May is Maternal Mental Health awareness month, so I’ve decided to finally share my story and hit publish on this post that’s been in my drafts for months. Thanks for your encouragement and support as I share this very personal post.
I remember the moment I was in a news studio, weeks after coming back to work from my maternity leave. I was sitting next to one of our doctors and her former patient. They were about to go on live TV to talk about postpartum depression. As I sat there in the newsroom, watching the interview unfold, I felt a lump in my throat.
I’m educated about the signs and symptoms of postpartum anxiety because of my job. I’ve read the studies. I’ve worked with postpartum depression experts. I’ve pitched stories on the topic to reporters. I knew so much, and yet I convinced myself for so long that it wasn’t happening to me.
I’m a chronic worrier and have had anxiety since childhood, due in large part to the environment I was raised in. It’s fair to say that being worried and anxious is my normal. So when I continued to have anxiety (that became worse after Lincoln was born) I convinced myself it was par for the course, even though deep down I knew my thoughts and behaviors were abnormal (which, in turn, made me even more anxious).
Reflecting back, I realize that though my PPA peaked as I was weaning from pumping, it had really been there from very early on. As a precursor to the rest of this post, I want to issue a warning, as I do discuss specific catastrophic thoughts I had which may be triggering if you are suffering or have suffered from PPA.
Lincoln’s first year of life was, in a word, difficult. It was more overwhelming than I was prepared for, especially given that Harper had been such an easy baby. It started with a five-day hospital stay when he was born for high jaundice levels, followed a couple of weeks later by a diagnosis of MSPI and changing my entire diet to continue nursing.
Lincoln cried. A lot. He was uncomfortable and didn’t sleep well. I couldn’t understand why it was taking weeks to see an improvement in him when I had been eating so “perfectly.”
On top of this, when I was 8 weeks postpartum, I started to hemmoraghe and had to have my second D&C surgery for placenta accreta. It was a terrifying experience. My therapist told me that all of this, combined with the fact that I already struggled with anxiety, was the “perfect storm” of events that might send even a non-anxious person into a tailspin.
After a few months, Lincoln’s MSPI symptoms responded to my diet and he began to sleep a little better. I was back at work and the routine helped.
Then, I noticed he was missing some of his milestones. I told myself not to obsess since boys can meet milestones later than girls and every baby has their own timeline, but in my gut, I felt there was something wrong and that it wasn’t just my anxiety getting to me.
I talked to our pediatrician at his 6 month appointment. At that time, he wasn’t rolling over and would rarely let us stand him up on his feet and bear weight. Concerning signs, but I tried to have positive thoughts. We were refered to start physical therapy.
During our appointment, our pediatrician told me I should take him to have a blood draw to rule out Duchenne muscular dystrophy “as a precaution.” I knew what that was since I used to support pediatric neurology at the hospital where I work, and immediately my heart dropped into my stomach, and I literally pictured my son dying as a young child and it consumed me for weeks, even after the testing was over.
Taking him for that blood test and subsequently, waiting for the results, can only be described as the worst day of my life. I spent my day praying, making “deals” with God and wondering what I would do if we lost our baby. It’s still extremely triggering for me to write about this and I cry every time I think about this moment in time and every single time I read this sentence as I proofread this post.
His results, praise the Lord, came back in the normal range, but this sent me on a downward spiral I couldn’t pull out of. We started physical therapy and I booked him an appointment with a neurologist when he began crawling abnormally, consistently using one side to drag himself forward.
Again, a myriad of the worst-case scenarios flooded my thoughts. It was common for me to spend hours each week googling, reading forums and trying to figure out “what was wrong.” I used to have racing thoughts and spent abnormal amounts of time worrying about his health. My anxiety convinced me something was wrong and I was preoccupied with trying to find “answers.” Now, I know this is a classic sign of PPA, but at the time, I felt I was being a responsible and proactive mother, which is how I justified my behavior.
The neurologist evaluated him and could not find a reason for his abnormal crawl. Though I was relieved that “nothing was wrong” it didn’t give me the peace of mind I had hoped for. I continued to worry about him and imagined worst-case scenarios.
