As the title suggests, this article contains some possibly triggering subjects including depression, anxiety, miscarriage, surgery, and infertility. Please read with caution.
I’ve been putting off writing about this for a long time now because it is an incredibly difficult subject to write about. It’s hard to revisit the feelings and events. It’s hard to describe my experience accurately enough for others to grasp. It’s hard not to turn this into a 500 page novel because I want so badly to share every aspect of my experience if it means that one person can find helpful information in it. So here it goes.
My Origin Story
I’ll start by giving you a synopsis of my history and reproductive health. Middle school is a time for change and growth…and crazy bonkers hormones. In my case, my hormones were less focused on chasing boys and more focused on causing me a lifetime of physical issues. I wasn’t diagnosed with PCOS until I was an adult and found a doctor who would commit to the diagnosis, but I had been living with the symptoms since I hit puberty. Irregular periods, debilitating cramps, facial hair and acne (which is extra humiliating when you’re a school age kid), low sex drive (which is rough as an adult), and unpredictable PMS. And on top of that, moments when I thought I would die from the pain of a burst cyst.
After dealing with PCOS for years, I asked my doctor about treatments. There were none. “Try these pills,” they said. A few miserable days later, I quit them cold turkey. I couldn’t live like that. I asked my doctor if I would be able to have kids. She said she wasn’t sure, but she was optimistic. Other doctors were not. I knew I wanted kids, regardless of how helpful my body would be. Once I finally got serious about trying to conceive, I found out that I had a cyst the size of a grapefruit that needed to be removed. The good news was that the cyst was non-cancerous; the bad news was that it had wrapped itself around the ovary it was attached to, and there was no way to remove the cyst without also removing the ovary. Are you kidding me? Now I’ll never get pregnant, I thought.
To make a long post shorter, I WAS able to have kids. I miscarried once but was able to get healthy, find a product to help me balance my hormones, and have a healthy pregnancy and a very healthy baby. Sleep during pregnancy wasn’t too much of a problem for me, and neither were cravings, constipation or hemorrhoids, or mood swings. Sounds like an easy pregnancy, huh? It definitely could have been worse. I still had plenty of other symptoms, but I was thankful for a fairly boring ride. Most of my struggles came later.
A Tiny Human Just Came Out of Me
I didn’t sleep for 72 hours when my son was born. It was the first time in my life when I dealt with serious sleep deprivation. It turns out, 72 hours without sleep piled on top of pushing a baby out of your body results in what feels like the most wicked hangover you can imagine. And I’m supposed to take care of a tiny, fragile, new human at the same time? What fresh hell is this parenting gig?! That’s most likely where my PPD and PPA began creeping in.
At my six-week checkup, my doctor’s office handed me a one page “survey” about my current feelings situation. I passed with flying colors, but the reason for that was that six weeks postpartum was probably the high point for me. I had been parenting long enough that I didn’t feel like a total failure. I had a little sleep under my belt. I had lost all of the weight I had gained while pregnant plus some! I was feeling pretty awesome. So I hadn’t lied on my survey. I really did feel good. No feelings of wanting to harm myself or my baby. No crying. No out-of-the-ordinary outbursts. My doctor literally said the words “I see no signs of postpartum depression in you. You’re good to go!” She asked the wrong questions at the wrong time.
Early on in our new parent experience, we had a bit of extra help. My parents were living a mile away from us, and my mom was able to help out with some things. Soon after my six-week checkup, my parents began discussing the possibility of moving away…3 hours away. That may not sound like a lot for some people, but losing my best babysitter and some of my moral support so soon after becoming a mom was just the first ingredient in my stress stew.
Stress Levels Rising
At the time, my parents were living in a townhouse that we owned. It was my husband’s first house, and we rented it out to my parents when they needed a place to live. In order for my parents to have a nice place to live once they moved out of our townhouse, we offered to help them buy a house that we all approved of. This meant that we would have to sell the townhouse to be able to afford buying a different home for them. In order to sell the townhouse, we had to move my parents into our house temporarily, pack up and hide most of their belongings in the townhouse to be able to stage the home, clean it from top to bottom to make the house sellable, and then hope that the market was in our favor for the sake of our sanity. This process took several months and began when my son was only six weeks old.
