The beginning was hard. Every week, I went to the support group. I couldn’t bring my son with me. I was fearful of being anywhere outside of the home with him. I felt like I had no control. I felt broken and lost. I cried at every session. I was confused. Who had I become? Despite all this, I still attended the Postpartum support group every week. I told my story. I listened to others.
The women in the group came from different backgrounds. Working women, stay at home mothers. Different ethnicities and ages. Teachers, lawyers and other professionals. Yet, here we were, all suffering together.
I knew that Postpartum Depression and Anxiety could affect anyone and at any time. I also knew that there were certain things that increased the risk of developing it. According to the Mayo clinic, these included:
- A history of depression, either during pregnancy or at other times
- Bipolar disorder
- postpartum depression after a previous pregnancy
- family members who’ve had depression or other mood stability problems
- An experience consisting of stressful events during the past year, such as pregnancy complications, illness or job loss
- The baby has health problems or other special needs
- There is difficulty breast-feeding
- problems in a relationship with the spouse or significant other
- weak support system
- financial problems
- The pregnancy was unplanned or unwanted
Not all of us in the group had these risk factors. Some of us had a difficult birth. Some of us struggled with breastfeeding. Some of us didn’t have a proper support system. We were all different. However, I started to notice something; something very clear about many of us. It didn’t show up as a risk factor, and I didn’t hear about it in any prep class or during my sessions with my first therapist. I found that we were strong, confident, and independent women. We were problem solvers. Many of us were established career women. We had strong mindsets, and were used to being in charge.
I saw at least one of these attributes in many women who I met after that support group. I saw in a few friends that confided in me that they suffered as well. I wondered – did having this type of personality make us a bit more susceptible to PPD and PPA? Did my former identity have a part in my current suffering? According to Veronica, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in San Diego, my situation isn’t very uncommon.
“…having these traits can make the transition of motherhood more difficult, since career oriented women often thrive and are successful [due to] their strong, take charge mind-set.”
It made sense in my particular case. My primary goals in life, my whole definition of who I was came from my career and my success from it. Once I became a mother, that changed immediately. I lost my sense of identity. I used to see myself as a strong and confident person, willing take on challenges that weren’t easy (hello Muay Thai!). Yet, as a mother, I was very insecure and afraid. I used to think that I was fairly independent. However, motherhood turned me into someone who could not function without help. I feared being alone – most of all, I was terrorized by the thought of being alone with my son. I needed someone to help me at all times.
The fear of failing at motherhood was overpowering. I was not capable of taking care of this child. I was not capable of succeeding at anything at that point. I cowered in shame and fear on a daily basis. I was a stranger to myself.
I suppose that it all came down this. I enjoyed being a confident, successful person. I loved to be able to plan and solve problems. I loved to be able to control things. It fueled my self-worth. It drove my desire to succeed. I saw it in myself at work. I realized it through my training in boxing and Muay Thai.
The issue was, I could not solve motherhood. There was no plan for it. I couldn’t control it in any way. All of my issues came one after the other, and each time, I felt like I failed. Each time a problem surfaced, I felt helpless. I was plagued by the trauma of the birth. I was overcome by our struggles with breastfeeding. I was a new mom, and nothing was going right.
Where was that strong person that I used to be? Being out of control felt very unsettling. According to Veronica, my feelings were very normal:
“Being thrust into an experience of postpartum mood disorders that cannot by controlled by sheer willpower or intelligence, is distressful in particular for women that are used to being in control of their environments. Experiencing the lack of control, debilitating anxiety and worry, and having overwhelming rollercoaster emotions is difficult. Since most of their lives they have managed to be successful in exerting high-level problem solving and self-efficacy, going through something that is beyond your control is unchartered territory for many; It is particularly distressing for this type of career oriented women.”
BOOM. The realization of one of the primary sources of my pain was surprising. However, it made sense. I felt like I lost who I was. Motherhood didn’t fit me. My former life didn’t feel right either. I couldn’t identify with anything, and everything felt wrong. In my mind, I failed and failed again, and that was something that I couldn’t deal with.
Overtime, I had to learn – my life had changed, but not necessarily in a negative way. It took a lot of therapy, and a little medication. It took a lot of talking, and being open with what I was feeling. I had to teach myself that there wasn’t anything wrong with me. I also had to learn something else. I didn’t lose my identity. Overtime, I saw things change. I found other things in life that were meaningful to me. Most importantly, motherhood became something that I didn’t have to solve; it became something I wanted to enjoy and experience.
I considered myself no longer a sufferer of PPD and PPA. I am happy with who I’ve become. I am mixture of many things. I am still strong. I am still confident. I am still the best parts of who I was before. I am also more. Motherhood taught me many things that I didn’t know before. I am now happy with who I am, and how I came to be.
Postpartum Depression and Anxiety can happen to anyone. There are risk factors, but it does not guarantee that a mother will experience them. If you are experiencing PPD and PPA symptoms, please reach out to a healthcare professional. There are many resources available. You’re not alone, and it does get better.