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On Prenatal and Postpartum Wellbeing

It’s no secret that I suffered massively from what I now know were Postpartum Depression and Anxiety during and for at least a year-and-a-half after my last pregnancy. While I absolutely loved being pregnant, many of those nine months were filled with panic-inducing worry, stress and terror. I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to take care of my baby the way she needed – that I wouldn’t know what to do, or have the mothering instinct so many speak of. Though I desperately wanted a baby, I was so worried about how adding a child to our family would shift my husband’s and my marriage and change our dynamic. I stressed about how breastfeeding would go, if I had all the baby supplies I needed, how our then tiny house would accommodate all of the huge, plastic baby contraptions, and how I would manage to take care of myself while also managing to keep a small human alive. I was a wreck. The anxiety permeated my core, and began to take its toll on my marital relationship and my sleep. It was a vicious cycle. The less sleep I was getting, the worse my anxiety and agitation became, and the more strain was put on all my relationships.

This anxiety and depression didn’t dissipate after my baby was born. It intensified. I recently found this video on my camera I didn’t even know existed of the nurses handing her to me right after she was born, immediately following my c-section. I looked terrified. And I saw myself try to kiss and hug her and hold her, but the overwhelming look of dis-ease on my face is impossible to ignore. I would never have known this is how I felt then if I hadn’t seen that video. It literally breaks my heart to watch, because I love this little girl so much, but in that moment, it’s impossible to ignore how un-blissful I felt. The exact opposite of what we expect new mothers to feel.

I didn’t have the kind of anxiety and depression that made me detach from my child. Quite the opposite, she (and everything to do with her) became my obsession. I was 100 percent solely focused on her and her wellbeing, that I lost sight of everything else, including my relationship with my husband and taking care of myself. And I became completely overwhelmed. In this state of hyper-focus, I couldn’t handle anything else. Writing thank-you notes for gifts? No way. Fixing myself a plate of food? Impossible. Taking a shower or getting dressed? I couldn’t fathom how other mothers managed to do these tasks while ALSO carrying for a newborn.

Each day my husband would come home from work to find me a puddle on the couch or floor. I couldn’t pull it together. I was convinced I was failing as a mom – after all, nursing was a disaster because my baby was diagnosed with reflux and screamed at virtually every feeding until medicine finally calmed her symptoms, and she seemed to constantly cry harder for me than for anyone else. I wasn’t confident at all in my abilities. I didn’t trust myself to do anything alone: change diapers, give baths, drive her. But the catch was that I didn’t trust anyone else to really do these things either. I put myself in a terrible position. I made myself the only one I allowed to care for her, yet didn’t even trust myself to do it. And when I was apart from her, I suffered immense separation anxiety. I cried the entire time I was away from her, barely making it through my graduate school classes, which I went back to just 2.5 months after her birth.

It took a long, long time. No one knew what was going on, and everyone–including me–felt frustrated. I was agitated no one was empathizing with me enough, but yet I didn’t know how to explain what I was going through, and I was too emotional to get through tough conversations with anyone. Looking back, I would have given anything for more support, but I didn’t know I needed it, or how or what to ask for. I may not even have been able to accept it then.

But this time around, things are far different. I DO know what I need, and the most amazing part is that so does my husband. After fighting the hard battle with me last time around, he and I have both learned so much. In fact, if I do get back to my professional life as a therapist, this is the area I want to specialize in because I am SO passionate about helping others who are suffering. We are taking every precaution this time around to be proactive. And so, recently over the holidays when the old pangs of depression and anxiety hit, we knew it wasn’t normal, and needed to be discussed and treated right away. We took important steps, and more than anything, he showed me that he and I are a TEAM. I am not alone this time. He is on my side, and knows just what to look for. This, in and of itself, makes a world of difference for me.

I do not anticipate it to be all smooth sailing. I am prone to anxiety and always have been, and having suffered a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder before makes me more at risk for suffering again. I also know my triggers are sleep loss, lack of routine, lack of “me” time, and overwhelm. I can watch for these things, and respond accordingly, and so can my support network. I really want it to be different this time. I want the postpartum experience I feel I was robbed of last time around. Whatever will be, will be, and I am confident that we will handle it the best way we can.

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