Everything was exactly how I had expected it to be up until the birth of my daughter. Pregnancy was easy. Birth was easy. My husband and I were thrilled. I loved the hospital we were at, and my doctor was great. I was struggling with the whole breastfeeding thing because our daughter latched on fine, but the lactation consultant referred to her as a piranha. She had massive sucking powers. At the hospital, they also told me to let her nurse for as long as she wanted and that she would come off when she was done. But I have that child who will never be done. Even now, at seven months old, I have to detach her. She’s like a Labrador: she’ll eat until she explodes. After three days at the hospital, I ended up with nipples that looked like hamburger meat. I had started to feel some anxiety, but it fit what everybody had told me would happen as a new parent, so I tried not to worry too much. The three of us went back home that Sunday night. I was expecting some time alone with my husband and my new baby to bond, but there was a little miscommunication with my in-laws who live in Arkansas and were supposed to arrive later that week. When we arrived, they were already at our house and my stress kind of increase. I went upstairs and tried to rest with my baby next to me in her bassinet. She started crying because she was hungry. This is kind of when everything went to crap. I think I have a pretty high pain tolerance and up to that point, I had been able to nurse her despite the discomfort. But as soon as I tried to put her on my boob, it felt horrible. She was crying from hunger; I was crying from excruciating pain, it was awful. I told my husband I wouldn’t be able to feed our child, and I just lost it.
My mom came that evening with washcloths for my nipples and a pacifier for my baby – despite what they had told us at the hospital about nipple confusion. My mom was great, she said, ‘Get a pacifier in this child’s mouth while we try to figure this out.’ She also brought chocolate. I felt horrible, but we made it through the night. The following morning, we called the pediatrician’s office which has lactation consultants/nurse practitioners on site. The one we saw was awesome. She examined my daughter then had me pulled everything down. I remember her going, "Oh… Honey. We got to keep that baby away from you!" She was the first person who was honest about the level of pain. So, for the first and a half month, I pumped, then we switched to the nipple guard. We eventually got to where it’s great, but nursing didn’t come easily. I think that’s what started the anxiety spiral. I went from "fed is best" to "I NEED to breastfeed her." I thought the anxiety would go away after nursing got better, but it didn’t. I thought I was managing it ok, that nobody could tell, which now talking to my family, I was not. I wasn’t sleeping at night because I was terrified she was going to die of SIDS. The only way I would sleep would be if somebody was with her and awake at all time. I would think, ‘If I’m not watching her every minute, she’s going to die, my husband will leave me, I’m going to be all alone, my family is not going to forgive me.’ It was out of control. A close friend of mine came over one day and said she was worried about me. Her sister committed suicide because of postpartum depression, and she’d brought me paperwork about depression and anxiety. I still wasn’t totally ready to admit that there was an issue. I’d heard so many horror stories from women about how they were treated once they went to get help. In a lot of ways, being a new mom is supposed to be the happiest time of your life. You’re supposed to be carrying your baby who never cries around in a little cloud, as everybody oohs and ahhs over how amazing motherhood is. Maybe for some women, that’s how it is, but that is not what happened with me.
When my daughter was about four weeks old, I finally called my OB who happens to be one of the best doctors in the area for dealing with postpartum depression and anxiety. My mom came with me "to hold the baby," but in fact, she was there to make sure I wouldn’t downplay it. When we got into the doctor’s office, I just burst into tears. I told her about not coping and wanting to make everybody happy. I told her about my panic attacks at night which felt like heart attack, about my fears to sleep and my baby dying. She was great. She told me that I was brave for coming, that she was so proud of me and happy that I had come and talked to her, that I wasn’t trying to hide that I needed help. She said I was the best mom that my daughter could have and the best thing for my family was for me to be healthy. We talked about a couple of options: psychiatrist, medication, etc. We decided that Zoloft was the best thing for me right now. She was so encouraging and didn’t make me feel like I was crazy or that there was something wrong with me. There’s a lot of stigma about mental health. I’m a Christian – Baptist – and a lot of people have the idea that if you’re a Christian with a mental health problem, that is because you are not a good Christian or not praying hard enough. My dad is the pastor of our church and did a sermon series about mental health. He talked about how all of those things are not true. That your life isn’t automatically perfect because you’re Christian. That’s not how that works. Mental health issues are the same as physical issues. People aren’t bad Christians because they get the flu or cancer. We expect them to go to the doctor and to get treatment to get better. Mental health is no different. That was one of the things too that made me more confident in reaching out.
My family has been super supportive of everything. In a way, I’m one of the lucky ones, and I’m grateful that I had good people around me to help me. It’s been better, but I still have weird moments of strange anxiety that hit. Sometimes I don’t trust my instincts because I’m not sure if it’s my anxiety talking or me picking up on something important. I need to learn to trust that motherly instinct. My doctor keeps reminding me that no magic pill fixes everything. I’m going to have good days and I’m going to have bad days. Tomorrow will be different and I can get through it. She said I would know when the medicine starts working when there would be more good than bad days. I also started going to a MOPS group and it’s amazing. I have a great community. During Advent, I was on Praise Team for the Peace Week and I got to light the peace candle. It was purely a coincidence, but that moment was a major turning point. When I lit the peace candle, I realized that peace was indeed coming. Advent is that season of expectation and waiting for Him to come, as a baby. Being a new mom during that season, I really identified with Mary and those feelings of expectation. Peace wasn’t there yet, but it was coming. It was possible for me too. Afterward, I wrote a little thing about my struggles and posted if on Facebook. I decided that I needed to be more open about my anxiety. That Sunday, a lot of people had told me that I looked so happy and perfect with my daughter, so ‘put together.’ I realized that what I was projecting might be hurting another new mom. I didn’t want me being a good actress to cause somebody else to stumble. The response to that letter I wrote was overwhelming. I’m truly one of the lucky ones. I’m surrounded by good people who help and teach me how to be a good mom; the best mom that I can be. For that, I’m really grateful.