Hannah Thrailkill, blogger at About Two More Years, shares her transition into postpartum as an American living in Lebanon, and her experience with postpartum depression.
My Identity Flipped
I experienced the most unexpected change, my identity flipped suddenly and immediately. When I got back to the room after delivery, it was just my birth coach and I. I broke down and sobbed. I told her I didn’t want to see anyone. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. Not friends, not family. I was completely broken. I still feel this way some days. If you have seen me in the last couple months, you have probably heard me say that I wish I could have taken the baby and my husband and lived on an island. I still wish I could do this. It’s all I want. I picture the three of us laughing, the sun shining, drinking out of coconuts and chilling on the beach. Not a care in the world.
A Dark Cloud Crept Over Me
To be honest, from the second she arrived in the world a dark cloud crept over and decided to stay. I was NOT expecting to feel so low and alone. You think having a little one will lighten up your life and you will just be a ray of sunshine. I thought I’d love having visitors over and happily play pass the baby. I thought I’d happily accept all hospital visitors. My mom described feeling this immense sense of pride and wanting to show her babies off to anyone and everyone. I felt the total opposite.
It Felt Like I was Being Ripped Apart
Watching Lily in the arms of anyone besides my husband felt like I was being ripped apart. Everything in me wanted to grab her and run back to my room. It took all my energy to physically pass her off to someone else. If I tried to nap and let someone watch her, I just ended up sobbing on the phone to my mom.
To make matters worse, I delivered in a culture where everyone is so excited to come over right away to see you and the baby. I thought I would delight in this experience, and instead, it was one of the hardest parts of postpartum life. My husband and I felt powerless as he told me “I just can’t say no.” And it’s true, we couldn’t. I had friends in the US tell me they told friends and family not to visit for two weeks. Imagine! I can’t tell you how I would do it differently next time or what I would change, I don’t think there was anything I could do and I certainly couldn’t help how I felt. There’s no lesson I’ve learned from this yet.
It Couldn’t Be Postpartum Depression
Another change I wasn’t prepared for was the intense hormone drop. I absolutely loved pregnancy. I felt like I was unstoppable and strong. With this little life inside me, I could conquer the world! I kept telling others, I could be pregnant forever and I could have a ton of babies! I even wrote about how I didn’t want to not be pregnant anymore. It was truly a high. Well, the female body does something interesting. Hormones build and soar, and then you deliver and they plummet. I had a few people tell me to prepare for the totally normal “baby blues.” Baby blues…that sounds really cute and adorable. I thought I’d be a little sniffly, shed a tear or two. No, it was more like sobbing for no reason 3-4 times a day…for one week…for two weeks….for three weeks….ok it’s supposed to get better now right? Time to start googling postpartum depression symptoms.
Now the list for postpartum depression is something like, “can’t sleep, can’t eat, give up breastfeeding, hate your baby, want to hurt yourself.” Whoa that’s extreme, I don’t feel that way. So week 4 passes…why am I still feeling so incredibly low, do I need to see someone? My baby is amazing I should be so happy all the time. (Enter in extreme feelings of guilt.) Week 5 comes and I over analyze every issue I can think of. My husband isn’t helping, I’m not getting out enough, I’m outside too much, I’m not seeing my friends, I’m seeing people too often…these weren’t really an issue. So I realize that week, this has got to be hormonal. Things are going so well, Lily is a totally normal baby. Everyone loves us and wants the best for our new family…so what is wrong with me? Why am I miserable? (Enter into even more feelings of guilt and self-criticism.) I was trapped in this really awful cycle of being miserable and making others around me miserable too.
Getting Medication for Postpartum Depression
I had my 6-week appointment approaching and that’s when I decided, I want the meds. I needed this emotional burden lifted and no life change or therapist was going to provide that, life was and is great with Lily. I talked to some friends who went through similar symptoms. One mom told me that with her first, it took her months to figure it out. With her second baby on the way, she and her doctor decided to start medication right away. After the baby was born, she loved and enjoyed every minute. There was no intense hormone drop. She expressed that it was so different this time around and she enjoyed the transition. I thought to myself “If I was going to have a do-over, would I start meds too? Absolutely!” She also gave me one more important gem of advice. She said, “You deserve to enjoy this time.” She’s right. Postpartum life isn’t a battle to fight or a mountain to climb. I don’t need to suck it up and suffer through it. I deserve to enjoy this wonderful little life my husband and I brought into the world! That’s what I desperately wanted.
My doctor was so supportive. She even said, next baby, we would start meds right before I gave birth. That sounded like a dream! I don’t regret this decision for a second. I feel more emotionally stable and the sobbing has stopped. I feel like myself and I can think more clearly about the day to day realities of being a new mom.
Taking it Day by Day
Lily is almost 3 months old now and I’m returning to work tomorrow to begin a whole new stage in this crazy mom life. I have a new set of worries but I have to just take it day by day and be kind to myself.
Postpartum depression is scary and you think it totally won’t happen to you. Most moms spend weeks or even months denying it’s happening to them. The world makes you feel awful for being so down even though you have a healthy happy baby. You think of how much worse it could be and feel guilty for feeling so sad all the time. It’s an awful cycle. But I know I’m not alone and it’s actually pretty normal to feel everything I am. I’m grateful for the people around me who shared their stories openly and encouraged other new moms to reach out and get help. If I can do that for one person then it’s so worth sharing my story too.