When you’ve already been through a postpartum mood disorder, it can feel a little premeditative to prepare to go through it with subsequent births. As if by entertaining the possibility of anxiety or depression symptoms popping up again will actually cause them to.
Are there really symptoms there, or are you just ultra-alert to what might actually be within a normal range of postpartum feelings/experiences? This is a thought I’ve been having recently.
MayoClinic describes postpartum depression as lasting longer than two weeks postpartum and including symptoms like insomnia, intrusive thoughts, sadness, excessive crying, severe mood swings, intense irritability and anger, and more. Postpartum anxiety can be characterized by excessive worry, feeling that something bad is going to happen, racing thoughts, disturbance of sleep, inability to sit still, and physiological symptoms like nausea, hot flashes, and dizziness (see more here).
Many of these symptoms can be attributed to lack of sleep or general overwhelm of new parenthood, but I want to stress that that doesn’t invalidate a woman’s struggle with them. As a friend put it for me before, no amount of suffering is too small to be recognized or supported.
As for me, I prepared during my pregnancy for the possibility of experiencing postpartum anxiety and depression again, being more likely to do so since I had with my daughter. “It’s just the possibility”, I’d tell myself. “I know how to handle it this time, get over it, and not let it affect me!”
Well, here I am two months postpartum with baby boy, and so far this has proven both true and untrue.
The truth is, I do know how to handle depression and anxiety better these days. I have a whole toolbox to access when my old “friends” (or maybe “frenemies”?) pop up. I know who to call when I need professional help and what self-care I need to ensure I’m not more susceptible to symptoms. I know to reach out to friends and I tell myself, “This, too, shall pass” and believe it. I know what to do to get myself out of funks and I know my thoughts do not define me.
I know what to do when I feel depression and anxiety symptoms…but I don’t know how to not be affected by them.
Even though I’ve already been through intense and preoccupying thoughts of death, intrusive thoughts of accidentally hurting my baby, compulsions to check on baby or something bad will happen to him, and the feeling of dread that accompanies postpartum anxiety, it doesn’t make them easier to stomach. They make me just as sad and just as stressed as the first go around. If anything, there’s this extra layer of fear of judgment and stigmatization, like I should know better this time around. Like I should BE better.
But, like my OB said recently, some women are just more sensitive to hormone changes, and I’ve always been one of those women, so it makes sense that the extreme highs and lows of hormones immediately following birth would have the same effect on my mental health each time. And just because my symptoms are familiar and so maybe feel a little less intense doesn’t mean they don’t count.
No amount of suffering is too small to matter.
A part of me is frustrated because I really do feel this immense joy in both of my babies, in new motherhood. Part of me also feels like an imposter because of that joy. Even my therapist said recently I sound good, my mood seems good.
You see, I’ve always been good at hiding my sadness or anxiety, but I also reason that I don’t WANT to feel the way I do, so I often maintain my positivity as a remedy. If I act happier and calmer, maybe I’ll be happier and calmer.
But…no amount of suffering is too small to matter, and the truth is my joy has been cloaked in this weighty sadness and worry that just won’t quit. Again. And that is OK.
Digging into my toolbox a lot right now and hoping to get through this tunnel to the light I know is waiting on the other side sooner rather than later.