Let’s talk plain. My first instinct is to always put on a brave face. Never show weakness. Never waver. Smiles on. Head high. Sometimes my first instinct doesn’t help and is the absolute worst thing to do. I sabotage myself doing this sometimes. So I’m gonna wear my real face and be real. Life is much too short not to wear your real self. Maybe someone somewhere needs to see it. You are not alone.
Baby blues. Postpartum struggles. Postpartum depression. Postpartum anxiety. I never thought it could happen to me. I thought I was pretty well adjusted. I mean, come on. How can you be sad or anxious when you have the miracle of life fresh in your arms? Baby breath. Petal soft skin. Tiny fingers and toes.
I had an older doctor describe baby blues to me before our second son was born. He said baby blues are feelings of sadness or even extreme fright. I actually laughed. Extreme fright? I blustered. Phhhft! As if I am some sort of antiquated idea of a frail member of the weaker sex prone to exhaustion and hysteria. I’m not Betty Draper and this is not 1958, but after laughing I hesitated. My inner self whispered, “Remember Henry.”
I’ve had periods of my life where I have been prone to worry, but nothing like what I know is possible now. I see now all too clearly that I had a crippling case of baby blues after bringing my firstborn home. Hindsight is 20/20, right? I had never known anxiety to creep in my heart and grip it tighter and tighter…. Anxiety was paralyzing my brain and freezing my ability to overcome emotions that bubbled up in my chest. That is what happened to me almost daily after having our first child. I had the extreme fright. Thank you to the gruff, old-as-dirt physician for describing postpartum depression in that way.
After bringing our first baby home, I was so anxious about Henry’s health and EVERYTHING. I kept telling myself that all new mothers worry. I was okay. Deep breath. This is no big deal. It will pass. I would be afraid of literally everything. I was afraid I’d drop him. I was afraid I’d fall, become incapacitated, or die and no one would find him for hours. Thank you, Steel Magnolias. I was afraid of people at the door. People. At. The. Door. I was afraid of car accidents, strokes, seizures, germs, spiders, chemicals, medications, of failing him in some way or every way. Some of my fears were rational but most were not. I began making my own natural cleaner for his bathtub and room. I obsessed over what I ate and took and how it would affect his milk. I stopped going out unless absolutely necessary. I stayed in and cuddled my baby and guarded him from threats real and imagined. And the isolation made things worse. I was in a vicious cycle of craving contact and fearing it for various reasons from judgement to germs. And so I stayed in the spiral and luckily we all made it through the scary, dizzying, technicolor Willy Wonka boat ride of postpartum depression.
I know now I should have taken action then. I didn’t want to take any medication though. My excuse was that I’ve seen adverse effects of overuse of antidepressants and anti anxiety medications. Plus would my milk be safe anymore? I didn’t want to use formula. But I see the inaction and unwillingness to even admit that I was in need of some help was dangerous for us all.
Like a lot of us, I’ve always carried nervousness, anxiety, worry, and fear in my gut. My stomach will never fail to throw total anarchy anytime I have any of those feelings. I get sick when I worry. Physically sick.
This time I broke down and tried to combat the anxiety before the spiral began. I knew I needed a boost and didn’t know where to turn, but I knew I wanted to try something as natural as possible first and before turning to prescriptions. (*Here is the thing: I’m not totally against prescription meds. They have a place to help us, but abuse or misuse is something I am afraid of for myself. But I told myself I’d take anything in order to be the best mom possible.) I could not afford to shut down and be a shut in this time. I have a toddler. We have places to go and people to see. We have to eat life. Henry will be beginning to retain his first memories of me. I want them to be of us tackling life with joy and not cowering with fear and anxiety every time the doorbell rings.
With motherhood has come a whole new level of myself I never thought I’d have: the wholistic, natural, crunchy part. The part that reads and agonizes over labels and researches homemade cleaner and insecticide. In my newfound crunchiness I began looking for some natural options. I confided with a very good friend of mine about my previous postpartum struggle. She urged me to try a probiotic system that is clinically proven to help with anxiety among other things. I was a bit hesitant because I thought the line of supplements was geared towards weight loss. They are all over Facebook and I naturally shy away from the trends- especially ones for weight control. After consulting with my OB/GYN and pharmacist and getting a big green light from both I decided it was worth a try. They both raved about the benefits of improving my gut health. I found out it’s all plant-based and as natural as possible. Thumbs up all around.
I started it all a week before delivering our second bundle of joy and gave myself a time limit of 2 weeks postpartum until I called the doctor for a script for the hard stuff. I’ve been taking it for about a month now.
And guess what? Our new love bug sleeps way, WAY less and is waaaaaay more demanding than our first sweet one was as a newborn. AND it’s been a month and not once have I crumpled in tears thinking I was loosing my mind over phantom threats or imagined baby cries. Yep, I did that daily with Henry and especially any time I tried to shower. Not once have I tried to eat a Magic Eraser thinking it was a Twinkie. Yes, that is something I did the first go around because I was so completely exhausted. Looking at the bald muscular cartoon man, I even thought to myself as I took a bite, “Ohhhh I like the new mascot.” I also have not frantically searched the house for my newborn while carrying him in my arms. I did that the first time too.
Honestly I think it’s stressful for anyone to bring new life into their home with the around-the-clock, constant demands of a brand new tiny human. They are so precious but will exhaust you physically, mentally, and emotionally. Why are they crying? Dirty diaper? Hunger? Colic? If you ever wanted to break a POW just throw them a newborn and no lifelines for help to nap, go to the bathroom, or eat and they’d give you government secrets in about a week. Toss them an active toddler too and I bet you they would cave sooner.
I’m getting less sleep than ever and I feel more balanced and like myself than I ever thought possible. I can attribute some of this to being a second-time mom and remembering some of the ropes, but most of it because I’m taking care of myself this time. I don’t have time to exercise regularly right now and I don’t have the will to give up my guilty pleasure foods. Heck, I eat whatever is available when I can. I ate an entire red velvet cake from Publix in three days by myself. I won’t lie. One bite at a time and between feeding and changing my two little loves- I ate the whole thing.
I don’t believe in any miracle pill, but I will say this stuff has made me feel energized yet calm. I am able to keep pace with my rambunctious toddler and juggle the demands of a newborn on limited sleep and I’m loving it! I feel like me and not a shell of myself. I’m so very glad I voiced my concerns with my sweet friends and my doctor this time around. I look forward to continued improved energy and mood as these two little fellas get older and we get super busy with sports, school, and life!
Postpartum struggles happen. Hormones. Anxiety. Rapidly morphing body. The whole package. It’s okay to need help. It’s okay to show your weak spots as part of the real you and ask for help. The whole point I want to make is before you feel the spiral begin, take a step towards taking care of yourself. No matter if that means vitamins, prescriptions, or lifestyle changes, please do it! I wish I would have had this postpartum experience with my firstborn, but here’s to starting to take care of me too. Let’s go eat life.