What a PERFECT week for me to announce the reopening of my family blog. It has been a while, but I am happy to be back, sharing thoughts, insight and love to all of the mothers that I can reach. This one is a long one, but I hope that you will stick with me through it and share it so that it can reach every mother who needs to see it.
Did you know it is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week?
Why am I writing about Maternal Mental Health?
Because it is something that every mother encounters in some form, that is not talked about often enough. And it is something that I have battled within myself for far too long… Almost 4 years to be exact.
Every mom has hormones racing through her body all through pregnancy. They help our amazing body grow a little human being and they can give us joy as we anticipate our baby’s arrival. We typically see these hormones present in the form of cravings, mood swings, random crying and more… But what happens to your hormones once your baby is here? Not many people talk about it and many people are blind-sighted by it. I know I was.
Think about it. When your baby arrives, you are overjoyed! All of the anticipation has led to the birth of the most perfect little baby and you are so thankful. You can’t wait to experience all of your baby’s “first” milestones, to create sweet memories and to soak up as much as your brain can absorb. I mean let’s be real, how many THOUSANDS of pictures do you usually have on your phone by your baby’s first birthday?!?! There are so many things that we want to remember, and we think that no matter what, we are going to live on this “birth high” forever.
Here’s the hitch:
What most people don’t know (and aren’t told) is that once you deliver your baby and your placenta, your hormone levels drop significantly. Much like jumping off a cliff… If you choose to breastfeed then new hormones are introduced into your body to aid in milk supply, but all of those raging pregnancy hormones are gone… and yes, most of the time you are left with the baby blues or some sort of postpartum struggle.
For some moms, it’s just baby blues… do you the statements below describe you?
- You are exhausted from the broken sleep.
- You are probably moody and irritable.
- You may cry for no reason.
- You are drained from tending to your baby around the clock.
- You may have a harder time making decisions and focusing.
- You doubt your ability to parent this baby you just brought into this world.
- You are starving all of the time if you’re breastfeeding.
If this describes you TAKE HEART… all of this is PERFECTLY NORMAL!
Remember… You just gave birth to a child!
For some moms maybe it’s a little more than baby blues… it could be Postpartum Depression, and you don’t even realize it.
I know what you are thinking… Katherine, I have never been depressed in my life… DEPRESSION is a big scary word. But hear me out and realize that postpartum depression can MIMIC baby blues, but it is runs a little bit deeper and it is harder to push through. It doesn’t mean that you are broken, it just means that your brain processes your hormone fluctuations a little differently. In addition to all of the “baby blues” symptoms, you may also experience a few more things…
Do any of these sound familiar?
- You cry all of the time. You may cry when you’re left alone with your baby. You may cry when you have support with you. You may cry for no reason at all. It’s unexplainable.
- You may feel overwhelmed by normal daily task.
- You may find yourself just feeling sad all of the time and normal activities that you used to love just don’t seem quite as enjoyable anymore.
- Your concentration is lacking, and you are tired all of the time.
- You want help, but you can’t make yourself ask for it. Instead you withdraw from those who you are closest to.
- You need time to yourself, but anytime away from your baby and you’re left in a puddle of tears feeling guilt for needing time to yourself, hopeless like it will never end and maybe even inadequate because you feel like you can’t be the supermom that you thought you would be.
- You begin a bad habit of negative self-talk... telling yourself that you’re a failure, that your family deserves better, that maybe you’re not cut out for the job of parenthood after all…
- You feel serious mom guilt because you have everything you ever wanted, yet you don’t feel “happy”… you feel lonely.
- You are indecisive– incapable of making everyday decisions and if presented with a bigger decision to make you may feel extremely anxious and/or have a panic attack.
- You struggle in your marriage because you don’t feel as connected to your husband as you did before the baby. You can’t explain it, you don’t resent them, you just trap your emotions inside and withdraw, leaving them out of the loop and confused.
- You have no sex drive. You’re always exhausted, you may not ever feel in the mood, you may hurt your partner’s feelings because you have no idea how to explain where your sex drive went. You don’t even know. All you know is that you are “touched out” and you just want your space.
- You feel lonely. You’ve somehow managed to isolate yourself emotionally. You feel so many emotions at once, and it’s mentally draining, so you may just decide to turn your emotions off. Once your emotional wall is up, you feel lonely, even if others are present.
- You may even experience difficulty bonding with your baby, resentment towards your husband and baby, or even have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby.
