How To Cope With D-MER, From A Mom Who’s Been There

When I gave birth to my son, things were perfect. My labor was short. My contractions were straightforward. My abdomen compressed regularly, and rhythmically. 90 seconds on. 60 seconds off. And he was healthy. Clear skin. Clear lungs. Strong heart. I couldn’t have asked for a better birth experience. The doctors were patient and supportive. My wishes were seen and heard.

I also had one hell of an epidural. My body was numb from the waist down.

But the best part was my son’s demeanor. He was a happy baby. A calm baby. An easy baby, which is to say he slept well and nursed often. He latched moments after I placed him on my chest and bare breast. And it seemed breastfeeding him would be a breeze. But after a few weeks, things changed. My relationship with him and breastfeeding changed, and I became anxious.

I didn’t know who was more upset: me or the red-faced baby in my arms.

Now I know what you’re thinking: It is normal to be overwhelmed. Parenthood is hard, breastfeeding is hard, and sleep deprivation is brutal. The first few weeks are particularly trying. But there was more to my emotional instability than exhaustion. I was suffering from something called D-MER, or dysphoric milk ejection reflex.

Of course, many people do not know what D-MER is. In fact, the term is rarely used — and the condition is misunderstood. However, according to, an awareness-based website managed by mom and lactation consultant Alia Macrina Heise, dysphoric milk ejection reflex is “a condition affecting lactating women that is characterized by an abrupt dysphoria, or negative emotions, that occur just before milk release and continuing not more than a few minutes.”

To put it another way, D-MER is a negative emotional response to the physical act of your milk letting down.

“D-MER presents itself with slight variations depending on the mother experiencing it,” Heise writes, “but it has one common characteristic — a wave of negative or even devastating emotions just prior to letdown.” And that was the case with me.

My stomach hardened and sank. I could feel the milk rushing forward, and the bile rushing up. An acute wave of depression took control of my body. I felt distant, absent. My face flushed with warmth and tears, and I became afraid of a monster I could not see, of a threat which did not exist.

Mother suffering while breastfeeding
Peter Dazeley/Getty

The good news is the anxiety and sadness only lasted a few moments. The feelings disappeared as abruptly as they come on. But for two or three minutes, I felt lost in my own body. My legs shook. My arms felt leaden, not solid but heavy. Like molten metal, they lacked stability and support. And I felt nauseous. I wanted to run. I was scared.

So how did I cope? How can you cope?

Here’s the best way to manage D-MER if you want to keep breastfeeding.

Acknowledge your feelings, don’t avoid them.

The first and most important step toward managing D-MER is to understand it. After all, once you recognize there is a correlation between your physical being and your emotional one, you will know what to expect. My son fed every two hours and when I felt “on edge,” I looked at the clock. Realizing I was about to let down was very helpful. I also knew I could count through it. Before I got to 200, the feelings would likely pass. That said, 200 seconds can feel like an eternity when your body is restless and your mind is depressed. As such, it is imperative you implement coping strategies like…

Busying yourself or your hands, with exercise, food, and/or fidget devices.

While snacking may sound silly, food can help you focus on something outside of yourself. It is also easy to do while feeding your babe. Not on the couch yet? Get up and move. Running in place can (and will) burn off nervous energy.

Practice relaxation techniques, like meditation and deep breathing.

I’ve never been very good at meditating, but many people are. They find the practice centers them — and grounds them. As such, you may want to have a guided meditation at the ready, like those on Calm, Headspace, and 10% Happier.

Use the ABCs to control anxiety.

Pick a broad category of things and/or objects — like colors, desserts, or cars — and make an alphabetical list in your head. Colors, for example, would look something like this: amber, blue, cobalt, etc. If your anxiety is still elevated when you get to “z,” pick a new category and start again. The point isn’t what you pick (or how far you get), it’s that you distract your mind long enough to work through any uncomfortable or dysphoric feelings.

Text a friend or make a phone call.

Connecting with another person won’t just help your D-MER, it will help you feel less isolated and alone (which, as any new parent can tell you, is super important).

Recognize it can and will get better.

You’ve been here before — and worked through these feelings before — and you can do it again. Take it one minute and second at a time.

That said, if you are overwhelmed by D-MER and/or if these thoughts do not dissipate, you should speak to your OBGYN or another trained professional, as these feelings can also be symptoms of perinatal mood disorders.

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Why I’m So Worried About Being Like My Mom

Trigger warning: depression, suicide attempts

I’m 8 years old, and I’m sitting in my living room crying, clutching a Barbie doll whose hair I cut crooked. My cousin stops home to change her clothes, and shows a brief moment of kindness. She straightens my Barbie’s hair and says, “See, its fixed now.” I stop crying, but she doesn’t understand. It’s not fixed. Not even close.

My problem is not that I messed up my new Barbie’s hair with a pair of old rusty scissors I found in the laundry closet in my back yard. My problem is that I am just 8, and I am sitting alone in my living room on Christmas because my mother can’t seem to stay out of bed. I cry because I’m sick and tired of being so lonely, and I still have such a long way to go.

By the time I’m 12 years old, my mother’s sleeping all day starts being interrupted by periods of screaming. She screams at everything that I do not manage well, during the time she is sleeping the day away. The wrappers I leave from all the processed foods I live off of laying around in a mess, that I haven’t taken a shower, that my homework isn’t completed. She becomes angry and resentful that she has to be awake to help me manage my days.

By the time I’m 13, the screaming is beginning to escalate. I’m becoming fed up, and I don’t know how much more I can take. It’s late in the evening and I’m huddled in a corner as she screams at the top of her lungs. I am at the end of my rope, hanging by a thread. I say, “Don’t make me hit you.” She tells me to leave and never come back. She tells me I am no longer welcome in the home that my grandmother purchased for my mother so she could take care of me.

Without a second thought, I walk out the door, the remnants of the world I knew up until that point packed into a trash bag. I have no plan and I’m dangerously lonely. This is the last time I see the woman who birthed me as “my mom.” This is the last time we ever share the same roof, same home. This is the day that my hopes of her “feeling better” and “getting happy” finally wash away, never to return.

When I’m pregnant I have flashbacks. I remember the isolation I felt in the care of my mother and the manic episodes that could make an okay day go to wishing I was dead before I was even a teenager. I remember the pain of enduring her first suicide attempt at the age of three. I remember the multiple boyfriends who took priority over me but were welcomed by me anyways because it was the only time I ever saw her happy. I promise myself I won’t be anything like my mother. I rub my belly and promise my daughter I’ll do better. I tell her I’m determined not to make the same mistakes. I promise I’ll always be there. She will always be my first priority.

The day she is born, the nurses hand her to me, and I think she’s beautiful. But after 25 hours of labor, I just want a glass of water and something to eat. I am feverish and exhausted. I just want to put her down, but she’s crying, and I feel guilty. Family surrounds me and talks about “how in love” they are, how perfect she is. I feel guilty, because I am waiting for these feelings to come, but they don’t. I feel disconnected and confused. I don’t understand why I’m not feeling the instant intense connection that every mother claims to feel.

