Dear first time mom,
Hi dear sister, friend, fellow mother. I want to tell you some things about postpartum, things I so desperately wish someone would have walked me through before I had my first baby.
First off, congratulations! You have embarked on such an amazing journey and now you are at the cusp of one of the most monumental moments of your life: giving birth.
I’m sure you have watched your body change and grow, washed those new baby clothes, and prepared the nursery, to name a few. I’m sure you have dealt with your own share of pregnancy aches and pains, but hopefully some joys as well.
I know you’ve heard that everyones body is different, which basically covers a wide array of different pregnancy and postpartum experiences that can never really quite match your experience. And while that is all true, there is something I want you to know:
YOU ARE NOT ALONE IN THIS.
When I went into labor I remember the questions that raced through my mind. What was it going to feel like? Would the epidural hurt? Was I ready to be a mother? Would I tear? Why was so much water gushing out of me? How long would I labor? Would the baby be okay?
I mean the questions were just endless. And yet I felt such excitement at this huge change we were about to go through.
Everyone’s birth story is different, (you can read my full birth story here) as is everyone’s recovery.
But a reminder: all women who have given birth must go through recovery in whatever shape or form that is. Let me say that again: ALL WOMEN GO THROUGH RECOVERY. You are not alone in the topic that is not nearly covered enough by doctor, friend, or women in general.
No, recovery is not something talked about enough. It needs to be. It needs to be talked about in detail. Why? Because women are incredibly talented at putting on a strong face and acting fine. But all mothers have a story of the hormonal shift and recovery that takes place after giving birth. Some may be mild with almost no issue at all. While others may share stories of extreme postpartum. Whatever their story may be, it is a personal and unique experience. Postpartum recovery is not just a physical recovery of loose skin, mesh diapers, and leaking, sore breasts. No, it is very much a deeply emotional and mental recovery on top of the physical recovery.
So I am here to tell you a little bit about my recovery and why I am passionate about this reminder: YOU ARE NOT ALONE IN THIS.
After my daughter was born I was on a high. Labor and delivery went pretty smooth and I gave birth to a healthy and beautiful baby girl. I nursed her almost right away, boy did that hurt, and the bond I felt was instant.
We had family come visit just hours after she was born and my husband and I just relished in her newness and sweetness. What a miracle, our own little private miracle.
Once those feelings of euphoria wore down, the pain of delivery set in, and the inescapable hormonal shift rocked my world.
I remember they took her to the nursery one night so I could sleep for a few hours and I woke up sobbing, like uncontrollable sobbing. The panic that set in when I didn’t see her next to me took over and quickly climbed the ladder from manageable to intolerable panic. I think I just simply missed her and wanted her near. She has been with me for 40 weeks and 2 days after all.
I pressed the nurse button and asked them to bring her back. The nurse brought her in and saw me crying and got both of us stripped down to do skin to skin contact. Little did I know that skin to skin is not only for the baby’s health but the mother as well. It is powerful emotional ties that can help soothe a mother in emotional distress. And it really did, it was something I would end up using fairly often once we got home.
I seemed to fair well after that episode, despite the immense pain in my nether regions. We were sent home and I remember handing the baby to my husband and gingerly walking upstairs to shower and lay down. I fell asleep for a long time and missed my pain medication–huge mistake. I woke up feeling like I had been hit by a large vehicle and could barely move. It didn’t help that they discharged me on 600 ibuprofen instead of 800. Thankfully my drs office quickly rectified that situation a few days later once they found out.
Aside from barely being able to walk with or without pain meds, I couldn’t stop crying. I cried constantly it felt like. I slept little, and even felt like I had the responsibility to do all of the mothering on my own. Meaning, I would wake up and do the feedings, and the changing, and burpings, and repeat as needed. I had three other adults there to help me, but I insisted I do it until about 4 am when my mom would take over. I even would walk into the nursery and take her in there so I wouldn’t disturb my husband. Are you kidding me? What was I thinking? He was just as much a part of this as I was, and his lower area hadn’t been blown apart either. He was capable, and yet I had the boobs so I just took it all upon myself. How easy it would have been for me to just nurse her in bed, hand her over to my husband, and go back to sleep? But we didn’t know any better at the time. I didn’t know any better. The woman inside of me just wanted to come off as strong and capable. Basically I was trying to convince myself that I was super woman.
