When S was born, I had what I can only describe as postpartum euphoria. I think often about why this was. Sometimes I think it was because she was my first, my time was limited at home with her, and I was well rested. Probably most of that holds true. But it was a wonderful time in my life. I honestly didn’t mind getting up at night with her. I liked being in her nursery. I did laundry regularly. And showered like a normal person.
I’ve written about B’s birth before, and it was not the magical unicorn and rainbows that S’s birth was. I didn’t get to bond with my baby after birth. I was sent to a room to sleep and pump while my sick baby was cared for by nurses (albeit wonderful nurses who cared deeply for him and me), but it was not me. S was not out of my sight the entire hospital stay. It was a living nightmare that I had not anticipated.
I remember going on our hospital tour when I was pregnant with S and thinking during the NICU portion of the tour that I wouldn’t have to worry about that part because I was nearly full term with her and full term babies don’t really go to the NICU. That was false. Maybe a defense mechanism at the time, but so false. I lived there after B was born. Literally. I had to change padsicles and give myself a sink shower in the half bathroom after tossing and turning to the monitors while on the cot overnight. I was a hot mess.
Something that I learned long after I had B was that an estimated 70% of NICU moms suffer from some sort of postpartum depression, anxiety or PTSD. Up to 20% or more of moms in general will develop postpartum depression/anxiety with the majority of women experiencing “baby blues”, whether it be for a day or two or even weeks. Those are crazy numbers. Why the heck is that not something that we hear about regularly?!? I am a prenatal/postnatal instructor and I had no idea until I was reading long after I had been through the ringer about the alarming statistic of NICU moms. Truthfully, I didn’t fully realize how deep the scars of the postpartum period could be until I was at the ER with S following her staple to the head incident. I panicked. As soon as we got into triage, my heart started racing and I could feel the anxiety creeping into my blood. Just being in a hospital freaked me the heck out. It was the same hospital that I delivered both kids at which I’m sure played a role in that feeling.
I think I was so caught off guard with B’s arrival that I didn’t have time to care for myself. I was a second time mom who had done this before and was fine after S. The truth was that I was trying to be stronger than I was postpartum which is common. I wanted desperately to be that euphoric mom that I was after I had S, and that was not possible. Every child, day, year, and experience brings on a morphed mama.
B’s first 6 weeks home were a blur. I am the wife of a high school coach (another post to come about that). He doesn’t get paternity time off from that to help with the kids. B came home and he had to work a day later. So here I was, a hormonal mess with a 17 month old and a newborn, trying to survive. That first night alone was scary. My high school bestie (who was newly pregnant) came over and helped me out thank god. But then she was gone and I was alone to figure out how to tend to a newborn and a toddler who didn’t sleep through the night.
When B was about 8 or 9 weeks old, I hit a low. I will never forget the day that I lost it. I was getting out of the house as I had struggled with for the past 8 weeks. It was freezing, B had developed a hate for the car, and S had just started down her slippery slope of taking tiny items and putting them in bags and then melting down when said things fell out of the bag or mom said she can’t take the princess crown, apple, tiny elsa doll, teether, and teething necklace with. I felt like a failure. You get my gist on how the day was panning out. We were going to get a ballet outfit for S’s first dance class and meeting a friend to do it. A friend who literally is supermom. I am alive and well because she is my therapy, my motivation, and my mom muse.
The kids were going crazy and I couldn’t get out of the house. Everyone was crying including myself and I hit a low. I snuck to the basement (really just the split level) leaving B strapped in his carseat and S tantruming about something falling out of her purse. I didn’t want them to see me losing it. I couldn’t let them see me freak out. That was for nap time when I cried alone so hard that I needed a carafe of coffee to recover from the mental exhaustion. So I chucked about 15 board books straight at the wall, cried for a minute longer, put on my big girl pants and stomped up the stairs to walk out the door with an infant carrier on one arm and a toddler and her puzzled look on the other hip. I can still see her confused face. But I was ready to do the one thing that I wanted to do that day- hang out with someone who understood and was my mama muse.
This was the point where I realized that I needed to ask for more help and I needed to care for myself. I am a statistic. The 70% of NICU moms who hit that postpartum low. New parenthood can be magical and demonizing all at once. Thank heavens for my village, because thats where I found my mental peace. The postpartum period scares the heck out of me but I learned so much about myself and what moms need. We need to learn more about it and DO more about it. The ACOG just changed the standards for postpartum care in the right direction. Those 10 question “fill this out” questionnaires don’t cut it anymore. Here are just a few things to think about:
-Just like every pregnancy is different, every postpartum period is different as well. Treat them as such.
-Realizing you are struggling postpartum is SO hard to identify. Think about the statistics- all of this is supposed to be so instinctual, yet many new moms miss the intuition that something is wrong with THEM.
-Talk about it. Much like miscarriages, we don’t like talking about PPD/PPA/PTSD. Its taboo. But CRAZY that we live in a country that can cure diseases that were fatal a mere decade ago, but we cant talk about mental health during a crucial time in motherhood.
-Ask for help. Whether it be a 20 minute break from the kids, a meal, mental healthcare, medication or just someone to sit with you, ask for help.
-Breastfeeding is a wonderful thing, but sometimes the stress we put on ourselves to be successful at it contributes to a poor self balance. The hormones are no joke, and from personal experience, they made me feel like I was losing it. Fed is best.
-Find your tribe. Everyone needs friends, postpartum or not. In many cultures, women rally around each other for a time period after birth to support the new mom. We don’t always get that. Our culture often times tells us to be fierce and independent which are great things, but we can’t always live that way. When you are down, you need someone who is in the same boat to tell you that its going to be okay.
-Partners/Spouses: Do the things. Laundry. Dishes. Foot rubs. Being mentally drained and ailed is TAXING. It literally takes every ounce of energy to hold it together for the day of parenting.