If you do have thoughts of harming yourself or anyone else SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION NOW, because there is hope, and there are people out there trained to help you get past this dark time in your life. Don’t ever think that you are too far gone, that the world doesn’t need you or that your family would be better off without you. It’s just not true. For easy access here is a hotline that you can dial now to receive immediate assistance: 1-800-944-4773 (Postpartum Support Hotline).
But Katherine… I don’t ever have thoughts of harming anyone…
Hear me out: Just because you may answer “no” to your OB’s question of “Do you ever think about harming yourself or your baby” DOES NOT MEAN that you do not have postpartum depression. That’s what I thought, and boy was I wrong…
Maybe you are similar to me and you have experienced almost every symptom listed and you answered “NO” to that question from your OB. You might have felt worthless at some point, but never suicidal… as a matter of fact, you are obsessed with your baby and you have subconsciously decided early on that you are the only one who can effectively take care of your baby… we will talk more about that in a minute.. Remember: It is a variation of NORMAL to experience this after birth.
What is EXTREMELY important to realize is that it is not shameful to experience postpartum depression.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE in this battle.
According to the American Psychological Association: 1 in 7 women experience postpartum depression.
Maybe you’re EXACTLY LIKE ME… and in addition to experiencing postpartum depression, you are also experiencing POSTPARTUM ANXIETY. As if all the symptoms listed above weren’t enough… you also experience CONSTANT worry and many of the symptoms listed below:
- You don’t want anyone to hold your baby because you feel like you are the only one who can meet their needs.
- You wait anxiously at the edge of your chair for your baby to cry when handed off to someone else. (Again, you feel like no one can soothe your baby like you can)
- You explode into tears at the THOUGHT of being alone with your baby without immediate support.
- You are overwhelmed not only by trying to complete a daily task, but at the THOUGHT of something else needing your attention.
- You find yourself not being able to sleep even if your baby is sound asleep because you worry that something may happen to them.
- Your thoughts race all day long and leave you mentally exhausted and more confused than ever.
- You dread your baby going anywhere without you because you worry for their safety (even though you love and trust the person who would be watching them).
- You feel like you need to be in control of everything. As a result, you end up even more overwhelmed then you were to start with.
- You are impatient, irritable, you lose your temper and then you experience immediate regret and self-doubt and failure (THIS one is a HARD ONE to admit)
- You feel the need for everything to always be PERFECT, however you feel that nothing you do is good enough… cue the MOM GUILT.
Wow! Those are a lot of negative thoughts and emotions that we as moms experience. It doesn’t have to hit you all at once. Sometimes it is a slow process. We let these emotions take control one after the other and before we know it, we feel like a mess.
When you feel alone, remember…
WE ARE ALL ALONE TOGETHER.
It might sound cliché, but it is the truth. We forget that there are so many variations of normal… Remember how I said that 1 in 7 women experience this?!? I’m willing to bet that out of your mom friends at least 2 or 3 have felt, or still currently feel some if not all of the symptoms listed above. Postpartum Depression & Anxiety may be hard for us to admit, but it is extremely common in our motherhood community. We just need to start talking about it.
Disclaimer: Now, just because you may fit the description of one postpartum depression and/or postpartum anxiety, doesn’t mean you can only experience negative emotions. You may have some good emotions mixed in there. You may still seem “okay” to everyone around you, but inside you are struggling most of the time, and it is really hard for you to admit! This is when you NEED to acknowledge your feelings so that you can conquer them.
So HOW do you get past these struggles??
Maybe you have read through these symptoms and a lot of them hit home for you. That brings you to the questions of: “What do I do?”, “How do I fix it”, “What is the treatment.” My advice to you is to allow yourself to be vulnerable. Reach out to a loved one. Most importantly, remember that you’re not BROKEN, your hormones are just running the show and you need to learn how to take it back.
I think the hardest part about maternal mental health is that it is not talked about enough. I have experienced, and STILL experience each and every one of the symptoms I listed above.
The symptoms that you read from above were not taken from a website, or written by a mental health expert… they came from a “self-assessment” exercise that I did for MYSELF.
Yup, those symptoms are my life experiences over the last 4 years. How is that for transparency???
What are your symptoms? Have you ever thought about it? Hopefully my list above helps you recognize some of your struggles so that you can start working through them.
