The Unexpected and Often Unspoken Experience of Motherhood

by Ashley Ashbacher, LSW, CD(DONA)

My Experience With Postpartum Depression

My journey into motherhood was not at all what I expected. I had visions of a fluffy happy pregnancy where I was glowing and everything was exciting and wonderful. That unfortunately was not my reality. I was diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) which is characterized by severe and constant nausea and vomiting in pregnancy. It was a very debilitating condition and something that I was not prepared for. I ended up going on disability from my job and spent most of my days alone and in bed. The HG was isolating and completely out of my control.  Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and sadness began to creep in. I felt removed from my pregnancy and cheated. When my hopes for an unmedicated vaginal birth turned into a c-section, I had a very hard time coping. I felt cheated. I felt like a failure. I felt broken. I felt totally and completely alone. I was very angry at myself. I felt that I failed to have a healthy pregnancy, I failed at having the birth I wanted, and when we switched to formula after never getting a good latch, I felt that I failed again.

I would look at my little girl that I fought so hard to carry and birth and I would know that I should have warm loving feelings for her, but I felt nothing. I didn’t know how to bond with her. When she would cry, I would cry and break down begging her to stop. I couldn’t soothe her. Sometimes I couldn’t touch her. I felt like a terrible mother. Sometimes I hated myself. I had thoughts of killing myself.

I also felt like no one understood what I was going through and worst of all no one cared. I knew something was very wrong at this point but I couldn’t bring myself to do anything about it. I could see my husband getting angry at me and that he didn’t understand what was happening to me but he never said anything. Once I tried to confide my feelings in someone I trusted and their response was that I needed to get over it. That I had a baby now and that was all that was important. It reaffirmed to me that I didn’t matter. That my pain didn’t matter. That my grief over not having the pregnancy and birth I expected, didn’t matter.

Eventually I went to see a therapist and I told her my story. I will always remember what she said to me next. She said, “What happened to you was a trauma, and it is ok that you feel this way.” She was the first person to give me permission to feel both sad and angry about my experience and to acknowledge that I mattered too. My experience mattered. My pain mattered.  This is where my healing began and with the help of my therapist, I recovered. I was able to forgive myself for what happened and develop a strong bond with my little girl.

It’s still difficult for me to discuss that time in my life but it is a story that I feel needs to be told. So often we as mothers who experience postpartum mental health concerns suffer though it in silence and we don’t talk about our experience after. I talk about my experience because I know there are other moms out there in the same place I was. Moms who are feeling lost and alone. Moms who are feeling overwhelmed by sadness and can’t seem to find their way out of that dark place. If you are feeling that way now or if you have found yourself feeling that way, you are not alone and there is help available. You have nothing to be ashamed of and you don’t have to go though it alone.

How to Determine if You or a Mother You Care About May Need Help

Sometimes we have a hard time figuring out what is often referred to as the baby blues and what is postpartum depression. Here is some information from Pregnancy and Postpartum Support Minnesota (PPSM) that can help you start to determine what you are experiencing.

The Baby Blues (experienced by around 80% of mothers)

The baby blues occurs within the first few weeks after giving birth; it is mild and short-lived. The experience includes: intermittent crying, feeling overwhelmed, irritability, frustration, anxiety, up & down moods, exhaustion, trouble falling or staying asleep. These feeling may come and go within a day and often coincides with periods of feeling just fine. Sleeping or crying usually helps lessen the negative feelings. It generally resolves within 2 weeks and treatment is not necessary but support is helpful.

Depression (experienced by 10-20% of mothers)

Depression includes symptoms that persist for at least two weeks. The experience includes feelings of being overwhelmed, sadness, irritability, guilt, lack of interest in the baby, difficulty experiencing pleasure or joy, fatigue, changes in eating and sleeping habits, trouble concentrating, thoughts of hopelessness and sometimes thoughts of harming the baby or yourself. Sometime people are depressed before they become pregnant, or develop symptoms during pregnancy. Often this experience continues after baby is born and may become more severe. A variety of treatment and support options may be helpful and necessary in order to find your way through this difficult experience.

Where to Seek Help Locally

Pregnancy and Postpartum Support Minnesota is a great resource where you can find mental health resources and providers (http://www.pregnancypostpartumsupportmn.com/). PPSM also has a helpline that you can call and get connected with another mother to provide support (612- 787-PPSM).

HCMC has recently opened the Mother-Baby Program which includes a telephone support line (612-873-HOPE), a mother-baby day hospital, and outpatient counseling (http://www.hcmc.org/birthcenter/familycenter/the-mother-baby-program/index.htm).

If you are thinking about harming yourself or your child: Call 911 or go to a hospital emergency room right away.

There is growing awareness and understanding of postpartum mental health. If you or someone you know is suffering, please reach out and know that you are not alone.

Ashley is the mother of an almost -three-year-old girl and recently welcomed a baby boy in a healing VBAC.  She has been a doula for two years. She is currently completing her master’s degree in social work and hopes to provide counseling focused on issues of motherhood and mental health. 

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