As my daughter grows, from weeks to months old, I slowly start to fall in love with her. I go from being filled with anxiety about the fear that I’m messing everything up to enjoying snuggling in my queen sized bed with her (although I knew most doctors would patronize me for that).

When my daughter is just over a year old, I am diagnosed with postpartum depression. I fight hard to only spend the days that she is not with me in bed. I force myself to plaster on a smile, and I wait until she’s asleep to cry. But I’m just going through the motions. I’m hardly able to retain what it feels like to hold a baby or rock them to sleep. I am so numb that I don’t find any joy in motherhood. I am overwhelmed with guilt that I didn’t fall in love with my baby the moment she was born. I feel devastated that when I rock her, all I can do is think about going back to sleep. I hate myself, because when she takes her first steps, I only feel a brief moment of happiness that quickly fades away into the black cloud that has taken over the inside of my head.

When my daughter is three, I hear the words that have become my biggest fear since living with my mother. I have bipolar. I tell myself this doesn’t define me. Having the same condition as my mother doesn’t mean I’ll be anything like her. I continue to do all the things my mother didn’t do; I go to work, I take care of my daughter, I make sure she has all she needs and wants, and I make a point to spend quality time with her any time I have a day off. I tell myself, even if I have bipolar, it’s okay. Even still, I’m nothing like my mother.

When my daughter is 5, she is the funniest, most compassionate, vibrant person I know. She already has a fear of the world that I don’t think a 5-year-old should have. She is afraid of unlocked doors and people trying to hurt us in the middle of the night. She spends every night sleeping right next to me, her hands wrapped in my hair and her face pressed against my shoulder. She says, “If I sleep in my bed, and someone breaks in, you can’t protect me.” So, she sleeps in my queen-sized bed. Pressed up against me, surrounded by the pack of dogs we’ve taken in.

She spends her days singing and laughing. She tells me all the words she’s learned to spell and read. She tells me silly jokes that often don’t make sense, and usually they make me laugh. We are generally and truly happy. I am no longer going through the motions, but I have this little girl who is bright and funny and she has all the potential in the world. She has become my best friend, and I am so in love with her. I can’t even imagine a time in my life that she didn’t exist. I am so lucky.

Even though I know every word of this is true, I still sometimes have dark days. Today, instead of laughing at her jokes, I scream “I just need a fucking minute,” and she falters and her smile breaks and she begins to cry, but I don’t have the capacity to care about her crying right now. My head is too heavy and dark, and my heart is in my stomach, pounding, flooding me with anxiety. I can barely focus on anything other than the crack that goes up the wall, adjacent to my bed. My good friend Anxiety, however, does have the capacity to retain guilt I feel, because I know I should care that I screamed. I know I should care that my daughter is crying. I know I should want to scoop her up and tell her “Mommy is sorry. It’s okay baby, tell me your joke.” I am chipping away at the spirit of the most vibrant little girl I know, and I just want to go to sleep. This makes me feel terrible.

I tell her my brain feels sick, because that’s the best way I know how to explain it to a 5-year-old. It’s the best way I can describe it at all, for that matter. I tell her I love her, and she’s my favorite person on this planet, and I really mean that. We spend the day lying in bed watching tv and eating junk food. We eat ice cream straight from the tub and in bed. We have never done either of those things, and she thinks it’s the coolest thing that has happened since she got her very own TV in the room she refuses to sleep in. She laughs at her show, and I lay there trying to pretend I’m following along, but really I just focus on breathing. That’s all I can manage today. Just breathing.

I lay here now, with the snores of my favorite girl lulling me to sleep, wishing I felt better. Wishing I did more, for her and for me. I wish I was able to spend our free Sunday going to the park, or having a picnic, or doing our laundry or washing our dishes. And although I have all these wishes for my daughter, taking precedence is the wish that it was acceptable to call in “sad” to work, because I can’t help but dread the day ahead.

But, most of all, I am praying that I really am nothing like my mother.

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This Is What Postpartum Depression Took From Me

When my daughter Maliha was born, it was blissful. I had a few days of just the normal baby blues but other then that, it was the most euphoric feeling I have ever experienced in my entire life. After healing from a not planned C-section, I settled into the routine of motherhood with ease, carefully following a book on schedules, breastfeeding and feeling pride when I saw that Maliha had gained ounces from a feeding.

Every morning started out with a smile from my girl, a feeding, followed by a nap that we would take together. Maliha was such a good baby, patiently waiting and watching me while I got dressed for the day. We would go out to the family room and kitchen, and I’d be singing and playing songs on Pandora. It was amazing. So when I was pregnant with Issah, I again waited for this bliss.

Oh, how very wrong I was.

It started out just fine. This time, the C-section was planned and not so traumatic as the first. That itself should have set the bar high. I recovered much faster and had more experience with handling newborn. I came home, waited for my milk to come in, breastfed, tried to rest and keep the baby happy. But something was horribly off.

Every moment of happy and cuteness came with sadness. I struggled to laugh, to smile. I looked at Maliha and desperately wanted to go back to her babyhood–I thought I wasn’t paying enough attention to her and it killed me inside. Issah was such a cute baby, but he was colicky. I felt so bad for him every time the sun set each evening and he would cry and scream, no matter what I did.

There I was, surrounded by my two children and husband, and I had never felt more alone in my life.

My anxiety was sky high, which especially was not eased as it was cold and flu season. At the end of every day, I would wipe down toys and furniture and even the TV and remotes with anti-bacterial wipes. Everything had to be perfect, not a toy out of place, not a dish in the sink, not a crumb on the counter. I struggled so badly for some kind of control amid all the chaos going on in my mind.

I looked through my phone of pictures with Maliha when she was a baby. I had so many of myself with her, documenting on happiness. I didn’t have many with Issah at all. So I attempted to take a few.

Mariam Hussain

Even in color, this photo looked depressing. I made it black and white and all I could think was, This is the definition of postpartum depression. I am struggling to smile, to look happy. I have an innocent and sweet baby sleeping on me. He’s not crying at this moment. It was a peaceful part of the day so I should have been happy, right? I was MISERABLE.

People have said not to be afraid or ashamed to get help for postpartum depression. Shame or fear was not my problem though. I struggled just to talk. I can’t count how many times I sat at the dinner table with my little family, just crying while my husband and daughter looked at me helplessly. Maliha would give me a hug and pat my hand while looking at her dad like, “Here she goes again.”

Even when I did finally go to the doctor, all I said was “I’m not happy and can’t smile.” I said this without much emotion. I was given a prescription for an antidepressant, which made me sick so I soon stopped taking it. Eventually, after a few months, the fog started to lift. It wasn’t something that took over the entire day. Maybe a few moments here and there.

Issah is now 8 months old and I still have these moments from time to time, but it’s nowhere near where it was. I am one of the lucky ones. My postpartum depression improved without much medical intervention. And I personally don’t think the level of my depression was very high. My heart goes out to the millions of women who struggle for years with depression much worse than mine.

