I suffered greatly after my second child was born.
Postpartum depression is not talked about nearly enough. Over the past few years, brave celebrity moms have shared their experiences, and we’re only starting to see cracks in the stigma that have surrounded this pervasive problem.
As little as postpartum depression is discussed, the other postpartum mood and anxiety disorders are talked about even less.
I struggled immediately after my daughter was born. Intrusive thoughts attacked me constantly. I could barely eat or sleep from the anxiety.
When we went for the newborn pediatrician visits, I was given the standard postpartum depression screening sheet. I answered honestly.
I passed. Why? I was not depressed.
However, this does not mean that I was fine.
In fact, I would say I was far from fine. I spent my days terrified. Whenever I encountered something, my brain immediately went to how that thing could hurt my baby. Despite all this, I truly wasn’t depressed. Even in my worst moments, I wasn’t sad.
So I felt crazy*.
Not just garden-variety crazy. My own, special, very dangerous form of crazy. I worried I was experiencing postpartum psychosis.
When I searched for my symptoms online, I became convinced I was a terrible mother. I couldn’t find stories of women who had experienced what I was going through. Again, I thought I was my own, special, very dangerous form of crazy.
I started seeing a therapist within a week of my discharge from the hospital. It didn’t help. She treated me like I was depressed. I wasn’t depressed. She reassured me. As I would later discover, I was dealing with a very severe form of postpartum OCD. Reassurance just feeds the OCDemon.
Finally, after nearly eight weeks of struggling, I checked myself into an inpatient psychiatric facility. I was desperate.
Eventually, with a proper diagnosis, I was able to make a recovery.
But still, I ask why I had to struggle for so long.
The only answer I have: because even the medical professionals (and I was surrounded by great ones) don’t fully understand the spectrum of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.
So, what can we do?
First, we can educate ourselves. Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are as varied as the women who experience them. Just because your struggle doesn’t fit nicely on a checklist does not mean you have to live with it.
Second, we can take the time to have actual conversations with postpartum mothers. Chances are, you’re not going to figure out she’s struggling from a checklist or a couple of texts. We need to spend actual time with these women to discern whether or not they are okay.
Third, we can encourage these women to get second (or third) opinions when they know what they’re feeling is not right. Not all medical professionals are trained to see the vast array of mental illnesses that can occur in the perinatal period. Make sure they see someone who is.
Finally, we can all speak up about our experiences. As soon as I started talking about mine, dozens of friends and acquaintances came forward to share with me their own struggles. Each time a story is shared, it makes it easier for someone to come forward.
Solidarity is key.
Take care of yourselves, mamas. You don’t have to struggle alone.
Here in the Milwaukee area, we are fortunate to have Moms Mental Health Initiative. Their mission is “to help moms navigate perinatal mood and anxiety disorders by sharing information, connecting them to resources, and providing peer-driven support.”
*Author’s note: I do not approve of the use of the word “crazy” to describe a person. There is an incredible amount of stigma that surrounds mental health disorders and I feel as though this term contributes to that. I am speaking of how I felt, not who I was.