The Self-Assessment Challenge:
I challenge you tonight to put your baby to sleep, grab a pen and notebook and find a comfy spot on the couch. I want you to close your eyes and try to think about the emotions that you have been feeling lately, the situations that you find yourself struggling in, the things that you wish you felt and the things that you wish you didn’t feel. Once a few come to mind, pick up your pen and start writing. Write down EVERYTHING you can think of, even if it doesn’t really make sense, even if some of them sound redundant. Just WRITE. Warning: this might take a while, and it is not always easy to decipher our emotions. You may stare at a blank page for 30 minutes, but don’t give up, and have a box of tissues nearby… because once you allow yourself past your own emotional wall, and you start to genuinely evaluate your feelings, the tears may flow. When you can’t think of any more read back over your list and write down any additional things that may come to mind.
Why should I do this?
This list is something you can share with your partner to help shed light on how you have been feeling, it is something you can show to your physician or therapist or even best friend. This list is the way that you can explain exactly how you feel to the people who can offer you help.
How many of you when asked “How are you” respond with the words “I’m good” or “I’m tired.” But find yourself wanting to say so much more… that was me. After my self-assessment I found that it was much easier to be honest with myself, to UNDERSTAND my feelings, to be aware of my emotions, and to help my husband understand why I act the way I do sometimes. It is not a list of excuses.
It is a list of truths that will help you conquer all of those negative feelings that you feel day-to-day.
I’m not going to lie. It is pretty scary to write down all of your scary emotions that you feel. Sometimes it is even hard to acknowledge that they exist without the help of a trained therapist. As moms we get really good at burying our feelings so that we can focus on our “duties” as a mom. When you read back your list, you won’t feel any better about yourself, BUT you will have more understanding and you will have completed Step One to getting back to your happy mindset. Step Two is to one by one, visit each item on your list and talk to your therapist, physician, partner or family and come up with a plan on how to conquer it. Step Three is get rid of the negative self-talk and work towards your future.
Are you feeling anxious or depressed during this time that should be full of joy?
Here are some of my tips for overcoming some of your symptoms.
AFFIRMATIONS & SCRIPTURE
Get in the habit of speaking POSITIVE TRUTHS into your life. I am capable. I am strong. I am enough. I am worthy. I am _________. If you have faith in God, reach for scripture that encourages you and helps you remember that he made you for this purpose. The more positive thoughts you can speak to yourself, the more your perspective will change. Every-time you think a negative thought, try to combat it with at least 2 positive affirmations or scriptures instead. Want to get creative with it? Write them down, tack them on the wall, tape them to your mirror, make it your phone screensaver… do everything you can to have these positive thoughts handy for you to use against negative self-talk.
You can speak to your physician and they may or may not recommend a prescription or therapy to help you over the hump and towards recovery. (I am not a medical professional and do not offer medical advice but I encourage every mom to do their research before starting any type of medication: remember depression & anxiety are basically the results of how your brain chemically reacts to the hormones that are present in your body. I personally have not benefitted from forms of birth control to treat this issue, mainly because it introduced even more hormones for my brain to process…)
BE HONEST & VULNERABLE
One of the hardest things to do is to be open and honest with yourself as you do your self-assessment. It is also hard to be honest with your partner or family about what you are feeling… these are hard things to admit due to our pride, and your self-assessment list might look pretty scary. Once you’ve said it, you can’t take it back… so sometimes it is hard to explain to someone without also feeling additional emotions of shame, guilt, ungratefulness, selfishness… These are all emotions that I have personally felt when trying to describe the symptoms that I experience. But fight through the tears, swallow that pride, and get it out so that there is nothing left to hide and those close to you can HELP you.
This one is extremely hard for me to do. I am still not very good at it. If you are experiencing depression or anxiety it is extremely difficult to let others help you. Our first reaction is to isolate ourselves because we don’t want others to know we are struggling. You KNOW in your heart that you need it, but you always have an excuse and you always let negative self-talk get in the way. My advice to you is LET THEM HELP. Believe me, you may feel guilty the entire time that you’re receiving help, but at the end of the day it is going to help relieve a ton of the stress that you have been feeling.
I know, I know… That is a word that all of us moms laugh at… What is sleep?? But seriously, sleep every chance you get. Your housework may not get completed, work may be left undone, you may even feel at some point that you are living in a war-zone by the way your house looks… but sleep truly is the best medicine. My husband has been telling me for years to sleep when I can, that everything else can wait… but I’ve let my anxiety take over and I’ve tried to be superwoman. Just recently I starting napping at the same time as my kiddos (which isn’t always successful with 2 toddlers in the house) and let me tell you it is a game changer! When you take a nap, no matter how short, it helps your mindset restart and gives you a clean slate when you wake up.