I implore you to get help in whatever form you can. If you cannot articulate what’s going on, take someone with you — your husband, partner, a friend. Write it in a note and hand it to your doctor.

I never thought I would have trouble voicing what was wrong, but it was part of the struggle. I didn’t want to talk. It was a horrible feeling that left me drained. Because being a mother is hard enough, we should all do what we can to make it easier on ourselves.

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How The #Iam1in5 Series Seeks To Break The Stigma About Mental Illness

Researchers estimate as many as 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness in any given year, and that nearly 1 in 7 women will experience a serious mood disorder after having a baby (this is regardless of whether they’ve been diagnosed with a mental health issue prior). Postpartum mental health issues – including depression, anxiety, OCD, and PTSD – are so common. Yet, so few of us talk about this fact.

But silence creates shame and stigma. And the more we keep things to ourselves, the less likely we – or our fellow moms – will reach out and get help. And listen up: this is not something any of us can afford to take lightly. Let me hit you with one more stat: suicide is the second leading cause of death among postpartum women, and while it’s a rare enough occurrence, it does account for 20% of postpartum maternal deaths.

These issues are not something any of us can afford to ignore for one more second. And that is why sharing our stories and truths – with each other, on social media, and elsewhere – is so vital. And a new viral series that is doing just that. It’s called #Iam1in5 – and let me tell you, it’s absolutely inspiring and empowering.

I am seriously blown away by the women participating in this series — their beauty, their raw, wise words, and their willingness to put themselves out there. They are not just doing this to share their own stories – but in the hopes that doing so will de-stigmatize postpartum mood disorders, and maybe even bring some light, solace, and strength their fellow moms.

Because if you think about it, mental illness itself makes it hard enough to seek help for, but if guilt, shame, and embarrassment are part of the picture too, it’s almost impossible to get better.

Instagram Photo

“I remember being pregnant and thinking there was no way I would get postpartum depression,” writes Meg Boggs, a blogger and mom to baby, Maci. But then, when her daughter was born, she found herself sinking deeply into a depression that she couldn’t pull herself out of.

“The harder I fought, the more I sank,” she writes. “So I went silent. I pretended like I was okay. I let the stigma surrounding mental health win and tape my mouth shut.”

“But no more,” Boggs proclaims.

YES. These women are breaking the silence on postpartum mental health issues, and doing so proudly, loudly, and with grace. It’s about time.

Instagram Photo

The #IAm1in5 series was started by blogger Desiree Fortin, who tells Scary Mommy that she began battling serious depression soon after her triplets were born. She shares in her IG post that it took weeks for her to actually seek help for the depression, and that is part of why she started this series – to assure mothers that this is more common than they realize, and that help is out there.

“I wanted to remind people that they are not alone in their struggles of mental health,” she tells Scary Mommy. “Vulnerability is what connects us as humans and sometimes it means talking about hard things and mental health is hard to talk about, but it is also so freeing when you do.”

Instagram Photo

In addition to bringing awareness to the issue, these mothers are also seeking to reduce the shame surrounding the issue of taking medication for mental health issues.

After giving birth to her third child this year, Brittany, a blogger from Houston, describes the depression that she spiraled into: “I knew something was off because I wasn’t able to breastfeed and I found myself crying all the time, I didn’t want to get out of bed, I didn’t want to hold Leighton that much, and I knew I wasn’t myself,” she writes in her #Iam1in5 post.

Instagram Photo

With the encouragement of her friends (2 of whom are a part of the #Iam1in5 series), Brittany went to her doctor, who prescribed Prozac. “[M]y life has changed tremendously,” she shares. “I am a new person on medication and I don’t know where I’d be or what I would’ve done without meds and the support of my husband and friends.”

But going on the meds wasn’t an easy choice, mostly because Brittany felt bombarded by the fear and shame that so many of experience when faced with the prospect of taking medication for mental health issues.

“[B]efore I was on meds I was so embarrassed to get on meds and thought I’d be a failure,” she writes. “[B]ut it was the best decision.”

Obviously, medication isn’t the answer for every mother battling a postpartum mood disorders – but my goodness, medication works very well for so many moms, and the last thing anyone needs is any more guilt, amiright? This kind of thing need to stop, and it needs to stop now.

So thank you to these gorgeous, badass women who are doing their part to break the silence and remove the stigma. Speaking out is such an important step, and will give comfort to so many moms, and hopefully get them much-needed help.

Of course, there is more work to be done to make mental health services more accessible and to improve treatment for postpartum mental health disorders. But every step forward is incredible, and these women are true heroes for opening up, taking the risk, and sharing their stories with all of us.

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The Breastfeeding Condition I Wish I Knew About

Breastfeeding is one of the most debated topics in motherhood. Your baby is more important that your sanity. Your sanity is more important than your baby. I love breastfeeding, it’s a beautiful natural way to connect with my baby. I hate breastfeeding, it doesn’t feel natural.

There is no right way to feel about breastfeeding. We all have our own opinions and experiences. My experience with breastfeeding the twins wasn’t a good one. I was recovering from a C-section, pumping every 2-3 hours and feeding a baby in between (24/7),and loosing 1-2 pounds a day.

One of the twins had a milk sensitivity, so in order for me to continue to feed him breast milk, I had to cut dairy from my diet. That wasn’t an option for me at the time because I was hardly eating as it was and was losing weight drastically.

After three months of trying to make it work, I finally said enough is enough. I felt immense guilt. I felt like I was failing my babies because my body couldn’t keep up anymore.

My experience with breastfeeding my singleton wasn’t much better. I had serious gallbladder issues (after both pregnancies), but this time it was much worse. I was nauseous almost every day, losing weight drastically, no appetite, with burning pain in my stomach. I wasn’t well.

On top of it all, about two months postpartum, I started experiencing a rush of bad emotions every time I pumped. I’d sit in the corner of my room at my ” pumping station” and almost cry every time I had to pump. It was uncontrollable anxiety, panic, and depression. It lasted for the first three minutes of my pumping session, but felt like it lasted an eternity.

I started feeling like I was going crazy. I started having anxiety between pumping sessions because I knew what was going to happen in a few short hours. I did it for as long as I could. By three months postpartum, I found out why I was having all these terrible emotions while pumping — I had D-MER (Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex). Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex is a condition affecting lactating women that’s characterized by an abrupt dysphoria, or negative emotions, that occur just before milk release and continuing not more than a few minutes.

I made it to five months, and then I decided enough was enough. D-MER is a real thing. I wasn’t going crazy. On top of all the other issues I was facing, I just couldn’t do it anymore. My hope is that this reaches someone who suffers from D-MER or who has suffered from it in the past. It’s such a random thing that I didn’t even know existed before it happen to me.

We all have our reasons why we choose to or not to breastfeed. My hope is that we can all support each other in our decisions.

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Don’t Ask A New Mom How She’s Feeling. Do This Instead.

