I was like a different person after I had our third baby. I didn't bond with her at all. (It didn't help that our kids were all born with tiny mouths so nursing is excruciating the first month or so.) I didn't want to be near her. She wouldn't just sleep so I could get some rest. I knew something was wrong but I had no idea what. I didn't feel depressed. I ruled out postpartum depression pretty quickly because I thought it only looked like depression. Feeling down in the depths with a cloud over you? That must be it, right? I didn't feel that though so I didn't think that was it.
Something wasn't right though. I could not even function. After having Adleigh, I couldn't tolerate any noise. Any noise at all, even tiny, would trigger what I now know were panic attacks. Before I figured it out though, I was just scared and frustrated. Josh thought I was just being ridiculous and needed to stop. I am so thankful a friend of mine thought to mention that post-partum depression did not always look like depression. Wait- what?! I began to do some research and it's like things started to click.
My symptoms: Feeling panicky, literally not being able to breathe well, crying at the drop of a hat, wanting to run away from life, not bonding with our baby, losing it at any noise, feeling incredibly overwhelmed constantly, very pessimistic.
At Adleigh's three month checkup, I finally told my midwife that something was wrong. I was crying at the drop of a hat multiple times a day. I was having 5+ panic attacks a day and they lasted so long. I couldn't stop them and that was not only frustrating but scary. I was terrified though of getting a prescription. I had images in my mind of being a crazy psychotic mess. (Seeing negative side effects first-hand in loved ones didn't help this misperception at all). My midwife had me fill out an eval and lo and behold, it was post-partum depression. In a way, it was so freeing to finally have a name for this.
She prescribed counseling once a week and a low dose of Zoloft. The counseling was amazing. Sometimes, having outside help to just think through things in a matter-of-fact manner help so much. Having a listening ear that targeted the practical was exactly what I needed. In my case, I could only do so much, so targeting just letting it go didn't work. There is a lot that can be done to prevent panic attacks and anxiety but only if you know what your triggers are. In my case, the triggers were not always clear, and I wouldn't always know ahead of time. It was like, boom, all of a sudden, panic attack.
With postpartum depression, anxiety, or depression, you are a puppet in its hands. It's frustrating. You do everything you can to stay on top of it, but it still gets the best of you, and it's like you are driving a car stuck on accelerate and no brake pedal. Everyone is telling you to stop, but you have no ability to. Some of the hardest things are the minimization. Being told it's not a big deal or that you need to not demand things. I'm not sure why in America we are so caring of women who are pregnant, but after the pregnancy, we forget it took nine months to get there. We expect that they should just rebound and not be effected by it much at all. Surely those hormones can just be ignored, right? Not so in my case. I needed a lot of help because in the moments, I couldn't do anything to stop it. I needed help at my worst, not when I was acting deserving of help.
Fast-forward to nine months after Adleigh had been born. The Zoloft did not work. It just made the panic worse, so I stopped taking it (definitely don't recommend that! Work with your provider and slowly reduce it!) Things were ok, and thankfully I bonded with Adleigh, but I still was just not myself. I had zero ability to cope with stress and noise. I couldn't function as a mom. I know kids are resilient but really, this was not normal. I finally made another appointment to see my doctor. The counseling had helped some but it didn't up my stress-coping ability at all. She finally prescribed 5 mG of Buspirone. It literally saved me. A day in and it was like I was a new person. Don't get me wrong- it wasn't perfect. I still had to work on my stress-response and not flying off the handle but it was like it gave me the ability to do that. I still take it when I need it. Sometimes hormones just render your body crazy and there's not much you can do.
I've discovered some surprising things with postpartum depression along the way.
1: Nutrition matters a lot.
If your body is depleted it can manifest in some really ugly ways. I wish I had looked into placenta encapsulation, a better iron supplement, and healing foods to help. It doesn't eliminate PPD but it helps a lot.
2: Sugar is not your bff.
Once I discovered that sugar sped up my heart rate and triggered panic and anxiety, it was a game changer. I had to limit coffee too. Adleigh wasn't effected by either, but I sure was. Taking responsibility for what I eat helps my day a lot.
3: What you think about can help the panic moments.
Trying to think about scripture and calming thoughts during panic attacks didn't help resolve the panic. (I realized in panic, logic is out the door. You kind of have to just hand on to faith and ride the crazy wave through the best you can.) Feeding myself solid truths in calm moments made the difference. There are some excellent Scripture Lullabies albums that I put on for the kids, but actually might love more than they do. The songs are so pretty. I remember just listening with tears while putting them to bed. (Bedtime was hard because Josh was gone at work. I felt so alone!) The reminders were really refreshing.
4: Getting to know yourself is healing and saving.
When I started to pay more attention to my mind and body, I started to find some clarity. I stopped fighting against what was so hard and started to work with it. I mentioned that bedtime was so hard. A good friend suggested turning it into time together so the kids wouldn't be fighting going to bed. It worked. I started to pay more attention to what I was fueling my body with (and subsequently, either feeding the panic or not.) I found that a great solution for combating all the noise in the house was to either redefine my expectations for the day (Hello movie day! Forget that laundry for today!) or to put on brown noise (it's a lower noise than white noise) really loud to help cancel out the kids' noise. I began to notice what my triggers were and made a really big point of praying, distracting my mind, and really trying to change the course my mind was trying to take.
5: Medicine is not evil
Especially the right kind of medicine. Don't rule it out too quickly. There are some awesome alternative medicines (Magnesium, B complex vitamins, and GABA are all huge favorites of mine!) However, sometimes the body needs a little bit more than natural supplements can give. Doctors are really good at working with you to find what works well with your body, and they always start at a low dose.
6: Finding support is vital.
We weren't made to do this life alone. God made us to need Him foremost, but to also need each other. I know it sounds silly, but I almost expected people to just know what I was going through. Amazingly, they did not read my mind. I had to open up. It was hard, but I am glad I did. It meant doing a little insisting that no, things really are as bad as I think (and in some ways, were not as bad as I thought.) There are so many great places to find support- La Leche meetings (even if you're not nursing), places where other moms are (Children's museum, the mall play area, the park, MOPS, etc) or a local church. I'll be honest- I had to just take a break from trying to figure out God for a while. I had so much bitterness. I just couldn't deal with it, so I didn't. There's no reason you have to figure it out or figure out why (and, probably better to not try, honestly). Sometimes there will be people who just don't understand. It's ok to not try and force their understanding and sometimes, taking a break from conversations is a good thing. (Why do we try to prove ourselves so hard? We are already so valuable!) Also, I did not know this until recently, but dads and adoptive parents both can experience PPD. I found people who got me. It's important to have a good variety of people in our lives. They all bring perspective. Some seasons of life though are ok for having people who are in your most intimate circle. They are the ones who see the ugly and still encourage you in a healing direction. It might not be the most comfortable thing in the world to find support and talk about it, but I promise- you are not alone! There are so many who deal with this! I personally love reading people's stories, and am so here for you if you are struggling.
7: Take it one day at a time.
I am not the most patient person all the time. I wanted to see results. I wanted to be better now. When that didn't happen, I was convinced that it would never be better. I had to learn how to take it one day at a time, and cherish the baby steps, rather than Olympic-sized hurdles. I started to see more beauty. There really is a lot to be thankful for!
8: Believe that you are so valuable.
It gets better. It truly does.
Take heart,dear ones. I am so glad for beautiful amazing you.