As moms, it is the absolute HARDEST thing for us to make time for ourselves. Anything that classifies as self-care is usually the last items on my priority list. I’m sure I’m not the first to feel that doing something for myself rather than for my family is selfish. For the last 3 ½ years I have worked so hard trying to care for the needs of my family while still feeling that I was doing such an inadequate job. Why? Because I was. I wasn’t able to properly take care of my family because I wasn’t taking care of myself.
My therapist helped me realize that it is not selfish to take care of myself; she even went as far as to say that not caring for myself is in fact selfish. Read that again…
NOT CARING FOR YOURSELF IS SELFISH.
How is the world is that true? She described it to me with the common analogy of using a pitcher to fill up a cup of water. Think of serving your family as filling their cups up. Day one… easy, Day two… you made it, Day three… Uh-Oh… There isn’t any water left in your pitcher…
If you aren’t constantly refilling your pitcher with water (in our case: self-care) then you will find it harder, if not impossible, some days to take adequate care of your family.
In order to take care of those we love, we HAVE to allow time for ourselves to refill.
How can I take care of myself when there is so much to do?
I still struggle daily in this department, and I am not as consistent as I should be, but here are some of the things I have decided to do for myself in the area of self-care:
- Seek therapy (I have started seeing a Perinatal Mental Health Specialist via telehealth and it is so eye-opening to be able to talk to someone that isn’t directly involved in my daily life and to hear their perspective)
- Journal (writing down my feelings helps me process them)
- Take a nap when I can
- Establish some sort of routine (Even if you’re like me and you SUCK at sticking to a routine, at least right one down and have a plan, so that if you feel overwhelmed you can refer to it)
- Read (reading is one of my “lost” hobbies since becoming a mom, but I now feel so accomplished when I finish another book! Plus non-fiction is my thing, so I learn so much)
- Hot Baths with bath salt or bubbles… WITHOUT YOUR PHONE (Unplugging during this time is important because it allows you the quiet that you need to recharge. Stop stimulating your brain and allow yourself to be still)
- Spend time outside (y’all. I HATE being outside… I HATE getting hot… I HATE bugs and almost everything to do with nature… but there is something about reading, writing or thinking on the front porch that brings me so much clarity. Not to mention my kids LOVE being outside and it has become a great way for them to get their energy out so that days don’t seem so long and overwhelming)
- Drink ICE WATER (Once you start… you’ll crave it!)
- Get a postpartum advocate (support system)… If you are local to SWLA check out ABC Pregnancy Resource Center‘s new postpartum support programs!
- Reach out to the friends that you pushed away
Some other forms of self-care that you can do for yourself include:
- Take a walk
- Listen to music
- Indulge yourself in a hobby that you did before you had your baby.
- Try something creative such as a DIY project
- Eat HEALTHY if at all possible and reduce your sugar intake (sounds boring, but once you start you will crave it because your body NEEDS it.)
- Buy something YOU need for once (yup I am still wearing my 9 year old sneakers with holes in the heel…)
- Watch your favorite TV show before going to bed
- Make a list of goals, small & big.
The list could go ON & ON! When in doubt… PINTEREST IT!
A recent article I came across when researching self-care ideas said that moms work an average of 98 hours per week and that on average us moms only get 17 minutes of free time to ourselves. Some days I am sure that I get less than that to myself, or at least it feels like it. 98 hours… that equals 14 hour days… WITHOUT a break (and without a paycheck if you stay home)! Being a Stay At Home Mom or even a Working Mom is NO JOKE y’all… Pat yourselves on the back! If you’re a single mom doing this incredible job without support… FIND SUPPORT, even if it is a free postpartum support facebook group
The most important part of mental health is acknowledging how you feel.
Please don’t put it off… It is much better to seek help and find out that you can overcome these feelings. You don’t want to push away or cover up your emotions… because then you will be like me… trying to acknowledge, unpack and overcome 3 ½ years of feelings. For me the first step was talking to my husband about how I felt, the second was making the decision to seek therapy, and the third is me trying to be intentional about consistently doing things that fill my pitcher up. It’s not easy, but I am convinced it will be worth it!
What steps will you take for yourself or for someone you love? I would love to hear from you in the comments.
Need to talk or want to help raise awareness?
If you would like your experience to be anonymously shared on my blog, or if you would just like to confidentially chat about what you’re going through PLEASE REACH OUT by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org I love sharing my experiences and listening to others. There is no reason you should feel alone in this battle!
Until Next Time,