Water. Such a beautiful symbol. It can represent life, fertility, cleansing. Our bodies need water to sustain life, plants need water to grow, our babies spend 40 weeks floating in fluid that nurtures and protects them from the outside world. When we think of water our minds float to picturesque views of the ocean that calm our mind. Serene sounds of waves crashing along the shore. The sweet breeze that tickles our noses as we close our eyes and listen. But water is turbulent, and dangerous. Water, were we find solace in its depths, is powerful.
Water is the perfect symbol for Postpartum depression and anxiety.
Water is my trigger.
On the outside I may have looked like I had it all together. I was 27 years old, married, and I had two children under two. After years of being told that children would never happen for me naturally, I was blessed with two healthy pregnancies. Back to back. Layla was born November 2010 and Stella in August 2012. Everything in me wanted to be happy. Look at my miracles! I have no right to be sad, I’d think to myself. We have been blessed. Yet on the inside, I was screaming.
My postpartum journey is probably not unlikely many others’ stories. I loved my children but had a hard time processing the emotions I was feeling. We’re told the baby blues is normal. We’re told that being sad or emotional the first few weeks of your baby’s life is okay and natural. After all, your hormones are regenerating, your body is healing, your utterly exhausted. It’s seems pretty standard that as new mother’s we’d feel a pretty broad range of emotion. But what happens when those emotions overwhelm you?
I distinctly remember the day I was home alone with my babies and they were both crying. Hysterically. My newborn to my right and my toddler to my left; both of my children demanding my attention and I had nothing left to give. Standing there in the living room wishing I could fall onto the floor and curl into the fetal position and … disappear.
The lake in our backyard glittered in the sun, and I remember looking out towards it, and thinking to myself that I felt like a body of water. Beautiful on the surface but deep and dark below. The pit in my stomach grew as the howls of my children got louder. I was alone, I was unsure. My children wailing for a love I was not able to give in that moment. So I picked them up and I sobbed as they cried because I did not know what else to do. And that’s when it all started…
Stella was a few weeks old at that point, and my thoughts were all consuming. I live in a peninsula state; for all it’s worth, I am surrounded by water. Everywhere I look: oceans, lakes, canals. Water. I grew up jumping into waves that were taller than I, flipping into pools, wading at the edge of lakes to catch tadpoles. I was never afraid of water. Until PPD/PPA. Water became a trigger for my anxiety. It became an obsession. Dreaming about my children drowning, over thinking what would happen if I accidentally drove into a body of water, which was by the way, highly unlikely. I’d find myself crying, wondering if what I was feeling was normal, and if I was living in the real world or on an entirely different plane. I couldn’t connect my emotions to my body, nor my body is my everyday self. There was a massive disconnect.
When Stella was around 5 months old, I found a local Postpartum support group at a local Church. A name was put to what I was experiencing: PPD/PPA, and just knowing I was not alone was a relief. Once a week, every week, I would sit with a group of women and our leader and talk about our feelings, our worries, our fears. We were encouraged to find moments of self care and to not feel guilty for putting ourselves first. We cannot fill from an empty cup, our leader would say. Fill your own cup first so you’re able to give.
Though my PPD/PPA lasted well into Stella’s first year, I was able to learn coping mechanisms to help with anxiety and depression that often accompanied it. Now Stella is 6 and Layla is 8 and life is different. The emotions from the newborn years are a distant memory, and I feel like a well seasoned mama more often than not; though, I will admit school age children bring diverse set of emotions all the same. I still second guess myself, I still wonder if I’m doing right by my girls every single day. The change is in how I approach and process those emotions. My feelings no longer consume my every being and I can move on without being paraylzed by despair. And good news, I no longer drive by a lake or canal and have a panic attack! My children learned to swim very early in life and we spent last summer snorkeling the reefs of the shore of our favorite local beach. Water has become our beautiful connection.
Each and every postpartum journey is different and PPD/PPA can present itself in a variety of ways with each subsequent birth. It should be mentioned also that PPD and PPA are not mutually exclusive. You can have one but not the other, or you may have both. Each may present itself at different times through your postpartum journey. PPD is usually within the first few weeks, while PPA come on later in that first year, but again, there is no right or wrong. PPD and PPA have no exact timeline, rather they have guidelines.
Being a new mother will come with a new set of emotions that you will need to process. If those emotions are easily controlled and managed, that is wonderful. If what you are feeling starts to take over your life and dominates your thoughts, please seek the counsel of a trained professional.