Now, more than ever, I think it’s so important to talk about mental health. With all that’s been going on this year, I think it’s quite normal for us all to feel a little bit at a loss for words at some point. So much has gone on in our nation and world in the past few months. I originally wrote this post when I was newly postpartum with my second baby and thought this would be a good time to re-share it. I pray it helps us all check-in emotionally and mentally this week to see how we are feeling and if we, perhaps, need to seek help.
The postpartum journey, or life, in general, is NO JOKE! From hormones flying every which way, breastfeeding, an ever-evolving baby and body, it’s a lot for ANYONE to process.
Today’s post is a long time coming for me to write. I think that a part of me still even worries about what people will think when they hear me say I had postpartum depression. And in fact, for that very reason, I still catch myself saying baby blues because I, like many of you, didn’t really know the difference between baby blues and PPD. Plus, I had never even heard of postpartum anxiety.
If you’ve been following my website for any length of time or know me in real life, you know I am a pretty positive and upbeat person. I’ll never forget after delivering my oldest, Leyton, when my nurse walked into the room and was required to go through the postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety symptoms with me. At the time I thought, “This is silly, it doesn’t even apply to me. Depression isn’t one of my struggles and I feel fine. I am SO EXHAUSTED. Doesn’t she know I JUST had a traumatic birth experience and only want to sleep?!”
After we went home from the hospital and started to settle into our new normal, I started to struggle. Much of this had to do with a painful and very hard recovery. I was forbidden by my doctor to walk past the mailbox for SIX WEEKS. Six weeks, people! For an extroverted busy body, that was a devastating blow.
Couple that with the fact I was STRUGGLING hard on the breastfeeding train, you can probably guess it was a recipe for disaster. You can read about my whole breastfeeding experience here but looking back, I think Leyton had a tongue tie we probably should have had fixed. Every time he latched on, it was some of the worst pain I’ve ever experienced and if you’ve had a newborn, you know that they can pop off and latch back on a lot during those early days. When you combine those factors with a torn area, if you get my drift, plus little to no sleep and my “broken” and bleeding body, I literally felt like I went from this fit, on top of it pregnant lady to a broken down shut-in.
The VAST difference in my everyday life stopped me in my tracks and I was in shock that this was the new me. I was accustomed to working at an 8 am-5 pm desk job, racing to teach the 5:30 Pure Barre class, taking the 6:30 Pure Barre class, doing dinner and dishes, arranging the new home we just moved into 1 month before Leyton was born, and then working on My Life Well Loved until bedtime.
Later on, I realized I found a lot of my identity in being active in my community and staying fit. Overall, I am very driven to be successful and as a byproduct, “busy”. Later in life, I’ve learned that is my enneagram #3 coming in strong! My stress relief is working out and my joy is found in being around people.
My normal was NO MORE. My husband would come home from work at the end of the day and I sobbed to him about how I had been at home all day, painfully nursing this new baby, unable to move off the couch except at a snail’s pace, and that the most I’d gotten done that day was watching TV and taking care of the baby.
Then I’d be incredulous at this new ‘weak me’ that was sobbing for such “silly” reasons. I am not a crier or at least I wasn’t until I became a mom…wow, how that changes you (but that’s a topic for another day)! Eric would lovingly and patiently tell me I had to remember that I just delivered a baby. He’d tell me, “Heather, your entire job right now is to take care of your body so you can heal and feed this baby. You did an excellent job at that today.”
The problem was I didn’t want that to be my job. That job sounded TERRIBLE. I never experienced the lack of connection to my baby that many women feel after giving birth but know that if you do, it is okay and happens to many women! But, when Leyton would wake me up pretty much every hour on the hour to feed, the thoughts that went through my head about that sweet little baby were ANYTHING but nice or nurturing.
Being the classic planner that I am (and again ignorantly relying on my own self instead of God), I thought “I’m going to tackle this loneliness and helpless feeling head-on and make plans to have people visit me each day.” So bless my wonderful sweet friends and family – we planned out each day to have a visitor. I literally sat on my hospital-issued donut every Sunday and texted my closest friends and family members to schedule out at least one visitor a day to come and see me to help lift my spirits. TRULY, without this life raft, I think I would have been in even worse shape.
When I opened up to a few friends about my breastfeeding struggles, someone suggested I try using cool cabbage leaves in my bra for some relief. ALERT ALERT: This dries up your milk supply. But as a desperate, sleep-deprived mom, I blindly listened to this advice without researching it and sure enough, dried up my milk supply.
