Postpartum Depression, Postpartum Anxiety, Postpartum Rage & Postpartum Psychosis: A Conversation – Week 17
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, SAMANTHA
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 evening I was so hungry I ate an entire family sized plastic container of arugula greens while standing in the door of the refrigerator. What’s wrong with me, I thought, as I doused another bunch of green in garlic lemon dressing and stuffed them into my mouth. Two days later I found out I was pregnant after three at-home pregnancy tests confirming my suspicion. Feelings of joy, worry, sadness, and excitement filled my body.
On December 25, 2018 at 11:22am I gave birth to my sweet Luna Rose following an intense, traumatic, all-natural delivery. They laid Luna on my stomach; her umbilical cord was too short for the usual chest area skin-to-skin bonding moment. I was shaking and confused. Where was this overwhelming joy and intense feeling of love I am supposed to be experiencing? Is this normal? This is not the experience I planned for or the experience my friends with children shared with me.
Over the next few weeks these feelings and emotions fluctuated from intense sadness and guilt to anxiety and depression. The depression felt numbing, swallowing me in such a way that I did not even realize I was depressed. I was unconsciously trying to hide these feelings from my family and myself. Each day when taking a shower I used the time to cry in private, letting the scalding hot water wash down my face and body. Guilt and shame took over as I whispered to myself “What the hell is wrong with you Kayla. You have a healthy beautiful little girl, how can you not be grateful.” More than anything, I wanted to feel something.
Before having my daughter, I had previous diagnoses of anxiety and depression. Going into the pregnancy, I was confident that I would notice any onset of symptoms and seek help if I experienced a postpartum mental illness. I was completely wrong. Life became a dense fog and the thought of adding an extra doctors visit, seeing a counselor, or even focusing on how I was feeling was not in the cards. My time and energy was spent taking care of sweet Luna Rose and consequently not taking care of myself.
During a three-hour cluster feeding session on the couch I scrolled through some articles on my phone. A psychologist interviewed several women with PMAD, asking them basic questions regarding the bond with their infant. One question resonated with my experience. How did I feel when performing simple tasks like putting socks on my baby? Were they laboring and cold or playful and warm? I felt cold. It took 9 weeks to realize that something was wrong and once I did, I did not want to believe it. Logically I knew that hormone changes, sleep deprivation, and stress had a huge impact on brain chemistry after birth, but I still found it hard to accept that for myself.
With the push of my partner, I started going to a local mothers support group. My body would shake with anxiety as I drove with Luna crying in the back seat. My face would flush red and my heart would thump as I sat in this group of new mothers. Knowing that other mothers were going through similar struggles gave me hope and a new perspective yet I still found it difficult to open up and would have meltdowns in my car while driving home. Feelings of not being good enough, not deserving to be a mother and thoughts of not living flashed through my head. I fought myself to accept that these feelings were getting worse.
At 12 weeks I decided to go and talk to a therapist. After a few sessions, I was advised to talk to my doctor about medication. The idea of medication did not thrill me as I typically use naturopathic medicine and had unsuccessfully been on SSRI’s in the past. Convinced by my doctor that this could be different and with just returning to work full time, I felt I had to do something. The medication allowed me to bring my head above water and get over “the hump”. For the first time, I genuinely smiled at my daughter and felt the feelings so many mamas had described. My change in mood was relieving to not only myself, but to my partner and family.
As time went on, I realized the medication was changing my personality and the connection with my daughter and my partner was more about getting through each day rather than being present with them. Although I was no longer anxious and depressed, the days would come and go with little regard for emotional connection. The medication made me fluctuate from extreme hyperactivity to a flat affect, lacking depth and purpose with each day. I felt like a machine but not a human.
I started seeing a new therapist who saw my struggle and felt confident in my ability to wean off the medication with the help of my doctor. I experienced 14 days of side effects ranging from irritability, restlessness and sleep issues, to intense and bizarre feelings of love. Once the side effects subsided, I was back to riding my normal emotional roller coaster. I had sacrificed my stability to recapture my raw life experience. Thankful to be able to feel these emotions and find power in what they were telling me, I realized I could also use them to guide and teach my daughter.
Truth is, this realization is just a stepping-stone in the process of motherhood. I still struggle all the time with balancing my life and my emotions. My hope is that each new mom can feel a sense of empowerment, and that we all can feel supported and uplifted and never diminish the effects of this process. We should be able to share our stories and bring awareness to these challenges. Whether you choose to take medication or talk to a therapist or go on a retreat in the woods or hibernate in your house for 6 months… Whatever helps you get by, know that it is ok. You are not alone. Be aware of the amazing community we have here in Asheville- the mamas, the papas, the doulas, the birth companies, the therapists, the doctors. There are people here that will honor your process and never underestimate your situation.