When I had my first baby, I was just a month shy of turning 41, and I had my dream pregnancy – delivering him vaginally, with my husband and sister in the room.
Everything went the best it could have gone, and yet I remember when I first looked at him, he didn’t look like what I thought he “should” look like, and I remember when we left the hospital, I felt completely frantic and afraid.
I kept those feelings to myself because I didn’t know what any of it meant and besides, I just had a baby and I should be happy, right?
The first week after his birth was a blur. Check-up after check-up, heading to a pediatrician who tried to (and succeeded) in pushing formula on us, feeling that I had absolutely no time while friends and family bombarded us with visits and all I wanted to do was rest and feel like myself again.
Compound that with a string of days where I had little to no sleep, the baby wouldn’t latch, and I was determined only to give him breast milk. And then it happened: I remember the baby was cluster feeding and not only was breastfeeding much more painful than I anticipated, but I also didn’t feel he was getting anything out of my boobs. I felt helpless, scared, and angry. I wanted this baby far far away from me. I wanted to drop him, I wanted to throw my cell phone at him. I just didn’t want to hear him cry or be around him anymore.
I texted my doula something vague about how my son seemed like a stranger, how I didn’t feel that I knew him. And that I was scared. She alerted the midwives to my emotional state, and they called me and told me to check myself into the emergency room, an action that no bone in my body wanted to take.
In a crying fit, I told my hubby what I was feeling. He calmed me down and I ended up staying the weekend at a friend’s while he and my parents took care of the baby.
I thought getting a few days of rest would do the trick, but when I went to see my therapist a few days later, she also told me the very same thing: check myself into an ER. The health professionals around me knew what the warning signs were, and I’m so glad they encouraged me to check myself into the ER and, eventually, the psych ward. I stayed there for about a week, got a lot of sleep, journaled, and got on medication — which I’m still on.
I’m sharing my story because not everyone who is in a similar state needs to check themselves into the hospital. However, I do think there are a lot more overwhelmed postpartum ladies out there who could use some support. Here are some warning signs and how to get help:
- Intrusive thoughts. A few days postpartum after a lack of sleep and the overwhelmingness that is new parenthood, I started having terrible thoughts about my baby. I am glad I confessed to my husband, sister, and eventually my parents because apparently, this is a very “normal” feeling that women having a postpartum break go through. It’s an indication that you need help and support! And not judgment!
- Lack of sleep. There is a reason that sleep deprivation is used as a means of torture because it literally can drive one out of one’s mind! I have always been someone who needs at least eight hours of sleep, and that didn’t change when I had a baby. Thankfully hubby understood what the lack of sleep did to me and did all of our second baby’s night feedings when he was a newborn. But seriously: if you are someone who needs sleep and you’re not getting any, consider help and support to get yourself through this difficult time.
- A feeling of overwhelming loss or grief. When I had my first son, I felt something huge had been taken “away” from me, even though I had just had my first baby, a dream I never thought would come true. But a funny thing happens when you give birth: you all of the sudden are flushed with feelings that don’t seem “normal.” I mourned my old life. I felt afraid. And I felt that this baby was a stranger to me. Those feelings only got worse as the week after his birth progressed.
- Any suicidal ideation. I thankfully did not have thoughts of harming myself — but this is definitely a phenomenon that can happen to postpartum mothers. Get help if you ever feel that this is happening.
I know not everyone has the ability to check themselves into a hospital, or they simply don’t want to. (I get it — it was the last thing I wanted to do). So here are other avenues of help:
- Postpartum check-in. A few days after giving birth, you will be seen by your doctor. If you feel that anything feels too overwhelming, do not be afraid to flag these feelings and warn your doctor that you may need some treatment for postpartum depression/anxiety.
- Medication from your primary care doctor. One of the reasons my therapist, midwives, and doula told me to check into the ER, was because that was the easiest and fastest way for me to get on medication. I didn’t have access to a psychiatrist (and finding one can take months) and because it was a crisis situation, even my primary care doctor couldn’t help me. But if your situation is more slow-building, definitely mention these concerns to your primary care doctor so you have the option of going on medication if need be!
- Tell someone. I felt awful carrying those intrusive thoughts inside of me, because I felt abnormal and insane. But as soon as I told my hubby, we came up with a plan of action, and I got help. If I had held those feelings inside, there is no saying what would have happened and how long it would have taken me to seek the help I needed.
- Accept support. In addition to my hubby taking over all the night feedings, I also ended up staying at my parents’ home for a huge chunk of my maternity leave when I had both of my babies. I’m so glad I did because hubby went back to work soon after both babies were born and I needed a lot of support, hands-on help in the form of feeding and changing the babies, extra hands to take care of the babies while I slept, and nourishment and care that only my mother was able to provide me!
If you come away with anything from this post it’s this: there is no such thing as being too careful, or having too much support when you are a new mother. Especially if you live in the United States, there is little to none for us new mamas and it’s up to us to advocate for ourselves and get help when needed. Finally: you are not alone!