It was during those late night, delirious, walks to the nursery, carrying my tiny new baby in my arms, that I started to have dark thoughts. They would strike like lightning, coming and going in an instant and leaving their mark on my soul. I had heard about these, I had even had some tender conversations with other mothers about this before I gave birth, but never in much detail.
Well, I’m going to give you my details. It is not a proud thing to admit that I had dark thoughts towards myself or my baby, but it doesn’t make me a bad mother knowing that I had those.
I don’t even remember when they started, but it was during the first week of her life, pretty soon after we got home from the hospital. I was so exhausted and just in so much pain from pushing so hard that I remember it was as if my mind was not my own. It was as if another version of me, a dark and twisty one (Grey’s fans?) shoved her way into my thoughts and took advantage of how awful I was feeling.
I had to pass the stairs to get to the nursery. Even though my daughter slept in a bassinet next to me in our bedroom, I would take her into the nursery to nurse because I thought I was super woman, remember?
Some times, when I would pass the stairs cradling my baby in my arms, I would have this fleeting thought: what if I tripped and just dropped her down the stairs?
I remember my head jerking back in shock when I had that thought the first time. I clung to my baby and kissed her, I didn’t want to hurt her. I was mesmerized by her. I loved her more than anything. I remember even verbally telling her I was sorry, that I loved her and didn’t want to hurt her.
I would sit down to nurse her and the tears would just pour down my cheeks. That walk to and from the stairs in the dark of the night made me feel like I was walking a very thin tightrope, and that one bad thought might push me over the edge.
There were moments in that nursery where I would think what if I threw her against the wall or dropped her?
I know, I feel physically sick just typing these words, and have thought about not sharing this post over and over again. I am ashamed of these thoughts to this day.
But I also know THOSE THOUGHTS WERE NOT MY OWN. And I had no intention of acting upon them. They were just awful thoughts. It felt like Satan was in my head some days whispering these awful thoughts and placing horrifying pictures in my head.
I also had thoughts when I would be driving alone, which was rare that first week to two. Thoughts like, What if I just drove off the road right now? What would happen? What if I just didn’t make it back home?
These thoughts were also terrifying to me (despite knowing I had no intention of acting on them) and I felt guilty at the small amount of relief in the thoughts of being free from the difficult emotional recovery I was experiencing.
I just wanted to enjoy my newborn, but I felt like that first week I just couldn’t enjoy her to the fullest because my emotions had such a grip on me.
I remember going to my OB’s office and seeing a nurse to give a urine sample because I was having some burning down there. She took one look at me and said, “Let’s get you an appointment with Hutch for this week” (my OB).
So about a week after Janie was born I left my newborn with my parents and my husband and I drove to the Dr’s office. They squeezed us in to an already full schedule, but made a point of telling me it was really important I saw the Dr.
We sat in that waiting room and I couldn’t stop shaking. I was starving from having no appetite thanks to my heightened anxiety, and the dark circles under my eyes and ratty hair gave me quite the look.
We were finally taken back and waited longer. I felt terrified of what he would think of me. Would they take my baby from me? What did my husband think of me? What was wrong with me?
Finally my kind hearted OB walked in and sat down across from me. The sweet look in his eyes made it obvious that he was concerned about my well being. He looked at me and said, “Tell me what’s been going on?”
As usual, I couldn’t stop the tears. I cried and cried, apologized for crying, and then cried some more. He spent 30 minutes with us and listened to my concerns and then I said the thing I feared to say most, “I have been having thoughts of hurting my baby. I don’t have any intention to, I just have these fleeting thoughts and then they are gone.”
He nodded kindly and said, “I bet your husband does too once in a while. Especially when that baby is waking him up all hours of the night and you are both barely getting any sleep.”
That thought shocked me. Whether that is true or not, I never asked my husband, but it made me feel more human. It made me feel less alone. We spent the rest of our visit talking about strategies to help me. He offered medicine and estrogen spray, but encouraged me to give it another week before we went down that path. And since I have struggled with anxiety for many years and always sought out counseling, I wanted to wait before starting medication as well. He said he wanted to see me in a week, and then said something that has stuck with me ever since that day.
In essence he said, “We live in a world where social media portrays this world of perfection. We sit in our homes and scroll through what we think is a perfect life of someone else. I can assure you their life is not perfect. So I caution you to take time away from social media right now. Open up your home to friends who want to help you, instead of shutting them out because you think you don’t look good enough or your house isn’t perfect. You’ll be surprised to find that most new moms are struggling just like you. And many experienced moms have had similar struggles, and are still struggling with their own personal issues. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, you don’t have to do this alone.”
