As a first time mom, I'm here to tell you I have never experienced anything quite like motherhood in my 30+ years, and with it came anxiety and depression for the first time as well. Asking for help and finding way to manage this new role not only helped me survived my transition into motherhood but also helped me thrive.
Motherhood is the biggest juxtaposition of every single situation you could ever imagine. Externally you are a powerhouse of a woman: creating and sustaining another human life form, caring for your new baby and nurturing them once Earth-side, effortlessly juggling a baby carrier and five bags of groceries in one hand, the car keys, your wallet and your cup of (now cold) coffee in the other hand. You cook, you clean, you organize. You schedule family pictures and play dates, birthday parties and doctor’s appointments, and way off in the distance there, you pencil in a potential evening for date night. You are "Wonder Woman" doing it all; however, internally, though, there is a galactic war going on.
Your determination to continue checking off the mile long list of things on your to-do list has been battling with your overly caffeinated yet dehydrated sleep deprived brain. Your anxiety, which you have never experienced in your life until pregnancy, has now peaked and demands tear-shed on a daily basis, but only a little at a time so as to not draw attention or concern from your significant other. You're living on high alert 24/7, and lay awake in bed at night worrying about random things that may or may not happen in the future. What if an asteroid actually struck the earth? Would you get to the baby in time?
These scenarios may or may not resonate with every mother, but they are a pretty close depiction of my experience. I never experienced depression or anxiety until I got pregnant. It escalated during postpartum severely. I was constantly crying, angry, moody, disengaged from anyone around me, yet somehow still functioning enough to take care of my infant son. It also affected my marriage and generated a lot of resentment towards my spouse.
Finally, after weeks and months of the same daily routine of crying and screaming and crying some more, I reached out for help, just like all the women I have worked with over the years reached out for help in their own way. I went to therapy and was told I had postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety. In 100% honesty and transparency, I truly feel that therapy saved my life. There was a big hurdle to tackle, but the pressure began to alleviate. Once I made my mental health a priority, I began to find moments of joy again with my little one and could feel my internal strength returning. Therapy also provided me with many resources to use for when I would start to feel the overload of motherhood becoming too much, for when those “bumps'' in the road became roadblocks. I learned that those blocks are not permanent, and that I have the strength and knowledge to clear the road.
Postpartum depression (PPD) occurs in 15% to 20% of mothers worldwide and is associated with adverse outcomes for mother and child. The sudden shifts in hormone levels, accumulated fatigue from pregnancy, and round-the-clock demands of caring for a new baby can take their toll; however, an increasingly recognized contributing factor for postpartum depression and anxiety is a lack of sleep. The loss of sleep is an unavoidable part of being a new mother; however, fragmented, poor-quality of sleep does not have to be your long term reality.
Sleep deprivation and postpartum depression are both characterized by irritability, feeling overwhelmed, difficulty concentrating, feeling low, feeling tired, and trouble sleeping at night. However, if you are experiencing any of these more serious symptoms, you may be suffering from postpartum depression:
Sadness and mood swings accompanied by frequent bouts of crying
Anxiety, fear, or panic attacks
Being unable to sleep even when your baby is sleeping
Loss of appetite
Loss of interest in things you normally enjoy
Feeling so overwhelmed that you have difficulty functioning
Feelings of guilt and feeling like a bad mother
Excessive preoccupation with the baby, or, conversely, an inability to bond
If your mood doesn’t improve after a good night of sleep, or if it gradually worsens even as your baby starts sleeping better, you may have postpartum depression and need to speak with your doctor to develop a treatment plan. Asking for help is hard but it truly can save your life!
Mothers affected by PPD can take care of themselves by:
Maintaining a healthy diet
Staying physically active through activities like walking or swimming
Mothers of infants who are difficult to soothe and who wake frequently during the night appear to suffer more symptoms of depression, anxiety, and fatigue. To effectively treat fatigue and postpartum depression, hiring a sleep coach can help you improve your baby’s sleep schedule as well as your own.
Here’s the thing: even Wonder Woman gets hit with bumps and road blocks. If she didn’t, her story wouldn’t be as exciting. The “bumps” in the parenting road like to hit hard, and hit right when you feel like you have your routine, schedule, life, together. For a mother who may also be battling with her mental health, this can be earth-shattering.
BAM! Is this a little sleep regression or a development leap (or both)?
BAM! Is he teething or is his fever something to bother the pediatrician about again?
BAM! Did those bumps just appear, or are they an allergic reaction to this new food? Is he spitting it out because he doesn’t like it, or is he about to choke (or vomit!?)? Motherhood is messed up, Mama, but no one else can handle the ‘hood like you. That’s what makes you amazing. That’s what makes you strong. That’s what makes you Wonder Woman.
Hey (tired) parent, if your child isn't sleeping, Serenity Sleepers wants to help you get the sleep you deserve. We help families lay healthy sleep foundations at any age by integrating child development, parental health, and normative childhood sleep patterns into a customized sleep plan to achieve sleep success. Healthy sleep habits (and confident parents) make for healthier, happier children.
Jen Cathey is a former teacher, small business owner, and an online wellness coach, where she uses and promotes at-home workouts, nutrition plans, and some delicious supplements. It all starts on the inside. When we are strong mentally, then we can focus on becoming stronger physically. If you're in the Nashville area, check out her Honest Fun balloon business to help make your next event POP with balloon arches, garlands, backdrops & towers!