I have a confession to make: I’m pretty sure I can only remember about 10% of the first week of my daughter’s life. I remember bits and pieces of being at the hospital (like our fabulous nurses – Chris, Jody, and Nichole!), I vividly remember leaving the hospital and driving home, I remember sitting in the bathroom crying, and then it’s just sort of blank. I don’t know if this lapse of memory is due to the emotionally overwhelming nature of the first week home with a newborn, hormones, exhaustion, or postpartum depression issues, but that first week was just one big blur.
I guess this was my first lesson in it all goes by so fast. My first lesson in being gentle with myself as a mother. My first lesson in making hard choices. And what feels like the hundredth time I’ve had to advocate for my mental health.
The first week was not difficult because of the baby. She is quite easy at this point, honestly. It wasn’t the lack of sleep or major change in routine. It was the fact that I felt like I had been hit by a train. I hurt all over. My hips felt like they’d been ripped from their sockets. My back was so tense it brought tears to my eyes. My poor uterus was trying desperately to return to its former glory. My feet, legs, and ankles were swollen. Standing up was agony – I’ve never been so sore. My breasts were painfully engorged. I was bleeding and leaking milk and tears. No one really prepped me for how much of a wreck I would be (both physically and emotionally) in the first few days after birth. I knew I’d bleed for a while and I knew it would take some time for things to return to “normal” but I never thought about it in terms of recovery.
And as those of you with mental health diagnoses may understand, when I feel shitty physically, I generally start to head downhill mentally. I felt like I was crashing. Whether this was my anxiety and depression flaring up with the large life change, hormones, or true postpartum depression, I am not sure – but no matter what, it was terrible. I wanted desperately to do everything right for the baby, and despite my confidence to do so before she was born, I just felt overwhelmed and helpless. I felt distant and disconnected from the whole experience even though I was right there in the trenches. I felt like I wasn’t connecting to her. Nursing seemed to bring on waves of unpleasant physical and emotional sensations, which I was starting to associate with her. I never had thoughts of hurting myself or the baby, but I certainly thought: What the hell was I thinking!? There’s no way I can handle this!
A few days after we brought Millie home from the hospital, I was in the bathroom while Benn changed her diaper in the nursery across the hall. He was singing to her and sweetly talking to her and the emotion of it just sent me over the edge. And in typical-hormonal-mess-fashion, that lead into a total breakdown. (This may be graphic, but…) picture me sitting on the toilet naked, bleeding from a still swollen vagina, milk dripping out of my grossly engorged breasts, ugly crying with snot dripping down my face. It was uncontrollable. It felt like all the hard emotional work I had done to prepare for this was useless. Despite the fact that bringing Millie into this world has been one of the most exciting, joyful experiences of my life, I felt sadder than I had in years.
So, I called the doctor.
I didn’t hesitate to act this time around, because I had a game plan in place with both my midwife and psychologist: if I didn’t feel right once the baby was born, I’d call, and we would adjust my medication. Simple as that. I called, went in for a PPD appointment with the midwife, and filled the new prescription. In a few days, the sadness had lifted. The anxiety surrounding nursing was resolved as I finally realized it just wasn’t working for me and decided to exclusively pump for Millie. The lack of sleep became something I embraced as part of this precious season of life instead of something to be freaked out over. I was able to focus in on the mindfulness training I worked so hard on while pregnant and really be present in the moment. My hard work paid off.
I was talking to two of my friends, who are also brand new mothers, about this and they both said that they were proud of me for always looking out for my mental health. For being so self-aware. I chuckled to myself because it feels like I’m an old pro at it now. In the last two years, how many times have I had to decide that it was time-to-call-the-doctor? I’ve lost count. But I can look at that one of two ways: 1) my mental health has been rocky and I’ve needed lots of medical intervention, or 2) I’ve learned the warning signs and put in the hard work and now I know when intervention is needed. I’m choosing number two in this case.
So to bring this full circle, the last two weeks have been great. While the first week was a painful, hormonal, emotional, exhausting blur, since then I’ve felt present and calm and even a little joyful! My body has recovered and I am in awe of what it is capable of. Millie and I are feeling much more comfortable together, settling in to a routine that works for us. I’ve enjoyed all the snuggles and sweet newborn eye contact I can get, and I’m feeling confident and excited to be a witness to Millie’s life. And thank goodness I took these photos to remember my sweet little newborn, because she is growing and changing so fast!💗