Hi and welcome to Daily Mom’s brand new, first ever personal column – written by yours truly, Heather. I am beyond excited to share my health and wellness story with you, and you can follow along here on Daily Mom, and on Instagram. I’ve been on an interesting journey this past year, and this column, Heather Gets Healthy, will take you along the journey with me. Overall, this column will be about where I’ve come from, where I’ve gone, and where I’m going – all related to health and wellness, fitness and nutrition.
Health and wellness – more specifically, fitness and nutrition, saved my life. I don’t say that to be dramatic, I say it because it’s true. Never in my life would I have expected to experience the journey I have lived over the past year – or more accurately, the past six years. But before we get into the here and now, we have to go way back six years ago, when my first son, Benjamin, was born.
Life as a First-Time Mom
Shortly after Ben’s birth, I noticed I had what I called, an extreme “death complex.” I was incredibly paranoid that my baby was going to die, or I was going to die, or my husband was going to die – typically by a freak accident. To the point where I was absolutely convinced it was going to happen.
I figured that was a normal part of motherhood – worrying about your baby, and feeling like your life had so much more importance because a tiny little person was relying on you. I was terrified to let anyone else drive Ben in the car, because I knew they would get into an accident and he would die. On the outside, I put on a brave face, like everything in fine, but on the inside, my anxiety-ridden brain was a hot mess. I worried about house fires, car crashes, school shooters, and terrorists. Freak accidents, drownings, kidnappings, and dog attacks.
I would imagine the phone call I would get, with the grim news. I would imagine a police officer knocking on my door, telling me the unthinkable. I would imagine impossible things happening, like if he was safely in his high chair across the room, and I was yards away in the kitchen, chopping vegetables, that somehow the knife would accidentally fly from my hand and hit him. These visions were always of accidents – never once did I want to hurt him – I was just paralyzed with fear that I accidentally would hurt him.
At that point, I had never heard of postpartum anxiety, and didn’t even know that was a thing. About a year later, when stumbled across a definition online, I knew that was precisely what I had. It faded away around the time Ben turned one, but shortly after that, I was pregnant with our second – a girl, named Julia.
Depression & Anxiety
Unbeknownst to me, I began suffering from antenatal depression – depression that occurs during pregnancy. I distinctly remember exactly when my mood began to shift, and from that point on, it was a downward slope for years. We had a lot of challenges in our family during that pregnancy, so I chalked up my mood to that, but never imagined it was an actual chemical imbalance – real depression. After Julia was born, the “death complex” came back, and the depression worsened. I had no idea that I was depressed, but this time, I at least knew I had postpartum anxiety, based on the research I had done when pregnant.
Once again, car rides paralyzed me, and the thought of someone else driving my children would strike me with intense, unrelenting fear. There were times when family members wanted to take Ben and Julia places, and it killed me to say yes, because I was so convinced they would be in a car accident. I didn’t want anyone to know about my severe anxiety, so I always said yes anyway. I kept my fears to myself, tightly under wraps. No one had any idea of the terrors going on in my mind, and I wasn’t about to reveal it, either. As hard as it was, I didn’t want anyone to think I was crazy.
I couldn’t stand to be around anyone, even myself, and every day was a struggle. I had no motivation, no drive, and I was utterly exhausted, no matter how much sleep I got. But the strangest thing was that I didn’t even realize what was happening. I honestly just thought my personality type was, “miserable bitch.” The most unbelievable part of all of it is that, hand to God, I had no idea I had a problem – no clue whatsoever.
I felt helpless and hopeless, and I was merely existing. I woke up each morning, excited for the day to be over, when I could crawl back into bed and unwind. Time passed, but nothing changed.
And can you guess what happened next?
Two days after Julia’s second birthday, I found out I was pregnant again. Once again, I navigated through some very challenging situations, and assumed my low mood was due to that. I was working outside the home at the time – different from my usual stay-at-home mom gig – which somehow helped mask the depression symptoms.
William was born in the most perfect way possible – it truly was my holy grail of birth. After a c-section with Benjamin, a chaotic VBAC with Julia, this peaceful VBAC was a life-changing experience, and was everything I was hoping for. I am a huge birth junkie, and it was incredible and perfect and amazing to have this dream birth that I had worked so hard to achieve.
I encapsulated my placenta myself at home (amazing experience, for real), which really helped stave off my usual postpartum anxiety. It was my first postpartum experience where I wasn’t completely paralyzed with fear that my baby was, with 100% certainty, going to die in a tragic accident.
When I went to my 6-week postpartum checkup, my OB asked how my mood was, and I explained how I’d been feeling. I downplayed it a lot, but hinted that I was crying more than usual, lacked motivation, and basically hadn’t left the couch since William was born. She went to grab a copy of the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, and I got to work answering the questions. If I recall correctly, the highest score you can get – with the most severe postpartum depression (PPD) is a 30, and I scored a 23. My doctor typically refers patients to treatment with scores 13 and above, and she was shocked at how well I was hiding my suffering.
She recommended I start on a low dose of Zoloft, and that I check into a partial inpatient hospital treatment program for postpartum depression and anxiety. I immediately scoffed at the Zoloft – I had always said that if I ever had depression, I would “cure it with health and wellness – exercise and vegetables.” But I took her recommendation and began the process to enroll in the treatment program. This was late November, and the hospital program didn’t have any openings until mid-January. I assumed I would be fine to wait that long, but I assumed wrong.
Stay tuned for part two of my postpartum health and wellness journey, coming to Daily Mom soon.
Photo credits: Heather @CookiesForBfast