It was in my third trimester when my OBGYN asked me, “So how are you doing emotionally?,” and I remember my answer being, “I’m doing great!” Why wouldn’t I be? I had been rocking a twin pregnancy, these kiddos were growing beautifully, my hormones were high and my emotions even higher. I was excited for this new chapter and felt ready for this transition. My doctor advised me that I was twice as susceptible to Postpartum Depression (PPD) and Postpartum Anxiety (PPA) due to having a multiples pregnancy and wanted to ensure I had support once I was home. I thought “Of course I had support. My husband and I are a good team, and we have family who will come if we need it, but we will be fine”. I carried these little guys to my 37 week scheduled C-section. Despite my history of anxiety I was always an independent, strong woman, so I would be “ok”. I had this!
Day two in the hospital came around and I noticed I had a hard time sleeping and my heart felt as if it was racing. I was anxious, but I chalked it up to the whirlwind of giving birth and the ignorance of new motherhood. We slept the boys in the nursery each night and each morning I would be excited to see them. Yet I felt nothing when they were wheeled into my room. I felt void of emotion. When I showered and looked down, I didn’t recognize my own body. This huge amount of skin just there with no life in it, like I felt about myself.
I found myself sitting on the side of the bed just staring out into the parking lot. I didn’t know why and lost track of time. All of a sudden I didn’t know who I was, what to do, where to go and what to say. I just wanted to cry and felt so lost. I wanted someone so desperately to find me. I remember thinking to myself, “What am I doing?! What are we doing?!”
That night I looked at my husband and said, “I feel like I want to come out of my skin and that I’m going to have a panic attack.” I was drowning, completely suffocated in feelings of terror, sadness, loneliness, and despair. My husband called the nurse’s station but did not get an answer so he physically went for help. Soon nurses and doctors were rushing in. I told them my pain, the lump in my throat growing by the second. I remember telling the psychiatrist, “Please know I do not want to hurt myself and I do not want to hurt my children.” I remember I was gripping the blankets so tightly, terrified of every single minute.
We made it home two days later. I was numb. All I could do was cry hysterically. It just came and took hold with an unbelievable grasp. “How could I bring these babies into the world and not feel anything for them? How could I do this?” Their crying made me cry even more and sent my anxiety spinning. I remember one of my sons was in his Rock-n-Play and had a bowel movement and all I wanted to do was leave him there. I didn’t care if I changed him or if he got changed at all. I wanted nothing to do with this new life, nothing to do with my sons. “How could this be my life?” I didn’t want this. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.
A few days later we had their first pediatric appointment. My sister had visited the night before and thankfully helped pack their diaper bag because I could not figure out how to pack it, nor did I want to. I didn’t care to learn; I didn’t care if the boys had what they needed. I didn’t care about anything. At the appointment I ran into an empty exam room to cry. I needed an escape, but I couldn’t escape myself no matter where I ran. But I wanted children didn’t I? This was what we worked so hard to achieve wasn’t it? For me, this was postpartum depression and this was postpartum anxiety.
I remember this night vividly. My sister thought that maybe doing skin to skin, which I didn’t get to do in the hospital due to complications from the anesthesia, would help me connect to my boys. Again I felt nothing and I hated myself for it. I didn’t even want to hold my own kids. I screamed for my husband and sister to “get them off of me!”. I was in hell mentally and physically.
My mother-in-law came over one day shortly after this photo and we all went on a walk around the neighborhood. The anxiety that set in was consuming. Getting them ready? Leaving the house? It was too much. I forced myself out the door and spent the entire walk cringing inside, counting the seconds until we returned home, which suddenly seemed like a safe place.
I knew I could not go on like this, it was life or death. I was desperate; screaming for help. I would have done anything to be able to crawl out of the hell hole of my mind and body. I needed someone to say to me, “I have been there. You are not alone.” I reached out to a counselor and sought out therapy. I reached out to every mom I knew, and to my surprise, my friends’ network supported me. Moms who I had never met reached out to send me support!
One of the most profound statements that was said to me was, “Love grows.” I quickly realized that I didn’t know these tiny people in my life yet they depended on me for their survival. “Love grows” helped me come to terms with the fact that they were getting to know me and I was getting to know them.
With help I worked through the depression but the anxiety remained and surfaced quickly. It’s true, “Love grows”, and as the weeks went on I found myself more happily immersed in motherhood. Then the thoughts began to rob me again, slowly yet fiercely. I manifested dangerous scenarios that held me back from breathing. Thoughts that something horrible was going to happen to me, and thoughts of harm coming to my boys. This is postpartum anxiety and depression. It has a name and it is so very real.
It has been a very long 3 years but I am learning to find gratitude in the journey. Oddly I feel lucky that I was able to identify with what was happening to me. While at first I didn’t know it was postpartum anxiety, I knew that what I was feeling could not have been normal. Yet something that could set in just two days after giving birth is still discussed so little.
I continue to struggle with anxiety every day, but I feel prepared with tools to help “the new me.” That is not the case for so many women. Women are suffering, women are silently crying out. You may ask why I’m sharing this. I need other women to know they truly are not alone. That their thoughts and feelings have run thru the minds and bodies of many. That we get it. We are with you. We are you. We hear you and we see you. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and we need to work together, we must unite to make that tunnel passable. We need to keep this conversation going because PPD and PPA care must become a larger part of our prenatal care and by sharing our hard journeys, I truly believe we save lives.
PSI-CT Wants you to Know:
Thank You Michele, for sharing your motherhood journey! Friends, Perinatal Depression, Perinatal Anxiety and other Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs) occur in 1 in 7 women and 1 in 10 men. Michele had risk factors which alerted her doctor: a twin pregnancy and fertility challenges. You aren’t alone, not to blame, and with support you will feel yourself again.