Dream or Reality?
I’m dreaming. It’s a dream where I’m responsible for children, and keeping a house clean and tending to the needs of others all day. But wait, that’s not all, it’s not just children, there’s a baby too. Yes, a tiny baby who needs me constantly. He needs me for food, for comfort, for warmth and nurturing. His needs are monumental compared to the other children. I must focus on him.
But wait, now the dream takes a turn. I’m trying to comfort the baby and the other children suddenly need something, and it’s urgent! I dash off to care for them and leave the baby. But now the baby is crying. The baby needs me. The children need me. The dream carries on this way–caring for the baby, caring for the children, caring for the man, caring for the house, and on it goes. Suddenly I realize, this is no dream. This is life, real life, my life covered by the fog of the postpartum period.
Checked Out of Reality
I’m always amazed that I can be so “checked out” of reality and never know it. I’ve had four babies. The most recent is six months old. The first time I realized I had postpartum depression was with my second baby. Life was challenging. We had recently moved to a new town and I knew almost no one. I had graduated with my bachelor’s degree a month before she was born and so I was experiencing the challenge of changing everything in my life at once. I had a two year old running around needing constant care and I was So. Very. Tired.
She was almost a year old before I realized something was wrong. I starting realizing that my behavior hadn’t been normal. I’m not talking about just the swinging emotions of postpartum hormones, I mean real personality changes. When she was a few months old I was sitting in the big chair nursing her. I have no idea what big brother was doing but he was two and constantly up to some kind of shenanigan. I remember yelling at him about it and then looking down at baby girl’s face. She hadn’t even jumped.
Becoming Aware of the Fog
It was honestly like a curtain had been opened over my eyes. I just broke down in tears. I realized that this baby wouldn’t recognize my voice if I wasn’t yelling because that’s all she ever heard. Slightly dramatic? Maybe. Somewhat accurate? Yes. I vowed in that moment to take the time to give my 2 year old grace and to work harder on practicing patience despite my crazy postpartum hormones.
Closer to a year postpartum I began noticing things. I didn’t enjoy life like I used to. Nothing really excited me. I loved my children, of course, but there wasn’t any spark left in me. I had no zeal for life, no energy, and no passion. Every little thing threatened to push me over the edge. I realized all of these things and began to dwell on them. When I asked my husband about it, he confessed to noticing the changes. I asked him why he hadn’t called me out on it or mentioned anything! He replied that he just figured I was adjusting, experiencing some trouble in the process, but adjusting nonetheless to our new location, our new family, and my new life as a full-time stay-at-home mom. It took me months to come far enough out of my fog to feel like I was “normal” again.
Lost in the Postpartum Fog Again
Fast forward four years and I’m six months postpartum with baby number 4. He’s a delightful baby full of smiles and giggles. He brings joy to us everyday. I love watching him interact with his three older siblings. Baby #3 is only 18 months older than he is and it has been a unique and adorable experience watching them form a relationship. Big sister (#2) is so incredibly sweet and nurturing and big brother (#1) loves to play with him. And yet it’s still there, the fog. I’m seeing it earlier this time but I recognize it all the same. For me it’s nothing like the postpartum depression screening checklists would suggest.
Symptoms of Postpartum Depression
Generally the checklists ask if you’ve felt any of the following in the past two weeks:
- Sad or low? – Um, not particularly, I’ve felt what I consider “normal” since leaving the hospital.
- More tired than usual or have less energy? – Wait, didn’t I just have a baby? Aren’t they waking multiple times each night to eat? Aren’t they teething and not napping during the day? YES, I’M TIRED!
- Have trouble concentrating or remembering? – See above… (eye roll)
- Eating too little or too much? – Didn’t we just discover that I’m sleep deprived and have trouble remembering? I’m sure I’ve eaten, but I don’t know when…
- Had trouble enjoying things you used to enjoy? – Like, leaving the house in jeans instead of yoga pants? Eating an uninterrupted meal? Spontaneous outings without packing a 50 pound bag? Um, yes I’m having trouble enjoying those things because I don’t do those things anymore…
- Had headaches, backaches, or stomachaches? – I assume the headache comes from sleeping with an infant wedged into my side and connected to my breast, the backaches from bending over countless times to set down and pick up said infant without any core muscles left and the stomachaches because, when did I eat again?
These checklists typically include some very serious questions. They usually ask if you’ve felt like you wanted to hurt yourself or your baby or if you’ve had feelings of worthlessness. I’ve personally never been able to relate to the first question per se, however I have dealt with what I can only describe as nightmare flashes. That’s when my mind will be ping-ponging around like normal and I suddenly have a very vivid and generally horrifying vision of something awful happening to my baby. It’s not a wishful thinking situation, it is a sickening vision of an accident that breeds fear and anxiety in my heart.
As for the feeling of worthlessness, that is an unfortunate fixture in American motherhood. We tend to feel like we’re not good enough or “worthless” from time to time because we are so fixated on comparing our choices with that of others and we fear harsh judgment from our peers.
Obviously the questions have to start somewhere, but I never really noticed any of these things as issues in my postpartum depression experience. I feel like someone needs to advocate on behalf of new mothers. New mothers who are up to their eyes in baby advice, baby worries, baby clothes and laundry, and spit up, and on and on and on.
The Ultimate Advocate for Postpartum Mothers
While I do not hold the answer for a program that will help step in and assist all new moms with postpartum issues, I do know that my ability to keep my head (sometimes barely) above the fog is due to my faithful Father and friend. If I ever find myself completely overwhelmed, God is who I turn to. Sometimes I can only cry, but He knows the words in my heart. Sometimes I sing whatever hymns come to mind until I feel a calm wash over me. But I always, always I know I can count on God.
Do you ever feel overwhelmed in the postpartum period (whether it’s 3 months or 3 years!)?
Can we pray with you about your postpartum struggles? Please leave a comment and we will pray with you and for you.