For most, the “baby blues” fade away several weeks postpartum, if they appear at all; for many, though, hormonal and lifestyle changes can have a lasting effect. Here are stories of women in our community sharing their experiences at various phases of motherhood, from those first 48 hours, to an early and unexpected hysterectomy. In many of these stories, there are women who have experienced depression, guilt (“I should be grateful for my healthy child”) or shame (stigma of being diagnosed with a mental illness) that has prevented far too many moms from speaking up.
Thank you for sharing, thank you for reading, and if you are struggling with PPD, anxiety or depression, please take this as a sign to reach out to your healthcare practitioner.
As a mom of four, I struggled with postpartum depression (PPD) and anxiety beginning with the birth of my first son 14 years ago. However, it wasn’t until the birth of my third son in 2019 that I received an actual diagnosis and sought medical treatment. I thought for a decade that it was normal to live with crippling anxiety over my kids’ safety and wellbeing, chalking it up to loving them too much. It wasn’t until a conversation with a stranger at Mardi Gras last year, just after the birth of my fourth, that I learned there was a name for the uncontrollable feeling of despair, disgust and detachment I felt during breastfeeding: Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex (D-MER). The negative emotions were so powerful that I had to stop breastfeeding after just five weeks, despite being in a national formula shortage. D-MER is a condition that affects around 9% of lactating women and wasn’t widely recognized until 2011 –so new and such a footnote in postpartum care that many Ob/Gyns have never heard of it even today.
Managing my mental health has looked like setting aside time for myself, exercising, and confiding in trusted friends and family. These things have been some of the more positive ways I’ve made it through my darkest of days as a mom and as a human. Unfortunately, there have been plenty of negative coping attempts at powering through those dark days as well. The thing about powering through is that it’s mentally exhausting. It wasn’t until I truly surrendered my life to Christ that I finally found rest for my soul. In Matthew 11:28 Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” The rest God offers through His Son Jesus doesn’t exempt me from dark days, but gives me the peace to face them without fear and anxiety.
Not everyone has a blissful prenatal and postnatal experience. It’s important to have discussions with moms about their mental health before, during and after pregnancy, and for moms to let someone know if they have concerns or heavy emotions. I specialize in counseling women who are experiencing anxiety or depression, and I’m certified in EMDR trauma therapy. I’ve seen miraculous results with clients.”
— Leslie de Graff, LPC, LMHC, CRC, is a Zachary resident and owner of Ever Thrive Counseling. Contact her at 833-473-3399 or everthrivecounseling.com. Online appointmts available.
The two days in the hospital after my firstborn were filled with uncontrollable crying, sleep deprivation, and even snapping at the CNA trying to help me. I ended up with mastitis and fever 10 days after birth, which sent me running back to the assessment center SURE I was septic and dying. At that visit, the team let me know the uncontrollable crying wasn’t baby blues and reached out to my provider to get ahead of the depression and anxiety. Looking back, I was extremely anxious and you couldn’t talk sense into me. With medication, therapy, SLEEP, and validating what I was feeling, I was a better mom, wife, employee, and friend. Opening up to other moms who seem like they “have it all together” has been so helpful in feeling better as well. You realize you’re not alone and also that no one really knows what’s going on inside your head unless you ask for help! I am so thankful for the support of strangers, friends and medical professionals.
“Can postpartum depression and anxiety last 10 years?” I asked, shortly before getting on the right dosage of antidepressants. No, I didn’t ever think that it would be part of everyday life, but the mind of a mom comes with different pressures than ever before. Everything seems heavier, more important, time sensitive, and critical. Is it really? No, but it sure felt that way. Each pregnancy (or lack thereof), infertility and IVF, and eventual birth was different, and each transition to the new normal was different. I couldn’t do it alone. The village it takes for me is a group of moms, church, acquaintances, a small coffee group, a therapist and a psychiatrist. The truth is that I can balance marriage, work, and motherhood, but I have to do it differently than before. You aren’t alone. What you’re feeling is likely being felt by each woman you pass at the grocery or in carpool. Few speak up, but I’m hoping that is changing. Everyone’s version of hard is different, but we are all in this together.
My oldest was 9 when my fifth child was born, and my second child has autism and requires above the standard of care. It’s daunting to have so many little ones depending on you for almost everything, every day, 24/7. The early years are the hardest. Completely outnumbered and overwhelmed, I coped by learning to take care of myself so I could take care of them. I am a huge fan of the natural “doctors” God gives to us to support mental health and boost the mood: nutrition, exercise, water, sunshine, temperance, (fresh) air, rest, and trust in God. You can use the acronym NEW START to help you remember. The mind is a powerful machine and can be assisted to run at its best by taking advantage of these natural helps, especially when dealing with so many physical and hormonal changes. Finally, anxiety and worry can consume me when I don’t take time to pray and trust God to help me. These eight natural “doctors” continue to be a simple formula to help me refocus when I’m feeling blue.
Polite exchanges often involve asking how many kids each person has. For moms with four or more, the answer is usually met with “How do you do it?” My response is always the same: every number is amazing, and every number is HARD. Going from one child to two hit me hard. PPD was unknowingly in full force.Life felt upside down with a new little one to care for while grieving that my firstborn grew up overnight. I was unmotivated, fearful, resentful and lonely. My family and I didn’t recognize PPD, and I didn’t talk with my doctor for a year. My doctor’s most helpful advice was to return to work part time. Working was a lifesaver for me. When numbers three and four came, I asked for help when needed, worked outside the home when I knew my mind needed it, and sought medical help when I decided to start anti-anxiety meds. Exercise, Bible study, medicine and working part-time help me be the best version of myself for my family, and I am learning to adapt as my needs change through seasons of life.
For maternal mental health, most people think of PPD but what about after an unplanned total hysterectomy? The emotional roller coaster coupled with immediately being thrust into menopause in my 30s was far bumpier than the PPD I experienced. The loss of the ability to create new life was a tremendous blow. It seemed like everyone I knew suddenly had unexpected blessings I could no longer have. Was it rational? No. Was I thankful for my children? Absolutely. Was I happy for all of my friends? Yes. But that didn’t stop the tears late at night. I suffered with dark and overwhelming grief. But even when you think you’re on your own, you aren’t. The people who know you recognize it, and they’ll be there when you’re ready. Honest conversations with my doctor, and being open to trying new things like therapy and/or medication are key. My journey didn’t stop with my hysterectomy. It just started the next chapter at an unexpected time…but isn’t that how life works?
I found out I was pregnant just before my baby turned 1. I knew something was wrong from the start. The ultrasound revealed the pregnancy had implanted in my c-section scar – a rare ectopic pregnancy expected to end in miscarriage. It was a weird place to be mentally and emotionally, hoping that would happen on its own to avoid surgery, while being devastated at the loss. Even after the pregnancy terminated, the placenta continued to grow. I felt like a ticking timebomb, depressed but finding solace in my family, a support group for moms with the same condition, and therapy. The day I was diagnosed with PPD, I began to hemorrhage. The pregnancy had grown through my c-section scar, into my bladder, and was about to rupture my uterus. An emergency hysterectomy saved my life. Staying on top of my medication and beginning EMDR (trauma) therapy has been really helpful, in addition to doting on my 1-year-old.