My stress levels were rising. My mom was still recovering from multiple hip surgeries, my dad and husband both had to work full work days, and my brother had recently moved out of town. I was the only “able bodied” person who could drive the process and do most of the heavy lifting, literally AND figuratively. Plus, I was still trying to figure out how to be a mom. While my parents lived with us, my stresses were building as I struggled to coexist with my family and run my own home. I’ll spare you the details, but I will add that ice cream and carbs had become my “therapy.” My weight got out of control. I gained every pound back that I had lost before my six week check up. As my cortisol levels (stress hormone) spiked, my body began to feel like a fat, disgusting prison.
Cry Me a River
My husband was just as green to new parent life as I was. He didn’t know what signs to look for to recognize depression or anxiety. And even if he did, I’m not sure he would have known that I spent hours alone, cradling my new baby, struggling to feed him and crying my eyes out. Crying harder than I had in years. In fact, I couldn’t remember the last time I had cried before I became a mother. I wish I could say I cried tears of love and joy when my son was born, but in reality, they were tears of relief. Relief that my son was healthy, relief that we had both survived, and relief that I was DONE being pregnant (at least for the time being).
Tears were something that came easy after my son was born. Tears of frustration. Tears of anger. Tears of fear. I became scared of everything. Having this new human in my care meant that I instantly became paranoid that everything harmful in the world could and WOULD hurt my precious package. How could I possibly pile on that amount of responsibility to my already toppling tower of fear and stress? Easy. I had no choice. My brain ran constant terror scenarios of the worst case you can imagine. Things you only see in movies or read about in the most click-baity articles ever written.
Shut Up, Brain
At night, my brain lay awake in the short opportunities I had for actual sleep, thinking up all the best ways to prepare myself to defend my family and protect my tiny baby from the evils lurking around every corner. Being unprepared was not just a fear at that point but my legitimate reasoning for not leaving the house with my baby unless absolutely necessary. I would see social media posts from friends happily leaving the house with their new bundles of joy for a day in the city, a family trip to the zoo, or even just a coffee date with other mom friends. Mom friends? What was that? At that point, I was so afraid to leave the house unprepared that my friendships were suffering.
During the day, I was irritable. But not like just easily annoyed. Like full on rage at the drop of a baby bottle. I tried so hard not to take it out on my husband, but in reality, he took the brunt of my rage like a boxer takes hits to the face. I could see some times when his immense amounts of patience began to wear thin. I could see that he was as confused by my anger and outbursts as I was, but he didn’t know that my outbursts were really cries for help. He didn’t know that I was confused. I was so afraid for my baby to want or suffer for more than a few seconds that I truly believed, without a shadow of a doubt, that I was the only person capable of caring for my infant child. I was the only one who knew what he needed and how to interpret his cries.
My anxiety came to a peak one day when I had ventured out of the house on a simple errand. Driving my sweet baby around in the car, in his perfectly safe car seat, in one of the safest cars on the market. But at that point I wasn’t able to trust any other person enough to drive my son around. I’ve never doubted my driving abilities. I’m a very cautious driver without being overly cautious. But that day, my anxiety was in full swing and I was anticipating disaster around every turn. I was driving through a neighborhood I had driven many times, with a speed limit of 25mph and I was doing 20…15…10. When it hit me. Nothing. No one was around. No one behind me. Yet, I was approaching every intersection with a level of caution that was insanely paranoid. Looking both ways more times that necessary. Stopping at stop signs for ridiculous amounts of time. Because my brain had left me terrified of the hypothetical dangers. And then the full blown panic attack set in. Heart racing, trouble breathing, tunnel vision. I pulled over. And for the first time through this emotional rollercoaster of parenting, I heard my brain ask me WHY I was reacting this way.
That was abnormal for me because I tend to be very self-aware. I spend a lot of mental and emotional energy every day being aware of why I do what I do and how I interact with my surroundings. As I sat in my car, I reflected on what I was experiencing and why that could be. After dealing with similar situations and breakdowns, outbursts and paranoia, I came to the conclusion that I had been suffering from postpartum depression and anxiety for almost a year. And I KNEW that I had to do something about it.
