My name is Jenna and I am a planner. The unknown has never been my friend.
During pregnancy, I studied the Dr. Sears library, read a few thousand blog posts about natural childbirth, took a Breastfeeding 101 class and the childbirth prep course offered by our hospital. I meditated. I did yoga. I walked. I squatted. I was ready for birth. All of this preparation paid off and I achieved my desired natural hospital birth.
What I wasn’t prepared for was every single thing that happened starting the second that birth was over. While in the hospital, I had shivers, swelling, exhaustion, and soreness. Each of my concerns was met with “that’s normal.” I was afraid to go to the bathroom for the first time. Normal. My baby cried nonstop from 9p-3a his second night out of the womb. Normal. I had pain from breastfeeding. Normal. All of this normalcy led to the hospital allowing me to discharge and take home a two day old, seven pound tiny human.
Non-Expert Tip: Don’t just practice putting the carseat in the car. Practice putting the baby in the carseat! The nurse isn’t supposed to help you with this part, for legal reasons, but thankfully mine did because I had no clue how to strap him in there. One minute alone with my little guy and I was already a failure of a mother. This is where my postpartum anxiety story begins.
I had been instructed to feed my newborn baby every three hours, even if he was sleeping. To offer him both breasts every time and to let him feed on demand. And so I did. I didn’t watch tv. I didn’t eat anything but chocolate covered almonds and various bars. I barely spoke to my visitors or my husband. I just nursed this baby. When I got the courage to let someone else hold him so that I could sleep, I would set an alarm for two hours later but, like clockwork, one hour into my nap I would imagine that I heard my baby crying. I would rush into the living room to find a peacefully sleeping baby. I obsessed about his temperature. He was too hot in the swaddle. He was too cold without it. I obsessed about his breathing. It’s too fast. It’s too slow. I obsessed about his feeding schedule. What time did I feed him last? Which breast did I offer first? When was his last wet diaper? Luckily, there is an app for that. I downloaded it and religiously tracked my baby’s every move.
During all my childbirth preparations, I heard many times that if you have any thoughts of harming yourself or your baby to immediately put your baby in a safe place and call for help. I never had these thoughts. Not once. But I worried. And I cried. And I googled. And I worried more. And I cried more. Every other thought through my brain was, I CAN’T DO THIS.
Eleven days postpartum, imaginary baby cries woke me from a nap and once again I rushed into the living room to find a peacefully sleeping babe. I collapsed on the kitchen floor in tears. I called the nurse’s station and told her that I couldn’t stop crying. “Do you have any thoughts of harming yourself or your baby?” she asked. Of course not, people, I would never harm myself or my baby. I’m not depressed. I just can’t stop crying. She instructed me to call my doctor’s office immediately. And so I called. And they said to come in immediately. So I packed up my not-even-two-week-old and went to visit my doctor.
Our visit was a short one. She asked if I had any thoughts of harming myself or baby. No, doctor, I would never. I just can’t stop crying. Well, here is a prescription for Zoloft. Take it and come back in two weeks. I told her I didn’t want to take medication. Well, she asked, what exactly where you expecting when you came in today? I was expecting you to say that this is normal; that this too shall pass. “It’s most certainly not normal” were her exact words.
I left that doctor’s appointment in tears as I had spent many of my waking hours. I called my husband, told him I had been diagnosed with post-partum depression, and also told him I wasn’t depressed. I called my mom and told her the same thing. I asked her to come back and be with me. I headed to my amazing chiropractor who helped me understand that I was stuck in “fight or flight” mode. She asked what was bothering me the most. I blurted out: the schedule. Worrying about when he needs to eat next. She said, what if you stopped setting alarms and let your baby tell you when he is hungry? But the nurses had said to feed him every three hours. And, just like that, my next feed alarm and my baby went off in unison. Maybe I could trust this tiny human. After all, he hadn’t let me down yet. I deleted that stupid app. That was my first step to recovery.
My mom arrived and things got a little bit better, but when the time approached for her to return home I was again flooded with doubt, insecurity, anxiety, and fear. Through many tears, we decided that I would return home with her for a week. I couldn’t bear the idea of being away from my husband for a week. Even more, I couldn’t bear the idea of my son being away from his dad for a week. But I needed constant physical & emotional support. I needed my mommy.
While I would never discourage someone from taking medication if they needed it, I knew in my heart that taking an antidepressant was not the answer for me. Not only did the mere thought of taking it create more anxiety, but I didn’t want to simply stop myself from feeling the anxiety. I believe our emotions have something to teach us. I wanted the anxiety to go away, but I wanted to understand why I was having it and what thought patterns needed to change to put myself on a path to wholehearted motherhood.
During that week at my parents’ house, I went to two color therapy sessions where I explored my fears about becoming mother. I got a second opinion from a trusted doctor who believed that I could refill my self-care cup without the assistance of antidepressants. I got a postpartum massage with my baby laying on me. I slept. Soundly. I still woke up and rushed to my baby. But day by day I was able to sleep a little bit more soundly. I meditated. I laughed. I watched tv. I went outside. I took vitamin B, vitamin D, NevaTon, and probiotics. I ate real food. I googled less (but still way too much). I returned home a week later, and it was difficult. I was alone for most hours of the day. I was still crying, but not as much. I was still worrying, but not as much. I just kept trusting my baby and he taught me to trust myself. I leaned on my incredible husband who is the strongest person I have ever met. Together, we made it through.
These days, I think twice before checking Dr. Google. I tear up every now and then, and when I do I don’t judge myself for it. I just let the tears fall and move on. I still worry, but I am a mother after all!
I’ve read many stories of other mamas’ postpartum experiences and each one of them is beautiful. There is so much power in sharing our stories. Mamas – whatever your struggle is, whatever your postpartum looks like, YOU ARE NORMAL. You are loved and supported by your baby and the sisterhood. One of my favorite parts of prenatal yoga was when Darci would remind us of the millions of women to which we are connected through the act of childbearing. So on the dark days, reach your hand into the endless bucket of love that is available to you. On the bright days, exhale joy & love to all the struggling mamas out there. We are never alone on our motherhood journey. Together, we thrive.
Interested in this gorgeous babywearing art? Check out my mom’s page!