When he started to improve in physical therapy, I became less worried and began to feel less preoccupied with catastrophic thoughts. In fact, I stopped googling all together and I started to feel like things were on the up and up.
An important thing I did when Lincoln was 6 months old (at the time we did the blood test for DMD) is that I stopped reading what people were saying about me online. It was becoming detrimental to my mental health to constantly read lies about myself and my family and people’s unrelenting criticisms of me and my children. It’s something I should have done a very long time ago, but it took being in the depths of my PPA to recognize that it was not healthy for me to read it, and I haven’t since—it’s been over a year! I treat that dark corner of the internet like it doesn’t exist and I’m very proud of that because it was a tough habit for me to break. I now recognize how damaging it was to read those comments over the last few years, and will never again put myself in that position, because I deserve better. If one good thing came of this experience, it’s this. I know so many bloggers struggle with this— believe me when I tell you there is nothing worthwhile there and by not reading it, you are relinquishing the ability for anyone to have any power over you whatsoever.
As Lincoln approached his first birthday and continued to progress in PT, I started to feel a little more like myself again. Then, I started to wean from pumping and that’s when my world came crashing down again. Reflecting back, it was like the calm before the storm.
As I started to decrease the amount and length of my pumping sessions, thus producing less milk, I started to notice I was extremely irritable and my anxiety and worry began to reach maximum levels. It was not uncommon for me to constantly picture myself getting into car accidents with my kids in the car, and vividly imagining how those scenarios would unfold. I worried and had invasive thoughts frequently. I often had racing thoughts about our house being broken into at night, my children having tragic accidents at daycare or something tragic happening to Kevin or me. Sometimes the thoughts were fleeting, other times they consumed and distracted me. Even reading a news story or hearing about a patient in our hospital could trigger me to have worrisome thoughts about my own family’s health.
During my weaning process, I also started to notice I felt angry. Little things like Harper not putting on her shoes when I asked or Lincoln crying because his bottle wasn’t ready “fast enough” would send me into a frenzy. I would lose control of my emotions, feel totally helpless, and would sometimes yell in frustration, which, to this day, I am very ashamed of and continue to work through in therapy.
As an aside— I realize that all mothers “lose their cool” sometimes or raise their voices and that this is normal— but given my past history with both physical and emotional abuse as a child, I have had additional challenges forgiving myself for this kind of behavior, even when it is infrequent (and to clarify, I have never hit my children—we don’t spank— I am referencing yelling/losing control of my emotions). As I progress in therapy, I’m learning to give myself much more grace because I know that I am actively working to be better.
Once I was completely weaned from pumping and noticed the continuation of my anger/irritable behavior patterns, I had a talk with Kevin and he (gently) acknowledged that I hadn’t been myself lately. Of course he reminded me I’m an amazing mom and do so much for our family, but he was supportive of me seeking help. The next morning, I reached out to my OB to get a referral to a PPA program and got an appointment shortly thereafter.
As a comparison, when I weaned from pumping with Harper, I had a two-week period where I felt a little blue, but after that, I was fine. I was still a worrier/anxious, but that was my “normal.” I expected a hormone crash when I stopped pumping with Lincoln, but the outcome was much more severe than I ever imagined.
During my initial visits, I met with a psychiatrist who confirmed both PPA and GAD (generalized anxiety disorder). We talked about different treatment options, including trying medication and starting to exercise again.
After our first couple of sessions, she recommended that I start Cognitive Behavioral Therapy because it is considered a highly effective solution for GAD. I have done talk therapy in the past, which was helpful, but CBT is a very specific type of therapy that is action-based and focuses on changing behaviors and developing coping strategies. My therapist had me purchase this book to guide my recovery process. I highly recommend it if you struggle with anxiety and worry.
I’ve been in therapy for over 6 months now, and so far, it’s going really well. I see a psychologist every two weeks and we review the chapter we’re working on and go through my written worry records and anxiety charts. As I mentioned, this program really involves a commitment to record-taking, so I have to write down all of my anxiety processes in order to learn what triggers me, how I deal with anxiety/anxious thoughts when they happen and learn my behavior patterns so that I can change them.
