My experience with postpartum depression and anxiety
When I saw the (very faint) pink line on the pregnancy test, I was immediately filled with joy and excitement. Unlike with my pregnancy test with Lola, this pregnancy was planned – though we weren’t expecting it to happen the first try! So, I wasn’t immediately filled with anxiety as this wasn’t our first rodeo, right?
It’s 100% true that your second pregnancy flies by in a way the first one doesn’t. You don’t take as many bump photos. You don’t have a baby shower where you’re the centre of attention. And you are definitely still expected to chase after your toddler like you don’t want to barf your guts out. So, if you’re on the second baby (or third or fourth…) train, lose the guilt because this is just the name of the game at this point.
If you remember my experience with Lola, the anxiety kicked in while she was still all cozy in utero (if you don’t remember, I wrote about it here). So, I was more than thrilled when I wasn’t dealing with crushing, overwhelming anxiety this time. But like everyone manages to tell you – no two pregnancies are the same, and neither are their postpartum.
Shortly after Zayden was born, the rage set in. It seemed like absolutely everything set me off. From Zayden crying to Lola touching me, I didn’t go a day without snapping at someone in my family. Because of my history with mental health, and because it’s just solid practice when seeing postpartum patients, my doctor always made sure to ask about my mood. I remember being in denial for weeks. She kindly suggested I increase my anxiety medication and I played it off like I was dealing with a simple case of sleep deprivation (because sleep deprivation is ever simple right?).
There it was, my old friend Anxiety and Depression, except this time the biggest expression wasn’t balling up in the fetal position and crying. It was yelling, and screaming, and pushing, throwing, and generally losing my absolute cool at everything. I cried and felt totally worthless. I firmly believed that my children were better off without me, and I often thought about ways I could just go to sleep and not wake up. It was a scary place to be, and I knew I needed out of it.
As I sit here over six months postpartum, I am feeling much better. There are still moments – or days in a row – where I have to really be on top of my mood and what triggered me. Mental health is not a linear journey as I like to remind myself when I am discouraged by a rough patch. I share this story mostly because I wanted to share what helped me get through one of the darkest times in my life.
Be Honest with Health Care Providers
While it took a few prompts before I really was honest with my doctor, this is the number one tip for anyone struggle with postpartum mental health. In Alberta, we also see a public health nurse for our babies’ vaccines. At my son’s two-month vaccine appointment, I opened up with the nurse. She was very understanding and even booked a follow up call to check in on me. It can be scary to open up to someone in the medical profession. For me there was a deep fear that they would take away my kids if they really knew what was going on in my head. But your health care providers are the ones best equipped to set you on the right path with coping mechanisms that will help you feel better.
Talk About it with Friends & Family
I remember telling a friend about how much I just didn’t want to wake up in the morning. Instead of meeting me with judgement, she met with compassion, understanding, and a list of resources of where I could find help when I was ready. Another friend texted me every day, asked me how it was going, and reminded me of the craziness my body just went through. She often reiterated how many hormones were or were not surging in my body and that it will take time to regulate – this is not a me problem, this is a pregnancy and birth problem.
Having friends who checked in on me regularly was key. So, my advice to you is when you are making your postpartum plan, include asking key friends or family if they wouldn’t mind being especially mindful of your mood and check in specifically on that.
This may or may not be controversial depending on your worldview. I spoke about my hesitancy to start medication before. Even this time I was in denial about needing to increase my dosage. I felt like I desperately wanted to be a mom and so why did I need medication in order to do that successfully? I felt ashamed that I ‘couldn’t do it’. I am here to tell you, now that there’s a modicum of distance between me and that dark place, needing medication to solve a chemical imbalance in your brain does not mean you were not meant to have your baby.
Your worth as a parent is not tied into your mental health. You do need to have a stable mind to parent well, but whether you deserve to have children is not attached to it. So, when the topic of medication – starting or increasing your dose – is brought up, I encourage you to approach it from a non-judgemental place; to see it purely as a what it is, medical treatment for an illness. We would never say ‘no thank you’ to insulin if we were diabetic, so why is there a stigma around anti-depressants or anti-anxiety meds?
List of Resources
When we’re preparing for the birth of our baby we pack hospital bags, we prep the nursery, we wash all the baby clothes, and we make all the padsicles… what we don’t do is prepare for the mental war postpartum can really be. One thing that would have helped me was if I prepared a list of all the mental health resources that were available to me – especially as a mother in postpartum. Search things like Access Mental Health (or other regional specific services) that you can lean on. Follow Instagram accounts that focus on these topics. Find a therapist or counselling services and have their numbers saved in your phone.
I was lucky enough to have a friend who made me a list and when she felt I was ready to see it, she texted it to me. She followed up with me to see if I had reached out to any of the services she mentioned. I was not in a space where I could do that research myself so that was extremely beneficial. Imagine if I had prepared for that ahead of time? Let’s make prepping for the potential of PPD or PPA a normal thing and add it to the list of things to accomplish before baby arrives.
Even if you're not in the over 20% of Canadian women who will experience postpartum mental health issues, every birthing person experiences the baby blues. It's important we start to treat the mental postpartum healing process just as we do for the physical one. So if you're an expectant mom or know someone who is, bookmark this blog or send it along. Have it as part of your birth plan, because I sure wish I had something like this!