It took me a year after the birth of my first child to discover that I was desperately suffering from a postpartum mood disorder. I had heard about postpartum depression, but didn’t really know much about it. My OB/GYN gave me a mood survey at my 6 week check up after baby, but I remember thinking “oh, they are checking for depression, that’s not me” and answering accordingly.
The first few weeks of parenthood were definitely tough. Sleep deprivation, breastfeeding complications, and staying home with a baby were not as easy and joyful as I had imagined. I remember being afraid to turn the lights off in our bedroom the first night home with baby. What if something happened??? I was also feeling very isolated and lonely. My partner had just started law school and the crush of responsibility for a tiny little newborn that I loved more than anything felt very heavy. I wanted my previous life back. Instead, I just tried to push though the challenges and keep going with a smile on my face.
In retrospect, I can look back and see so many of the PPD warning signs. Insomnia, extreme worry about the baby’s health and safety, anger and rage at my partner, and horrible thoughts about what might happen to my baby. These thoughts, better known as intrusive thoughts, began to consume me. I would go on to develop phobias about crossing bridges, dogs, storms, and strangers. I continued to push through.
The idea that I might have postpartum depression wasn’t even an option. I didn’t feel “depressed.” Despite chronic exhaustion, I had a lot of nervous energy and made sure to get dressed every morning, get out of the house, and was slowly making new mom friends. I was even training for my first half marathon. I started to believe I was just “crazy.”
My relationship with my partner started to be affected. I was pretty much furious with him all of the time. I felt like we were headed towards a breakup. This is what led me to consider therapy. I began to see a counselor that one of my friends was seeing at the time. This is when my postpartum OCD really kicked in.
Something strange happened during those sessions. It was like all of my fears, grief, and emotions were let loose after a lifetime of keeping it under control. Based on the work we did, I became convinced that I was repressing many aspects of myself. I started to question everything from my past memories, my sexuality, and became convinced there was some horrible event that I just hadn’t remembered yet.
I was scared all of the time. I spent hours trying to figure out what horrible thing I had repressed. I was convinced that there was some sort of incident of sexual abuse, or that I had hurt somebody in some way. I wrote in my journal compulsively, talked to family, but mostly spent way too much time thinking and trying to remember something that probably didn’t ever happen. Therapy terrified me, but I thought it was necessary to get better. I didn’t feel safe, but I kept going back because I felt I had to work through it.
This led to severe panic attacks, more phobias, and lack of sleep. I would experience weird images whenever I closed my eyes. My wrists were always tingling. I became convinced that I might be suicidal. I couldn’t even look at or use knives because of the images that would come up. Everything felt evil, wrong, and bad, especially me. Despite all of this, I was still keeping up the appearance of a functioning mom. I eventually ran that half marathon. The next day, I was on the floor crying because I was convinced I was going to lose my mind and harm my entire family. This was my lowest point.
I had an emergency OB/GYN appointment the next day. They put me on Zoloft and handed me some paperwork with suicide hotlines. That felt harsh. My doctor eventually recommended that I see a certified nurse midwife who specialized in postpartum mood disorders (CNM/PMHNP). This woman saved me. She normalized everything, adjusted my medication, and understood that I was experiencing textbook postpartum OCD. She encouraged me to join a support group with other moms experiencing postpartum mood disorders.
I joined a Baby Blues Connection group. It was awesome. My group leader was so kind and supportive. There was more normalizing, tips to avoid anxiety, and other moms that understood. There wasn’t any pressure to be a happy mom. We all loved our babies, but it was ok to have other feelings at the same time.
One of my biggest obstacles in reaching out for help was the fear that someone would misunderstand what was going on with me. I loved my daughter more than anything. I knew in my heart that I didn’t want to hurt anyone or myself. My rational mind knew this to be absolutely true. At the same time, I was flooded with horrible images and thoughts. If I were to share with someone and they misunderstood, I imagined them declaring me an unfit mother or possibly sending me away.
I wish that I had received more education about postpartum anxiety and OCD before I became a parent. Maybe if I had known the signs, a lot of suffering could have been avoided. I also wish I had initially reached out to a therapist or counselor who specialized in working with new families and all of the intense transitions that go along with it. I now know that we have so many wonderful resources in Portland.
It was a very rough first year or so. I’m so lucky that I was able to find support with an excellent provider and the group at BBC. The road to recovery has been long, but very good. Through the process, I’ve had another baby, picked up an amazing meditation practice, and have become a birth and postpartum doula. I’ve learned how to put myself first so that I can best take care of everyone else. I feel like my heart was cracked open from the experience and it has allowed me to dedicate my life to helping and supporting others. For this, I actually feel grateful.