You’ve probably read or heard something recently about Postpartum depression (PPD.) That’s because it is extremely common. According to the CDC, 1 in 10 women in the United States will show symptoms of PPD. Thanks to social media, the stigma around mental health is fading and more mothers are opening up about their experiences with PPD.
Personally, my struggle with PPD and anxiety felt confusing, lonely, exhausting, and overwhelming. I did not even recognize it as PPD in myself at first. I often stayed up googling symptoms late at night when my kids finally went to sleep. Looking back, my symptoms were all somewhat obvious but I refused to accept that it was PPD until I began seeing my therapist. One thing that urged me to get the help I needed was reading real life stories online. I read other mothers’ PPD stories and felt less alone. I hope that by telling my story, another struggling mother might stumble upon it and feel less alone and find the motivation to get help.
I often stayed up googling symptoms late at night when my kids finally went to sleep.
I did not experience PPD/A until I had my fourth baby. I consider this to be a silver lining. I think if I had experienced it after my first or even second baby I would’ve taken longer to recognize that something was wrong because motherhood was still new to me. How do you know something is wrong when you don’t even know what normal is? My heart breaks for women who experience this so early in their motherhood journey.
Just because you have PPD does not make you less of a mother. It is a real, physical illness that you don’t have to fight on your own. I considered myself to be very understanding of mental illness and I still did not want to accept that I actually had one. It also looks different for everyone. Some women tend to be more depressed and don’t want to get out of bed. Others like myself are more anxious and have panic attacks every day. No matter how it is manifesting in you, there are so many people out there willing to help you. The only regret I have is not getting help sooner. I feel like myself again, which seemed impossible when I was in the thick of my PPD. Here are the 5 main ways PPD/A affected my life:
This was the first inkling that something was off for me. I consider myself to have a very high tolerance for stress. Being the oldest of five children, I am used to loud, noisy households and lots of people in small spaces. I shared a room with three other people at one point in my life! Privacy wasn’t really an option. Fast forward to motherhood with four children. Although I’ve had four children in five years, I never felt truly overwhelmed up until this point. Don’t get me wrong, I had a ton of moments when I was angry, exhausted, or sad but nothing quite like this. I started wondering why I thought I could handle motherhood and questioning myself every day. I harped on what was going wrong in my mind, or even what COULD go wrong, over and over again. What if Lila hates kindergarten and she cries every day? What if Teddy never sleeps longer than four hours and I’m tired forever? What if I’m not cooking enough healthy meals for my kids? What if they all get the stomach bug at the same time and I’m home alone? The list was endless because the possibilities felt endless. And sure, you could argue that the possibility of something going wrong with kids IS endless. But people without anxiety and depression don’t focus on it all day every day.
2. Heart racing/dizziness/panic attacks
After a couple months of feeling overwhelmed, my body acted accordingly. What’s funny is I didn’t realize I was feeling overwhelmed until my body did this. I started having panic attacks and knew something was wrong. Luckily I knew what a panic attack was but this did not make it any less scary. One of the worst attacks happened when I was driving with all of my kids in the car. I only had a short distance to go until we were home but I considered pulling over. I was hyperventilating and trying my best to breathe deeply and slowly. (Thank you voice lessons.) I was terrified I was going to faint while driving which just worsened the anxiety and prolonged the panic attack. After cutting out caffeine (which was SO HARD because I LOVE coffee) my panic attacks subsided a little. But I still woke up with my heart pounding every day. I felt like jumping out of my skin. It’s like I had drank ten cups of coffee even though I had given up caffeine completely. Looking back, this was the main way my body was telling me something was wrong.
3. Lack of appetite
If you know me, this one is serious. I LOVE to eat. I’m one of those people that needs to snack every hour, especially while breastfeeding. When I lost my appetite completely I knew something was wrong. At first I thought I had a stomach bug. It was winter after all, and our kids were coming down with illnesses left and right. I thought I must have caught some kind of virus and it had to work itself out of my system. But this lasted longer than two weeks. I never stopped eating completely because I knew I would feel worse and I wanted to keep my milk supply up. I forced down small meals with basically no snacking in between. Nothing tasted good. Even my favorite treats tasted bland. I’ll never forget looking at a table full of Christmas desserts and not wanting a single one. Now THAT was weird. I lost over twenty pounds in less than two months. While I enjoyed losing the baby weight I knew this was a pretty good indication that something was off.
“Sleep while the baby sleeps” is probably one of the most frustrating piece of advice for mothers. It’s even more so when you have PPD/A and you have insomnia. Teddy was actually my best sleeper. He loved the swing and would sleep in there for at least four hours every night before waking to feed, which for a newborn is a lot. I however, had the more trouble sleeping than ever before, despite my exhaustion. I had vivid nightmares that shook my body, waking me up sweating and panting. My heart pounded like I had been running from a bear. At the worst of my PPD/A this happened multiple times a night. I also had trouble falling asleep to begin with, although this was more normal for me because I’ve always been a night owl. You would think after being up all night I’d have a hard time waking up in the morning but it was quite the opposite. I would wake up in the morning with my heart racing and a huge sense of dread.
I had vivid nightmares that shook my body, waking me up sweating and panting. My heart pounded like I had been running from a bear.
5. OCD/intrusive thoughts
This is definitely one of the least discussed symptoms of PPD/A. I am so grateful that I found a great therapist and there were a lot of good resources online that I could turn to for this. THIS IS THE MAIN SYMPTOM THAT DROVE ME TO GET HELP. And after you’ve heard all the terrible symptoms I had you know this one must have been terrible. This is the symptom that made me believe I was a terrible mother and there was something inherently wrong with me. It could not possibly be a chemical imbalance, I was just an awful person. I had constant thoughts about everything that could go wrong with my children. It was like watching a horror movie play over and over in my head with people I love as the main characters. My day was filled with thoughts like suddenly picturing my baby falling down a flight of stairs or picturing us getting into a fiery car crash, my toddler accidentally hurting himself with a knife in the kitchen, even thoughts of my daughter running away out of her school and getting lost. Then, to make it even worse, I would beat myself up about having the thoughts in the first place, like, what kind of mother thinks about these things? Why am I obsessed with such morbid stuff? Can I really love my children if I’m having such terrible thoughts? The reality was I would never want any kind of harm to come to my children. If anything, that was my greatest fear and my brain was trying to be hypervigilant, expecting the worst-case scenario at any moment so that I could prepare for the worst.
It was like watching a horror movie play over and over in my head with people I love as the main characters.
PPD/A is much more than a short list of symptoms. These were really just the tip of the iceberg for me. But I wanted to address some of the main signs that something was wrong so that others can understand what women with PPD/A are going through or women who are experiencing similar symptoms know they are not alone. I know that I did not understand how PHYSICALLY DRAINING PPD/A is until I experienced it myself. It affected my body so much that I started to wonder if there was something really physically wrong with me, like cancer. I had no idea that my mental health could affect my body so drastically. If you or anyone you know is suffering do not wait to get help. Postpartum Progress is a great place to read more and find help in your area.
Have you experienced Postpartum depression or anxiety? What did it feel like for you?