My baby. She was finally here. She was healthy and in my arms…and she was perfect.
We bought a new home only 3 weeks before her arrival. It had way more space than our tiny, one bedroom condo. It was a place to finally call our own. A place where we could paint every wall hot pink if we wanted to because it was ours. There was room to grow. It was perfect.
Everything was perfect…except it wasn’t.
The immediate months following my transition into motherhood were hard. Really hard. I constantly wondered how every other new parent was able to handle it all, while I was slowly crumbling.
The sleep deprivation alone was enough to break any person into a hundred pieces. But there were also the changing hormones, the new dynamic between me and my husband, and the heavy responsibility of being another human being’s everything. And on top of it all, came the constant arguing, the deep anxiety and the paralyzing panic attacks. I felt so sad that I was almost numb. The scenarios I worried about were not only irrational, they were extreme.
It was all balled up together like a bowl of tangled, spaghetti noodles—everything intertwined and knotted. One thing seemed to affect another thing which led to another, and another and another. I couldn’t find the beginning or end. And I could no longer decipher an irrational meltdown from a logical concern. It was all the same. I was tired and empty and felt completely alone.
I resented my husband for not doing more. Not taking the baby more. Not cleaning more. Not helping me more. But when he offered to help, I didn’t even know which of the moving pieces to give him. I was juggling it all and if I handed off the baby, or gave him one task or chore or action, the whole thing would fall apart. It was just easier if I did it. I felt myself getting dangerously worn but I felt too guilty to stop. There was no solution—I either resented him for not helping or I felt gut-wrenchingly guilty for asking for help. I was the mom. I was the one who was supposed to be able to do it all. Right?
But the single working part that I had become starting breaking. One person can only go or do so much before they just…can’t anymore.
And that’s where I found myself. I couldn’t. I barely recognized the woman in the mirror. Even worse, I didn’t like her anymore.
I longed to be a momma my entire life, so needing help felt like I was failing at the one thing that I always aspired to be. Nobody told me it would be this hard. Nobody told me that parenthood would test the endurance of my marriage, challenge my emotional and spiritual condition, and make me question my own self-identity.
I had heard of “baby blues.” What a cute, non-threatening label. I had also heard of “postpartum depression.” That term sounded more medical and serious, but still, I didn’t truly know what it was. I had never even heard of “postpartum anxiety.”
My preconception of postpartum depression led me to believe that it was uncommon, and when a woman did experience it, it was within the first few weeks of having a baby. I was far passed the few weeks mark—my baby was 5 months old—so it had to be something else. Maybe motherhood just wasn’t as natural for me as I thought it would be. Maybe I needed to get away for a while. Maybe my husband and I were growing apart. Maybe I was just losing it.
I wanted to be a mom and I loved my baby and I was healthy and young. I had a new home, a great husband, and beautiful healthy baby. What was there to be depressed about?
Yet, I was suffocating. I hadn’t expressed my feelings to anyone. Not to the degree in which they were exploding inside of me. All my mommy-friends looked like they had their lives together. It seemed as if motherhood was a breeze for them. They were happy and organized…and showered. I was barely functioning.
And after 5 months of feeling inadequate, overwhelmed, anxious and exhausted, I realized it wasn’t getting better. In fact, everything was getting worse.
I wasn’t just tired. I wasn’t just feeling the newness of being a momma. I wasn’t just “in a funk”.
It went deeper. So much deeper.
Finally, I met my breaking point. “I need help. I can’t do this anymore. I’m done.” I wasn’t crying for help with the dishes or housework or holding the baby. I needed help with my entire life. My marriage, my mind, my body.
I called my doctor. I called my pastor’s wife. I called my mom. I talked to my husband. I went to a professional counselor. And I began to open up with the moms around me. Just saying those 3 words were freeing in itself—“I need help.”
The moment I began to feel the warmth from the intentional support of others, my hope and clarity began to restore. I had existed in hopelessness and helplessness for so long that hope felt…strange. Strange but wonderful. Like a precious friend you haven’t seen in years—you know them well, yet don’t fully recognize them.
Because there were so many different kinds of issues and struggles going on inside of me—and because new pains had mixed with resurfaced ones—it took everyone on my “team” to help me. My husband, my pastor’s wife, my counselor, my doctor, my momma-friends. Each person helped me in different, vital ways. Each contributed a level of healing.
My doctor and I came up with a 3 week plan. Three weeks of counseling, being intentional with what I was eating, how I was exercising, spending time in the sunshine, allowing myself time to be alone. After the 3 weeks, I would have a follow-up appointment to reassess how I was doing and see if there was any improvement. If there wasn’t much improvement, we would then discuss incorporating medicine. It wasn’t night an overnight “cure” but within the first few days of starting my new routine, I noticed an improvement. I could already breathe easier. Because this was an ongoing process, I remained intentional with my self-care routine and stayed aware of how I was feeling.
My senses felt crisper. I was living again, not just surviving. And it happened because I spoke out.
Postpartum depression and anxiety can vary in appearance from momma to momma. Its heaviness can gradually grow like single grains of sand slowly piling up. Or it can come on very suddenly. There isn’t a definitive list of emotions or symptoms and there isn’t an exact timeframe as to when it can happen. And I think that’s why it can go undetected or ignored for so long.
If you’ve recently had a baby—even within the last year—and you feel overwhelmed, hopeless and completely empty to the point of feeling like you can’t function as a person, I encourage you to speak up for yourself. Talk to a professional. There is no reason to feel ashamed or embarrassed. I know that you want to be the absolute best momma to your baby. I know you may feel guilty asking for help or wanting to take time for yourself. But in order to fill up the ones around you, you have to be filled yourself. Caring for yourself—mind, body and spirit—should remain a top priority. I’m not sure why there is still such a stigma around postpartum depression but I can tell you with complete certainty, you are not alone, you are not failing and there is nothing to be ashamed about. I promise you, there is help nearby and things are going to get better.