In the hospital, I thought I loved my baby. I thought I wanted to bring him home and be his mother. Then I got home and my thoughts drastically changed. I wanted nothing to do with my new son. I decided I had made a terrible mistake becoming a mother.
With these new, irrational thoughts came a feeling of heaviness on my chest as if an elephant had all of a sudden taken up residence there. I couldn’t breathe. The feeling creeped into my throat. It woke me up at three am every morning. It exhausted me to the point where all I wanted to do was sleep forever yet I could never fall asleep because the anxiety made my heart feel as if it would leap out of my chest.
What was happening to me? Why do I feel this way? Where did this overwhelming anxiety come from? Why won’t the tears stop? Why don’t I want to get out of my bed when there is a healthy, beautiful baby boy in the next room who needs his mother? How do I make it all stop?
Today I went back to therapy and it felt fucking amazing. The last time I sat on that comfy red couch in my therapist’s office was over three years ago, when we decided I could take a break because I finally found myself on the other side of postpartum depression hell. I had survived. I had gotten better. I had become better than I was before. I had become Mason’s mommy and I was finally happy about that.
I thought I would be okay going forward and I have been. But life is messy and complicated and hard and sometimes you just need someone to talk to about it. And I’ve recently come to realize that I need someone to talk to about it. Someone who isn’t your friend. Someone who isn’t your husband. Someone who isn’t your sister. Someone who isn’t your own mother. Someone who you can talk to without any filter. Someone you can talk to about all those people. Someone who you can say to all the things you aren’t supposed to say. Things about motherhood, marriage, and family. Because as you get older, life and relationships get even more messy, complicated, and hard.
I had been thinking about going back for a while. It’s extremely difficult to navigate through the chaos of being the mom of a toddler and the responsibilities of being a wife, daughter, sister, daughter-in-law, and sister-in-law while also trying to maintain my own independence, identity, and happiness. I’m not sure there are enough hours in the day for all of that. And lately, I’m struggling to balance it all and I feel a bit lost. It was actually my mother who noticed this and suggested I call my therapist and start seeing her again. Don’t you hate how your own mother is always right?
Today Dr. Thorne discusses postpartum depression and anxiety and the importance of therapy as well as what husbands and other family members can do to support mom, and how we can lessen the stigma attached to this illness.
The Necessity of Therapy
I want therapy to help my patients to stop being self-punitive and really understand how they got here. If there is a good part of PPD, and this is something we work on in therapy, it usually makes women more flexible. Their personalities become more flexible and it helps them to cope with more things. Believe me, I don’t want any new mom to suffer like that but sometimes going through it and having children, you have to learn to be more flexible. I work on this with my moms and get to see a lot of it happen in a positive way. I also try to meet my moms where they are at. Sometimes moms feel like the only thing they can give the baby is their breast milk, especially if the baby is in the NICU or there are bonding issues. So I will just say, let’s see how this goes. Especially when they are in the beginning just trying it out.
Another thing is that women, career women are having babies later. They go from thinking they want to stay home no matter what when what they don’t realize is so much of their identities are tied to their occupation, getting a paycheck, and talking to other adults. Sometimes going from work to home is totally devastating. It’s not anything like people think it’s going to be. And some women need to go back to work earlier. The schedule and the structure helps them. You just have to know your self and learn not to judge yourself for what you need. Therapy can really help with this. Even myself all those years ago–I was working a 60-hour internship, gained 52 pounds, was the at the highest productivity level, worked until 10pm every night and I thought, “What can be harder than this?” It was a devastating difference. I just didn’t think that would happen to me, just like all my women don’t think it will happen to them. I mean I had my doctorate in this field when I got mine.
Welcome back to part two of my interview with Dr. Thorne. Today Dr. Thorne goes into great detail about the beast that is postpartum depression including the risk factors and how to find the right therapist.
The Risk Factors
The number one risk factor is having postpartum depression with a previous child. A big non-biological factor is husband or partner issues. Yet, most of my patients have great husbands and great babies which makes them feel even more guilty. I’ve had doctors say to me,” I never thought that one would get PPD.” Those are the ones that get it. Those type A, high functioning women. They are shocked because they’ve done everything right and achieved everything in life. I always say, if you are that personality type (and other personality types get PPD too), and this is to be understood and not judged, but those mechanisms and coping skills that you put in place got you this far in life–to be in control, to be organized, to do, to accomplish–they aren’t bad, they got you this far. But when that baby comes, those coping mechanisms don’t work anymore and you are emotionally naked. The baby is running the whole show. You can’t make a list and feel better. There can be a genetic component if you have mental illness in your family. Risk factors will be different for everyone. You can have one, three, or seven risk factors. It’s not one size fits all.
I spent my first year of motherhood in therapy (crying hysterically during most sessions) thanks to postpartum depression. My therapist not only helped me get better, but taught me how to accept, embrace, and celebrate the mom I am, not the one I had envisioned I would be before I actually became a mom. She helped me realize that I was normal, not alone, not a horrible person for feeling the things I felt, and that I would get better in time.
Now it’s time for me to give back. I want all new moms to know that postpartum depression can happen to anyone and there is nothing to feel guilty or ashamed about. That education, recognizing the risk factors, and talking openly about this sickness is the best way to reduce the stigma so all women feel brave enough to ask for help and seek treatment.
This is why I’ve decided to interview my therapist. Our talk had so much valuable information that I had to break it in to three parts, posting today, Wednesday and Friday. Trust me, you don’t want to miss any of it. And it if you know someone this interview might help, please pass it on.
So here she is, the amazing Dr. Thorne–a clinical psychologist specializing in perinatal mood disorders and the woman largely responsible for my recovery from postpartum depression.
A Clinical Psychologist Specializing in Postpartum Depression
The way I got here was that I had postpartum depression with my first child and that was 20 years ago. I also watched my best friend suffer through postpartum psychosis four times—four pregnancies, all four times. Back then, no one knew what I had so I pretty much suffered silently. No one really knew what was going on with me. I also had a really difficult birth. I probably had more of an adjustment disorder.