I suffered from postpartum depression and anxiety with my first baby. I didn't with my second. Here's what my second child taught me about my experience with PPD.
I hesitated to write this post. Because like many moms, and like many people with mental health disorders, I'm afraid I'll be judged. But as long as there is still stigma surrounding mental health, and as long as mothers feel alone in their struggles with mental health and otherwise, I feel like it's my job to talk about it so that we can normalize these issues and make progress toward treatment and prevention.
I've been open before about my experience with postpartum depression and anxiety after Queen C was born. I was fully expecting to have it since I already have anxiety. And it was hard, and I felt angry for not being able to get the care I needed at the time. But once I felt better, I honestly didn't think it was all that bad.
I never had suicidal thoughts or full blown panic attacks, so I figured that maybe I was lucky and my symptoms had been mild. Maybe I was overreacting that my doctors wouldn't take me seriously. Maybe since I appeared fine on the outside, I really was fine. And that's exactly the problem.
After having Little M, I expected to have PPD/PPA again. I figured I'd be a little more prepared to fight the battle of going in and out of doctor's offices and figuring out medication dosages that worked for me. But magically, I didn't have to, because I didn't experience PPD this time around. (Thank goodness, because it would have been even more difficult with all of the coronavirus happenings.) But what I learned in the 6 months since having Little M and actually feeling good, was that my postpartum depression with Queen C really was that bad. And it makes me angry all over again.
The postpartum experience I had with my second baby is the one I longed for with my first (albeit without the quarantine and general weirdness going on). Of course I've had the struggle that every mother faces with a newborn - breastfeeding, being sleep deprived, and adjusting to a new normal. But the difference in the way I was able to handle the stress and the exhaustion has been huge. Now that I have had a PPD-free experience with Little M, what I really realized I missed out on was bonding with my first baby girl. And it makes me so sad.
I didn't feel the instant overwhelming connection with my first baby that I heard other moms talk about it. I blamed it on the stress of learning how to care for a newborn and trying to successfully breastfeed while not taking maternity leave. I chalked it up to her having colic and screaming at me for hours on end for the first 4 months of her life. I even thought that maybe I'm just bad at forming relationships, even with babies. But now I realize I didn't get to experience that amazing bond with my baby because of my postpartum depression and anxiety. That's not okay.
I feel cheated out of getting to have a blissful new mom experience, cheated out of the start of a lifelong bond with my first daughter. I am sad that I wasn't in a good mood to greet my daughter when she woke up from naps more than half the time. I feel guilty that I was too anxious about pumping and schedules and things that didn't even exist to sit on the floor with my baby and gaze at her for hours before she could even crawl. And I get angry all over again that it took so long to finally get the treatment I needed.
So I'm writing this to you, the mom who may be doubting that her symptoms are real. To the mom who may not know she needs a little extra help. Your experiences are valid, and you're not alone. Postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety are very real. They're not treatable with a yoga class or a bubble bath or a glass of wine. You don't need to 'snap out of it' or to 'take a deep breath'. You need to speak up, to advocate for yourself. If you need medication or support from a therapist, don't be ashamed. I want you to have whatever it is that you want from your postpartum experience that PPD is getting in the way of.
Now that I know what it looks like to NOT have postpartum depression and anxiety, I'm more positive than ever that these are very real conditions that can have a profound and lasting impact. It's time to bring them to light, to talk about our experiences, and put an end to suffering in silence.