Undiagnosed Post Partum Depression
I thought I knew what it was, I thought I could be supportive to a mama going through it, and I thought I would for sure know if I had it.
I was saying I had it before I really knew.
The past few years have been hard for everyone in some way or another. In addition to everything that life was throwing at all of us during the pandemic, I was experiencing a high-risk pregnancy. Tomi was born 4 weeks early, and after a somewhat traumatizing delivery, it felt like we could finally take a deep breath. Of course, that is never the case. I was also diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis during the pregnancy, and experienced many bad flare ups within Tomi’s first year.
No doubt about it, that transition from one kid to two is challenging and a huge adjustment. Everything is different and everything is harder.
As I think back to this time I am remembering so many things that I was really emotional about or were really hard for me. Things that simply wouldn’t have been a factor with your first. For example, after being in the hospital for over a week with Tomi’s labor/delivery, and coming home to Carli (3) who was going through a growth spurt and so many developmental changes – was a trip. I felt like her face was bigger, her head was bigger, her hands were bigger, she was just so much bigger, it felt like I had been gone for so long. I knew the second I saw Tomi that my family was complete, and my heart felt whole and I knew I loved them both with all my heart. But I still instantly felt overwhelmed. I missed Carli, I wanted to cuddle and hold her and kiss her and I also felt like I needed Tomi front and center on me, skin to skin nonstop. It was an intense adjustment to these new emotions.
...am I doing a good job?
This time around I noticed I would have mini panic attacks throughout the day. There would be times when Tomi was crying in her crib and I don’t even know what was stressing me out so bad – maybe just everything; dishes, laundry, homework, bills, milestones, breastfeeding, not sleeping, societies judgements – but I would find myself just standing in my kitchen with my head buried in my hands, leaning over the counter just trying to breath. I would be saying, “Carli, mommy needs a minute. Can you please go watch Peppa? Mommy just needs a minute.” I would vent to my mom friends and say things like, postpartum anxiety, because for some reason that was easier to say than depression. I of course new I had the baby blues, I had some degree after Carli was born too. But this time around, everything just felt different. It seemed like things that moms I knew with older kids had said to me before suddenly made sense. That question you get “I don’t know how you do it!” … started to give me a different reaction. I used to be proud or flattered, and appreciative that people were being so kind to me as a new mom. This time around, I would be offended, insulted, hurt by the statement (I couldn’t tell you why – I just am), and I would in all honesty be wondering how I am doing it either, or wondering if I am doing a good job at all? While I was having these panic attacks throughout the fourth trimester- I almost went to urgent care because I thought I was having a heart attack one time. My chest felt so tight and I started to just feel like I was unraveling.
The crazy thing to me about Postpartum Depression is how is can sneak up on you, and how quickly it can worsen when not treated. I came across this chart on Etsy and it helped me to express how I was feeling. There are certain things that we all experience as parents. I like how this chart shows how little things can feel like so much more when you are feeing depressed. I was in the first few columns with Carli and without a doubt made it to Postpartum depression with Tomi.
Before I could talk about these emotions of motherhood and still see the beauty and feel proud of it all. But now I just felt like I couldn’t breathe. Everything felt hard. Things that I can find joy in at times, even things like cleaning out the back of the car, dumping a lb. of goldfish out of my stroller, stocking up the diaper bag, packing snacks and making toddler lunches, it all just felt so overwhelming. I had always heard people describe depression as not wanting to get out of bed. When you are a mom, that isn’t an option! But I couldn’t get out of my funk. I felt like I knew this feeling. I need some chocolate, maybe a good comfort meal, retail therapy?? A hot shower, a good to-do list and I’ll be back to my old self… but it just wasn’t happening. I was taking hot showers, trying to smile and finding it difficult to do so… I knew this wasn’t normal and this wasn’t healthy and I needed to figure it out.
With Carli I experienced some postpartum depression symptoms (I can see in hindsight) but they faded away. I was very irritable with family coming by to see the baby. I wanted them to come, I wanted to see them, I was excited to see them. I would mentally prepare myself for people coming over, telling myself – “you love them, they just want to see you and the baby, take a deep breath its ok”. Then without fail I would be short, irritated, sometimes I’d be clingy about holding my baby if others offered to hold her. I would also be really defensive. I felt like since I had nothing nice to say, I wouldn’t say anything at all, because I was afraid if I opened my mouth I would snap at everyone, which I’m sure I did anyways. This is so hard to explain… It was like no one could say anything to me. I started to get into this negative head space and couldn’t find my way out. Constantly questioning if I was a good mom or wondering if others were asking the same thing.
