When I experienced postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, and the intrusive thoughts associated with postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder three years ago, I felt defeated at times. Recovery was a battle. But fortunately, I won that battle, and I now consider myself an advocate for maternal mental health. I never planned for any of this; it sort of happened organically.
First, I began spreading awareness by simply being honest about my adjustment to motherhood. When friends asked, “How do you like being a mom?” or “Isn’t motherhood the best feeling ever?” I responded, “I’m struggling with depression,” or “I’m experiencing anxiety.” From there, I even became comfortable being this straightforward with co-workers and acquaintances. Further into my recovery, I continued talking, sharing both my struggles and my healing with anyone who would listen and even those who didn’t seem interested. A few months later, I began contacting and educating local mental health agencies and other healthcare professionals. I began writing a memoir and blogging, hoping my experience could raise awareness of the need for improved maternal mental health information, treatment and services.
Recently, there have been moments when I look at my current work in this area and think, “Wow! I’m so strong. I’m so brave. I’m an advocate.” However, when I think more carefully about my journey, my most impressive advocacy work began when I realized I needed help, picked up the phone and asked for assistance.
Advocacy work starts with you. You need to ask for help. You need to know your needs. You need to state them. And sometimes, you need to put up a fight.
My postpartum anxiety was misdiagnosed as postpartum psychosis. My intrusive thoughts were misinterpreted as homicidal intentions. I knew my mood was imbalanced and my anxiety was unhealthy, but I also knew these diagnoses were not accurate. I spoke up. I told doctors and other health care professionals that I didn’t think they were right. At times, I was not heard. At times, my input was dismissed. I kept talking.
At another point in my struggle, a midwife prescribed an antidepressant for me. Days later, a psychiatrist told me that my symptoms did not require medication and advised me to stop taking the antidepressant. A few days later, I visited my primary care doctor and she felt I needed medication, but suggested I try something for anxiety rather than depression. These contradictory suggestions were tiresome and confusing. But I knew from previous experiences when I had taken an antidepressant that my anxiety responded well to this medication. In the end, I listened to all of the conflicting opinions, but I chose what prescription to fill.
In a way, I was fighting two battles. Not only was I sleep deprived, unsure of my new responsibilities as a mother and dealing with off-kilter brain chemistry, but I was also finding my way through an elaborate, misinformed, contradictory mental health system. I could have given up. I could have succumbed to the depression that was beckoning me because the fight for health was cluttered with impediments. But I did not give up. I eventually realized that even though my mind was haunted by intrusive thoughts and assaulted by excessive worry, I still had a functioning mind. I could still make intelligent and informed decisions about my well-being. In fact, when it came to my needs, I trusted that I knew what they were and I needed to make these needs clear to others. I needed to reclaim the life PPD was trying to take from me.
New mom, you might be dealing with similar obstacles as you try to access treatment. It’s hard to navigate through these murky circumstances. But I believe this is why Katherine Stone chose the term “warrior mom.” It is a battle, but it’s worth the fight. With proper treatment, it will get better. Earn that “warrior mom” badge and then wear it with pride!
Ana Clare Rouds
Ana Clare Rouds is the pen name for the author, blogger and maternal mental health advocate who blogs at Dancing at the Edge of Sanity.
Postpartum Progress, the world’s most widely-read blog on all things related to emotional health around pregnancy & childbirth, is a service of Postpartum Progress Inc., a 501c3 nonprofit devoted to raising awareness of postpartum depression and similar illnesses. Please consider making a donation today, Mother’s Day, so we can continue and expand our work supporting maternal mental health. Thank you!