I came across this essay I wrote, a few years ago, after my first daughter Phoenix was born. I struggled severely with Postpartum Anxiety after her birth and it was one of the hardest things I had ever had to deal with. Surprisingly, I had hardly any with my second child. I want to share my story below, to help any mother, going through anything similar. You are not alone and you will get through this.
I sat on the uninviting, stark doctor’s bed. Hunched over in fear. Fear that I wouldn’t be able to get out of the dream-like state of depersonalization. Fear that I wouldn’t realize my potential as the mother I knew I could be, fear that my life would forever be that of a never-ending slow motion horror film. Feeling nothing, that came in the form of numbness, and yet feeling everything, like an electric fire through my spine. I remember looking at my hands, the hands that wiped my daughter’s tears and held her unformed head, and they didn’t feel like they were a part of my body. Like I was watching. Watching a life outside myself, never really hinged to the earth. I remember not being able to swallow. Not being able to eat. Not being able to cry. Not being able to breathe. Just not being “able”.
Then I heard those words “You have postpartum anxiety”.
I remember that day. Even in my detachment from my newly formless world I remember it so vividly that it burns bright in technicolor. “Mum, I need help.” I faintly whispered that morning. “I can’t do this anymore.” I’ve never really asked for help. I spent my life trying to pave my own road like a relentless, tunnel-vision, warrior, reframing every painful experience in to that of a positive one. But then again I’ve never really suffered so much that it broke me. Suffered so much that I felt like my entire body was made of glass and a mere touch would create hairline fractures that would slowly break, like pieces of a puzzle, and take my soul away with it. “We will get you help,” my mum said earnestly. “We will get you better.”
So here I was. Sitting in the doctor’s room, instead of celebrating my magnificent newborn and the rebirth of myself as a mother, I was here, diagnosed. So now what? After 6 months of trying to figure out what was “wrong” with me, trying to boil it down to just hormones and just sleep deprivation and just life adjustments, I was now officially branded by two words. I was handed some pale yellow pills, told it was common and sent on my merry “just being diagnosed with a mental disorder” way.
As I arrived home I remember staring at the medication in the palm of my hands and it triggering a complete panic attack. I lost my balance, as the room started to spin, with the almost cartoon like voices yelling failure, faulty, imperfect, let down. My breathing labored and I almost passed out. I hysterically threw the medication in the bin, which I’m sure would have helped me greatly and never did end up taking them. Ironically because I didn’t help myself, was I more of a failure??
I spent the next three years healing. Through meditation and yoga, and therapy and mindfulness and prayer and nutrition and reading and connecting with others who had been through the same experience, I somehow slowly, inch by inch, rebuilt myself.
Nothing can prepare you for being a mother. The first time you get to witness your child, you feel like they have walked beside you your whole life. They were a part of your dreams, part of your memories, a constant piece of you. The love is debilitating. They are demanding, and thought-stoking and awe-inspiring. They aggressively erase parts of you that will forever be lost and draw, with reckless abandon, colorful new ones. You think about the footsteps you want to leave and people’s opinions become a dull sound in the distance.
Motherhood is something that will forever change you. Symptoms and new thought pathways should be extremely common place. I knew that. I was prepared for that but this was different. I knew this was different and I knew something was wrong. We live in a world where speaking up is commonly assaulted. And even public essays are boiled down to click bait and buzz words that are misconstrued and often attacked. Asking for help, especially in regard to motherhood, is often seen as self trivialization and weakness, so on goes the perpetual cycle of fear, loneliness and guilt.
My daughter is three and a half years old and the great days far outweigh the panic, my hands no longer shake and eyes have re-adjusted to where I can truly take her in. Although I do fear for the next child, I know that I’m bolstered with so much knowledge and experience that I am stronger and wiser. As mothers, women, parents, caregivers, we need to break the stigma. For without solidarity, it is almost certain lives will be lost. We need to speak up about our tales of sadness and hope and joy. We are no lesser because of it and only through heartache comes true resilience. And not to sound trite. “we need to be the change we want to see in the world’ and it all starts with us.