Ever since starting my exercise program (read more on that here) my anxiety levels have decreased dramatically, which motivates me to continue. I exercise four days per week at a training gym so my workouts are professionally guided and challenging. I’m seeing a huge difference in how often I worry, I’m learning to say “no” more often, and to break habits that cause me to experience anxiety. Exercise allowed me to forgo taking anxiety medication and I’m grateful it has been so effective for me. If you’re struggling with PPA or PPD, medication can help and your doctor will talk to you about the different options.
Now that I’ve been in therapy for half a year, I can already see that it has made a tremendous difference for me. I don’t feel angry anymore. I don’t feel irritable all the time. I don’t worry and have catastrophic thoughts constantly. Do I still worry? Yes. CBT doesn’t totally eliminate worry. Worry actually has some benefits and is normal— but I can cope better now. I can more quickly recognize when I have a thought or habit that isn’t productive.
I will continue to share updates about my journey through this. I feel incredibly empowered and relieved to have gotten help. Knowing that I’ve already broken the cycle just by getting help is a powerful feeling.
I want to thank all of you for your incredible support during this time, especially those of you that have shared your own struggles. I also want to acknowledge that you can never really know someone’s life, so be kind to those you encounter. It’s easy to look at someone’s Instagram feed and think they have a lovely life full of new outfits, a nice home and “perfect family”— but the reality is that those squares share just a tiny part of someone’s story. The real story has too many layers, highs and lows, and complexities to ever fully be represented in those tiny squares.
If you think you have PPA, PPD or another postpartum mood disorder, check out this website for more information and support. If you are struggling, know that this isn’t forever— you can and will be the mother, partner and friend that you want to be.
Thank you for sharing! PPA is not frequently discussed – you mostly hear about PPD. I wish I knew more about it before I went though it myself. Your obviously a wonderful mother, most importantly but taking care of yourself first. I hope your story helps others to realize that there is help out there.
Being a mother can bring the most joy, but also the most fear. The love is almost crippling, at least for me. I too jump to worst case scenarios when my son is ill, it’s horrible! Thank you for opening up and normalizing what a lot of moms (and people in general) deal with. I am happy to hear your therapy is working, your love and devotion as a mother is a beautiful thing!
Rachel Willer says
Thank you so much for sharing! I just recently weened my son from feeding after a year and I was very irritable and crabby for a few weeks. I felt so bad feeling that way, in a twisted way it’s reassuring to know it happens to others too ? Sounds like things are going better for you after a long time of if being hard! ?
Thank you for sharing this deeply personal story.
I’ve been reading your blog for about two years now & have never commented – but this really touched me! I am not a mother, but I have dealt with depression and anxiety myself & it’s very hard to talk about. Brave for sharing – I think you are awesome – and not just for sharing your struggle, but in general!
I may not have kids yet or ever dealt with what you’re going through, but this still resonated with me today in a big way. I have struggled all my life with an often debilitating chronic illness – several actually. The pain, the meds, the therapy, the exercise, the emotions, trying to do the right things to care for myself while also maintaining a career and personal relationships – it’s a huge load to bear.
For the first time in 17 years I am not on any medication for my conditions. I want to start a family and take care of myself in the most natural way possible. But not having that buffer anymore that I’ve had all these years, has proven to be one of the biggest battles I’ve faced. It’s not easy – we all have our battles like you said. So I just want to say THANK YOU for being so open about your struggle. You may not even realize it, but you’re helping so many. Sending you support from afar as you continue to navigate this.
I’m doing the same thing Kristin. I’m weaning myself off meds because my husband and I want to start a family and it’s so hard not to have that buffer as you stated. I hear you 🙂
It is such a tough road. If you’re interested in connecting to share our journeys, maybe we can find a way to make that happen. I went through SEVERE withdrawals from one med for 4 weeks – turns out it was seratonin syndrome. Terrifying. There are no words for how brutal it was. I’m still dealing with some effects (mainly that lack of buffer I mentioned) BUT overall am doing ok off all my meds and I NEVER thought I would be. I know each person is different but there IS hope and you can do it! Sending you good juju as you navigate this!
