Every new parent will tell you that the newborn days are a blur, and it’s true. You lose track of what day it is, what time it is, and whether it’s day or night. You’re up around the clock, so your entire rhythm is thrown completely out of whack. You’re exhausted, overwhelmed, and all you want is to sleep longer than 2 hours in a row, but it never happens.
The fact that people survive early parenthood is a miracle. Maybe I’m being dramatic, but especially for women who have just been thrown through the ringer during childbirth, no matter if the birth was easy or difficult – the newborn stage is absolutely brutal. No one talks about it. Everyone just talks about the snuggles and the sweet little sleeping baby and the immense love – which are all there, don’t get me wrong. But until you’re a sleep-deprived, insane new parent, you just don’t fully grasp how grueling it is.
A woman has just undergone the most physically intense, painful and exhausting process she has or ever will ever go through. Typically after an experience like this, we would allow someone to lay in bed, relax, heal, slow down and recover. Yet, new moms don’t get this luxury.
After your grueling labor, you don’t get to rest. You are immediately thrown into giving every ounce of strength and energy you have left into another human. You are forced to wake every couple of hours to tend to a tiny, wailing creature that has no idea what you are dealing with, and has no regard for any of your needs.
Your body is physically reeling from what it has just gone through, yet you are robbed of what your body needs most – sleep.
After birth you are subjected to the excruciating smashing of your abdomen by your nurse every few hours. You are given pain meds, but they don’t help all that much. You are sitting on 500 pounds of ice packs and are terrified of going into the bathroom and just need a shower but can’t walk because your legs are numb and your body is so drugged up.
My pregnancy was healthy and went pretty smoothly for the most part. I survived the brutal first trimester, glided through the second, and trudged through the discomfort and slowness of the third.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the fourth trimester: the months after birth.
I had an extremely difficult labor and birth experience for a variety of reasons. I think this may have something to do with why the postpartum stage was so hard on me, but I know it’s not the only reason.
Somewhere during those first few months of new motherhood, I started to lose it.
Something was off – I could feel it.
I just didn’t feel like myself, and I knew something was wrong.
My happy moments with my new baby were littered with terribly dark and gruesome thoughts that came from out of nowhere.
I would sit on the front porch with my daughter, in what should have been a happy moment. Instead, all I could picture was her falling onto the concrete steps and bleeding everywhere.
I would hold my daughter in bed and in what should have been a moment of enjoying her and snuggling, all I could picture was her being strangled by sheets and me frantically waking to find her blue.
I was constantly tormented by thoughts and pictures of her drowning, or someone taking her from me, or someone coming and hurting her.
It seemed as if everything in my life was haunted by terrifying, violent and dark scenarios.
Some of these thoughts were so terrible that I cannot even write them here. They crushed me and I felt so much confusion and shock over these thoughts.
I was terrified, because I had never experienced such a thing. I didn’t watch or listen to violence, so I couldn’t figure out where they were coming from. This scared me even more, because it made me think the thoughts were mine.
If I saw or heard something anywhere that was even remotely bad news, my heart freaked out. I was not able to read social media or watch any kind of TV other than what I knew would not trigger these attacks, because any sort of negative thing would send me over the edge, into a violent panic attack.
One morning I drove by a car accident, and I kept my eyes fixed on the road. Yet even without looking at the accident, I started crying so hard I almost had to pull over.
Everything made me feel hopeless and depressed. The world was too much for me. All I could see was how terribly sad and scary and dark the world was.
It was as if my eyes were blinded to any good whatsoever. I lived in a constant state of panic and anxiety that at any moment, something could go terribly wrong.
I lived in a constant state of intense fear. It swallowed me whole.
I became only a shell of myself. I felt hollow inside. I never smiled, and laughing was elusive. I don’t remember laughing or smiling at anything during those days, even though I had the most precious, beautiful baby in my arms.
My mental and emotional state was spiraling further and further down with each new day.
My physical state was not any better: extremely sleep deprived, in constant pain from my experience and the typical new mother experience, and generally overwhelmed.
All of this together was the perfect storm.
I don’t think many people understand postpartum depression or anxiety.
I definitely didn’t, before I got here.
I mean, it’s supposed to be the happiest time in a woman’s life, right?
You’ve just grown and birthed new life into the world, and you’re holding a precious baby in your arms, that you get to raise and watch grow up. You get to spend every waking moment with that darling little baby.
How is that hard? How can anyone get depressed?
There is a real physiological, scientific explanation for a lot of this. It’s also what explains postpartum psychosis.
The fact is that new motherhood is the absolute most vulnerable time in a woman’s life. She is at her most raw in every way. Her hormones and emotional chemistry have just been through the ringer. And if she has already dealt with hormonal imbalance before pregnancy/childbirth, her hormones are completely all over the place.
It’s no wonder women feel crazy. It’s more than just being “emotional” (which, by the way, there is nothing wrong with this) – it’s scientific. Hormones and psychological chemistry aren’t just ideas or concepts. During and after childbirth, a woman’s hormones CRASH. They don’t just come down gradually in a nice, calm way. They CRASH.
I (and many other women) felt like I had just been run over by a semi, in every possible way. Physically, mentally and emotionally. I felt like my mind, body and soul had been beaten up and left for dead. I felt numb and raw, and I had nothing in me to fight any of it.
Pair all of this with a husband who has gone back to work and an empty house with a crying baby who isn’t calmed by anything you try, and it’s a recipe for disaster.
