This post is supposed to be a story of triumph and hope… so why does it sound like such a downer?
Because while the above paragraphs reflect the truth of what happens more nights than I care to count, there is another side to the story – and it is this equal truth with which I am working to reframe my perspective. The day after my son’s birth, postpartum depression and anxiety hit me luck a Mack truck. I could not make the simplest of decisions. I felt anxious 24 hours of the day. I cried constantly. I was terrified of my newborn. I wanted to be dead so that I wouldn’t have to feel that way for one second longer. If this was motherhood, I was certain I had made the worst mistake of my life. Even as I read through the list of symptoms of PPD and PPA and saw myself reflected in one bullet point after another… even as I remembered the various risk factors I had, such as a history of depression… I was sure that in mycase, it wasn’t a serious but common medical condition from which I would recover with treatment, it was a fundamental flaw in my character and a reflection that I was not cut out to be a mother.
This was my life for weeks and months on end. Wracked with fear, guilt, and sadness; body in a constant state of fight-or-flight; paralyzed by small decisions; going through the motions in public, smiling for pictures, thanking strangers who complimented my baby, but inside feeling like I was dying. I went to my therapy appointments every week even though it felt like nothing was changing. I worked with my psychiatrist as we tried different medications, some of which did nothing, others that had side effects I couldn’t tolerate. I listened to other women who had survived a PMAD as they assured me I would recover, and I did not believe them.
Then, one day, when my son was 4 months old, I was on my way to get a car wash, and suddenly… I felt normal.
The feeling didn’t last long. A few hours, maybe. But it was a glimpse at the way things could be – an indication that I wouldn’t be in this horrible place forever. It sounds like a horribly cheesy cliché, but that day it was as if the clouds parted and I could finally see hope. And little by little, sometimes at a frustratingly slow pace, I made progress. Motherhood started to be a source of happiness and pride, rather than a source of terror and pain.
My middle-of-the-night anxiety episodes are proof that I have not yet recovered 100%. But they are also proof of how far I have come. Because I used to feel that way every minute of every day. My entire existence was one never-ending anxiety attack. I had no joy in any aspect of life. Now, the anxiety takes over only at night – on most nights, but not everynight. That is progress. I may be frustrated that this is an area I’m still working on, but I am working – and I didn’t get as far as I’ve come without work. If I look back on everything I’ve overcome (“look at the evidence,” as my therapist says), I see that I no longer give a second thought to countless things that once seemed insurmountable. If PPD and PPA have taught me anything, it is that I am strong and I don’t give up – the past 18 months are a testament to this fact. So I assure myself that one day, when my son cries in the middle of the night, I will be able to go to him calmly and offer comfort, and the paralyzing anxiety will be nothing more than a distant memory.
Amber Rhea wears many hats: full-time grad student, part-time historic preservation intern, and proud mom of an energetic little boy who was born in May 2011. She is a survivor of postpartum depression and anxiety and feels strongly about raising awareness of these conditions and increasing support for moms in the Atlanta area.