When I experienced my second early miscarriage, I assumed I knew what to expect in the grieving process. I cried, I felt the deepest of sadness for the little life that was lost and physically recovered from the medically necessary D&C. I assumed that my grief was “under control.”
It wasn’t until two weeks later, while I was driving to a bagel shop with my son that the rug was pulled out from under me. Out of nowhere, I was forcibly pushed into the depths of severe postpartum anxiety and depression in the form of my first panic attack.
Before this panic, I had not struggled with anxiety or depression in my adult life. Confused about the sheer terror I had felt, I tried to explain the fear away. I tried to pretend the fear that had stopped me in my tracks was not as bad or not as real as I thought it had been.
At first, I felt ashamed feeling this illogical fear, but I knew I had to say something to someone. I told my mother, and she explained it away, just as I had done. Following a mono diagnosis, my father expressed that he was sure that was the source of my physical representation of anxiety. I was surrounded by well-intentioned people who did all they could to try to avoid addressing the core issue.
With time, my postpartum anxiety and depression grew worse. Every day I was fighting a silent war in my brain while appearing mostly normal to the outside world. Soon, though, my postpartum depression and anxiety grew too big to contain.
It was as if my grief physically took up space within me, making it impossible for me to truly breathe. I remember forcing myself to count my breathes to convince myself that I was honestly breathing. It was a daily struggle that held me underwater from the moment I woke up until I fell asleep from exhaustion.
It was the flight or fight that seemingly had no end. It was then that I chose not to allow other’s ideas cloud what I knew to be necessary for my health. I decided to go on antidepressants.
In the depths of my depression and anxiety, I was afraid to drive, afraid I was going to simply die and lastly, afraid to be alone with my son. I was never a risk of hurting my son or myself; I just did not think I was capable of being what he needed. I was afraid that something would happen while I was alone with him that could harm him.
In time, relying on the support of therapy and antidepressants I was able to resurface. Slowly, I pushed myself to do the things that caused me fear. I became me again. My postpartum anxiety and depression lasted six months, although it felt like a life time.
It may seem strange to say, but I am grateful for this time, not for the sorrow but for the tools and coping skills I garnered within this experience. I often credit this season of my life for helping me emotionally maneuver the loss of my father as well as my son Lennon without ever falling so deeply into depression or anxiety again. None of this would have been achieved without therapy, without antidepressants and most of all, without me admitting there was a problem that needed to be addressed.
That’s not to say I still don’t feel the after shocks of this depression. Every so often, I feel the tendrils of anxiety tightening its grip on me. It’s the inner dialogue that I am unaware even exists until I’m white-knuckling the steering wheel, breathing rapidly and feeling that familiar pit in my stomach that tells me I should just turn around and give up. In those moments I quiet my brain to stop the negative thinking that pushes me into fearing things I am not afraid of.
I have to admit that I feel silly when I say that to start feeling in control again I tell myself these exact words: ” You are AWESOME!”, “You are CAPABLE!”. Lastly, I repeat the words my dad spoke to me one day when he came home to find me in a pile of tears, afraid of everything, “You are not broken!” These mantras help drown out the negative thoughts, keeping my head clear of the panic that threatens to envelop it.
Whenever my anxiety or depression creeps in I also get an opportunity to think of why this all started; my little one that left before we knew much about him/her other than our love. Sometimes, it feels impossible how much one little life can change everything.
Suffering in silence is a dangerous game we play. Since I had experienced an early loss, I had to also shoulder the silence of the postpartum depression and anxiety in silence as well. Very few knew to what lengths things had unraveled for me, and if I had allowed the silence to continue, if I had refused to share what I was feeling I know I would have a completely different story to tell.
Never suffer alone.
Postpartum depression and anxiety affect an estimated three million women each year in the United States. Not one in that number should shoulder the burden of the after effects of birth without support.
Are you suffering from postpartum depression or anxiety? Don’t bear it alone. Please, talk to a medical professional or a trusted friend.
Having postpartum depression or anxiety does not speak to you as a mother, does not change your love for your child and has no bearing on the bond you share, it is a chemical imbalance and is nothing to be ashamed of. Remember, there is no life too small that it does not affect us, be sure to allow that life to be a source of joy.