I was back to work following a seven week maternity leave after my second daughter was born. The entire maternity leave, I was antsy, eager to get back to it. Yet, I always struggled to leave the baby that first week. Luckily, I had a boss that encouraged me to bring her along that first week, as I had a private office and it wouldn’t be a problem to close the door to tend to her as needed.
However, when I came back to work, two things happened: my office had a mouse, and I have an irrational fear of rodents, and a co-worker was angry about me bringing my infant to work and created a significant amount of conflict around my tender return to the workplace. The return to work I’d been longing for became intensely stressful and overwhelming as I struggled to keep it all together with a toddler, a nursing infant and virtually no sleep.
In the weeks that followed, I started experiencing episodes of panic throughout each day. Those episodes, not full blown panic attacks but intense moments of extreme anxiety that required my full energy to manage, became so frequent that I was spending most of my day trying to keep it at bay.
Another co-worker, a dear and wise friend, suggested that perhaps I had postpartum anxiety; I wasn’t familiar with the disorder. “But, I love my baby! I wouldn’t harm her!” I had no idea that what I knew about postpartum mental health disorders was significantly limited. As I researched postpartum anxiety, I finally realized that I was, indeed, exhibiting most of the symptoms: a struggle to bond with my baby, frequent panic, fatigue, heart palpitations and constant dread. So, I set up an appointment with my primary care physician.
Soon after that doctor’s visit, I was prescribed medication and scheduled a follow-up appointment. Unfortunately, over the next few weeks, the stress of life only increased. My husband was laid off from his job and we lost our insurance, and our new insurance didn’t cover my doctor so I was unable to go to my follow-up appointment.
Unfortunately, the medication I had been prescribed had an inverse reaction, setting off a depression along with my anxiety, and I gave up looking for help after the disappointment of not being able to see my doctor. I weaned myself off the medication and decided to tough it out. I didn’t try to look for another doctor, and I didn’t feel that I could afford expert help. (This was a huge, dangerous mistake).
The problem I faced with my postpartum anxiety and depression is that I couldn’t sort out my feelings of being challenged as a parent as my family grew from the mental health disorders I was struggling with. Everyone tells you how tough it is to add a baby to your family, how important sleep is to your mood, and how it’s hard for everyone for a while to adjust. It was hard to know if what I was feeling was normal growing pains or something more. And, if it was something more, was it a personal failing that I wasn’t adapting well?
The difference, though, is that it shouldn’t induce panic to go to the grocery store or load two kids into your car. The thought of having people over shouldn’t overwhelm you. If your energy is being spent on trying to lower your heart rate to get through the day, it’s not normal.
Eventually, after an awful year and a lot of exercise, the clouds began to clear and I started to feel better. But, that sweet first year of my daughter’s life is a haze now. I wish, more than anything, that I would have gotten the professional help I needed then, and that I wouldn’t have tried to get through it alone.