Kelly Breeland says
Thank you for sharing your story! I am going through something very similar and I have always turned to your blog to feel like I’m not alone out there. I’m a working mom of two great kids; my older one (girl) was a super easy, clockwork baby. My second (boy) has been a lot more dificult since birth. I had a very scary delivery with him, extended hospital stay and recovery, and he was seen so many specialists/doctors to try and get his issues under control. On top of all of that, I work 40 hours a week at a job I love, but it takes a toll on me. I definitely am more snappy at the kids and my husband and some days I just have to will myself to get up and do it all over again. But my son just turned one and I’d like to think we are turning a corner. Thank you for being brave and just know that you are a fabulous mom and you are not alone!
What an honest and raw post. I want to thank you for sharing something so personal! I think it’s only natural to think worst case scenario in our field. We see the worst of the worst because we are the best. I think that is one of the main reasons having children terrifies me. I wish you the best of luck in recovery; it sounds like you are doing really well with it!
Thank you so much for sharing this post. My heart hurts for you and all you went through, I am so glad you realized what was going on and got help. I am fairly certain I had PPD after the birth of my daughter, but didn’t know much about PPD or what I should do. Instead I just struggled for years having many of the same thoughts and worries you described, it was extremely crippling at times. I eventually began feeling normal again and it wasn’t until after the birth of my son that I realized that wasn’t normal and I should have sought help. I hope your post encourages others that might be going through the same thing to get help. And while you’re right, we only see snippets of people’s lives via social media and blogs, I think that anyone who follows you can see what a great mother you are and how much you love your kids! It’s sad that we can’t all just be supportive of each other and some still feel the need to tear others down… Wishing you all the best in your continued recovery!
Thank you for sharing your story. This is a topic I feel very passionate about. I’m so happy that you are doing well and very much appreciate you sharing the tools you have utilized.
My aunt recently wrote an article about the subject that resonated with me as well: https://www.globalmomschallenge.org/2017/05/dr-luz-towns-miranda-fighting-mental-health-stigma-mothers/
Honestly though, you are the best and thank you for this post 🙂
Janice Stern says
BEAUTIFUL post. Reaching my arms out to my computer screen to hug you. I’ve been following you since before you were pregnant with Harper. I have an 18 month old son now and I still nurse him. I’m terrified of the hormone crash after weaning…but I have to go through it sometime. I have been bracing myself for it for months and building my support system. Best wishes in your recovery.
I want to give you a big hug. As someone also with anxiety, I’m nodding and reading.
Thank you for sharing this. It’s so comforting to hear that other people struggle with anxiety and although it’s not easy, there are things that can be done to make living with it easier. I’ve been reading your blog for quite awhile and while I love your fashion & decor posts, but it’s also so inspiring to read something so real like this. It makes me feel a little bit more “normal” 🙂 Wishing you the best!
I really appreciate you putting this out there as you have because I know it must feel very vulnerable. I think I’ve discussed with you before that I also suffer from general anxiety disorder/depression and one of the reasons why I haven’t had kids yet is because I’m terrified of all of what you’ve mentioned here. That may sound selfish but it’s something I’m working on because I really do want to be a mother. I’m weaning myself off of meds and it’s been really hard. I refused meds for most of my life. I tried one a few years ago then stopped due to a reaction that caused a constant cough. Now I’ve been consistently on meds for a year. I believe it’s a personal choice though and sometimes all people need is a good therapist! Anyway, I could go on and on but mental health is so vital and many people struggle to keep afloat. I’m sure this post will help others 🙂
I’m sorry to hear of your struggles friend. It’s hard. Have you consulted an OB/GYN who specializes in mental health and pregnancy? I know the reproductive psychiatrists at the hospital where I work manage many pregnancies where the mother continues to take antidepressants. Of course every woman needs to make the choice she feels comfortable with, but a lot of OBs have outdated information about pregnancy and the management of depression and anxiety.
