by Brianne Herrman
Bio: I’m currently a stay at home mom of a 3-year-old daughter and 15 -month-old son, and our dog Jack. Last year I started my own blog called To Be Totally Honest, because I found writing to be really therapeutic for me. We also recently started to foster dogs, and it has been an amazing experience for our family.
I knew my life was going to change when my daughter Lexi arrived, but I didn’t know just how scary it was going to be for me. After my husband, Jim, returned to work, I dreaded being alone with the baby. I was sleep deprived, overwhelmed, and had no clue how to take care of a newborn. I tried to breastfeed, because I felt pressured to do so, only to end up stopping after a week of sobbing every single time my baby had to eat. Turns out my daughter also had reflux and a milk allergy.
Even with the help of my mother almost every afternoon, I still felt like I just couldn’t do it. Why did I decide to have kids? I was definitely not feeling too great myself, and I was supposed to keep an eye on this little thing 24/7? Everything felt so overwhelming. The first time she slept through the night, I must have woken up 57 times to check her. Even once she was sleeping through the night, and I couldn’t fall asleep or stay asleep. Worries ran through my head day and night.
I saw my OBGYN at 6-weeks postpartum and was told I was doing great. I “passed” the 10 question screening questionnaire for PPD. I saw my primary doctor for my yearly check up and told him I felt really overwhelmed, exhausted and that I couldn’t sleep. He never suggested that I had postpartum anything.
I never actually realized what I was going through was PPA at that time. I didn’t figure it all out until I started to think about having another child. I reached out to an old friend who was doing volunteer work with a group at a local hospital called The Bloom Foundation for Maternal Wellness. I attended one of the support groups they had for mothers dealing with postpartum issues: PPA, PPD and more. Knowing that other women felt the same way I did after they gave birth was such a relief. After attending several meetings, I realized that I was actually suffering from postpartum anxiety after Lexi was born. It was more than just being overwhelmed and nervous as a new mom. I started to see one of their therapists to discuss my experience and get myself ready in case I felt this way again the second time around. I continued attending the support meetings and made a mental note that if I felt those same anxious feelings again after my son was born, I’d come back there.
When we brought Justin home from the hospital, I truly felt like my world was turned upside down. Jim went back to work after one week again, and I thought I was losing my mind. My mom was now retired, so she was there almost every single day to help me out and yet, I still felt like having two kids was the worst idea ever.
My son Justin had a milk allergy and reflux, even worse than Lexi did. I decided to take him to a GI doctor right away, and even then it took a while to get him on the right formula and medications. Until then, he was miserable. He cried most of the day. He barely napped. The lack of sleep was getting to me. I dreaded every morning when Jim would leave. I hated the routine of trying to calm an unhappy baby while tending to a toddler who needed something from me every 10 seconds. I almost felt mad at the baby for ruining everything. I was constantly snapping at everyone for every little thing.
By January my father had retired too, so I now had him around to help as well. As much as my parents offered to come over and help or told me to go do some things on my own, I felt guilty always saying yes to them. I pretty much only left the house for doctor’s appointments. I hadn’t seen any of my friends in months, and by that point I was barely even texting them. Every day I felt like I was drowning. I just wanted to be alone. I wanted my old life back. I had never been this unhappy in my life.
Jim and my parents started asking me if I was depressed. Each time I said no. I explained that I was just overwhelmed by having two kids to take care of. I just knew I was miserable inside. I cried every single day.
My parents and Jim kept suggesting that I go back to my therapist, but I didn’t want to admit that I was in a bad place. As much as they all knew it, I couldn’t face it myself. But then it happened. I remember playing on the floor with Lexi that morning and I was just sitting there staring out the sliding door when she came over, sat on my lap and said, “I love you Mama.” I just sobbed. I looked at her looking at me crying and thought, “That’s it. I can’t let my daughter see me like this everyday. I need help.”
I finally started to see my therapist and the nurses at The Bloom Foundation again and I was officially diagnosed with PPD. After some resistance on my part, we all agreed that I should give medication a shot. It would be a low dose. That night, I filled my prescription and took my first anti-depressant.
The first two weeks were tough. The side effects were everything from nausea to diarrhea, headaches, insomnia, night sweats. At about week 3, the side effects stopped. The crying stopped. The daily dread went away. Most of all, I was no longer angry with the baby that I blamed for ruining everything. I felt this incredible connection to him, which I hadn’t felt before. I hugged him and kissed him constantly. That was when I knew that going on an anti-depressant did not make me a weak person, it was helping me be the person I needed to be for myself and my family.
Justin is 11 months old now. I had weaned off the medication with the help of my therapist when we felt the depression was gone. Lately, it feels like my anxiety has been worse than normal because we are going through some big transitions with Lexi like potty training and starting preschool. I discussed with my therapist going back on medication if I felt necessary. As of right now, I have been continuing to exercise, which is a huge stress reliever for me. I have added in “me time”- at least once a week I go to dinner with a friend. It’s been really great to have some adult time to look forward to.
Anxiety will always be a part of my life and will take constant management, either on medication or without it. I share my story because most women do not know what signs to look for when it comes to PPA ad PPD. I truly feel that more families, friends and partners should know what to look for so that they can also help new moms get the help they need.
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