My husband and I always knew we wanted to start our family pretty early. I have always had that motherly instinct and have always known I wanted to be a mother. Thankfully, we had no issues getting pregnant with either of our girls.
I’ve been on medication for depression and anxiety for over 10 years. And it works for me pretty well. When I became pregnant with my first daughter, I knew there was a high likelihood I’d experience postpartum depression. There is plenty of education on knowing the signs and symptoms, and how to differentiate PPD from ‘the baby blues’. I already had a therapist that I saw regularly, so I was feeling optimistic about how I’d manage if I started to experience PPD.
Being A New Mother
After my first was born (in a fairly smooth and uneventful birth, thank goodness), my husband and I were over the moon and so in love with our precious little girl. We brought her home and settled into parent life the best that any new parents can. We (and by we, I mean I) struggled through the sleepless nights, fumbled through learning how to breastfeed, endured countless hours of screaming on a daily basis (she had terrible colic) and attempted to work. Of course it was stressful, but I chalked it up to being an inexperienced parent. I figured every new mom had to go through this.
It wasn’t until my daughter was about four months old when I really started to notice that I did not feel okay. I was anxious all day, just waiting for my child to start screaming at any moment. I felt like I couldn’t sit still, and worried about the smallest things, like the closets needing to be organized. And I would have physical anxiety attacks – my whole body would tense up, my chest would tighten, and I couldn’t take a deep breath no matter how hard I tried – even when nothing stressful was happening. I’d be cooking dinner or sitting in bed watching TV at night and out of nowhere I suddenly couldn’t breathe. That’s when I knew it wasn’t just new parent exhaustion. But it didn’t feel like depression either.
After doing a little research, I found that postpartum anxiety is just as common as postpartum depression. Yet I’d never heard about it. And trying to get the proper care was next to impossible. My one postpartum visit to my OB had come and gone, and getting another appointment with her was next to impossible. I was told I was no longer in the postpartum period, so I’d have to call my primary care doctor. My primary care doctor, in turn, just wanted to keep increasing the dose on my medication. This made me feel awful. It took nearly three months of phone calls to nurses and visits to doctors before I got into another primary care doctor – one who listened to me and actually worked with me to find a solution instead of checking boxes and bumping up my medication. These were three long months of feeling helpless and like a failure as a mother.
My anxiety did finally let up around the time my daughter turned 8 months old. Soon after, we became pregnant with our second daughter. We were so excited, but this pregnancy, instead of anxiety over which crib mattress to choose and which breast pump to buy, I had a creeping fear of experiencing the same postpartum anxiety. But I felt a little more equipped to handle it since I’d done it once. I knew to take a true maternity leave this time, and I took any pressure off of myself to exclusively breastfeed if it didn’t work out in an attempt to reduce stress.
Being A Mother To Two
Luckily, I never had to handle it. After the birth of my second daughter (which was oddly a near-replica of my first daughter’s birth), I kept waiting for the anxiety to hit, but it never did. Of course, it was still stressful being in the newborn stage again, especially with a pre-toddler running around the house. But I was oddly relaxed and happy. It was exactly how being a new mom should be.
It wasn’t until I was safely on the other side of the PPD/PPA window without symptoms with my second that I realized the true toll my postpartum anxiety had on me as a brand new mother. The struggle to get proper care and being dismissed by so many doctors and nurses had me questioning whether I was just being dramatic and making up how bad I felt. But experiencing a ‘normal’ postpartum period free of depression and anxiety made me realize that I wasn’t making it up. It really was that bad. Of course new moms are exhausted and anxious to an extent, but what I experienced was not normal. I felt robbed of being able to bond with my first baby the way I did with my second, cheated out of being the new mom I wanted to be. And I still feel guilty about it.
What I’ve Learnt
Being a new parent is full of so many brand new lessons. It’s wonderful and exhausting and a huge whirlwind of emotions and learning and surviving. But if there’s anything I’ve learned after doing it twice, it’s that you’ve got to advocate for yourself. In a period where everyone is focused on the baby, you have to focus on you. The baby gets checkup after checkup after checkup. Everyone asks how baby is sleeping, eating, feeling. Nobody asks about the mother. You get one postpartum checkup and then hardly another thought. Unfortunately nobody is going to make sure you’re okay. You have to do that. If you’re not feeling good, speak up. Postpartum mood disorders are miserable and no mother should have to suffer through what should be a magical time with their new little bundle.
I love being a mom – I love watching my little ones grow and learn and become their own unique people. I love watching them play together and form the sweetest friendship that they will share forever. But being a mom is the most selfless thing you can do, just by the nature of the job. So if there’s one thing you’re selfish about, make it your mental health. You will be a much better mama if you take care of yourself first.
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