After the birth of our first in 2015, I got hit by an unexpected bout of postpartum anxiety and baby blues. I was lonely, but nervous to reach out. I wanted help, but I didn’t know how to ask for it. I was exhausted, but I couldn’t sleep. I was in pain, but couldn’t fix it. I loved my baby, but I dreaded feeding her. It was so hard, and so unexpected because she was our rainbow baby who I had waited my entire life for: motherhood was my calling! I was completely derailed by these emotions and hormones, and I didn’t know how to fix it. I felt like I had no control. I clung to Scripture, my husband, and my baby, and told very few people how I felt. I said no to well-meaning friends and visitors because I was embarrassed by how I looked and felt.
The first time I came to terms with how I was feeling, and therefore was able to label my emotions as postpartum anxiety and baby blues, my daughter was 3 weeks old. I had just finished a whirlwind weekend as a bridesmaid in my sister-in-law’s wedding. She was one of my best friends, getting married to a great guy, in a familiar place with tons of family I loved nearby, and yet I was miserable. I realized that weekend that I was “in the weeds,” and the very day we got back to town I began attending a breastfeeding support group.
I spoke up to introduce myself and ended up ugly-crying about how lonely I was. I hadn’t planned to even speak up, and I had NO idea that’s what would come out. I didn’t even think I was going for postpartum hormonal issues, but for help with her latch (our pediatrician at that point had no lactation consultants on staff, and was unhelpful with regard to breastfeeding as a whole). On my way home from that meeting I realized I definitely had the baby blues.
Thankfully, I had no thoughts of self-harm or harming the baby. The crying at that meeting for me was cathartic. I felt lighter and more free after that, because I was able to identify my feelings and I heard from every other mother that this was TOTALLY normal. What a relief!
Most of the women there told me I’d begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel around 6 weeks. I distinctly remember that feeling of dread…6 weeks?! I felt like I would NEVER make it that far. Claire was around 6-7 weeks old when I remember the fog lifting. I wasn’t out of the woods for several more months, but I felt SO much more human by that 6 week mark. Before that, I just felt like I was in the wrong tunnel, and the light was out!
If you’re in that first 6 weeks, be encouraged: you will make it. It can feel like an eternity, though.
I wish I’d spoken up sooner and sought out help and support. I learned that EVERYTHING is made worse by sleep deprivation. It caused me to snowball into what felt like a downward spiral of no control: I was mean to my husband, I dreaded feeding my daughter, I didn’t want to socialize with friends, I longed for sleep. By the time my daughter fell asleep, I felt too guilty about my behavior or too anxious about the next feeding to rest, and then when she woke I resented myself for not sleeping. Lather, rinse, repeat. It was an exhausting cycle.
The leader of the support group told me something that will stick with me forever:
“Take it one feeding at a time. The days are long, but the weeks are short.”
Over the next two years, I learned to address and articulate my feelings. I learned more about PPD/PPA, baby blues, and how many other mothers struggle with this in silence. I attended a MOPS group at a local church for about 9 months. I later started a mothers ministry at my own church. I realized I wasn’t the only one seeking out more mothers for solidarity at other local events and churches!
In 2017, we had Nora. I was prepared for all kinds of baby blues again. I had a swift, peaceful birth center delivery with a midwife. I was home to recover in my own bed at 6 hours postpartum, and had no nursing pain. It barely even felt like I had a baby! She was so calm, I got sleep, and my physical recovery was a breeze. There were times I’d go to get dressed in normal clothes and be confused why stuff wasn’t fitting me–oh right, I just had a baby ten (or twenty…or thirty…) days ago! It was such a stark contrast to my first experience.
My husband was able to take 4 weeks off from work for paternity leave, my mom was here, then my mother-in-law was here, and generally the adjustment period seemed to go smoothly. Our toddler was adjusting well to the new baby, and I could’ve shouted from the rooftops about how good I felt, how well everything was going, and how great I was at this mothering thing.
Hahahaha, oh gosh, God sure has a way of humbling my pride!
The first day my husband went back to work, I realized that while I was getting sleep and wasn’t in pain (and therefore had a much better baseline than this time postpartum after our first), I was still hormonal. I didn’t realize how much attention a toddler gets with 2 parents at home 24/7. When Claire no longer had that undivided attention, she began to test every shred of patience I had.
I felt familiar feelings of dread, anxiety, and anger well up in me again. I took a lot of frustration out on Claire when she acted out for attention. She began to potty train herself, had recently transitioned to a big girl bed all on her own, and was becoming a big girl before my eyes. It took me several days of being home with both girls while my husband was at work to realize that despite the physical contrasts of the two postpartum periods, I was definitely still recovering. I was also plagued with emotional turmoil over my oldest growing up so quickly, and yet demanding so much more of my attention.
I felt guilt at not spending enough time with either one of them. I wanted to snuggle the baby and fall asleep just like I did with Claire, but I wanted to set her down in the swing and give Claire 1-on-1 attention that she needed. I counted down the hours til naptime, and then Claire wouldn’t nap and I’d get angry.
At just before 2 months postpartum, my husband went out of town for work, and I had to do 4 days alone with both girls. I’ve never had so much respect for single parents, and I know my experience doesn’t even remotely compare. I started getting angry and frustrated at small and insignificant things as his trip drew near, and I later realized I was anxious about him being gone.
After a few tearful, emotional conversations (and one solo trip to Whole Foods — my first time alone without EITHER child since I was in labor, which I’m pretty sure doesn’t count as solo time), I decided making a plan for meals and activities and who to call if I started to feel like I was losing control was the best plan of attack for this trip. I had several friends check in on me, a few who hung out with me, and I ate LOTS of Chick-Fil-A (comfort food…no judgment, please!)
I’m writing this because I survived. And, more importantly, so did both kiddos. Some nights weren’t pretty as I attempted to do bath time with two. I’ve never been one to tolerate my kiddos crying when they need something (cry-it-out and sleep training were not for me), and inevitably it seemed one was crying at the exact moment I needed to tend to the other. Nora would go all day without a peep, but as soon as it came time to bathe Claire and get her in bed, Nora would start! If I left Claire in her bed with a book to try and calm Nora down, Claire started crying that she was lonely and needed me. There were even a few nights where Claire woke up, but Nora didn’t. It sometimes felt like I couldn’t win. It was rough, yes, but I survived.
The hardest adjustment about the postpartum baby blues period this time around was not having enough hands to juggle both kids. I feel like I need an octopus just to be able to manage! I was a fan of babywearing before, but now I’m even more of an advocate than ever. As hard as the anticipation and anxiety over my husband’s trip was, I needed that trip to appreciate just how much work it is to do this alone, and to sit back and realize I managed. It might not have been the prettiest, but it’s been all uphill from there, so I guess I can’t complain.
Looking back, I realize I probably had some form of baby blues after Claire until she was close to a year old. Mostly because she still wasn’t sleeping through the night, and because I had so many expectations based on what others had told me: babies sleep through the night by 6 weeks/6 months/when they start solids/when they sit up/if you sleep train/if they cry/if they don’t cry/if you nurse (or feed formula)/if you blahblahblah… Claire was and has never been a baby to meet the expectations of the world around her, thank God, and once I realized that she would sleep when she was developmentally ready, I was able to let things go and just embrace her schedule for what it was.
My strategy this time around has been to try to heed the advice above as much as possible. I know firsthand just how short the weeks truly are, and how fast this time goes. I’m thankful every night for sleep, even if its only a few hours at a time.
Thoughts? What experience have you had with PPD/PPA/baby blues? What would you add?