Postpartum Depression, Postpartum Anxiety, Postpartum Rage & Postpartum Psychosis: A Conversation – Week 16
The Postpartum Awareness Initiative features regular mothers from Asheville and its surrounding mountains. This blog features women from all different walks of life, all having experienced varying postpartum related symptoms. The purpose of this initiative is to HUMANIZE these experiences, to remove the judgement and shame that women are made to feel about their experiences as new mothers. The goal is to educate everyone on the fact that these things can happen to anyone and that the range of symptoms and severity for postpartum related issues is VAST and VARIED. The intention is to support the new mother who might not even understand what she’s thinking, feeling or experiencing as postpartum related. As a Family Photographer in Asheville (and an empath by nature) I want to normalize these things. I want to do what (I) can to help.
In past weeks, I’ve received very detailed, thoughtful, personal, vulnerable and encouraging stories! I hope you’ll go back & read the stories from previous weeks!
If you missed weeks 1-11, you’ll find the introduction & Desiree, Claire & Michelle, Rachel & Shannon’s stories here: DESIREE, CLAIRE, MICHELLE, RACHEL, SHANNON, KATY, KATIE, SARA, BRIDGET, CLAUDIA, Meghan, ALAC, JENNI, JULIE
Throughout this series, I hope to feature more guest blog posts from Mental Health Professionals in our little mountain town & the state of North Carolina! At the end of each post, I’ll include contact information for local resources where you can get help right away should you need it!
If you would like to contribute a Guest Blog as a Mental Health Professional, Postpartum Doula or other Pregnancy/Postpartum expert , please email me directly at: Brittany@AshevilleFamilyPhotography.com
One Saturday morning on a cold February weekend, I made some hot oatmeal with cinnamon and peanut butter for me and my six-month-old baby. We sat together at the table and ate, he in his high chair with his Stud Muffin pocket bib, and me in the chair next to him trading spoons and trying to limit the amount of oatmeal that landed on the wall. After breakfast, we moved to the couch to nurse. As he snacked on milk, I noticed a little patch of red irritated skin on his chin, which I considered could have been caused by the cinnamon – or maybe he’d just scratched himself. As I sat there assessing his little rash, I suddenly felt the blood leave my face and a brick dropped in my stomach. All at once I knew the reason behind the rash: we had been poisoned. The pot I had used to cook our oatmeal must have been contaminated, and now whatever we had consumed was going to kill us both. I screamed at my husband to call 911. My heart pounded. My hands and feet went cold. My vision started blurring. The chance to save our baby was slipping away with every moment. I panicked. I wanted someone to take him from me so I didn’t smother him with my body when I lost consciousness. My mind ran through every step of getting us to the hospital, and I was sure that we didn’t have time. Whatever this poison was, it was already in our bloodstreams.
My husband is a first responder, and he did not call 911. Like a reasonable human, he wanted to know what the emergency was before he called. Of course, we had not been poisoned. That pot had not been used for anything but food. He reassured me again and again, and the devastating crush of my panic began to subside. I landed back in reality like a rock hitting the floor, and got off the couch to go look at the offending pot. There it was, just a pot. Black, with a stainless steel handle. Not used for anything but food. I wandered around the house marveling at my mind. What an impressive way for it to let me know I needed help.
I learned later that they are called intrusive thoughts. This type of interrupted logic presents itself on a spectrum of sorts, ranging from reasonably mild and with no lasting consequence (as was my experience) to truly devastating or repeated episodes that drives mothers mad with fear, anxiety, and uncertainty. Though not the same as postpartum psychosis, it gave me new respect for the reality of more severe mental health diagnoses. This altered perception is reality for those experiencing it. I was terrified that it would happen again.
My slide was gradual, almost imperceptible at first. I felt that I had no reason to complain. After all, my only “trauma” was becoming a mother. My “trigger” was the physical pain I felt when I had to leave my child to return to work, to a job I had worked hard to land. These are shifts in my life that I wanted, that I appreciated. These feelings are common and certainly not unique among the working mother community. I knew I was in good company, and I listened when people told me that the first year is always hard. But as the dark winter months went by, I found myself staying in bed for days at a time. I was carrying this crushing invisible weight everywhere I went. I was, on occasion, pumping milk in my car so that I could cry without listening ears through the walls at work. These were all signs of depression that somehow seemed manageable to me. I had exercised and meditated my way out of similar states before, back in my twenties. I would be just fine when I finally got my act together. I blamed myself for my lack of motivation. My body that was still so unfamiliar to me would have to be the vehicle to resolve this, I just needed to get it together and show up.
Though depression felt familiar, anxiety completely sideswiped me. I was not at all familiar with this sensation of full body panic and loss of control, and it was terrifying. In the weeks before the poisoning episode I began experiencing panic attacks at work, where I was new in my field and keeping up, but lacking in confidence. It was becoming clear that I was hitting a wall. I could no longer use a forced smile to make it through my day. I truly loved all the pieces of my life, but it seemed that they weren’t fitting together. I was in an invisible free fall.
The process of finding professional help was entirely daunting. There were pages and pages of insurance-approved therapists, and none of them were the ones my friends had recommended. I tabled my search for a while out of pure overwhelm until a colleague at work called me out on my decline and lovingly gave me a deadline. It took the attention of an acquaintance to force me to recognize that my experience was not one I could handle on my own.
The oxymoron of depressed gratitude is one that it seems many of us encounter as new mothers. I was grateful. I was in love. I was clinically depressed. The contradiction is confusing, and I’m sure many of us feel that we just need to try harder to be happy. Mamas, even if you “don’t have a reason” to be experiencing postpartum depression or anxiety, please seek help if you have noticed anything out of the ordinary for you and your mental health. Though our stories may not be as riveting as some, as tragic or traumatic as others, or as solidly rock bottom as we could allow ourselves to go, they still matter. Your story matters to you, your family, and to your child most of all. It is probably true that the first year as a mother is generally challenging, but it doesn’t have to completely suck. Don’t waste any more time missing out. Call your doctor. Ask for a specific recommendation for a mental health provider and a phone number so that you don’t have to rally too much energy for research. And then, maybe very slowly at first, you will begin to shine again.