Women who have recently had a new baby are prone to so many different emotions. With up to 80% of women experiencing some level of the baby blues, the fear is that it will evolve into postpartum depression, psychosis, or some other maternal mental health disorder. And so naturally, our first instinct, and the advice usually given to her support system, is to ask a new mom how she’s feeling.

And while the intentions of the popular #AskHer advice are good, it’s not always the most effective way of helping.

So don’t ask a new mom how she’s feeling. Because she’s going to lie to you.

Why would she tell you that she’s feeling exhausted? So that you can reply with “sleep when the baby sleeps” or “welcome to parenthood” or some other cliché bit of useless parenting advice?

Why would she admit that she’s sad and depressed? So that you can feel sorry for her and tell her to get help? Or maybe you’ll try to cheer her up by reminding her about the miracle she just created, ultimately making her feel much worse.

And tell me, why on earth, would she tell you that she experiences fits of violent rage and imagines doing bad things to herself or her baby? So that you can report her to child services? Or so that you can keep an eye on her and no longer trust her alone with the baby?

The truth is, opening up about postpartum depression takes a lot of courage and leaves a mother feeling extremely vulnerable. In order for her to answer your question honestly, she would have to have a huge amount of trust in you.

Instead of simply asking her how she’s feeling, here are some things you can do instead.

Don’t ask — DO

Don’t ask her if she needs help with anything, and then wait for her to politely decline as if it’s some sort of feat of strength for her to tackle everything herself. Don’t even give her an option. If there are dishes in the sink, wash them. Cook food for her — even if she claims she isn’t hungry so that when she does get hungry, it will be there waiting for her.

Sweep her floors. But don’t do it with a “your floors are so dirty” attitude unless you want to get slapped. Do it with a “put your feet up and let me take care of you” attitude. Encourage her to shower and sleep. Don’t wait for her to tell you what to do, take the initiative and make sure there is nothing else she needs to worry about other than herself and baby.

Don’t ask — LISTEN

Don’t ask her questions about how she’s feeling, but rather take some time to listen to what she has to say. Even if it’s nothing. Let her know that it’s perfectly fine to sit in complete silence and not have to say a single word. She shouldn’t feel the need to make small talk or converse about things when her brain is already overloaded. Don’t make unnecessary appointments or have a steady stream of visitors or outings.

Slow life down, don’t rush or schedule or make plans. Set aside some time each day to give her your undivided attention. She may not talk about how she feels right away, but knowing that you’ve dedicated time just for her, reinforces the fact that you will be there for her when she’s ready.

Don’t ask — PREPARE

If and when she finally decides to confide in you about how she feels, do you know what to do next? Do you know who to call or where to go for help? Make sure that you have a list of resources available. What will you say to her, and how will you say it? Keep in mind that mental illness can mess with a woman’s entire personality. She may normally be down-to-earth and have a great sense of humor, but postpartum depression can make her paranoid and easily offended. She may overanalyze everything you say or lose her temper. This is why it’s easier for her to speak to trained therapists or other mothers who have had similar experiences.

Don’t ask — RELATE

How well will you be able to handle the information she might share with you? Do you have any experience with mental illness? If not, better read up on it. Postpartum depression can cause mothers to experience scary things like intrusive thoughts, uncontrollable rage, and suicide attempts. Will you be able to relate to her when she confides in you about these things, or will you judge her and lose faith? It might help to read the stories of other women with postpartum depression and see what their experience was like.

By doing these things for a new mother instead of simply asking her how she feels, you will be able to earn her trust.  A new mother’s emotions are private and hard for her to talk about with just anyone. If you want her to discuss them with you truthfully, she needs to feel safe around you. You need to prove to her that you will be there for her no matter what and will love her unconditionally despite the changes she is going through.

It’s a fact that more women need to talk about maternal mental illness. If they are surrounded by a support system of people who will DO more for them, LISTEN to what they have to say, PREPARE a list of helpful resources, and can RELATE to what they are going through, then perhaps they will.

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This Is What It’s Like To Have Postpartum Anxiety

It all started for me during pregnancy. Even before that, if I’m being honest.

When we decided that we’d like to try to have a baby, I began to fixate and obsess on things related to my cycle. “Was I ovulating?” “Why did I ovulate late this month?” “Does that mean I have an issue?” “Am I infertile?” “I get pimples around my chin, and occasionally have hair around my belly button: Do I have PCOS?” “I must have PCOS?”

My thoughts (and corresponding internet searches) began to obsess over infertility.

I’d get so worked up thinking about it that I’d have myself in tears: Convinced I was infertile and that I’d never conceive. So I made an appointment with my gynecologist. His reassurance that I was totally normal did nothing for me. I demanded an ultrasound. The ultrasound was inconclusive for infertility, but still, that constant worry followed me.

Every time I’d hear about someone else making a pregnancy announcement, I’d get emotional. I’d cry to myself. I unfollowed anyone on social media who had the potential to get pregnant because I didn’t want to be barraged by the pregnancy announcements. I was so fixated on the theory that I must be infertile that I became resentful towards anyone that was sharing the joy of their pregnancy. My husband and I carpool to work together, and during the ride home one afternoon, he shared with me that he’d just found out our close friends were expecting. Instead of feeling happy for them, I forced out an “oh that’s great,” as I fought off tears for the entire ride home.

I thought, “If I could just get pregnant, I’d be able to stop worrying.”

And then, just like that, only three months into trying, I found out I’d conceived.

It was the longest three months of my life.

The initial joy, though, was short lived.

I did not breathe the sigh of relief I’d anticipated.

Instead, I insisted that we not tell anyone. I knew of too many folks who had miscarried or lost their babies. No one should know until I said so. I became extremely protective over the information.

So my husband and I carried this secret. A secret we should’ve wanted to share with family. A secret that I guarded intensely.

With the surge of hormones in my first trimester, came excessive anxiety over the pregnancy.

I had light brown spotting. The doctor said it was nothing to worry about. But Google said I was likely to miscarry. I went home and wept. “This pregnancy is doomed,” I thought. I prepared myself for the worst.

I had an ultrasound at six weeks. The heartbeat was a little low, but no big deal (according to the tech). “Just come back in two weeks – it will be higher then,” she recommended.

Google, though, said that the heartbeat should be higher for the age of the pregnancy.

Again, I believed completely that the pregnancy was going to fail.

I worried and cried often. I checked for bleeding obsessively. Any sign at all of the faintest brown spot on my panties and I was a weeping mess.

When I finally made it to 12 weeks, the point at which most women start sharing the news publicly, I begrudgingly disclosed my secret to only immediate family and my best friends, and only at the insistence of my husband (he thought I was being ridiculous to hide it for that long). It wasn’t the joyful announcement you see in the movies, though. It was one fraught with anxiety. I meekly shared the news, and often times, couldn’t even do so myself. I asked my mother to share it with the rest of my family, and had my husband share with only his parents and siblings. I then swore those privileged few to secrecy and demanded they not say a word.