It doesn’t sound selfish at all— you’re doing what you need to do in order to feel comfortable taking that next step. Have you tried CBT? Let me know and we can talk privatley if you’d like!
Thank you V 🙂 I haven’t specifically tried CBT but am familiar with it. Maybe I should discuss it more with my therapist. And I just got a new doctor and ob/gyn so I’m definitely going to address this and learn what my options are with her. Thank you and I’ll probably be in touch soon! I’ll email you once I get further into the process 🙂
Wishing you the best— I truly thing that CBT helps with chronic anxiety because unlike talk therapy which to me, is more of a venting mechanism, it gives you the tools you need and actions to take in order to manage your symptoms. It’s much more intensive and action based and studies show how highly effective it is. Let me know how things go <3
“I also suffer from general anxiety disorder/depression and one of the reasons why I haven’t had kids yet is because I’m terrified of all of what you’ve mentioned here. ”
I could have written this myself, you are not alone.
Angela Beale says
Thank u for sharing such a personal struggle. My son is 19 months old and my story is very similar to yours. I reached out for help when I started imagining me dying in a car accident on a daily basis. My doctor believes that I have had high functioning anxiety my entire life and the extremely rough first year of my sons life was just too much for me to handle. I hope people who are dealing with this and embarrassed to get help see that it’s a struggle a lot of people go through and it doesn’t make u a bad person or mother. I’m doing amazingly today because I sought help. Thanks again for sharing.
Katie Crenshaw says
This is so similar to my own story which I planned to share this month as well! Thank you for being a part of the voice to bring awareness. I admire you!
Thank you for sharing this with your readers. This post really opens my eyes to the fact that I am not alone.
Thank you so much for sharing this! I didn’t even know about PPA until I was reading an article about it and it hit me that is what I struggled with after having my son. At that point it was almost 2 years after having him that I realized it wasn’t normal. I was over the moon happy to be a mom and not “depressed” so I thought all the worry just came with being a mom especially since I’ve always been a worrier. .I was having panic attacks and every doctor I talked to brushed it off as being a tired first take mom and told me to drink more and rest more. So glad therapy is working for you. I’m going to look into the book!
Thank you so much for sharing! I think this will help so many women!
Wow, I could’ve written this myself. I dealt with the same exact feelings after my son was born and they got the worst last year when he was starting to wean. I called the doctor in tears begging them for an appointment because I had been yelling at my poor kids that morning like never before. That was my breaking point. I still struggle with hormonal anxiety, but exercise has helped me immensely. Thank you for writing this post and bringing something so many women deal with into the light. It’s not something we should be ashamed of or struggle with alone.
Jess M. says
You are amazing. Thank you so much for always being honest about your highs and lows. Your experiences have helped me countless times over the years! I’m sorry you’re dealing with this, but I am happy you’re successfully working through it. ❤️
Thank you for being brave enough to share your journey. What a wonderful mother and example you are to your children. X
Thanks you for sharing this personal topic! Anxiety is something that I’ve struggled with since having my first child, and now with my second, I am trying to monitor it in case it becomes worse or consuming.
Best of luck, Veronika. Xo
Thanks for sharing! I, too, struggle with GAD and pregnancy + pumping/nursing really made my nerves spiral out of control… esp after my second. I have to say that google was my worst enemy during the time. You read all of the worst case scenarios (also had a child not hitting milestones on time). There were some really dark days, but fortunately I was quick to act on it since I was familiar with the signs and symptoms. Thanks for being transparent. The best bloggers, in my opinion, are the ones who show that life isn’t always cupcakes and caviar. Xoxo
Beautiful post Veronika! Thank you for sharing! I never would have thought you were struggling. Your Instagram posts/stories hide all the pain. You are an inspiration! Another great book is “daring greatly” by Brene Brown. I highly recommend it!
