Postpartum Depression, Postpartum Anxiety, Postpartum Rage & Postpartum Psychosis: A Conversation – Week 4

One Asheville Photographer Mama doing her small part to further the conversation in an effort to remove the stigma.

If you missed weeks 1-3, you’ll find the introduction & Desiree, Claire & Michelle’s stories here: DESIREE, CLAIRE, MICHELLE

For the remainder of the year, each Monday, I’ll be sharing the stories and photos (new) and old of normal, regular mothers in our community who have struggled with a range of postpartum issues, symptoms and severity & have come out on the other side!

If you are a Survivor & would like to contribute your story (we have a few available spots left!) – I shoot portraits (my gift to you) every Friday from 5:30-6:00pm in Downtown Asheville (& your written story would be due by Sunday night for publication on Mondays!) You can sign up here: Contribute

Throughout the series, I’ll also feature 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

RACHEL

Let me preface this by saying that I’m writing this in the midst of some pretty intense anxiety so this may not be the most eloquent of stories… but it is mine and it is honest.

This is not a story about how I struggled with postpartum anxiety & then figured out the answers & was cured…  This is my story about my current struggle and finding the strength to both acknowledge the reality of my postpartum anxiety and to have the hard conversations about how to handle it.

While I have been following this conversation and think the discussion on this blog is SO important, I actually had no intention of sharing my own story.  However, there was a cancellation and Brittany reached out and asked if I could fill in.  Since I am 1) terrible at saying no and 2) I think this conversation IS so vital, here we are.  (I also love Brittany and really appreciate this amazing platform that she is using to talk about these hard things!)

—-> from Brittany: Something lovely that I’ve found in doing this is that the writing of these stories, the speaking of your truth, has been therapeutic for the participants as well as a blessing for the new mother, up for that 2am feed, aimlessly scrolling & happening upon this blog…. You’re Welcome! 😉 xo

I have written, erased, and rewritten this many times already.   It’s really difficult for me to know what to say or how to share.  Anxiety makes it about a hundred times harder than it needs to be.  It’s also really scary to be so vulnerable–but more on vulnerability later.

My backstory: I met my husband Jake in 2015.  Meeting him & the instant connection was shared was entirely unexpected and confusing.  I was very weary of any sort of serious relationship with him as he had three children from a previous relationship. As my connection with Jake grew so did the realization that I really couldn’t imagine life without him. I also knew the reality was that Jake had a vasectomy and was not looking to have any more children.  

My entire life, I had always dreamed of being a mother.  For many years, I poured my heart and soul into loving my nieces and nephews & my heart ached to have a child of my own.  Now here I was, in love with the most amazing man and wanting nothing more than to live life by his side.  But it wasn’t that simple.  Being with Jake almost certainly meant giving up my dream of being a mother.  It was something I wrestled with greatly. Could I live with that? Could we Foster? Could we adopt? Would that be fulfilling for me?  We had many conversations about it before we got married…

Eventually, we both agreed that we should pursue a vasectomy reversal and take our chances.  We knew that if we didn’t at least try there would be a part of us that would regret it.   Since it had been seven years since his vasectomy, the surgeon said there was about a 50% chance that it would be successful. He also informed us that if successful, it took an average two to three years for most couples to get pregnant. 

Much to our surprise, six weeks after Jake’s vasectomy reversal, I was pregnant.  YAY! We were so excited and over the moon.  It felt like I had waited my entire life to be pregnant. I was so excited to experience it all. Both my mom and sister had told me countless times how much they loved the experience of being pregnant and not only how wonderful and empowering it was, but also how great they felt.  I love my mother and sister dearly but damn them!  At about 5 weeks pregnant I started puking and I basically puked everyday until I pushed my cute little baby out.  (No seriously, I was puking between each push).  

Enter: Finley Stuart.  The greatest love I have ever known.  I know most of you reading this understand that you don’t truly know your full capacity to love until you hold your child in your arms for the first time.  I swear my heart expanded so much the day he was born and continues to expand every single day that I get to be with him, love him, and I love being his mother.  

The first few days at home were exhausting and it was all such a blur. I remember every little thing making me very weepy.  I called my OB just to make sure that crying 24/7 was normal, and was told about the “baby blues”.  As that passed and I began to get into more of a routine, I felt like I was doing okay.  I was able to acknowledge that becoming a mom is a major shock and so much to process but I was making it happen. I was (and still am) so grateful for all the free moms groups in the area to attend and found a lot of solace there.  I also met some really wonderful mothers willing to be vulnerable, to share in the struggles of being a new mom with.  I thank each and every one of them for that and I feel so grateful there are these resources in our community.  (Any new mama who needs support/connection, I HIGHLY recommend these groups!)  

I thought I was doing okay.  But one day when Finley was around 6 weeks old, I found myself really stressed out — out of nowhere.  I couldn’t figure out what was happening, I felt really anxious and like I couldn’t breathe.  I’d have to count and make myself take deep breaths.  As a special education teacher, I had seen quite a few panic attacks in my day but I wasn’t quite ready to accept that this is what was happening to me.  