I was outed at a family wedding at 16 weeks because I wasn’t drinking. I’d managed to conceal my belly under a billowy dress, and thought my role as “designated driver” would ward off any unwanted inquiries about my preference for “water on the rocks” that evening instead of my usual Coors Light. My husband’s cousin approached me and very publicly asked if I was pregnant. I felt my throat closing as I quietly nodded “yes,” and then begged him not share the information with everyone else.

“I just need to get to 20 weeks,” I thought, “Then I can finally just stop worrying.”

But when I made it to 20 weeks, I felt no better.

I was still hesitant to share the news with outsiders (I didn’t even share with my coworkers until it was blatantly obvious that I was pregnant). All the while, Google kept feeding me stories of pregnancy loss with every odd symptom I encountered. I left work one day after not feeling the baby move for a few hours. I called the hospital in a panic, arrived in tears – hyperventilating – and demanding that they check the baby. They calmed me down and told me everything was fine. When the nurse asked if I had been experiencing anxiety throughout the pregnancy, I lied.

“No – just this time, since I didn’t feel her moving.” I went home, cried some more, and then fell asleep, exhausted from the entire experience and ashamed that I had been dishonest about my feelings. From there on out, I neurotically checked for movement every free moment I had – poking and prodding my belly, and drinking sugary beverages to encourage a kick or jab.

I refused to buy any clothing or items for the baby with fear that, if I lost her, I’d have a house full of baby stuff and no baby. I incessantly declined a baby shower and would feel sick to my stomach when receiving an impromptu gift from a well-meaning friend or relative. I’d thank them, but would promptly stuff the unopened gift into an inconspicuous closet upstairs when I got home. I didn’t want to get my hopes up.

Sometimes, I’d feel this desire to just let my guard down and embrace the pregnancy, but my mind would immediately race back to the fact that “so-and-so lost their baby at 33 weeks,” reminding me that nothing was guaranteed.

At my pregnancy appointments, they’d ask about anxiety or depression: “No,” I’d insist, with a laid-back smile. To anyone on the outside, I looked like any other pregnant lady in the waiting room. But prior to each appointment, I’d nervously wait in anticipation, preparing myself for the worst when they checked the fetal heart tones. I ran through the experience of what I would do if there was no heartbeat so frequently that, by the time I got to each appointment, my stomach was in knots.

“If I can just make it to delivery,” I thought, “I’ll stop worrying.”

But the baby’s birth came and went. And the anxiety did not subside.

“Was she breathing when she was sleeping?” “Are there any blankets in her crib that can suffocate her?” If my husband would offer to take a night shift, I’d worry incessantly that he’d fall asleep with her on his chest after a feeding and that she’d end up suffocating. Unable to ignore that feeling of dread, I’d drag myself out of bed for every night feeding, determined to guarantee her safety. In the end, all it guaranteed was extreme sleep deprivation on top of my relentless worrying.

She had a milk protein allergy at four weeks old that caused blood in her stool. I researched every possible cause, convinced she had a serious intestinal condition.

Then came her eczema at three months old. “Is it caused by allergies?” “Is she allergic to the dogs?” “Oh my God we’re gonna have to get rid of our dogs.” The message boards all said we were selfish for keeping our dogs if she was allergic. I stressed over this so intensely that I’d be crying on the way to work, crying while putting the baby to bed, crying in the shower. I’d worry about it until I literally couldn’t manage to hide it any longer and would just have a weeping meltdown before falling asleep at night. I made my husband promise that if she was allergic to the dogs, he’d build them an outside kennel to live in.

“If her skin will just clear up, I can stop worrying.”

Her skin did eventually clear up – it was an allergy to diapers, not dogs.

But the anxiety remained.

Then came the concerns about my own health.

First there was a pain in the area of my ovary while running.

The doctor said it was likely scar tissue from my C-section. She gave me a script for an ultrasound, which showed a totally normal ovary, but a mildly thickened endometrium. “No big deal,” the doctor said, “Just follow up in a month with a second ultrasound to confirm that it’s thinned out.” But Google said a thickened endometrium meant uterine cancer.

“If I can just make it to the follow-up ultrasound in three weeks, and it shows a clear result, I can relax.” The follow-up ultrasound showed a thin, normal endometrium. All was well. But the worry? It was not gone.

Next, I had pain in my breast. Google and all the message boards said breast cancer. I self-checked so obsessively that I was feeling my boob for the majority of every day. “I think I feel a lump?” I went to two visits with my gynecologist. She didn’t feel anything suspicious either time. “If we can just get a look in there and make sure it’s nothing, I’ll be able to relax about it,” I said. She ordered an ultrasound to confirm for my peace of mind: The images showed a normal boob.

But again, worry followed.

I’d feel one thing, and visit the doctor, who would confirm everything seemed fine.

But good old reliable Google would have a different diagnosis for me.

Feeling a little lightheaded after staring at the computer screen all day? “Brain tumor.” Tingling in hands and feet? “Multiple Sclerosis.”

To this day, I am still dealing with this, and on to see my third doctor related to the tingling in my hands and feet. Two PCP physicians evaluated me and said they couldn’t find anything wrong other than a mild B12 deficiency. The neurologist I’m seeing also couldn’t find anything wrong during my physical exam. He’s ordered every blood test under the sun and an MRI to verify his diagnosis, but he, too, thinks B12 deficiency. My upcoming MRI appointment has me both physically and emotionally spent from worrying. I’ll remain that way until the results are revealed.

I’m able to calm myself down enough most days to get through the work day and appear like I’ve totally got my shit together, but in the evenings, when I’m home with the baby, the anxiety rears its head. There are days I just break down in tears for a whole evening because I look at my baby and all I see is her growing up without a mother. I look at my husband and I fear that he’ll have to raise her alone because I’m going to succumb to whatever issue I’m dealing with. I fixate on every symptom; I read every article I can find until I’m convinced that what is going on is not going to end well. I know even writing this how absurd it all sounds, but when the anxiety starts rising, there’s nothing I can do to stop thinking about it. It literally takes my breath away.

I don’t know how this started.

It could’ve been my dad always being neurotic about his health.

It could’ve been the loss of one of my best friends at age 25 to bone cancer.

It has recently been exacerbated by the diagnosis of a 34-year-old family member with a brain tumor.

What I do know is that since being pregnant and having a baby, it has gotten so much worse.

The doctors poll me about depression. I don’t feel depressed. I don’t feel unhappy.

But I do feel overwhelmed with issues related to my health. I cry because I’m terrified of potential outcomes. It’s like I literally haven’t stopped worrying since before conceiving this baby over a year ago. That, in itself, is absolutely exhausting.

It leaves me with nothing left at the end of the day.

It leaves me with minimal patience to deal with a teething 7-month-old.

It causes me to miss out on time with my daughter and husband because, while I might be physically present, mentally I’m obsessing over every sensation and deliberating over whether it’s another symptom of a terminal illness.