On top of the craziness I was experiencing, I also felt intense loneliness. I wasn’t able to go out in public with my baby for fear she would have one of her inconsolable screaming episodes. It was February/March, so it was too cold to go outside. I wasn’t able to sleep when she slept, because I never knew how long she would sleep at any given time, so I laid awake on-edge waiting for her to wake up screaming. I didn’t have people over because it was too stressful, and because I always looked like a zombie. So I never saw anyone but my husband in the evenings.
I dreaded each night, because I knew I wouldn’t sleep. Even when the baby slept, I battled insomnia, and the dark thoughts kept me on edge.
I also felt an emotion that scared me to the core: Rage.
I had never felt so angry in my life. I would go into my room and scream into and pound my pillow. I was absolutely out of control.
Beneath the anger, I can now see that the root was fear. I was terrified and felt that I had been abandoned. I had no control.
Sometimes I wanted more than anything for someone to just wrap me up and tell me it was going to be okay for a few hours, so I could feel safe. But instead – it was up to me to give everything so this tiny baby could feel safe.
I had been used to work where I could see the progress of things I was accomplishing, but now here I was, working harder than I’d ever worked, giving every last ounce of all I had, with nothing to show for it, because that’s not how babies work.
I could not take a shower or do any chores around the house, and I barely could go to the bathroom before my daughter realized I was no longer holding her and started screaming.
I was glued to the couch, in my robe, all day every day. I wasn’t taking care of myself at all and could only manage to drink water and eat a few crackers or a pop tart here and there.
For the first 3 months after my daughter’s birth, every day was like this.
Around month 4 and 5, things started to improve, and I could eat and shower and sleep a tiny bit more, yet I was still plagued by a terrible depression. I never knew when it would attack me and send me spiraling downward. It seemed to come at the most unexpected times.
I felt like I was constantly on the run trying to hide from this monster of depression, because I had a target on my back and if it saw me, I’d be slammed to the ground again. Yet, I never could hide.
The night still had its grip on me.
I also wrestled with immense guilt that I was failing my daughter during her first few months of life.
No one could have prepared me for what I would experience during this time.
Today, my daughter is now almost 7 months old, and I have been able to turn on a light to help me see down to the end of the tunnel. I went back to work during month 4, and these past few months working have been some of the hardest months of my life. Trying to juggle it all on no sleep with high amounts of pressure and stress from my job as well as still dealing with anxiety and depression has not been easy on me. But I am happy to say that something did change for the better when I went back to work. I was able to take a breath again.
I also saw my doctor several times beyond the 6-week checkup, and I was able to take medication that did help. I have also now been able to start taking my herbal supplements that help balance my hormones due to the fact I’m no longer nursing.
I laugh more these days, and Riley is just too adorable for words. She is the happiest and most vocal baby growing into her personality, and seeing it all has helped me heal.
I don’t want to end this by just having told my story. I want to give real hope to the mama who may be reading this, struggling through the same things.
I want to close this by offering real truth to those moms who have been there or are currently in this place.
I cannot ignore the hope found in the gospel. Without Jesus, I am not sure I could have made it out of this storm. I don’t want to give you positive thoughts and sayings that seem empowering but aren’t actual truth. I don’t want to give you counterfeit hope based on empty positivism and trite sayings.
I’m not going to tell you things like: “You can do this!” “You’re stronger than you know!” “You’ve got this!”
Because while there is an element of truth to each of these, the real thing that is going to help you is to lean on Christ with all your strength.
Here’s a shocker for you: You are exactly as strong as you think you are – it’s God who will endow you with strength to press on. You can do this – with the grace of the holy spirit empowering you to walk forward. You’ve got this, because He’s got you. You aren’t strong enough to do this on your own. You really aren’t. No one is.
I’m tired of fluff. Fluff did nothing for me when I was walking through the thick of this. Positive sayings feel good at first, but they aren’t enough to combat the darkness. Truth is powerful, and it is enough.
So here is some truth for you:
You are in His hand. He holds you and He is holding all things together.
Because He is holding it all together, you aren’t falling apart. Your feelings may say otherwise. But He’s got this – and He’s big enough, and loving enough, to hold you together.
He truly cares about where you are. He gets down to your level and loves you in the midst of your darkness. He humbles Himself to be with you where you are. He reaches into the depths of your darkness, and pulls you up out of it.
He never takes His eyes off of you. You are constantly seen, never invisible or overlooked.
All of your needs are met in Him. He has already seen the needs down the road, and already made provisions for them.
You are safe because He holds you.
He carries your burdens, you don’t have to bear them alone.
You will never walk alone. He is with you and goes before you.
He hems you in, behind and before.
He surrounds you on all sides, and fights for you when you can’t fight for yourself.
If you love Him, you are His.
Storms are no match for His power.
Depression and anxiety are real, but they don’t have the final say. They don’t get the final word.
They don’t get to have you.
Depression and anxiety are not your portion.
Your portion is hope, healing, joy, and peace.
The Lord is your portion.
You have nothing to fear.
You are not in control.
But someone who loves you more than you’ll ever know, is.
He holds the stars in His hand, and knows you by name. He calms the wind and the waves with a single word from His mouth.
He is real hope.
So, friend, hold onto Him today.
And see your doctor, and be released from any shame of not being mentally well. It’s ok. Treat your mind as you’d treat your body if it were sick. You wouldn’t shame yourself for coming down with the flu. So stop feeling guilty for needing a bit of mental help.
Thank you for reading my story, and I hope it meant something to you.
Stay tuned for more posts on hormonal balance, pregnancy & postpartum coming soon!