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A Survivor Mama shares about her challenging adjustment to Motherhood

Posted Feb 26 2010 4:09am
Tell us about you- what was your adult life was like prior to having a baby?
In my pre-baby days, I essentially did what I wanted, when I wanted, and enjoyed having a lot of flexibility in my life. I was always involved in a variety of different things and enjoyed balancing everything. Marrying in my 30s, I had developed a lifestyle that I was comfortable with enjoyed. I became very accustomed to having control over how I spent my days and really didn't realize how much I took this flexibility for granted until my daughter was born... So what probably surprised me the most after having my daughter was the immediate loss of control and balance in my life. All of a sudden, I was on someone else's schedule and I was doing the same mindless tasks all day everyday.
Tell us about your pregnancy...was it planned? Was it eventful or pretty standard?
My husband and I found out we were pregnant about 6 months after our wedding. We had planned to wait a year after getting married to start planning for a family, so we were quite surprised that our plan didn't happen as expected and we got pregnant as soon as we did. We have always wanted to have children, but we also wanted to experience some new things and do some travelling before children came into the picture. The first thing I actually said when I first found out that I was pregnant was, "I guess I'm never going to Australia." I should have known then that there might be some issues concerning fears about unfulfilled dreams to come...
My pregnancy itself was pretty uneventful. Physically and mentally I felt terrific throughout most of my pregnancy. I had no health issues, no feelings of anxiety or depression, and continued to do most of the things that I'd always done, including exercising almost daily. I was incredibly excited about the arrival of my daughter and had no anxiety about how her arrival would potentially change my life. I was totally clueless about what was about to happen to our lives.  
You've dealt with postpartum depression and anxiety. When did you first feel that something was not "right" with you?
There was not one moment that I felt that things "weren't right", but instead a gradual feeling that I didn't seem to enjoy being a new mom as much as everyone else seemed to...
First of all, I ended up having an emergency c-section and while I wasn't upset about having the thought of delivering my daughter this way, the actual experience was very unpleasant and somewhat upsetting for me. I had also hoped to start breastfeeding right after my daughter was born (mostly because that's what everyone told me I should do), but recovering from the c-section delayed my ability to start this seemingly important "bonding" activity with my daughter right away.
Although not for lack of effort, the breastfeeding just never worked for us. After hundreds of painful and upsetting (for both my daughter and I!) attempts, countless consultations with lactation specialists, and finally a surgical procedure on my daughter's tongue to try to help her latch better, we had still gotten nowhere with the breastfeeding. After going through all of this, I hadn't had the most pleasant and enjoyable start to mothering. Maybe all of this planted some of the initial seeds of feeling unsuccessful in my role as a mother, as well as preventing me from enjoying the experience as much as I'd hoped...
A few months in, everyone kept asking me if having my daughter was the most wonderful thing that had ever happened to me, and I was just so exhausted, worn down and unhappy that I started to think that maybe being a mother was just not what I was meant to do. During my maternity leave (I was planning to return to full-time work), I attended many playgroups looking to meet other new moms with babies around the same age, and while I was hoping for honest conversation and the ability to commiserate with other mothers, I actually experienced the opposite. Everyone talked about how much they were loving being a new mother, and how lucky they felt to stay at home. Hearing this over and over made me feel even worse about my own experience as a new mom and seemed to confirm that there was something wrong with me - why wasn't I enjoying this experience like everyone else was? I eventually stopped attending these groups since they were making me feel worse, and started spending more time alone with my daughter again. This time at home, alone and between the four walls of my house was incredibly isolating and lonely and dug me even deeper into my feelings of sadness.
What symptoms did you experience and how did you deal with them?
The primary emotions that I experienced were sadness and anger. I cried frequently, and also flew off the handle at a drop of a hat. Depending on my current mood, the same experience or emotion could either send me flying towards anger and sadness, yelling or crying... The feelings would build up inside me for a while and then just erupt, often unfairly directed at my husband... I didn't want my daughter to see me cry or get upset, but sometimes I just couldn't hold it in until I was out of her sight. Often, many feelings of guilt followed, ashamed of my outbursts and afraid how they would impact my daughter.
