My postpartum depression hit me almost immediately after delivering my son. It came on like this wave of inexplicable fear; like some invisible force was dragging me underwater.
The first few days I chalked it up to exhaustion and hormones. By the second week of being in what I can only describe as a perpetual state of paralyzing anxiety, I called my sister in shambles.
“I can’t do this,” I bawled, curled up on the bathroom tile, door closed, the shower idly streaming in the background in an effort to keep my husband from hearing me. Having had her first kid only six months prior, my sister assured me that my fear was totally normal – that every new mom goes through this. I nodded into the phone my non-verbal acquiescence, but couldn’t shake the looming apprehension that this wasn’t the same.
I’d like to say that these feelings dissipated after a bit, but that would be a lie. The following months were marked with racing thoughts of awful things happening to my baby. I would lay awake at night, staring into the darkness, picturing worst-case scenarios of what could happen to my son. It was like being stuck in a horror film and having to relive it, over and over and over again. During the day, I couldn’t sit still. I would nervously circle the house, painstakingly obsessing over clutter and dirt and things out of place. Mind you, pre-baby I didn’t have an ounce of OCD-tendencies. Post-baby, I had become a completely unraveled human being that couldn’t even enjoy this beautiful bundle of joy I brought into the world because of my crippling anxiety.
It wasn’t until about six months after giving birth that I started researching my symptoms. Postpartum depression was certainly a relatively easy diagnosis. I scoured articles, mommy blogs, chat forums – anything to validate that I wasn’t actually crazy; that there was an explanation for my misery. Though I found comfort hearing the stories of others, I was frustrated that none of them struck me as directly relatable. Postpartum depression seemed to be a bit more deluded than what I was experiencing. My symptoms were excessive, intense, and specific whereas postpartum seemed to be more gradual and marked by feelings of sadness, lethargy, and difficulty bonding with the baby. This wasn’t exactly what I was feeling.
Then one night, as I feverishly scrolled through the pages of Google, something caught my attention. It was an article entitled Postpartum OCD: The Monster Inside Me. My heart jumped as I opened the page. There in front of me was the explanation and the reassurance I had been so desperately seeking. The symptoms of Postpartum OCD were so specific and yet I could identify with almost every single marker on the checklist.
As anyone that has suffered untreated mental or physical pain can tell you, there is something so poetically consoling yet bitter when you finally figure out what’s wrong with you. You’re relieved because you now know you aren’t nuts, but you’re bitter that nobody believed you before, that nobody took you seriously.
Postpartum depression/anxiety/OCD is particularly hard to get help for because you are petrified of telling anyone else. You fear people are going to think you are a bad mom or don’t love your baby. You are afraid people may think you’ll harm your baby and risk the chance of social services getting called. Everyone around you expects you to be overjoyed with happiness and you are petrified that, if you were to express anything contradictory, you will be shunned by society. All forms of depression are isolating, but when you experience it after having a baby, you can’t just worry about yourself – you have a whole other person that is completely reliant on you.
The truth is, when I finally was able to beg for help because I knew I was spiraling out of control, nobody listened. My parents thought it was just hormones. My OBGYN and a psychiatrist both told me to wait it out. My husband just assumed I was exhausted.
It’s been two and a half years since my son’s birth and, to see me now, you would never guess I was the nervous wreck I was only two years prior. I love my son to pieces. We have bonded over so much and I’m pretty laidback about the whole “parenting” thing. I am the person I was before I gave birth.
It took me a very long time to be secure enough to be vocal in my journey. Even as I write this, the memories bring tears to my eyes because it was THAT hellish. I still fear people will view me as “weak” or “mentally unstable” or (the most dreaded) a “bad mom.” But the importance of getting this message out to the world trumps any insecurities I have about my struggle.
IF YOU ARE A NEW MOM AND YOU ARE EXPERIENCING ANY PROLONGED OR INTENSE FEELINGS OF SADNESS, FEAR, OBSESSIVE THOUGHTS AND ACTIONS, TELL ANYONE AND EVERYONE. AND DON’T STOP UNTIL SOMEONE TAKES YOU SERIOUSLY. YOU ARE NOT BAD. YOU ARE NOT WEAK. YOUR BABY WONT STOP LOVING YOU.
My heart aches thinking about the thousands of women that have silently suffered. I hope more awareness is brought to this issue and will encourage anyone and everyone to really ask how a new mom is doing. Don’t assume she is ok. Don’t assume it’s all butterflies and rainbows. Really ASK a woman how she’s doing. Most of us will be fine, but a small percentage of us are dying on the inside and are petrified of getting help.
With more awareness and more open discussion regarding postpartum depression and OCD, the faster women can get treatment and start healing. If someone had really listened to me, perhaps I wouldn’t have suffered for so long and lost that valuable time with my son.
For more on Postpartum OCD, check out Beyond the Blues: Postpartum OCD