attacks and crying fits. I was wracked with anxiety. I worried that I wasn’t doing a good job taking care of my baby. I was tired but had trouble sleeping. When I mentioned it to my doctor at my six week visit, she said it would pass.

It settled but it did not pass. Shortly after I stopped breastfeeding, over a year after that 6-week visit, I started to feel more like a person. I started to feel more like myself. And during that entire year, I felt like I was merely moving from one day to the next without really being able to take in the experience or enjoy any of it. I was surviving, waiting for the day when I would miraculously feel like my old self again. I had trouble connecting emotionally to others I cared about.

On the outside, everything was great. I had a healthy baby who was growing. I had a happy marriage. I had a good career that was also growing.  I had not gained baby weight so I looked the same as I had before I was pregnant. I looked like myself to the world but on the inside the reality was totally different.

I felt like a shell of myself, like I did not really exist as a whole person anymore. But, I was able to hide that inner reality. I wanted to hide how I was feeling and I did a good job. I wanted to hide because I felt guilty for the feelings I had. I was very aware of how many things I had to be thankful for so I was ashamed of the way I felt inside.

I got better but it could have happened sooner 

Hiding my feelings empowered the Postpartum Depression. My silence gave my PPD the fuel to last longer. When I finally started talking about my experience with other mothers and with my closest family and friends, I started gaining the strength to focus on my own recovery. I gave myself permission to realize that I was doing a good job as a parent, but that I just needed more support.

Everyone’s experience is different with postpartum mood disorders and no parent should feel alone in their experience. Many women feel these types of symptoms. They are not alone.

There is power in shared experience and there is power in the support of a caring community.

Luckily, awareness of Postpartum Depression and Anxiety among mothers and fathers is rising and there are some great resources.  Phoebe has therapists in our community who specialize in women’s health and postpartum mood disorders. In Person in NYC: The Motherhood Center & Seleni Institute. Online: Postpartum Support InternationalPostpartum Stress CenterSpring Project