I was about 5 months post-partum with my youngest, whom I affectionately call “Mack” here, when things slowly started to unravel.
It wasn’t depression. I wasn’t depressed. I was frustrated. I was angry. I didn’t feel like myself. But I wasn’t sad.
So what was this thing happening? Why the floods of cortisol, the tight chest, the explosive outbursts over nothing? Why the irrational fears about my family being harmed, the constant feelings of being unsafe, the terrible, intrusive thoughts?
Mack’s birth was a long time coming. Ten years before, his brother had been born, via an ultimately unnecessary c-section. Mack, however, was born into a tub of water in my dining room, surrounded by trusted caregivers, The Man, and my sister. Emotionally, my pregnancy and birth were very healing. I had a lot of unexpected physical hurdles during the immediate post-partum period – nerve and tissue damage, tongue tie, very low iron/blood volume, and three back to back colds. Yet even with all of that going on physically, I was still happy, light, and able to find grace in small things. I thought I was in the clear from post-partum ‘depression’. I was wrong.
Mack was 6 months old when The Man decided to follow a job lead that would land him 500 miles south and land me home, alone, with a 6 month old, 10yo and 5yo, and no reliable income. I had started to struggle a bit prior to him leaving, yet when he first left I was very supportive. As things started falling through and not panning out like he’d hoped, I wanted him to come home. But he had hope beyond hope things would work out. He was confident he would land a position with the campaign he was working on. He wanted me to trust him. I tried.
But I wasn’t sleeping. I was losing weight. I was yelling at my older kids, a lot. My capacity for handling new stressors was non-existent. Every day was a miracle if I could keep everyone alive and fed. I felt trapped and scared most of the time. I couldn’t watch certain TV shows because they triggered panic.
Eventually he came home when it was clear things weren’t going in the direction he wanted. But for me, things had headed in a direction that I wasn’t going to be able to come back from on my own.
While he was gone I started blogging again, I found Twitter, and I found an outlet for some of what was going on. I also found a community of women on Twitter who were struggling in some of the same ways I was.
Most importantly, I found Katherine Stone’s website Postpartum Progress. Before Twitter and Katherine’s site, I thought the only post-partum mental illness to worry about was depression. But I knew I wasn’t depressed.
So what exactly was happening?
Thanks to Postpartum Progress, I realized that I was facing a post-partum anxiety disorder. And it wasn’t the first time. I had been misdiagnosed after my oldest child’s birth; it wasn’t PPD, I had an anxiety disorder then, too. I finally found a spot for that square peg I’d been trying to fit in a round hole!
It had a name. What was happening to me was REAL. I wasn’t crazy. I wasn’t losing my mind. I wasn’t a bad mother. Armed with this knowledge I could get treatment that would work. I was still resentful that I had to deal with this, again, but knowing what I was facing empowered me to advocate for myself and treatment that was right for me.
And I did just that. I went to my PCP’s office and when she would not listen, I asked for a referral to a Nurse Practitioner who manages psychiatric medications. My NP was amazing. She took time with me, she took my lead, she looked into medications and supplements I wanted to explore. She walked me through fire. And earlier this year I weaned off my medication with my only regret being that I won’t see her anymore.
I survived a post-partum anxiety disorder for the second time. Thank you Katherine for being brave enough to share your story and strong enough to grow your personal journey into an organization that is valuable beyond measure.
Yesterday I worked with Katherine to help find a mom resources in my state. Katherine took hours of her time to talk with this mom, to reach out for resources, and to support this mother where she was at. Katherine isn’t just the story behind Postpartum Progress, she’s in the trenches, working and advocating for women both directly and indirectly. If you have time, please go to her site, look around, and make a donation. Every single dollar goes towards helping women get the access services and support they need.
Happy Anniversary Katherine, you deserve every ounce of gratitude and grace pouring your way today, and every day.