Post Partum Isn’t Always “Depression”: A Much Needed Break.

If there’s any job I ever wanted in life, it was to be a mother. Nervous? You betcha. I mean your Dad and I kept Kaiah and Logie alive and happy for a few years, but a two-legged human, that’s a whole other story. All kidding aside, I’ve never looked forward to something so much in my life. Nine, technically ‘ten’ months we awaited for your arrival.

I didn’t have the same nesting instinct I’d always heard and read about–something that made me quite nervous. Lucky for me, a friend had reassured me that I did have nesting, but it wasn’t of the traditional variety; my ‘nesting’ was becoming a robot for multiple months leading up to your birthday—tunnel vision that included working insane hours, running a gazillion analyses and writing, rewriting my dissertation so I could graduate and put the dissertation behind me to be able to fully concentrate on YOU when your day came. Trust me, reading about varying animals, kids’ lost mittens, and the ABCs has been mind-numbingly-therapeutic after the past 5 years.

During the last quarter of my pregnancy, I had a few loose ends to finish up between finishing my first semester teaching my own class and work I’d put aside while engrossed in dissertation tunnel-vision; all of which were concluded on Friday, May 15th, two days before graduation and three days before your arrival. Phew, was that a busy few months. I was supposed to have a week to relax before you came, but you came a week early. Literally, you initiated your grand introduction at 3am the day of graduation with labor contractions that landed us in the hospital later that night. I should have known you’d have your own timeline—I’ve now come to realize you like to expedite events I was expecting to happen much later giving me little time to prepare e.g. rolling over, crawling.

Throughout those months of busyness, I would have these brief, beautiful early mommy moments where I’d feel you move and I was 100% sure there wasn’t a better feeling in this entire world. With every kick I wondered who you’d be, what your future would be like, what kind of mother I would be, how many sports your dad would get you involved in, which dog would be sleeping by your crib every night. Every kick brought me closer to you. You overwhelmed my heart and filled me with so much happiness with those little jabs that I couldn’t imagine how amazing holding you in my arms would be one day. I became your mom wholeheartedly from the day I saw those two lines on that pregnancy test—you changed my world forever. You and the thought of you made me happier than I ever imagined possible previously.

However;

Anxiety is a part of me, always has been–and I’d been diagnosed with depression and PTSD once years ago after my brother (your Uncle Jeffrey) took his own life when I was merely 16. That extreme loss of innocence was never far. Anxiety may make me productive and organized in my work life, but it can also make me Type-A (A.K.A. a bit crazy) and an insomniac. My Obstetrician was always on top of her game making sure I wasn’t having pregnancy-related depression—and making sure I was well aware of the warning signs since I would be more susceptible given my history.

Knowing this, I placed emphasis on holistic health my entire pregnancy and post partum period, made time to break and walk the dogs daily, practiced yoga and deep breathing nightly, diffused essential oils for relaxation. I thought I had it all under control, I was proactively preventing any postpartum, right? Yeahhhh.

All the things I had worried about superficially before having you went out the window the moment your newborn body was placed in my arms. Being a mom is the most natural thing I’ve ever felt in my entire life, finally something I felt I could do that just fit like a glove. How could something so wonderful and natural possibly cause me anxiety?

My Type A-ness’s strong belief in breastfeeding as long as possible as well as do things by my own unwritten book, combined with my utter happiness with you, but anxiety-causing-external-to-you-life-events created a perfect storm for me to miss the signs of the increased anxiety I had been having with such extreme highs and lows—until I had my first all-out panic attack, which left me feeling like I was having a heart attack, unable to catch up my breath and passed out on the porcelain tile floor our of bathroom. You were 5-months at the time (and thankfully in your bouncer). I finally went to see my doctor, who said it could be Post Partum Depression or Generalized Anxiety, but it was hard to tell with so many external factors also going on simultaneously—but he did want me on medicine to reduce the occurrences of these attacks. Post Partum Depression? I’ve never felt so happy in my entire life, how could I have Post Partum? I had been looking for signs of depression, that I completely missed that Post Partum Depression can transpire in the form of anxiety. It is not always “depression,” as we normally think of it. My fear of having panic attacks while taking care of you overtook my desire to breastfeed and I started weaning you gradually so I could take medicine to control my anxiety.

You are going on eight months, and I’m still unsure if it is/was Post Partum Depression or Generalized Anxiety that caused these intense periods of panic, which left me hyperventilating followed by fatigue and exhaustion; but I now realize how important it is to focus in my health and wellbeing in addition to yours. I have found that becoming a mom, your first thoughts in almost every situation are about you, the child, that it is so easy to lose track of your own health.

I have learned so much in the past 7 ½ months about your health/wellbeing as well as my own, but most importantly I learned that it is OK to ask for help and tell people when something happens, and to reach out for help when needed. It is OK not to have everything ‘together.’ Actually, sometimes it’s impossible. It is OK and relieving to admit that you’re suffering. It is OK to admit you can’t do everything alone. And finally, it’s OK to take a step back, re-evaluate, and get back in the game when you’re ready (I’m on part two at the moment). We as mothers are people, and life isn’t always easy–curve balls are part of the adventure.

Since reaching out for help and finally allowing myself a temporary work break, I feel like a huge weight has been lifted. Now, I can finally say with 100% truthfulness that my top priorities are in order– and all those other things that once took up so much space in my head (when I’d be returning to work and where, getting papers written, selling our condo and finding a house, the next 5 years etc.) have been triaged to others and to a place in my brain that I’ll find again when I’m ready. For now, I’m enjoying the blessing that is you, and your amazing dad for being superhuman in his understanding, which I can’t imagine comprehending if I didn’t experience it first-hand.

In 5 short weeks, we will (hopefully, praying all goes well) be moving into our ‘first’ house, since we have been living between our condo near the city, a cottage on the Cape, and a family member’s house on the South Shore for the past few months as we navigated what is best for your sleeping and us all as a family. You did not sleep well at our light and noise drenched condo. I had increased anxiety there with you unable to sleep combined with a crazy mix of bad luck events in the past year (ah hem house fire and corrupt/unkind people causing a long delay in us selling the condo). The cottage was too far for dad to commute to daily (4 hours daily total, yikes), plus it was isolating and lonely for me being there in a deserted summer community in the off-season. Thus, we settled in to the house on the South Shore, where Dad is home every night with a short commute to the city and we can get to know the area, since we will be moving to a town nearby.

I look at you and I’m constantly in awe that I’m your mother. Despite the hardships endured the past year, I have never been so happy. Everything I thought was so important before you, suddenly doesn’t seem as important anymore.  Maybe it’s so many life transitions all at once, I’ll never know, but I do know that being your mother is the most important job in my life—and you, my health, your father, and your fur-siblings are my number one priority. All else can wait. What a ride, but the most beautiful ride I’m lucky enough to experience.

 “Do I wish I had never endured postpartum? Absolutely. But to deny the experience is to deny who I am.” -Bryce Dallas Howard

I love you forever and a day,

Mom