I Need Help
I was ready to pursue therapy and medication if necessary. I began researching therapists in my area. At the same time, a company I trusted released a new product that caught my attention. It was a natural ingredient probiotic that was specially formulated to lower cortisol levels and help reduce feelings of stress. I figured, if nothing else, trying this could help me with my every-day mom stress. I was really skeptical that I would even notice a difference, but I was willing to give it a try as a first line of defense against my PPD and PPA. I was ready to try almost anything to have a chance at finally enjoying my son’s first year of life, even if I had nearly missed it.
I do my best to stay as healthy as possible, trying natural remedies before turning to other options. I tried the probiotic; I was skeptical, but I tried it. To my surprise, IT WORKED. Not only did it do what it promised, but I felt my PPD and PPA symptoms (that I was clearly aware of by this point) melt away within the first week of trying this natural method. I was shocked. I thought for sure that it was temporary, but I’ve been taking it for two years now, and I can say that I am a believer. If you’re interested in the product, please follow the link at the end of the article.
Every person is different. Every momma needs something different in those most vulnerable moments. I’m not here to prescribe anything or tell you that this is the end-all method of treating PPD or PPA. I’m ONLY sharing what worked for me. I can’t tell you exactly why this method worked so well for me, but I continued to take this probiotic through my second pregnancy/birth, and it was a night and day difference in terms of mental health. Situations were different. Stress levels were different. Inevitably, hormones were different. But what I do know for sure is that I was able to enjoy my daughter’s birth and newborn stage in a completely different way than I did with my son. Even in my highest stress moments with my daughter, I was able to look down at her sweet face, take a deep breath, clear my mind, and even enjoy those times. It breaks my heart to think back to the first year of my son’s life and how miserable I was. I was so deeply entrenched in fear and doubt that I couldn’t enjoy those newborn moments with him.
If only I had known better the signs of PPD and PPA. If only I could have seen how abnormal my behavior was, or if only someone could have seen it in me. The best I can do is share a list of the behaviors I experienced during my difficult year to raise awareness. If you or someone you love is experiencing ANY of these symptoms or any behavior or feelings out of the ordinary, PLEASE contact your doctor and make them aware of EVERYTHING. The more your doctor knows about your experience, the better they can help you. Please do not suffer alone. Do not think that others will not understand. Thousands of women have had completely different experiences with PPD and PPA. There is no cookie cutter way to diagnose it.
List of my symptoms:
- Anger towards loved ones.
- Extremely quick to frustration.
- Paranoia of unrealistic situations.
- Fear of leaving the house.
- Fear of being unprepared.
- Neglecting relationships.
- Emotional outbursts.
- Extreme PMS-like symptoms.
- Heart racing with no stimulant.
- Feeling the need to be overly cautious.
- Questioning life choices.
- Feeling like your baby is purposely inconveniencing you.
- Constantly feeling overwhelmed and anxious.
- Brain fog stronger than regular “Mom brain”.
- Irrational fears driving your actions.
- Abnormal nightmares.
- Waking nightmares (visions of irrational fears).
- “Lost time” moments when you realize you’re unaware of how you got somewhere or accomplished a task.
- Inability to trust anyone with your baby.
- Inability to trust anyone to help you.
- Inability to connect with baby
- Inability to see baby as anything other than a very important task list
For the Dads
Please also be aware that dads can experience the same or similar symptoms. They experience the birth of their children through different eyes than we moms do but can hurt just the same. Please watch your loved ones for behavior out of the ordinary, and make sure to check in on their mental health. The only way we can protect ourselves is to protect each other and to raise awareness of these struggles. Parents need to know that they are not failing when they have these feelings. There is help and they are NOT alone.
I’ve also recently written about my journey as a second-time parent and how postpartum depression and anxiety played a part in that. Please read that HERE.
As promised, here is the LINK * to the probiotic that helped me. Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper recommendation without a proper disclaimer:
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.