I admit. The title of this entry is not the most positive, and it’s not the one that someone wants to immediately read. It probably doesn’t apply to many of you, but I thought it would be appropriate to post. It’s bit lengthy, but I wanted to detail my own experience with PPA / PPD. A final version of this will be published for use within a Postpartum network, in hopes of helping other women.
In my opinion, one of the least discussed topics of motherhood is Postpartum Depression / Anxiety, and how common it is among all mothers. The result of this is that PPD / PPA has a negative stigma attached to it. It’s become something not very well understood by the general public, and for those that suffer through it, becomes a shameful ailment. Thus, these mothers suffer silently, afraid to reach out or deal with the strange and scary feelings that unexpectedly emerged post birth.
In fact, PPD/PPA is quite common. According to the Postpartum Health Alliance, Perinatal and Mood Disorders, which includes PPD / PPA, affect 1 in 7 new and pregnant mothers. Today, more celebrities have discussed their own experiences to the public, admitting that they too felt the pressures and pain of PPD / PPA.
As I head into the recovery phase of my own experience, I wanted to reflect on my journey. I am by nature a typical Type A, a problem solver and a go-getter. I focused so much on professional achievement, that the aspect of motherhood was foreign to me. In fact, since childhood, I never thought I wanted to be a mother. I never thought I had the desire or strength to be one. Motherhood is hard and I never felt like I was up to that challenge. Looking back, it did bring out the worst in me. Trust me, I have lived through a lot of tragedy, some of which I hope none of you will ever have to suffer. Yet, never in my life have I felt so inadequate, so helpless and so afraid. I was anxious, felt guilty and didn’t have any confidence in my ability to care for, much less even love my son. I was afraid to leave my home. I was terrified of being alone with him.
Looking back, I can understand why these feelings happened. I had developed hypertension during the last few weeks of my third trimester, and had been unexpectedly, taken off work and ordered to rest. I had a long induction, which resulted in a C-section under general anesthesia. I didn’t get to immediately hold my son post birth, and I had a complicated and frightful recovery. It felt like everything that could go wrong, did.
Once we were home, I had a difficult time accepting the reality of my new role. I was unable to grasp the fact that I had brought a new life into the world. When I looked at him, he was a tiny baby, so serene and innocent. Yet, I felt nothing more than that. I didn’t feel that motherly bond they show in the movies, and I didn’t feel the same “love at first sight” moment that my friends had gushed about. I found myself more afraid of the responsibility and the life changing aspect of motherhood. I was starting to feel that I was not capable of caring for him. This was even worsened by the fact that we were having difficulty breastfeeding. I started losing sleep; my anxiety made it difficult to fall asleep. Thoughts and worries about my inability as a mother and the well-being of child overtook my mind.
Around the third to fourth week, I had a breakdown. The loss of sleep, the feelings of isolation and hopelessness had taken a toll. In the early morning hours, while my son and my husband were sound asleep, I had a panic attack. I retreated to the bathroom, curled up in a ball and struggled to breathe. I felt paralyzed and feared that this nightmare would never end. I cried over my inability and failure to care for my child. I felt that in his short time here, I had already failed him. Even after the attack passed, I became even more fearful that more would return. My chest felt like it was caving in, and no matter how much my family tried to reassure me, nothing worked. That same day, I sought out help.
Of course, all of this happened very early on a Saturday, when there aren’t very many resources open. I seriously thought about going Urgent Care, in hopes they could help me sleep and calm me. The same day, I got in touch with the Postpartum Health Alliance, and an online psychologist. They helped me cope with my immediate fears, and gave me resources to contact. I felt somewhat better, but still afraid.
Shortly after that, I came across a Postpartum Support Group. At first, I was afraid and unsure of it. I am always wary of new things, so the thought of opening up to complete strangers was not ideal. Eventually, I forced myself to go. It proved to be life-changing decision.
The group is led by Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Women can come freely as they choose. It is confidential, so women can share and listen to one another without any fear of being “outed” to others. It is a forum for mothers to share feelings that they might not have otherwise done in a different environment. I attended group from 5 weeks past my son’s birth, until right before his 5th month. As with anything, the first few meetings were the hardest. During introductions, I couldn’t say my name without breaking down. Each time I told my story, I felt the fears and pain build up, causing an ugly cry that could not be held in. Despite this, I went to almost every meeting.
With time, more mothers would come and go, and some like me, would come continuously week after week. The mothers were raw and honest about their feelings, their fears, and their difficulties in dealing with motherhood. I became more comfortable with sharing my own story, because I had finally found myself with others who could somehow understand. Interestingly enough, I felt less alone, and more importantly, did not feel judged or wrong for feeling this way. All this from telling my very personal experience with strangers. With time, the group became my safe haven. I could tell my story each time, and find that there were new feelings and thoughts to tell. I could listen to others and relate, and eventually found ways to comfort myself. All this, because I no longer felt alone – I found a community of women who understood me. Slowly, I began to overcome my fears. I started feeling more clarity about my situation, and became motivated to change it. I wanted to become better and later, help my fellow mamas do the same.
It’s because of this self-realization that I can say that PPD/PPA also brought out the best in me; it forced me to seek out help. Through it, I sought the comfort of professional help as well as a community of wonderful mothers. No one can go through this alone. The community has a tremendous positive impact. I am grateful for that. Through it, I have gained such wonderful friends. Because of this experience, I am a stronger, more confident person. I am a better mom. I am a happier mom. I am a new me. I look at everyday as a gift, and happily look at my son with the love that only other mothers can understand. As a bonus, I have a newfound interest in helping women who felt like me.
Being in recovery is wonderful, but it’s definitely a long process. I still have the occasional setback, but I’m utilizing my coping skills to deal with them. Resilience and strength is key – the bad moments are only temporary. If there is anything I can tell others, it is that this time in your life is all but temporary. It is a struggle, but you are enough, and you definitely not alone. We will always have stressful and difficult moments, but we will always overcome them. Trust in your ability to get better, and don’t be afraid to seek the support from family, friends, support groups and professionals. You do not have to complete this journey alone.
If you or someone you know is suffering from PPD / PPA, please know that there is help available . A good resource is Postpartum Support International (http://www.postpartum.net/). There are quite a few resources out there, so please make sure to reach out.