05 Nov As a New Mom I Had Prepared for Everything – Except Postpartum Depression and Anxiety
I like to jokingly brag about the amazing hospital bag I had packed for myself well ahead of my baby’s due date. It had all the practical things, like a toothbrush, as well as the less practical things, like battery-operated candles, to make my birth experience as comfortable as possible. But not only did I never get around to transforming the hospital room into the Zen spa I had pictured in my mind, I actually ended up only opening the bag twice: to take a sip of Gatorade and to brush my teeth.
For all the prep work I had done, including pelvic floor yoga, a pre-natal workshop and batch-cooking meals, the one thing I didn’t anticipate preparing for was postpartum depression and anxiety. I had been warned before heading home from the hospital that I was bound to experience the baby blues for another two weeks but not to fret, it was perfectly normal. But as those two weeks stretched into months I still didn’t feel, well, quite right.
Depression Sets In
Being a new mother creates the perfect storm for depression. As someone who relies on getting a decent night’s sleep to function, the sleep deprivation was especially difficult. And, up until now, I had been used to accomplishing many tasks throughout the day so the newfound boredom of maternity leave made me feel idle. It didn’t help when people would say, “Just focus on the one thing you’re going to do today.” I didn’t need just one – I still needed 10! Along with not finding the time to eat, much less cook nutritious meals, being cooped up at home became increasingly isolating. Sure, friends and family would come over to visit but when they left, and my spouse was off to work, it was just me and my baby again.
One of the first times I realized I wasn’t shaking off the baby blues in those early days was when my husband and I went for a walk in our neighbourhood. Something, I’m not even sure what, set me off and I cried all the way home. My husband was concerned, of course, but he had a hard time relating because I couldn’t quite explain my feelings. Looking back at it now, it was a mix of being overtired and coming to terms with actually being a mother. Although I had been preparing for nine months to welcome my baby into the world, it was as though my spirit didn’t quite know how to deal with this sudden shift in identity. It was a weird feeling and I was ashamed I felt this way during what should have been the most joyful period of my life.
Thoughts Take Over
While all this was going on, we were preparing for a big move. We were leaving our one-bedroom rental in the city for a townhome in the ‘burbs to accommodate our growing family. The timing was not ideal, we were well aware, but we were at the mercy of the house hunting process. So, with the move just a couple weeks away, we started packing boxes as soon as our newborn went down for his naps. This was happening at a time when all I wanted to do was nest. Creating a welcoming, comfortable space for our baby was more than a desire. As other mothers would tell me, it was instinctual.
While I was excited to finally have a home to call my own (and decorate), the first few months were especially unsettling. Baby and I lived in a mountain of boxes in a space devoid of furniture. My life centred around an oversized armchair placed in the middle of an otherwise empty room. With my husband away at work, and baby not quite babbling, the house was quiet – too quiet. And that’s when I started thinking…and thinking…
My thoughts were about nothing I would normally consider “important.” That’s part of the reason I felt I couldn’t talk about it with anyone – they just wouldn’t understand why I was so affected. Like other postpartum experiences I had heard about, I wasn’t worried about the health or safety of my baby. In fact, my thoughts were rather mundane. But they started taking over my life. My thoughts followed me wherever I went. Beyond thinking about them all the time at home, I thought about them on long walks, while driving around doing chores and even in the company of friends. At the same time, I was having random bouts of crying about the childrearing, new house and relationship with my husband. Life, at the moment, was overwhelming and I just felt like I couldn’t cope.
Deciding to Help Myself
It all came to a head when I was carving pumpkins for Halloween (2017) – an activity I normally love. But this year it felt different. It felt like a chore, and I was resentful I was forcing myself to do something I normally took great joy in. Ruminating about that started the negative cycle of thoughts, “Why aren’t I able to get a grip? Am I suffering more than other mothers or am I just weak? Was I not cut out to be a mother?” The tears started to flow and I finally admitted to myself this was getting out of control. With my despair growing, I made the decision to help myself – the first of many decisions I would have to make to start feeling like myself again. I searched for the folder of resource pamphlets I was given in the hospital, which I never threw out just in case.
I dialed the number of the Pacific Postpartum Support Society and was greeted by the reassuring voice of a telephone support counsellor. After telling her what I had been going through and how I had been feeling, she responded by saying it sounded like I was having anxiety. Anxiety, hmm… After three months of drowning in these thoughts, I finally had a word to describe them, “anxiety.” Knowing this word, and accepting it as a possible cause of my condition, was just the very beginning of a personal journey that would have many ups and downs, and require me to find myself again.