How has your husband been through the postpartum period and what role has he had in dealing with your PMD?
I think that my PPD experience truly changed how my husband viewed depression. He suddenly saw his rational, "tough" wife on an out-of-control roller coaster, overwhelmed by her emotions and the experience that she was going through. I know that I scared him to death, and made him understand the severity of my feelings, when I told him on multiple occasions that I didn't know what I had to look forward to in my current life and was unsure if I wanted to continue living, being so unhappy with my current role. If my life was only going to be more of the same, I didn't want it. Hearing me talk this way, he highly encouraged me to talk to a therapist and seek out avenues of support wherever I could. I started to see a therapist and attended a support group, both of which my husband has been very supportive and encouraging about.
After suffering from a PMD, how will you think differently about future pregnancies (including whether to have more children)?
After the experience that I have had, I still often wonder if motherhood is for me... I have always loved children and absolutely adore my daughter, but the tedious, never-ending work required of taking care of a baby/young child, hour after hour, day after day is not the most enjoyable to me. I often wonder if it will eventually get easier or if it will eventually become more fulfilling for me as my daughter gets older.
I always imagined having 2 children, but wonder if having another child would make me even unhappier. With two kids would I be spending twice as much time doing all of these tedious things for TWO children, and having even less time to do anything for myself?
I really do want my daughter to have a sibling so she can have that special relationship throughout her life. I really don't want her to be an only child. And so I wonder, does it make more sense to have another child when you're already used to the baby craziness? Or, if we wait until my daughter is older to have another child, would it be another complete shock to the system to return to this intensive baby stage? How would I manage going through it all a second time?
Is faith a part of your life? If so, how has that been impacted by a PMD and how did it impact how you dealt with your depression?
Faith does not really play a significant role in my or my husband's life, but maybe if we were more religious, our faith would provide some support and greater "meaning" to the challenges that we are going through? I am always envious of people who can use their strong faith to help them get through and find meaning in difficult times.
This is YOUR question to create- this is where you get to share a little about what makes you tick...
My question: How has your "free time" been most affected since having a baby? Playing sports has always played a very significant role in my life and pregnancy and being a new mother has limited my level of athletic involvement. I didn't enjoy being limited in my ability to move my body while I was pregnant, and couldn't wait to resume all of the physical (fitness) activities that have always been so important to me once my daughter was born. Once the physical obstacles of pregnancy were over, it was very difficult to have to deal with the time limitations of my "new" life. Physical activity has always been as much a mental outlet for me as a physical release, and not having the opportunity to exercise as much as I was used to (and maybe need?) was almost like I had cut back on critical therapy. I knew that my ability to get in frequent exercise was not a special "extra" part of my day, but a critical time for me to have so that I could handle all of the stressors in my life. 
What do you wish you had known about Perinatal Mood Disorders before you experienced one?
I really wish I had known how prevalent PMDs are among new mothers. I had heard a little bit about PPD from friends while I was pregnant; they told me that if I had the "baby blues" after having my daughter that I shouldn't be ashamed to go look for support. But I really didn't think that this type of experience happened to "normal" women. I envisioned that it was women with a history of severe depression and mental health issues who experienced PPD. PPD was never discussed in my family, and after hearing for years how much my mother loved being a full-time mom made me feel ashamed of the feelings that I was experiencing.  
If you could only share one message or piece of advice with a pregnant or new mom, what would it be?
I would tell pregnant women or new moms that NO ONE, no matter what they say, has it easy taking care of a baby or raising a young child. People might act like it's all "puppy dogs and ice cream" and claim they love every second of being a mom, but all moms have times when they feel completely overwhelmed and experience doubt about motherhood.
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