I’d heard a million times over about postpartum depression, but never about postpartum anxiety. After reading more about it, I feel better knowing that while I might have had a bit of an anxiety issue before conceiving, the pregnancy and postpartum hormone fluctuations can actually make those compulsions so much worse. This isn’t just me being “crazy.” This is something beyond my control.

I’m sharing this not because I want folks to feel bad for me, but because someone else out there is likely dealing with the same concerns. Just know that you’re not alone.

You’re not alone in that you’ve harbored the weight of this struggle independently, keeping it from your spouse. You’re not alone in that you’ve filled out every PPD form at your pediatrician visits and lied when answering the questions about anxiety. You’re not alone in that you’re ashamed to discuss this with a doctor.

The past six months have made it blatantly obvious that I need to get this under control.

I am a mother, a wife, a dog mom, a friend, a daughter, and so many other great things. But I’m also a victim of postpartum anxiety. There is no shame in finding a better way to lift this cloud of worry that hangs over me. There is no shame in asking for help.

The post This Is What It’s Like To Have Postpartum Anxiety appeared first on Scary Mommy.

I Worry Postpartum Depression Prevented Me From Being A Good Mom

I had plans to be the most attentive, amazing mother. I put so much thought into my daughter’s impending birth. I carefully selected each piece in her nursery, her wardrobe, and the items I would use to care for her. Not a single detail was overlooked. I wanted everything to be perfect for her. I wanted to be perfect for her.

I wasn’t sure what to expect as a first-time mom, but who does? It’s one of those things you have to experience firsthand to truly understand. I expected the emotional rollercoaster of the “baby blues” immediately following her birth. I knew there would be sleeplessness and exhaustion, but postpartum depression and anxiety never crossed my mind. It just wasn’t on my radar—at all.

I cried the week before her arrival while blaring P!nk’s Perfect in my car. I felt those lyrics in my soul. I wanted so badly to be her soft place to land, no matter how dark and cruel the world was. And then she was here. She was, and still is, the most precious, perfect little being. I would die twice to keep her safe, but when I think back to the weeks and months following her arrival, I can’t help but feel like I let her down.

Shortly after her birth I was blindsided by postpartum depression and anxiety. It’s easy to see how bad it was from this vantage point, six years later. But at the time, I didn’t see it. I knew something was off, but I thought it was just the jitters that came with being a first-time mom.

It wasn’t.

My mind told me that if I wasn’t physically with my daughter something awful would happen. I was scared to leave her side. I cringed when others held her, for fear they may drop her. I worried if I carried her into the kitchen I might accidently burn her leg on the stove. It was all I could do to keep myself together, to keep my head above water. I felt like a failure.

Anxiety consumed my days, and kept me awake at night. It led me into a depression I never saw coming. I was lost.

When I had my son two years later, things were different. I was fortunate to be spared the debilitating anxiety this time around, and the experience was completely different. We bonded instantly. I wasn’t plagued with irrational worry, or suffocating depression. I was there for him physically and emotionally. Experiencing those postpartum weeks and months with him, as they should be, was eye-opening. It provided insight and clarity looking back on my previous experience with my daughter. I realized what I went through with her wasn’t just normal baby blues, or the jitters of early motherhood. With this realization came an immense amount of guilt.

I felt like my daughter was cheated. Postpartum anxiety stole something from both of us that we can never get back. In those early months, when we should have been bonding and building the foundation of our relationship, I was a mess. It wasn’t her; it was me, and that guilt haunts me. I wasn’t the best I could have been for her. I wasn’t the mother I set out to be.

I was the shell of a broken woman, who didn’t even realize she was broken. If I’d known, I would have asked for help, I would have reached out. But I didn’t, because I thought I was fine. I thought I was just learning the ropes. I dismissed all the signs, and rationalized all the worry as being a first-time mom. I was naïve, and that realization is devastating.

My daughter is my mini-me. She is creative and bold. She is kind and sassy. She is perfect. We have an amazing relationship, and there is no evidence to suggest that those first few months—that first year really—hindered our relationship in any way. But the guilt remains. In the back of my mind, I feel responsible, though I know I had no choice in the matter. I didn’t choose postpartum depression and anxiety, but shouldn’t I have recognized it? My mind taunts me with those thoughts—you should have known.

But, in reality, you don’t always realize what’s happening—even when you know the signs. Even when you’ve heard about it a million times before. Postpartum depression and anxiety are deceitful, and they tell you, it’s just you, it’s not them. For this reason, it’s important to have a web of support who can help you identify the signs. Whether it’s a trusted friend, a family member, or a Facebook moms group, lean on them. Share your experience, and talk about what you are feeling. I wish I would have.

If you think you might be suffering from postpartum depression or anxiety, or need some extra support, call at 1-800-994-9662. Check out the website for more information and resources.

What I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Postpartum Anxiety

Being pregnant was great. Books, websites, and forums existed for any and every topic I could imagine. They detailed every step of the process so the mom-to-be felt prepared for everything. As a person with anxiety, I found comfort in the millions of pages of scientific facts and parental advice.

What I discovered during the first few months after having my baby, however, is that the authors left out a really important topic – post-partum anxiety. Their articles said new moms are tired and a little nervous, but provided no examples of what that looked like. I had no idea that what I was feeling and experiencing was different from other new moms. I assumed everyone else felt like they were holding their breath all day, every day.

So, to help future moms, I wrote the words I needed to read after having my son:

Congratulations! You successfully grew a human in your body. During your time in the hospital and the first few months at home, pay attention to how you feel on the inside. There is a difference between being tired and uncertain, and being fearful and exhausted. The first two are a natural part of parenting. Your entire schedule changes, and you are figuring out how to take care of a baby. It’s hard. The second pair, however, represents possible postpartum anxiety and needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.

How can you tell the difference between normal concern and actual anxiety? Here are a few examples.

Following delivery (and assuming there weren’t any medical complications), did you:

(a) Feel comfortable having family/friends visit in your hospital room.

(b) Change out of the hospital gown and put on your own clothes.

(c) Get out of the bed and sit somewhere else in the room.

If you did any or all of these, good work. If, instead, you felt your heart racing and an impending sense of panic when visitors were in your room, make a note of that. If the thought of taking off the hospital gown and wearing pajamas or stretchy pants was too much to handle, write that down, too. If leaving the safety of the hospital bed seemed like a terrifying proposition, it’s important to say that. These can all be early signs of post-partum anxiety.

The first time you left the house with the baby (even if you weren’t driving), how did it go?

(a) It was no big deal. I put the baby in the carrier/car seat and did what we needed to do.

(b) I was a little nervous, but we went to the appointment and picked up some lunch.

(c) It felt like everything was taking forever to happen. I needed to get in, see the provider, and get home as fast as possible. No extra stops or errands.

Some moms scoop up the baby and go about their normal routine. If the baby is hungry or needs a diaper change, they take care of it and move on to the next thing. Other moms are nervous, but manage to take the baby to a check-up without any problems. Moms with postpartum anxiety may feel panicked every second they aren’t in the safety of their home. Taking the baby anywhere feels like walking into a dark alley at night.