Rachel @ Better LIVIN says
Wow! Thanks for sharing. It’s so important for women to be open about these things so they know they’re not alone. And I’m sorry you struggle with criticism from folks online- I don’t know what the hell is wrong with people!
Thank you for sharing this! What an amazing post! I’m so sorry you’ve gone through all this!
Sam @ G&G Nutrition Co. says
Thanks for sharing such a personal post. And also, kudos to you for not reading stuff about you on the internet anymore. I always wonder how awful of a person you have to be to just sit around on the internet and say hateful things about other people that you don’t even know.
As an interesting side note, I use to read that dark corner of the internet as well. Sometimes I would post. At the same time, I myself was dealing with a lot of anxiety/depression issues. It all seemed harmless to me, but now that I am a happier/healthier person, I’ve found that I simply don’t visit “that site” anymore.
It’s interesting how that sort of behavior (both writing it and reading it) doesn’t seem like a big deal. But once you take a step back, you realize that it’s not helping you move forward to become a better version of yourself than you were the day before. I am happy that, today, I read bloggers’ posts and find the good rather than want to see the negatives.
This was a great post and I’m glad that you’re moving forward.
I used to read what people were saying about me almost daily. Then, I found myself reading threads about other bloggers too— only because it made me “feel better” that I wasn’t the only one being torn apart. But it didn’t make me feel better— it made me feel awful to know that other women were feeling the same way I was about people ripping apart every aspect of their lives.
It’s not good for your mental health to read things like that about yourself nor is it healthy to participate in it. I always heard the expression “hurt people, hurt people” and I always felt there was a lot of hurt and sadness behind a lot of those people and their comments.
I totally agree with your sentiment that it doesn’t seem like a “big deal” until you step away from doing it. Once you no longer read it, you realize how negative the impact really was. I am a much happier and more secure person now that I don’t read it anymore. I don’t feel defensive anymore when I write my blog. I share what I want, how I want, and I don’t care or see what anyone says about it. It has allowed be to be more vulnerable and authentic. It has been woderful.
I wish you the best.
ashley boyer says
Thank you for sharing your story!! Luckily, ppd has become a topic more people have become familiar with and hopefully better understood. Ppa is still it’s less known and talked about cousin so easily mistaken for just “being a mom”.
I know you will have helped people by being so real about ypur situation! Thanks again!
Thank you for sharing! Glad you are feeling better.
Great read! Thanks for sharing!
Great read…It was very brave of you to share your story especially in a society where people often feel the need to constantly judge you.
Great post, thanks for being so open.
Thanks for this post! This is very much like my story. My son came a month early due to me developing HELLP syndrome out of the blue. His birth was very traumatic. He was only 4 lbs 13 oz and so we had lots of early struggles making sure he was gaining weight. Breastfeeding wasn’t working out. He also had MSPI. He had to have hernia surgery at 6 weeks old… just tons of setbacks. I have always had anxiety and have taken Celexa for years. I felt that my anxiety was under control prior to his birth, but it quickly became more than I could handle. I was worrying and googling CONSTANTLY. I was obsessed with thoughts about me dying and leaving my son without a mother. I didn’t know that thinking like that was textbook PPA. In fact, I had never heard of PPA. It took a long time for me to realize that I needed to get additional help. I went to a therapist for about six months, which really helped. It helped me to recognize things that weren’t normal thoughts. One thing she recommended was to try to get in touch with the feeling UNDER the anxiety. For example, when I’d worry that I was going to die, she would say, “well why are you worried about that?” I’d explain I just love my son so much I want to watch him grow up and I want to be there for him. So then she’d recommend that I try to see that the anxious thought is coming from a feeling of love, and to try to DO something to express that love instead of worry. For example, go read my son a book, or give him a hug. It REALLY helped. Thanks for shedding light on this important topic.
The advice you gave at the end is fantastic- thank you. Sorry you went through this too 🙁
Hi Veronika I’d love to have an update on this post and how you are doing as well as how you liked the workbook. I’m thinking of ordering one.
Hi Christine! I’m doing well 🙂 thanks for asking! I am still in therapy though I go a little less often. I do recommend the book!