May is Maternal Mental Health Awareness month. Mental health isn’t something I talk about often, but depression and anxiety is something I have struggled with for years. I don’t avoid talking about it out of shame or embarrassment, I struggle to put my thoughts about it into words. But since this month is focused on maternal mental health I want to share my experience with post-partum depression and anxiety in hopes that it will help someone else find comfort or the encouragement to seek help.
Like I said, depression and anxiety are something I have struggled with for several years. So when I became pregnant with Jack I knew that my postpartum mental health journey could be a challenge. I talked to Andrew about it ahead of time because I wanted to be prepared. But truthfully nothing can prepare you for how difficult postpartum anxiety or depression can be to acknowledge or address.
The severe anxiety I experienced hit me within about 24 hours of giving birth to Jack. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t take my eyes off of him or leave him with anyone. I felt like I needed to do everything myself because no-one else would be capable of doing it like I would.
Even though I had told myself to be prepared and warned Andrew to look out for symptoms, it took us a few months before I reached out for help. I was afraid to admit that I was struggling. It made me feel like I wasn’t capable of being a mom. I didn’t want to admit that I was paranoid, that I pictured horrible things happening, that I would cry all the time. And truthfully, I think Andrew was blind to it because he may have been experiencing a little anxiety himself (dad’s can experience these disorders too, it not as common as in mom’s but it still happens). But I know it was all out of a deep, deep love I had for Jack and an imbalance of hormones and chemicals. It is NOTHING to be ashamed of.
There are many maternal mental health disorders that can affect moms and they don’t always show up right away. For many it can take months to develop and nursing (or stopping nursing) can also cause chemical imbalances leading to the development of anxiety, depression or even OCD.
I know it can be hard to seek help, even when you think you are prepared for it. But it is so important to reach out to your doctor. Experiencing any of these mental health disorders does NOT make you a bad mom. But seeking help can allow you to become a better mom. Asking for help doesn’t make you weak, so please, don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you (or your partner) are experiencing any symptoms of anxiety, depression or OCD.
Here is a great resource for determining symptoms of perinatal mood disorders. And as always, please consult your doctor if you are struggling. This post is not intended to serve as medical advice, only a friend sharing her own story and experience in hopes it helps others.