I recently attended physical therapy in an attempt to put my parts back together after having my second child. My physical therapist was also a young mom so we began talking about the various stages our children have passed through. At one point, she asked me if I had experienced any postpartum depression or anxiety. Without hesitation, I said no and then quickly backtracked and said, “Well, some difficult thoughts so yeah, I guess that would be postpartum anxiety.” After fumbling through my explanation, I immediately felt slightly ashamed for dismissing the notion so quickly and also a sudden urge to defend my ability to be a mother.
My automatic dismissal stemmed from my earlier belief that because my anxiety doesn’t consume my whole day that it somehow doesn’t count and shouldn’t be labeled as such.
I also admittedly succumbed to the somewhat subconscious stereotype that those who experience postpartum depression or anxiety are ill-equipped to be mothers. I know of course that’s not true but the automatic guilt that comes from these experiences is almost inherent. The truth is that all postpartum struggles are worth being acknowledged.
Postpartum depression and anxiety show up in various shapes, sizes, and levels of intensity.
For me, despite feeling quite secure in being a new mom and very much enjoying the ride, my mind—oftentimes at night—jolts to worst-case scenarios. I have gut-wrenching thoughts of impossible situations that bring up terrifying, even visceral feelings. My thoughts are not so much about what I could do to my children but more about not being able to protect them. Fires, abductions, serial killers—you name it, and I’ve played it out in detail in my head. I can hear my kids’ cries and them begging for help. I can see the chaos in my head. I feel the angst in the pit of my stomach until I almost literally have to shake myself back into the present.
With the abundance of love I have for my children, I still wonder how this can happen. How could I possibly imagine things happening to my children that I can barely say out loud? It’s completely involuntary. For me, the thoughts creep in for a few seconds or minutes and then disappear with some conscious effort.
As uncomfortable as these intrusive thoughts are, I know they are just that: thoughts.
They won’t magically come to life because they’ve entered my consciousness. The reality is that in these moments, my children are safely tucked into their beds or rocking in my arms. They will sleep undisturbed and wake up in the morning for another normal day. I remind myself of this and that helps pull me out of my mind and back into the rocking chair where I rock my baby back to sleep.
I wish the postpartum journey didn’t include these thoughts for me, but it does, and I no longer consider myself lucky. Minimizing the experience because of guilt or comparison is a barrier to progress, and I hope other women believe that too.
Motherhood is such a powerful experience. It changes us on every level. The magnitude of the love we feel for our children is equally matched by a fear of losing them and experiencing unfathomable pain. In some ways, it makes sense.
So moms: talk about it, think positively, take the medication, hug your kids tighter—do whatever it is that helps you get through the tough moments, hours, or days . . . and know that you will make it through.