After all of the support and great conversation started by my post yesterday, I realized it was missing something. My goal was to be open and honest about postpartum depression and mood disorders and to start a public dialogue about the conditions. Well the dialogue is starting, but sharing that I have postpartum depression and anxiety isn’t quite enough. It can be hard to understand and realize what is and isn’t normal for a mother with a new baby. Hopefully really describing how it feels and the thoughts in my head can help.
The obsessive intrusive thoughts were probably the very first symptom for me, and it wasn’t until I started to look for a support group that I discovered they were a symptom. I think it is normal for a mother with a new baby to worry about dropping the baby. But for me I obsessively and vividly imagined dropping my daughter on a hard tiled floor and her head cracking open. Maybe having this image float through my head once or twice a day in the early weeks would have been normal, but this image played through my head numerous times a day and lasted for months. Can you imagine what it’s like to constantly have a vision of your child’s head splitting open on the floor floating through your mind? It’s not pleasant, it’s no wonder I developed anxiety. That was the obsessive worry I experienced.
Other women might have similar obsessive thoughts focused on different worries. I’ve met women who didn’t sleep for days on end convinced their child would stop breathing, or even that their child wouldn’t get enough sleep if they themselves went to sleep.
The obsessive intrusive thoughts weren’t my only symptom. My anxiety about separation from my daughter and returning to work also triggered irrational decision making. First I felt like something was wrong with me for not being ready to go back to work or to be away from my daughter during the day. I failed to realize and understand that having a child meant my life had a new normal. As a result when I struggled to return my life to pre-baby normal I felt like a failure and it made me try even harder resulting in the one weekend where I tried to ridiculously over schedule myself believing that I could do as much in a weekend as I had been able to do previously. This was when my husband sat me down and pointed out something was wrong.
Over the past almost 2 years the most common irrational thoughts I have center around a faulty belief that I’m not a good enough mother. The most recent example I have is from a month and a half ago. We’d started experiencing some major sleep problems with our daughter. She wouldn’t go to sleep until almost 9pm, and she was waking up multiple times a night again suddenly. It was maddening and frustrating. We talked with our pediatrician at a previously scheduled appointment and she suggested we move her to a toddler bed and really focus on the bedtime routine and talking about big girls sleeping in big beds and going to sleep without bottles. Well in my mind this convinced me that not having already done these things meant that my daughter’a sudden sleep problem was my fault because of my failure. So I took the rest of the afternoon off from work, rushed to Target to get her a new bed, a special book, and new pjs. Then I rushed home, and while my husband was catching up on sleep from being up with her the night before, I decided I needed to put the new bed together all by myself to have it ready for her when she got home from daycare. Never mind the fact that I only had an hour and a half before I needed to go to my therapy appointment. Have you tried putting together furniture like that by yourself? It isn’t easy. Needless to say my husband found me struggling, too far into the project to turn around and put it off, but with only about 20 minutes to finish. To say I have a wonderful husband is an understatement. After almost two years of irrational incidents like this he has come to recognize them in progress and he has learned how to work through them and help me come back to rationality. The best and easiest way I can describe how these moments feel is that they are a sort of mania.
In reality I know I’m not a bad mother. But that’s the thing with this condition, I can know I’m a good mother, and yet still have incidents of total irrationality convinced that I’m a total failure and letting her down.
Postpartum depression and and other postpartum mood disorders can present in various ways. Some will experience things similar to me, others might experience hallucinations, or thoughts that their baby would be better off without them, OCD, a whole wide range really. Sharing our stories can help others learn when something is maybe outside the bounds of normal or when someone we love needs help and doesn’t know to ask. Please keep talking and sharing your stories. Together we can help each other.