Those are profound words from a wise OB. And I have made it my mission to share that message with as many new moms as I can. I have made it a priority to check on moms who have recently had babies, or to be open and honest with moms about to give birth. My intention is not to scare them, but to educate them. It is not always just a perfect birth story followed by a perfect recovery.
And do you think that everything went to perfection for me after talking with my doctor? Definitely not. I still had those scary thoughts, but I recognized they were not my own and that those thoughts did not control my relationship with myself or my newborn. I was stronger than those whisperings. I became more and more confident telling myself, “That is not what I want to do to my baby, those are just thoughts. I love her.” And I decided to talk about it. My mom was amazing and when I had a bad thought I would tell her and she would talk through it with me. I wasn’t just sitting in my thoughts anymore, kicking myself, and feeling my anxiety rise. And she and my dad took a couple of night shifts, where I would only come to nurse.
My OB talked to me about sleep deprivation too. He said that before prisoners in Guantanamo Bay are water boarded they sleep deprive them as a form of torture. He said they get the prisoners to sleep, wake them up every few hours, march them around the camp, and let them sleep again. And then they repeat. He used this example to remind me that sleep deprivation can play tricks on your mind, and reminded me again to use help so I could sleep and heal.
A week later I was back at my Dr and had a smile on my face and no shaky hands. He walked in and lit up, “You look night and day different!” He exclaimed. And I felt it. I felt stronger, healthier, and more confident. I was only 2 weeks postpartum and had a long way to go recovery wise, but I at least knew that I was not alone.
During that week between appointments I reached out in honesty to my closest friends and explained what was going on. They sent a care package my way with a journal filled with encouraging notes and their own experiences from birth and motherhood.
I also reached out to the women’s organization of my church called the Relief Society. I texted the president of the Relief Society and told her how much I had been struggling, and that I was afraid to be alone when my parents left and my husband went back to work. She quickly put together a team of women who took turns coming to sit with me for an hour or so to just chat, or do whatever they could to help ease my mind.
It took immense humility for me to allow these women into my home, and to tell the presidency how much I needed help. I desperately wanted to put on this face of perfection. But the truth was, I wasn’t perfect. What new mom is? And what I discovered is that people WANT to help. They have been through it in their own way and they want to offer comfort and support.
While I wasn’t diagnosed with postpartum depression, and my symptoms fell within the range of the baby blues (usually last the first two weeks postpartum) I consider my experience one to draw from.
I am now 28 weeks pregnant with my second baby, a baby boy! He will arrive early February and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous for a repeat recovery experience. But I also have so much more confidence this time. While I cannot control how my labor and delivery will go, or even how my recovery will be, I now know I am not alone. And I am not afraid to ask for help.
I have incredible parents, in laws, friends, and extended family to help us. I have an amazing husband who has proven to be a devoted and loving daddy. I also have learned a lesson in humility and know that if I open my home to those that offer comfort I will find solace. I know that I am capable as a wife, mother, and woman.
I cannot wait to cuddle my new babe and truly hope to soak in more newborn snuggles this time around, since I won’t be pretending to be super woman again any time soon.
However, I know that my story is not the only one out there. I know that there are some very different endings for mothers who fall so deep into postpartum depression/anxiety/and even psychosis that need intensive help. If that is you, if you have feelings of hurting your child and wanting to act on it, please don’t feel like you can’t ask for help. Medical professionals, your family, and your friends want to help you and can help you. But they have a hard time helping you if they can’t hear you. So talk. Open up. The feelings of shame may accompany your talk, but that is normal.
If you have heard of The Emily Effect you know how postpartum depression can strike at any time, and after any pregnancy. It can strike anyone. So let’s be there for each other. If you have been through a rough emotional recovery, share your story with others. Be each others place of refuge.
Brene Brown said, “The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: me too.”
Postpartum depression is not a decision a mother makes. I did not choose to have those awful thoughts about my baby or myself. My mind was not my own in those moments. And sadly it can be so so much worse, and is so difficult to predict how you will react to those postpartum hormones. So be good to each other, reach out to someone who recently had a baby, don’t be deterred from helping one another because the other looks put together. Best guess is they are not.
And please don’t let this scare you, just let it educate you. Prepare yourself mentally for changes in your thoughts and prepar yourself to ask for help.
A Fellow Mother