Recognizing Maternal Mental Health Day: My story
Depression runs deep in my family. It is something I am acutely aware of on a day-to-day basis, especially now with 3 boys, owning a business, trying to homeschool, etc. I work to manage triggers every day, but it wasn’t always that way. Today, on World Maternal Mental Health Day, we share our stories of raw motherhood to help eliminate the stigma surrounding postpartum depression and anxiety.
After my first son was born almost 8 years ago, I recall the nurse practitioner reviewing signs and symptoms of baby blues with me and my husband before we were all discharged home - one big happy family of 3. She made sure to teach my husband and let him know that if I was crying for no reason in a few days, not to worry -- it's just the baby blues. These feelings are likely related to hormone changes after delivery and my mood should start to improve in about 2 weeks. If the mood changes lasted longer than 2 weeks, we were to contact my OB's office. Easy peasy.
To review: [most] new moms are taught to watch for signs and symptoms of the 'baby blues' starting around 2-3 days postpartum and lasting up to 2 weeks. Symptoms can include : crying (for no apparent reason), irritability, sadness, mood swings, insomnia, restlessness, anxiety, fatigue, decreased concentration. It is thought that up to 70-80% of new moms can experience some degree of the baby blues. These feelings can blind-side a new mom who is not prepared for them. You have an image of what new motherhood looks like from whatever your friends have told you, or books you've read, or pictures you have painted in your mind of bringing home your first born. Then, all of a sudden you've delivered the baby (according to plan without any kind of birth trauma or NOT), and sent home to care for said newborn, all with a healing body, sleep deprivation, influx of family members wanting to see the baby, and trying to figure out what the Hell just happened to your body.
At least that's how I felt. Not to go into too much detail, but my recovery from son #1 was less than ideal mostly because I thought I could move around, go up and down the stairs 10x/day. My episiotomy stitches ended up tearing on day 5, which just affirmed all the fears any new mom has about going #2 for the 1st time! Talk about traumatizing! Never mind being re-stitched in the office and figuring out breastfeeding... fun times. Anyway, back to mental health... I found myself most nights crying in the kitchen wondering when things would go back to normal and how in the world was I going to heal from this whole ordeal. Spoiler alert: things did get better slowly on their own and I almost forgot about all those new mom baby blues struggles...almost.
To be honest, I don't remember the baby blues sticking around long after my 2nd son was born. I might have blacked that time out of my memory though. We were mostly thrilled and overjoyed to be bringing home our rainbow baby after multiple miscarriages and loss. That's a story for another day..but could also be tied into the mental health conversation, because loss is a whole other important topic. I soaked up every minute of his babyhood knowing that we would not try for another baby so as to preserve my mental health. Going through another season of loss and grief was not something I wanted to repeat.
Fast forward to 2019, when the universe gave us another son we were not expecting but couldn’t have needed more. He has completed our family… for sure this time - my husband made sure of that when he was a week old! Ha!
I took this photo when Louis was 3 weeks old. It's not a great picture, but I remember that I wanted to remind myself how I felt so I could relay it to new moms. While I walked around the neighborhood, tears streamed down my face with questions running through my head like: what have we done? How are we going to do this? 3 kids was never the plan? What am I doing wrong? How am I going to keep my business afloat when I can’t work? (ha - that seems like small potatoes, as I type this now in the middle of a pandemic!) Why do I still feel this way? I’m supposed to be feeling better by now... No positive pants here.
While physical recovery couldn’t have been better (after delivering a 9.5lb baby!), my mental health was a different story. Overwhelm. Exhausted. Weepy. Irritable. Snappy. Guilty. All the things. I was okay during the day when it was just the 2 of us, but by the end of the day, when everyone came home from work and school...it was LOUD. In our tiny house.
There was So.Much.Noise.
When the feelings didn’t go away after I passed the 2 week mark, I started to worry that I was dealing with something bigger than just the baby blues. But around 4-5 weeks, the fog started to lift, and even though I was still sleep deprived I started to find strategies that helped me regain my sense of self.
In no particular order, here are my tips:
Get outside for a walk every day.
Ask for help.
Shower every day.
Drink lots of water. Eat foods that are all colors of the rainbow.
Let go of the To-Do list.
Give yourself lots and lots of grace.
There are lots of resources out there if you are struggling with the adjustment to new motherhood. Please reach out for help and we can point you in the right direction!
Want to learn more about how PT can help you? Let's chat!