(Photo By Angela Baron Photographer)
The first person to ever ask me if I had ever had any issue with post partum depression or anxiety was my hairdresser. It’s seems kind of unbelievable really, especially considering she asked me this question just this past weekend and my youngest is already two years old. So, how is it that no one ever checked in or flat out asked me this before?
We all know just how taboo mental health topics can be to openly talk that and too often we feel a bit uncomfortable asking the people in our lives the nitty gritty on how they are coping. We tend to assume our friends and family will feel comfortable enough to ask for help if they are having a hard time. However, in real life, this is far from the truth.
Right after I had Elisabeth I sunk into a weird unexpected cycle of feeling anxious. I never had any post partum depression or anxiety with the other two babies and to my intellectual brain it did not make sense. I had a healthy baby in my arms and she was my third baby, I knew how to mother a newborn. I’m sure the high risk pregnancy, crazy delivery and NICU experience all played a role in my post partum anxiety but truly post partum anxiety can target any new mum.
This hot prickly feeling of anxiety crept into my daily life as soon as I got home from the hospital. I should have been relieved that the pregnancy was over and that I was home with my new baby. Instead, the happiness and relief of that was not enough to carry me through all of the feelings of anxiousness.
One of the ways that I felt more in control and safe was being with the baby in my bedroom. We set up camp in my bed and I could actually feel tiny moments of bliss and happiness, it was definitely how I coped and survived this time in my life. However, if you asked me to do something that required getting out of the apartment, I turned into this uncertain sweaty anxious person with a whirlwind of thoughts.
When Elisabeth was about five weeks old my sister took my older kids over to Victoria to go and see family. It was all great until it was time to arrange bringing the kids back home. The plan was for me to meet up so I could go get them and drive them back home. At first I faked it and thought if I pushed myself enough I would get over the fear of leaving my bedroom, leaving the city and driving with the tiny baby to go and pick up the other kids. It was about a 45 minute drive away and the thought of having to do it made me feel physically sick.
It’s a drive I’ve done many times before and logically it did not make sense why it made me feel as upset as it did. That’s anxiety for you, it is totally not a logical process. I was worried about putting our very tiny baby into a car seat, I was worried about driving while feeling so tired, I was worried she might cry the whole drive. I convinced myself that she could stop breathing in her car seat and I even let myself ‘go there’ and envisioned getting out of the car and finding that she had stopped breathing.
Eventually my sister offered to bring the kids back home to me and I went from feeling totally ridiculous with all of my thoughts to feeling a sense of calm. I could stay in my bedroom, on my bed, with my tiny baby and we would be okay. I could stop having to constantly process the ‘what ifs’ that were totally illogical but still swarmed my mind. Things that I had done with my other kids when they were babies just felt like too much this time around. Everything felt scary.
It was even too much for me to make the six week post partum check up with my obstetrician. Instead, I just kept telling myself that I’d eventually book it. Months went by and I could never bring myself to make that appointment. It felt like getting there was this huge mountain and there was no way I could arrange care for the big kids, take the baby and make it work. However, as expected from a busy medical practice, there was no call to check up on me or see if I was okay. Eventually I was totally off the office radar but not going didn’t help my feelings of anxiety. Instead, I’m sure it made it worse.
Anxiety is a complex beast, it is completely controlling of your daily life. It steals your joy and your sense of self. The idea that something bad is about to happen all the time is utterly exhausting. Things that used to make you feel happy and satisfied were now coated with a new layer of uncertainty. I wish that someone had flat out asked me if I was having any problems coping when I had Elisabeth. Just having someone to talk about these weird feelings would have been beneficial.
Slowly over time I started to feel less and less anxious. As my baby grew and I felt more in control of my daily life I had more anxiety free moments. It was not an over night transformation but a gradual continuous shift into feeling more like my old self. For me the feelings were the most intense for the first 3 to 4 months post partum and slowly eased off over the rest of the first year.
Andrea is part of our new Mama Diary Series, #RAWmotherhood, that aims to provide purposeful portraits to break the “Instagram worthy” pictures of motherhood and be real for a moment. Thank you Andrea for supporting this campaign to unite and support mothers in their journey, postpartum. This initiative is to bring awareness and funds to BC Women’s Hospital Foundation as they continue the research and development of an app to treat PPD and PPA. Click here to find out how you can help.