After a few months, what does sleep look like in your home?

(a) I put the baby to bed then I go to sleep. There are still some nighttime feedings, but I handle it and go back to sleep.

(b) The baby and I both sleep pretty well. We have rough nights here and there, and sometimes I need a nap, but it’s fine.

(c) I have a hard time going to sleep. I’m worried that the baby is cold or hot. The tiniest noise wakes me up. If I get up for a nighttime feeding, I can’t go back to sleep. I’m wide awake watching terrible infomercials.

Most babies don’t sleep through the night for months and new parents are tired. However, sleep deprivation is used as a method of torture for a reason. It breaks you down and impairs your ability to think and act. If you can’t fall asleep or stay asleep because it’s too noisy in your brain, you are more than tired.

Postpartum anxiety is a real condition, and the fear and exhaustion you feel won’t get better if you ignore it. It’s important to talk to your partner or family or best friend about how you feel. If you think they will be too judgmental or dismissive, call your doctor. It is literally the doctor’s job to take care of you. They want to help and will be the first to tell you that other moms struggle with anxiety. You are not alone. You aren’t a bad mom.

Information like this would have prompted me to seek care sooner. It would also have allowed me to enjoy more of my baby’s first year. I spent so much time and energy worrying about how to handle normal scenarios that I missed the beauty, and humor, of those situations. Looking back, I realize there’s no diaper nasty enough to justify living in fear.

I Had A Feeling Something Was Wrong After My Baby Was Born. I Was Right.

I brought home my bundle of joy and after one weekend, reality came crashing in. At 2:36 a.m. on Sunday morning, I told my husband, “I don’t know if I can do this.” But what I really meant was, “I don’t want to do this.”

In June 2016, a little before my 35th birthday, I gave birth to a five week premature little girl who we named Isabelle. The build up to that day was marked by a whole lot of excitement and anticipation – and five months of vomitting. After witnessing friend after friend mooning over their precious miracles, finally I would get to experience it for myself. I would have my own beloved miracle, a creation that would elicit feelings so profound that they would overwhelm me.

Sadly, I did experience overwhelming feelings, only they were not of love and wonderment, they were the total opposite. In those first few weeks, I silently struggled with my feelings towards my daughter. I did not feel love, or even warmth. I felt strangely dispassionate, and as time passed, I became more and more convinced I didn’t even like her.

The first time I was struck by the feeling, that would all too soon become a permanent fixture, was the weekend we brought her home after she had already spent 8 nights in the NICU. The feeling blended the hollowness of despair, the prickliness of dread and something I imagine to be quite similar to sheer grief. After 36 hours of intermittent screaming and no sleep, the feeling blossomed like a vine chocking the life out of me. This marked the beginning of a war, where the collateral damage could have been my daughter, a war that raged inside of me and in truth still does. I have won many battles, but the war is not yet over. The feeling reminds me of Voldemort from the Harry Potter books – no matter how hard I fight it, no matter how much I weaken it, it just will not die.

So, after just 11 days of a job I had contracted to for the rest of my life, I quietly and uneasily realized I did not want the position anymore. All I could think about was: “How do I get out of this?”.

My daughter had been an incredibly difficult baby – the picture of discontent for pretty much the first 16 weeks of her life. And while I am sure that her troubles contributed to my dark feelings and thoughts, they were not soley to blame. Add one unhappy premature baby, tortured by severe reflux and colic, to a woman with wild hormones and a history of depression and anxiety and you have the makings of the perfect natural disaster.

At this point I must make clear that one does not need to have a history of depression or anxiety to suffer from post partum depression – it can affect anyone. Neither does it only affect those who have experienced difficult births – it can emerge after any type of birth experience. Nor does it only affect first time moms – you can have a perfectly wonderful first time experience and suffer from postpartum mental illness with your second or third child.

Research has shown that your chances of suffering from postpartum depression increase with subsequent pregnancies if you’ve experienced it with your first child.

There is no hard and fast rule, however, and it is completely dependent on the person, how many children they have, and how their brain and chemical make-up reacts to the disturbance of having a child. Sorry, I know a clear cut way to predict this would be nice, but it just doesn’t work that way.

As the days passed, my mood disintegrated. I became completely disinterested in everything — food, bathing, talking, even “The Walking Dead.” But saddest of all, the primary object of my disinterest was the miracle baby that for so long had been my wish. I felt empty, a shell, a husk. I barely engaged, except to beg through tears to not be left alone with the baby. To question my ability to do this baby-thing – when inside my head I was desperately screaming for someone, anyone, to get me out of this.

Since there’s no “take backs” when it comes to having a child, I retreated into myself and my phone – Candy Crush became an addiction. Looking back, it is incredible how I managed to remove myself emotionally and mentally – even my newborn’s inconsolable crying didn’t penetrate the force field. A lot of the time, I silently relinquished my responsibility to everyone else — anybody else really — knowing if I didn’t react, sooner or later, someone would attend to her.

As I was still breastfeeding, I was forced to interact with her regularly, but I wasn’t present. I would stare out the window while she fed (wishing to be anywhere but in that rocking chair, with her) or I would stare at her as if she were an alien being that I would never understand or connect with. Once she was finished, I would hand her over to my mom, sister, sister-in-law, or husband and either go back to bed or to my phone.

I had been told that breastfeeding offered the most special moments a mom could experience. Countless times I had heard that these moments, just the two of you, quietly bonding, were priceless. But for me the price seemed too dear. Being alone with her was my worst nightmare. And at 3:00 a.m., in the darkness, in the quiet, in the rocking chair, I couldn’t be more alone. Alone with her and my thoughts. These were not moments I would come to treasure.

Daytime was a little better, because there was almost always someone with me, but whenever it looked like that person was getting ready to leave, I could not help the tears from streaming, the voice from cracking, the nausea from rising, and the sweat from prickling. My poor mother literally gave up three months of her life to care for two children – hers and mine.

Every day was the same — living feed to feed, every three hours. Change, feed, vomit, cry, rock, sleep, hold. Repeat. I had nothing but time, but no time at all. And it passed achingly slowly. I wished it away, I wished her life away, desperate for her to reach these milestones that were promised to make things easier.

“Just wait for 6 weeks, 12 weeks, 6 months, you’ll see the difference. Oh, but she was preemie, so, you need to adjust, it will be more like 10 weeks, 16 weeks. Hang in there it will get better.” The goal posts kept moving away from me.

At the risk of sounding heartless, I think her helplessness disturbed me most, her neediness, her reliance on me. I couldn’t bear it. It was too much pressure. I was struggling to keep myself going, how could she expect me to keep her going too. She had trapped me, like a shackle, I was no longer free to go and do as I pleased (try peeing while you hold a newborn, good luck if you need a number 2). I was anchored to a rocking chair and the anchor was my baby, the weight of her expectation made it hard to breath.

