When my son was nine days old, I started having intrusive thoughts. I didn’t know what these thoughts were. I feared it meant my subconscious had malicious intent. I was afraid to be alone with my son. I was afraid I was crossing the line between sanity and insanity, about to fall off the ledge into a dark abyss of madness.
I often think about that terrified and insecure woman who curled up on her bed, wishing she could turn the clock back nine days and trade her mental anguish with the discomfort she felt in labor. I wish I could hold her and tell her everything I know now. I would say, “You’re having these thoughts because of postpartum anxiety and panic. It’s not your fault. They are called intrusive thoughts, and other people have had them. I know they are scary, but having the thought doesn’t mean you will act on them. You’re going to be okay.”
Unfortunately, no one was that voice for me. However, I still got better over time thanks to treatment. The panic, anxiety and intrusive thoughts subsided. My fog of sadness lifted. In order to get better, I needed to let other people take care of me. I also took medication, napped when my son napped, ate healthy and nourishing meals, and wrote in my journal. A month after the intrusive thoughts began, I was writing about my postpartum period with a sense of humor in my journal. Here is an excerpt:
I have this idea for new moms greeting cards. Ones that are a little more honest. All the cards out there say things about how “this is the best time of your life” and “you’ve never known this type of love or joy” and blah blah blah. All of it is true, but the beginning didn’t feel like it and such cards only made me feel worse.
Here’s a different idea:
Congratulations! The adorable baby is here.
Sweet, precious angel. Oh so dear!
Love like this you’ve never felt before…
What’s that? You want to walk out the front door?
Sleepless nights, spit up and screams,
The haunting cry creeps into your dreams!
Nothing makes sense and all you want to do is cry.
You feel like a zombie and you don’t understand why.
Your industrial-sized pad is bigger than the diapers on your newborn
You find leak spots and milk stains on every shirt you have ever worn.
Your sensitive nipples are cracked and bleeding.
You’ve got this cling-on that’s constantly feeding.
You might feel your baby is impossible to soothe,
But have faith because motherhood will improve.
You and baby will figure it out.
Trust your instincts; don’t give in to doubt.
Congratulations, new mom.
It gets better.
Such a card might offend some people, but I think it would be great and honest. It would have made me laugh instead of cry because all those cards that idealize motherhood and make believe the newborn stage is full of sweet cuddles, pink clouds and soft music is a bunch of hogwash!
So, new mother, seasoned mother or anyone dealing with postpartum depression or a related illness, we can overcome these challenging feelings. It gets better. I found my way out of the darkness. You will too!
~ Ana Clare Rouds
Ana Clare Rouds (pen name) lives in Vermont with her two-year-old son, her husband and two chocolate Labrador retrievers. She earned a degree in theatre arts from Drew University and a master’s degree in education from Castleton State College. She is currently working on her first book, Dancing on the Edge of Sanity, which is a memoir about her experience with postpartum depression and anxeity.
* * *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!