I was also experiencing lack of appetite. At around 9 months postpartum, I had stopped breast feeding (much sooner than I wanted too) but she was done. At this time, I was having a bad flare up and was frustrated at the cost of my medication, so my husband and I aggressively started a diet, with really high hopes that it would just cure my colitis… I was already having lack of appetite, which can be a symptom of a colitis flare up. So, it was easier to start a restrictive diet. We did Dr. Gundry’s Plant Paradox for a few months and weight just shed off of me. But then the diet was too overwhelming and so I stopped it, but I didn’t stop losing weight. The compliments just kept coming but I felt like a fraud. I wasn’t proud of the weight being lost because I didn’t feel like I deserved it. I was scared that the colitis was getting bad, or that I was getting sick and that’s why I was losing weight. I was getting really in over my head with the emotions of processing this new disease, juggling motherhood, and life – lack of appetite got worse. I would eat three meals a day, however small, and chew food, to swallow it, to just stay alive… but I wasn’t really eating. Even if I would be thinking I would crave something or want something, I felt like I was telling my brain to chew. I wasn’t snacking and eating like I used to and I just knew that something was off. By that fall, I was still struggling with lack of appetite, still trying to manage these intense postpartum emotions, starting to feel like it was harder and harder to keep going. It felt like I was waiting for a better day. Like I was always waiting for nap times and bed times, and waiting for a better day when I would have more energy, want to socialize, and enjoy things again and I just started realizing this funk or this bad day, isn’t going away.
It got to a point where I couldn’t deny that something was wrong anymore. I had spent months planning a weekend getaway/30th birthday party for my little sister. I was so excited to have another sister fly in for it, to finally put together all of the decorations I had been harvesting for months, and to celebrate HER! I was so touchy about everything. By the time this weekend approached, still unsure what my lack of appetite was exactly, still trying to manage these worsening symptoms of untreated postpartum depression. Now my pediatrician had said that Tomi was behind on speech, and I was guilt stricken and ashamed, and it just felt like it was the last thing I needed to hear. I was feeling so much guilt, and having such a hard time with Tomi, to then see that I really was failing her, I just couldn’t take it. I couldn’t function anymore. All the stress of the past year just piled up on top of me and I couldn’t for one stop crying, but even if I could I couldn’t find the words, I didn’t know what to say because I didn’t even know what was wrong! I was so sad. I was laying on my air mattress, in a laundry room that I claimed as my room (a bunch of us shared an Airbnb!) and I laid there, curled up in a ball, so scared and confused by these intense feelings and worried about ruining her weekend. It was SO WEIRD. This is my sister, my best friend, someone who is so close to me. But these were her friends, her new boyfriend and I just wasn’t ready for their first impression of me to be me crying and making Danielle’s birthday weekend about me. So instead my husband covered for me and said it was my colitis. I felt like suddenly I could empathize with people who described what depression was and I started to think that this was what was going on.
It wasn’t until I got back home and realized, I actually don’t know if I have looked up PPD. Realizing maybe some of the other symptoms I was having was due to PPD. I did a google search and was just so shocked that I was so oblivions…Anxiety, guilt, hopelessness, excessive crying, lack of appetitive, irritability. IT ME
For months now I had started to become more comfortable saying things like, “I for sure had more baby blues this time around” or “I think I might have actually had PPD this time…” but even at that point of realizing that I was feeling different this time, or that may be that case I didn’t fully understand that being left untreated can cause it to linger and get worse. I didn’t think that I would medicate myself for it, I didn’t know it was that bad. I didn’t know how much medication would help. I didn’t know that so many small things that were causing irritability, anxiety and stress could be resolved by correcting a chemical imbalance. There were symptoms I was having that I didn’t even realize until they were gone. There was a huge layer of fog that cleared away once I began treating my postpartum depression. I have reread this post a few times and wondered if it’s too long, and unsure of what order this should be in… and I feel a little all over the place with it. But I think that’s the nature of PPD and motherhood and parenthood in general. It is about opening the conversation about it and taking away the stigma. I didn’t fully understand the layers of maternal bonding until I was struggling with PPD with Tomi. I knew that many women suffered from PPD and that there could be struggles to bond with your baby postpartum. I didn’t understand it. I still don’t know how to describe it either. I loved Tomi and I bonded with her. But it was still hard. There were so many hard nights. It was just different. Tomi and Carli are different babies, and I was a different mama with each of them. I was tired and dealing with physical and mental stressors as well as a pandemic and things were just different all around. Ways that I knew how to comfort and soothe a baby didn’t work with Tomi, guilt and frustration that I couldn’t help her tore me apart. With kids, even during the tail end of a pandemic – life is busy and goes by fast. The amount of guilt I was feeling and the other postpartum depression symptoms caused overwhelming fatigue and I felt like I was just going through the motions. Motherhood is something that I want to enjoy every minute of, and I am so grateful for the therapist the I found and that treatment for PPD is starting to work. I love my babies so much, and being their mama is all I want in this world! PPD is a sneaky, confusing and minsunderstood disorder and I thin sharing our individual stories can help other mamas to be diagnosed sooner.