New Parents – Be Prepared. My Experience with Postpartum Depression and Anxiety
All throughout my pregnancy as I sat in the waiting room of the doctor’s office, I would read every single poster and sign. There were four posters about postpartum depression and I learned them by heart. I could list off the symptoms of postpartum depression: insomnia, feeling restlessness, loss of pleasure in doing things, mood swings, weight gain or loss, crying and irritability. Each time I read and re-read those posters I thought, ‘they are extreme symptoms, I will definitely know if have postpartum depression’. I would also think – ‘that’s not going to happen to me. This pregnancy is going well and I am so proud of my two little babies swimming around in there, that I feel confident that is not my path’.
The thing about postpartum depression and anxiety is that it creeps up on you. The signs and symptoms are the same as things you are experiencing as a new mother. Postpartum rage – which no one tells you is a thing until you’re in the throes of a screaming tantrum or losing your calm at the smallest thing – is very similar to the symptoms of mood swings and irritability. The insomnia symptom is very similar to that which you experience as a new mother. The result of knowing when they go down at night and you go to sleep, you will have to get up again every 2-2.5 hours to feed them, so you simply cannot shut off your mind. The loss of pleasure in doing things is another symptom – but this is also a symptom of your new identity. When you find your new life very different to your old fun life, of course the result is that you lose pleasure in it. This is because you are struggling with an entirely new identity as a new mother, a process that takes time to get the hang of. Weight gain or loss is also a symptom. But having just gained an extra 40lbs in my pregnancy with twins, and losing 30lbs when they were born it was hard to gauge weight fluctuations after this. Then there’s the crying - oh the crying! Each time I looked down at one of my babies, I would become a blathering mess. They were so beautiful, and it was amazing that they were here, that they were healthy, that we triumphed in the midst of a global pandemic. I was constantly crying at the beauty and the awe of it all.
So how was I to differentiate these things I was experiencing as a new mother with that of postpartum depression or anxiety? It was virtually impossible, at least initially. But it wasn’t until I was in crisis that it became glaringly obvious. I wish I had have clued in earlier to be able to help myself and my family before I was in crisis.
I continued to feel like what I was experiencing was just part of new motherhood. The constant tears, feelings of hopelessness and self-disdain, and feeling like I was on a hamster wheel, trapped in the mundaneness of it all and going around and around, nursing screaming babies, washing bottles, and poo stained clothes, trying to sleep, but my mind a constant whirling dervish that I could not calm.
But the crisis came when I continually kept having such rage at my babies when they just wouldn’t be soothed – I was their mother – didn’t they get that? My husband told me to get help because he didn’t trust me with the babies. That was a really hard thing to hear, but I knew he was right.
My advice to other new mothers is when you’re packing your hospital bag, also find yourself a therapist who will be available when you need them in the postpartum period. I’m guessing your health insurance or primary care physician is a lot like mine. In the middle of my crisis, my doctor gave me a sheet of paper with a bunch of numbers on it not covered by my insurance which I couldn’t afford, let alone work out my eligibility for.
My babies and I are thankfully now very happy and healthy and we have weathered the pandemic in a lovely bubble. I am grateful to have received the help I needed in the end.