In addition to the panic attacks, I suddenly found myself really impatient with my stepchildren, who I love so much.  Their crusty noses and dirty hands stressed me out beyond belief and every time they sneezed I felt like screaming.  My newborn was constantly picking up colds from them and it skyrocketed my anxiety.  Oftentimes my anxiety would manifest in frustration with them and I would basically ban them from touching their baby brother. I felt like such a bitch but I seriously couldn’t help myself.  

A few weeks later, I started having these really intense and intrusive thoughts.  I would suddenly and vividly imagine horrible things happening to either Finley or myself.  I would put him down for a nap and go take a shower, only to have to turn off the water every 30 seconds because I swear I could hear him screaming.  I couldn’t listen to music or watch TV or do anything without thinking I heard him in distress.  I would be in the shower and I would imagine the whole house catching on fire and everything and everyone burning.  

Shortly after this, these thoughts started affecting my sleep… I mean, the little bit of sleep you get with a newborn (am I right?).  I would lie awake, trying too will myself back to sleep, only to start feeling pressure in my chest, unable to catch my breath, thinking that there was something wrong with Finley– that he wasn’t breathing and wasn’t going to wake up the next morning. I would walk over and check on him constantly. Often times, I would even put my hand on him just to feel his little chest rise and fall to convince myself I could lay back down. I wouldn’t sleep more than 2-3 hours a night which was making me exhausted and I was experiencing  headaches and migraines almost daily.  My sweet husband saw my struggle and helped as much as he could but I wasn’t quite ready to be honest with him about how bad it was and that my anxiety was getting out of control.  I was still telling myself I had it under control.   

Things I don’t recommend doing shortly after having a baby: quitting your job, starting a new job & starting grad school full time. Who has two thumbs and did all of the above?  This girl! My intrusive thoughts continued but I was managing more sleep and was still convincing myself that I was okay.  The anxiety seemed to come in waves and for the most part I could just ride them out until they passed.  

Fast forward to my second semester of school.  The semester was absolutely miserable.  My fourteen year old stepson moved in with us, I was taking five classes, swamped with my assistantship and was entirely overwhelmed.  My schedule was insanely busy and my anxiety skyrocketed. But still, I persevered, keeping my struggles to myself.   

As soon as my semester ended I expected to feel a huge sense of relief but it didn’t come.  I had spent so much of the past year feeling weak for not being able to handle my anxiety.  I’d spent much of the past year being ashamed of my feelings but just kept telling myself I could put it all behind me once I got that relief from the semester ending.  When the relief didn’t come, I struggled HARD.  I was at home with my little guy and not getting out much and I was a mess.  I don’t think it was a coincidence that around this time I heard this Brene Brown quote: 

“Daring greatly means the courage to BE VULNERABLE. It means to show up and be seen. to ask for what you need. To talk about how you’re feeling. To have the hard conversations.”

 -Brene Brown

That was it.  It was time.  Time to admit to myself, time to be vulnerable, time to have the hard conversation with my husband.  It was not pretty.  There was a lot of ugly crying and shame and discomfort.  But I am SO glad I did.  This conversation is what brought the relief for me.  In opening up and being vulnerable I was finally able to stop feeling the shame and accept that it was okay to not be okay.  After all, the first step towards recovery is admitting your problem, right?  So this is my first step and it felt like a scary leap.  So, I am not cured, nor do I have I have all the answers.  Trust me, I’m still a hot mess– but I am not alone.  I am vulnerable and in that vulnerability I am finding strength to finally show up. To finally be seen and ask for what I need, and it’s making all the difference in the world.

So, to the mama who is reading this and struggling with whatever it is: You are NOT alone.  I am so, so sorry if you’ve felt this way and I empathize with you greatly.  You don’t have to be okay right now. You are struggling and that is OKAY.  You don’t have it figured it out (yet) and that is also okay.  You see all these stories about the mothers who have made it out on the other side and wonder how in the world that could possibly be you because today it feels absolutely impossible… and that is okay too.  

What I do encourage you to do is have the hard conversations.  Have it with your partner or your friend or anyone who you feel will listen and see you–see the real you, including all the struggles, and everything you’ve felt you needed to hide.  I am so very fortunate that for me I was able to find this person in my husband, but I realize that may not be the case for you and that’s also okay.  Hell, I’m here if you want to have that conversation with me.  Be vulnerable, ask for what you need.  You can show up and you can be seen, no matter where you are or what your struggle is.  That’s the first step.

Dare greatly mamas,

Rachel

If you, or someone you know is struggling with Postpartum Depression, Anxiety, Rage or even Psychosis, there are local, community resources that are available to you!

A Link for: Postpartum Support International

*I personally know Joy Molina (info below) — she is PHENOMENAL, you’ll Love her, give her a call!

Joy Molina
Black Mountain
828-357-7425 TEXT OR CALL
restorationcounseling2017@gmail.com

Elisabeth “Lis” Mitchell
Northwest NC: Ashe, Watauga, Wilkes, Surry and Alleghany Counties
828-610-8431 TEXT OR CALL
postpartumlis@gmail.com

Gloria Maria Llanser
Southwestern North Carolina
Speaks Spanish and Some Portuguese
828-708 7993 TEXT OR CALL
Info@SacredSoulBirthing.com

Elizabeth Gillette
Asheville Area
248-238-0804 TEXT OR CALL
elizabeth.gillette@gmail.com

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