For as long as I can remember, I knew I wanted kids. My sister and I played “house” with our American Girl dolls for longer than we’d like to admit. I loved being around little kids, and I had no doubt I wanted to have some of my own…until my son was born.
My pregnancy was healthy and uneventful; and our first baby, Trey, arrived a day before my due date. Trey was admitted to the NICU shortly after I delivered him. His blood oxygen level was low, and the doctors worried he had aspirated meconium. After one night on a CPAP machine and a couple of days with nasal cannulas, Trey made great progress and was expected to be fine.
My husband, Rob, and I visited the NICU every three hours so I could nurse Trey. In the midst of the round-the-clock visits, I started having panic attacks and was unable to sleep.
After learning about my history with anxiety and depression, the OBs from my practice grew concerned with these symptoms and explained that panic and insomnia can be symptoms of Postpartum Depression (PPD). I needed to act on this immediately.
Among many tools that would end up being necessary in my journey, I received a print out some information about The Pregnancy and Postpartum Health Alliance of Texas (PPHATX) from one of the nurses; alongside the normal cocktail of postpartum drugs, I was prescribed Zoloft in the hospital; I made a plan to see an OB in their office two weeks later; and I made an appointment with a therapist I had seen in the past for related struggles.
Trey was discharged from the hospital five days after his birthday, and we went home to meet my mom who had flown in from Vermont. My anxiety seemed to subside when I got home, and I was able to sleep that first night. I felt relieved and thought maybe the intense anxiety I felt at the hospital was due to the NICU trips, the bad food, and overall hospital environment. As that first week went on, however, I was able to sleep less and less, because of increasing anxiety.
Sometime in the first week home, intense anxiety took over my mind and body. I experienced scary, intrusive thoughts. I didn’t feel connected to my baby and I wanted out of the situation.
One night the intrusive thoughts scared me so badly I had to wake Rob, who insisted that I get help immediately. It was the middle of the night, so I started calling crises hotlines from the handout I received in the hospital. I told whoever answered the lines that I was scared, that I couldn’t sleep, and that I had anxiety that I felt like took over my body physically – something I had never experienced.
I was advised to take a prescribed sleeping pill to get some rest and directed to a local woman who might be able to find me help. The way the night unfolded – me taking a sleeping pill while Rob stayed up with Trey – became our routine. For the next couple of weeks, although it seemed like an eternity, I would take a sleeping pill at night, and Rob took care of Trey – feeding him my pumped breast milk, until I woke up. Some days I couldn’t wait to go to bed and take the sleeping pill because it was an escape from the anxiety and my new reality.
With the help of the Austin PPHATX chapter and my OB’s office, I was connected with a psychiatrist within five days. Note: Waitlists are generally closer to three months, which is unacceptable and soul-crushing when you’re in the depths of PPD or any mental illness. With my mom’s help, Trey and I made it to the first appointment, where my psychiatrist encouraged these first, brave steps toward recovery.
I clicked with the therapist right away and began seeing her weekly. She is one of those people you know is on this earth to do exactly what they’re doing. In her case, this is helping moms in need.
She reassured me that many things I was feeling were actually normal for a new mom – that it was ok I didn’t feel an instant connection with my baby: had I felt instant love when I met Rob for the first time? No, so why did I expect that with Trey? She checked in on me between appointments, and this kept me going. She told me this wasn’t forever and that I was doing a great job as a mom, even though I didn’t believe her. She calmed the anxiety clouding my mind- it was ok to take sleeping pills if I needed them, and no, I most likely would not get addicted to them. She connected me with other resources like a free PPD support group, and later as I felt better, a new moms group. This woman was a gem in the dark depths of my first weeks of motherhood, and I would not be where I am today without her guidance.
I also would not be in the place I am today without Rob, my mom, or my mother-in-law- who were literally life-saving. I am forever indebted to them for their patience, empathy, and willingness to keep our house together. I feel so lucky that even though they couldn’t relate to how I feeling, they never brushed off my feelings as just “new mom feelings” or turned their backs.
People say it takes a village to raise a baby. While my initial village wasn’t what I imagined- one that included a therapist, support group, a psychiatrist, and OBs in addition to my family and friends- I can look back now and know that was the exact village I needed at that time.
“While my initial village wasn’t what I imagined- one that included a therapist, support group, a psychiatrist, and OBs in addition to my family and friends- I can look back now and know that was the exact village I needed at that time.”
Three months after my son was born we packed up our condo in Austin and moved to Boulder, Colorado to be closer to family and to raise Trey in an environment like Rob and I grew up in. Trey is a thriving little boy and the love and connection I have with him is like nothing I’ve experienced. He makes me slow down and see the world from a different perspective – to Trey every ant, pinecone and excavator are worth stopping to explore. Although I still feel guilt about not being fully there for him in the first weeks of his life, when he wakes up and smiles at me, I know I am everything he needs, and that is an amazing feeling. Motherhood is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it also the most wonderful and greatest privilege of my life.
Rob and I are still on the fence about having another kid; but we do know if we decide to have another baby, we will do things differently. I will see a maternal mental health therapist during my pregnancy, probably even before. I’ll reach out to other moms who struggled with PPD but went on to have another child. Our support network will be set up before a baby arrives. Most importantly, I will try to give myself a break and remember that Rob and I are just what Trey needs so we will be just what a new baby needs, too.
Mamas, if you or anyone you know is feeling overwhelmed with anxiety, depression or scary thoughts, please know there is no shame in getting help and you are not alone. PPD often gets worse when left untreated so getting help is so important. The hardest step is often that first step to ask for help.