The long-term permance of this shackle amplified the feelings of claustrophobia. Would I ever be free again? And, of course, these types of thoughts and feelings are always coupled with the weight of the guilt from feeling and thinking this way.

My friends and family were amazing during this time, regularly visiting and putting up with their ghost of a loved one. In that time, my mom friends all confessed to how dark their thoughts had been in those first weeks, and they were dark indeed. Morbidly, I relished their stories as they made me feel better about my own thoughts and the feeling.

I often fantasized about getting in the car and not coming back, finding her a new family that could love her better than me, I even considered hurting myself just to escape, but worst of all were the times I wished I could turn back time and leave things the way they were – before Izzy existed. And ultimately, that is what I wanted. I wanted my life back the way it was, the life I knew, the life where I was in control.

The shock of how permanent and devastating the change this baby brought was overwhelming, I couldn’t see a way through it. And the more everyone — and I mean everyone — told me it would get better, the more I didn’t believe them. Because as each milestone passed nothing changed, in some ways it got harder.

I was obviously not coping to anyone who took one look at me, between my seriously unwashed hair and pajama uniform.

My first visit to the pediatric nurse, Izzy screamed from arrival to payment. The moms in the waiting room stared in simultaneous horror and relief that this was not their baby. The receptionist took pity on me and whisked Izzy away and ordered me to go into their kitchenette and make tea. After about 10 minutes of “making tea” (i.e. crying and wishing for a different life), I retrieved my still crying baby and exited with a stream of pitying looks and words of encouragement.

Everytime I take Izzy for a check-up, they tell me that some of the moms who were there that day still ask after me. Izzy and I are now the stuff of legend, the mom others measure their experience against, and the baby, the barometer for which other babies are judged upon.

One morning, when Izzy was about six weeks old, I was hiding out in Facebook and I happened upon an article about a woman named Allison Goldstein, an award-winning elementary school teacher, a normal everyday first time mom, just like me. A mom who dropped her 4-month-old off at daycare, drove home and took her own life. No one had a clue anything was wrong – not her husband, not her mom, not her sister whom she spoke with every single day post giving birth.

The puzzle pieces clicked and I realized I needed help, and I needed help right now. I called my psychiatrist that day and made an appointment. I told my husband and my mom – if they hadn’t figured it out already – that I was not okay and I couldn’t just power through it.

The lack of sleep exacerbated my depression, so my psychiatrist recommended that along with a change in medication, and regular visits with a psychologist, we employed a night nurse. The irony of pre-motherhood beliefs and attitudes is that I was one of those who judged mothers who employed night nurses, I judged them hard – why on earth can someone who is on maternity leave not manage?

But without this help, I don’t know if I would have survived the first 12 weeks. Instead, I only had to survive 12 hours each day. The nurse arrived at 6 p.m. and would take over until 6 a.m. the next morning. I began counting the hours from about 9 a.m. in the morning to her arrival, and glorious relief. Adversely, as dawn drew closer, my anxiety sky-rocketed. As soon as I heard the birds start their morning song, my stomach became a pit of dread and the tears welled at the thought that I would soon have to take over caring for the baby, my baby.

After seeing a therapist several times, she managed to get me to realize that what I was feeling was not great, but it was okay, that I needed to reframe my language. I didn’t like Izzy, now. I didn’t enjoy being a mom, today. These feeling were time sensitive. She gave me permission to not like my baby over this time. “What’s to like at the moment? She is not very likeable or enjoyable at the moment but that’s OK, she won’t be like this forever.” She was completely right; I might not enjoy these first 16 weeks of Izzy’s life, but 16 weeks in the grand scheme of things is a drop in the ocean.

It’s just almost impossible to see that when you are drowning in that drop.

As the weeks, and months passed, slowly but surely, the feeling retreated. As much as I kept saying “I can’t do this,” I was doing it. And even if what I really meant was “I don’t want to do this,”I had no choice — I had to do it; I was her mother. I began to realize that actions speak louder than thoughts or feelings; I was caring for Izzy, maybe not in the way I hoped, maybe not with the joy people expect, but regardless she was thriving. A preemie baby with severe reflux and colic – she was gaining weight week by week, catching up to the 50th percentile and reaching her age appropriate milestones.

I was actually doing a really good job – and my pediatrician, nurse, friends, and family all praised me for it. And that felt good, knowing that, despite her mom being unwell, Izzy was getting all the right things from me. She didn’t care that I had these negative feelings. I can’t say for sure why it didn’t effect her, but I think that, for a newborn, perhaps the best sign of love is care – food when she was hungry, warmth when she was cold, changing when she was uncomfortable and a gentle touch when she needed comfort. She didn’t know that the feeling left me wanting, because as far as she was concerned, she was getting all that she needed. I was speaking her love language, even if I wasn’t being particularly poetic.

I am embarrassed to say that my daughter, with only a few weeks on earth under her belt, loved me right from the beginning. And I was too disconnected to recognize it. I was the person her blurry little eyes sought out, the person who she wanted as her comforter, the first person she smiled for and the person she shrieks most loudly for.

Now I see Izzy clearly, as a little person who was struggling as much as I was. I have learnt to take the wins, big and small. Most days, I see and appreciate her for who she is and, after almost 16 months, I began to feel that deep love that was promised. Now that she is almost two years old, that love grows every day. This love is not perfect; the feeling lurks in the dark places, when I am tired or stressed, when Izzy feels overwhelming, when work feels overwhelming or when my life as I knew it seems a distant memory never to be relived.

I still have moments where the feeling tries to drag me back under, but these moments are few and far between. The good feelings are far more dominant than the bad, and now Izzy more often than not takes my breath away in a most wonderful way – those are the feelings I cling to, when the other feeling tries to snake its way back into my life.

I will carry on fighting because, now, I know the feeling lies, it cheats, and it steals. The feeling blocked me from the joy that should have been mine, the joy of unconditional love, of creating a new life with the love of your life. It stole my husband’s partner, the one he knew and needed. It stole some of his confidence in me and my commitment to our family. The feeling lied to me about Izzy and her role in all of this and it cheated her out of a present and emotionally engaged mom when she was at her most vulnerable. The feeling stole all this from me, from Izzy and from my husband.

The feeling will take nothing more from me, nothing more from my baby girl, and nothing more from my family. I hope that if you are reading this and know the feeling you can see you are not alone, that help is out there and that the feeling needn’t steal anything else from you and your family.

Talk to someone, anyone, even a stranger. Make an appointment with a doctor, a priest, a healer, a counselor, whatever works for you. Join a support group, create a support group. Trust me when I say, there are lots of us who know what you are going through and we know the feeling doesn’t have to own you forever, you do not need to fight on your own, help is out there.

If you or someone you know is having a mental health emergency, please call 911 immediately. If you are currently having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Non-U.S. citizens can visit IASP or to find help in your country. If you think you or a loved one is suffering from postpartum depression or another postpartum mental health issue, visit Postpartum Support International for resources and support.