I couldn’t figure out why Leyton was so hungry all night, every night and when Eric would say, “I think he’s hungry.” at 3 am, I would see red and feel shame like it was my fault he was screaming and all kinds of other lies the enemy would whisper in my ears to make me feel like I wasn’t enough.
The worst moment I ever had was in the middle of the night at about the 4th wake-up Leyton had. I was stooped over him nursing in our bed, slumped, half asleep, bleeding and in enormous pain, sobbing. Eric trying to be a caring husband, turned over half asleep and asked if I was ok. It was the most broken moment I may have ever experienced. I just replied, “No, I am NOT ok!” and continued to sob. It was TOUGH.
In fact, I still tear up just thinking about it. I share all this finally not to get pity, but to let you know that if you are currently struggling, I have been there and I see you. I KNOW how terrible it feels, I know how much you hurt, I know how much you just want to sleep, I know those anxious thoughts that this is your life now and it’s not what you want. It is hard. BUT there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Because I had such a traumatic birth, I had to go back to the doctor at the 2-week postpartum mark to get a check-up. My doctor asked me when she first entered the room how I was doing. I knew her, outside of just being my OBGYN, so I thought she was making conversation and I, without even thinking said, “I just want to know when I’m going to feel like myself again.”
She immediately started asking me tons of questions that seemed pretty serious and finally ended with the statement, “We are going to start you on medication.” As my head was spinning trying to wrap my mind around this, I thought, “Wait I don’t need that. I’m Heather Brown. I’m happy, this is just baby blues, surely she’s overreacting.”
But wouldn’t you know it, after a few weeks of taking medication, my head started to clear. I wasn’t crying every day multiple times per day. I felt myself returning towards my “normal.” My friends and my family were my sanity. I thank God every day for the family, friends, and especially my husband who all rallied around me to pray for me and with me, visit me, bring me lunch, and just sit and talk. Without them, there’s no telling how much worse I would have been.
One thing I’m ashamed to admit I learned during this whole process was that unfortunately, I was putting too much of my identity in fitness instructor, blogger, workout lover, wife, friend, and not enough of my identity and my time in Christ. Instead of turning to Him during this time, I was so overwhelmed by my sorrow at the loss of my new normal that I felt I didn’t have time to spend in the Word because it was too much just to keep up with baby’s schedule, trying to pump to get my supply back, and all the other things that come with postpartum care…ick.
If there’s one thing I would encourage you to do if you are feeling postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety symptoms is to TALK to your friends or family about it. Do NOT hold it in and if it lasts past the first two weeks, please talk to your doctor. Typically the hormone crash after pregnancy can lead to baby blues but I’ve read if it lasts longer, that is when it could be something more serious.
This time around with baby Finn, I went into pregnancy with some trepidation because I was so paranoid to get PPD again. I made sure in my first few appointments to mention to my doctor I had PPD with Leyton and I wanted him to be aware. If you have struggled with anxiety or depression before, please make your doctor aware while you are pregnant as well. They need to know what to look for and how to help you! I also started PROGESSENCE PLUS as soon as I had Finn in the hospital and believe it helped me as well.
I was shocked to learn depression can also be fairly common during pregnancy and can also be brought on when you quit breastfeeding as well. Ultimately I am very thankful the Lord graciously taught me so much through this experience. My hope is He uses my experience for His glory and this article helps someone out there who is struggling or helps you as a friend to someone who may be struggling to be alert to the symptoms.
Even if none of these things apply to you, my hope is that you find your identity and what makes you YOU rooted in so much more than your profession, your fitness level, or your ability to be an amazing mom, wife, daughter, or friend. We are enough and can be confident in who we are because CHRIST is MORE THAN ENOUGH for us to find our identity (and sanity) in.
God has burdened my heart in this past year to really be aware of this issue that faces SO many women. When I’ve opened up about it a few times on Instagram stories or podcasts, I have been overwhelmed with the outpouring of other moms who have experienced the same. Thank you for sharing your heart, your struggles, and your encouragement with me over this issue. Please keep talking about it so other women know it is OK to discuss with their friends, family members, or doctors if needed to get help.
Although I am in no way a doctor or expert on this subject, I wanted to share my story with you. If you all want to hear more about this or from other mamas, I’d love to open it up for others to share their experience or to do more posts on this topic. Mental health is not something I take lightly after my experience and I hope this was eye-opening for those who needed to read this today. I love you friends and thank you for being loving and encouraging to one another in this community no matter what our struggles, and especially for those who experience postpartum anxiety symptoms.
God gave us one body and said to treat it like a temple. If there’s something you need to take care of, there are health professionals to lean into. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself, to care for yourself, and to address those things that cause so much stress and anxiety!