No matter what we achieve in life or in sports, we are all human. It is this human experience that bonds us.
This is my story of post partum depression. I have two degrees in psychology and was a professional athlete. These kinds of things aren’t supposed to happen to me. But, alas, humanity does not discriminate. Check it out:
After my first child, I went through some serious post-partum stuff. I say stuff because it would not only be classified as depression, I also had some very real, very scary anxiety that manifested as panic attacks. I had absolutley never in my life felt anything close to this kind of anxiety and it was freaking scary. We all had an idea that something wasn’t right, but we had no idea how wrong it actually was. Without going into too much detail, my labor and delivery were what I thought was normal (really had no other frame of reference as this was my first child). I was admitted to the hospital around 4:00 p.m. and delivered my son around 2:00 in the morning – that included the administration of an epidural.
I absolutely loved the entire experience of bringing a little baby into the world. I loved him the second I saw him. He was perfect (still is) in every single way. My husband and I were exhausted and after I fed my little 10.2 lb. bundle, the nurses took him for all his tests and such. He was back within the hour.
I was so exhausted and had no idea what a toll delivering a person was going to be on my body. I also had no idea what havoc was being wreaked on my body by my hormones. Once we were home, it was just about the hardest thing in the world. My son ate a lot and because he had a bit of jaundice, they suggested waking him (even if he was sleeping) to feed him so that he could get the fluids into his body. Whether or not this was right or wrong didn’t matter. It was our first child so we just followed doctor’s orders (you all know what I’m talking about). I didn’t really have that “Mommy instinct” yet, and I questioned everything instead of just trusting my intuition – yes, it’s there but it’s a bit blurry until you kind of hit your stride…and that took me some time. Bottom line, I was exhausted and I was emotionally fried.
Although I was crazy anxious the second we brought him home (crying on the way home from the hospital should have been my first clue), it wasn’t really until about the second month that everything went completely haywire. I had my first panic attack. People say that it feels like they are having a heart attack. I just felt more like my world was caving in on me. I don’t know how to explain how that manifested itself physically other than I kinda felt like a rodent in a maze. I felt like every hair on my body was standing at attention all day and all night. Every single emotion was heightened and every sound made me edgy (did I mention that babies cry?).
My only response was to be scared and to cry. So I did. I cried so much. I cried buckets. My face was swollen. It was a really bad deal.
My husband was completely freaked out that his formerly competent “take on the world kinda gal” wife and now mother to his child was not able to pull herself together. He was actually kind of angry with me. I think this is normal because 1. no one talks about this stuff and 2. it looks completely irrational from the outside.
My parents were around for the birth and a couple of weeks after. My mom was a bit perplexed too, she didn’t understand why I was having such a hard time. “It’s all part of it” she would say, or “go water the plants, that will take your mind off it.” I did not want to water the plants. Eventually, after having my husband drive me to the behavioral ward of a hospital, I think they all got on board.
The doctors were amazing at the hospital. They let me cry, they let me tell them my fears and they told me with 100% certainty that I was going to be okay. I needed someone to tell me that. Coming from a doctor made it even better. I remember they had to give me the same intake they would give anyone else who came in claiming they were crazy and I remember with such clarity saying “no, I do not recieve hidden messages from my television.”
I was so ashamed, I was so embarrassed. I was so, so scared.
My mom came out to stay with us for about a month and a half. I cannot even put into words how much help she was. It was almost as if she was helping me grow up all over again. She washed dishes, she cooked meals, she walked my little boy while I tried to nap (although sleep did not come for quite awhile), she took middle of the night feedings more nights than I can remember, she made me water the plants, she cracked jokes and laughed so hard she fell off the couch watching “Nacho Libre,” she made me get out and run errands to build my confidence, she made me grab a coffee at the local watering hole, she held her grown daughter in the middle of the night while I wept and told me I was going to be fine.
And I believed her.
I am sure she didn’t quite know what to do with all this, so she suggested (she bought me a copy) that I read Brook Shield’s book “Down Came the Rain.” It worked. Knowing that someone famous, beautiful, successful, capable, competent and strong had gone through what I was going through was powerful medicine. It was a turning point for me and I realized that my healing was only going to come from God himself (and trusting that He could and would heal me) and for me to share my experience with others. In more simple terms, I was going to have to ask for help. And ask I did.
Once I started sharing my experience, I discovered so many women who had experienced the same thing. I listened to story after story of my friends who had older children that had experienced some level of post-partum depression or anxiety. And while I knew mine was not “garden variety,” I no longer felt alone. Knowing that someone else has walked a similar path and made it out changes lives. It’s why I feel so compelled to share my journey. I remember one phone call in particular that came from an unlikely source. A girl I barely knew called me (upon the insistence of a mutual friend) and shared her story so openly and so candidly with me. We had almost the exact same story with the exact same symptoms.
I was completely floored. I thought I was the only person in the world going through this. I wasn’t. Not even close. I was beginning to feel hope creep back into my world. I finally stopped asking God “why?” and began to say “thank you.” And it may sound weird, but I was so, so grateful. I had a healthy baby boy, a ROCK of a husband and a mother who never stopped being a mommy. And I was going to be fine.
I started seeing a counselor and started sharing openly about my experience. I began to find people who could handle the information and my roller coaster of emotions and started asking for help. I asked a thousand mommy questions to people I trusted. I started getting out of my house. I started getting comfortable with the idea that my baby was going to cry…a lot. I began to hit my stride as a mommy and I began to soak in the grace and mercy that God literally rained down on me in buckets. There were way more buckets of his grace than there were of my tears (although, I still had lots to cry out). I finally found my new normal and although it may not have been what I was “expecting when I was expecting,” it was amazing. It still is.
I did not say it was perfect, I just said it was amazing. Biggest lesson I learned is this: I don’t do perfect.
If you are in a place like this. Please, ask for help. Ask sooner rather than later. Ask now.
p.s. this could also go for any anxiety or depression that goes along with a big life transition. One thing I can guarantee is that you are not the only person in the world who is going through or has gone through what you are dealing with. It’s the great thing about being human and opening up about your experience. We share and realize that we are not alone. Find those people in your world that you trust and ask for help. If you need more help, see your doctor or see a counselor. Do not let pride, fear or anything else stand in the way of getting better.