I felt like my entire life had prepared me for motherhood. I grew up in a family that provided early intervention services to children- my mom, aunt, and grandmother owned the business and I had constant exposure to special needs kiddos and loved helping out. When I hit high school I started babysitting children of family friends and neighbors. When I got my first car I got my first job as a preschool teachers assistant. I got certified to teach preschool and that was my job all through college, along with being a nanny. Then I went to grad school and became a children’s and family therapist. If I couldn’t be a natural mom, who the heck could?! I’m sure you can see where this is headed... motherhood has been a big challenge for me. My pregnancy was extremely difficult with a lot of extreme vomiting up until the 32-week mark. My fatigue was incapacitating at times and the hormones made my job working with children who were in the child protective system almost impossible due to me being so sensitive. I honestly only had a few moments of truly “enjoying” pregnancy. I loved the kicks and hiccups but other than that it was a struggle for me. I felt guilty that I wasn’t “glowing” or treasuring each moment of growing another human being. I felt pressure to be perfect and the guilt of not meeting those expectations crippled me at times. I was certain it would get better once my daughter was born. She’d be perfect and we’d be perfect. (You can see my anxiety creeping its way in even just by having that expectation)
When she was born we immediately had breastfeeding issues. There was pain, lots of tears (from us both), and nurses who were horribly insensitive and pushed me too hard. I had my first postpartum panic attacks before we left the hospital. Anxiety and I go way back. I was prepared for this part. My husband and I spent a lot of time talking about the fact that it was very likely I would experience some mental health struggles once our daughter was born. I wasn’t prepared for the severity of what I would later find out was postpartum OCD. Over the next 9 months, I struggled with horrific flashes of my daughter being injured or killed in mostly irrational ways. I couldn’t stop it from happening. It was all day, every day. I spent so much time crying imagining her being abused by other caregivers or being caught in a school shooting or crawling into a busy street. Every time she would cry harder than just little whimpers my heart would race because I knew my mind would start conjuring up something horrible. I had panic attack after panic attack, I was losing (even more) sleep, I was struggling to maintain a healthy diet, I was withdrawing from my loved ones, I obsessed over every little thing to do with parenting, I never let my daughter leave my side. I was afraid and that fear crippled me. I desperately grasped for things that worked for me in the past- deep breathing, setting aside time for self-care, getting outside, mindfulness exercises, cognitive behavioral therapy techniques. Nothing was working so I started to feel like maybe this is just what motherhood looks like... maybe this is what everyone talks about when they say you’ll never stop worrying about your kids.
Somewhere at the nine-month mark, it clicked that this was above and beyond normal. I sought out a psychiatric nurse practitioner who has undergone specialized training for postpartum issues. I’ll admit I was absolutely horrified to go to the appointment. There was this added level of shame I felt being a therapist. I mean, come on this is literally my day job! How did it take me so long to notice what this was? How did I let it get this bad?? The truth of the matter is- none of us are immune. Postpartum mental health issues don’t care what you do for a living or what your lifestyle is like. Thankfully my NP was supportive and incredible and for the first time in months- I felt like someone GOT me. She prescribed an antidepressant that’s often used to help reduce obsessive thinking and for the first time in what felt like a lifetime I had air in my lungs. The medication combined with some lifestyle changes, therapy, and learning to be more transparent with my struggles with my family completely changed my life. It’s not perfect-I still struggle with some pretty unpleasant imagery and worries- but I no longer feel like I’m drowning. I can enjoy my daughter's childhood. I can give her space to bond with her grandparents. I’m able to take baby-steps while still being supported by family.
Having postpartum mental health struggles is so common yet for some reason, we shroud it in secrecy. We hide it away and feel like we are “less than” in some way. I am so appreciative of the fellow parents (both adoptive and biological) who experience these things that are willing to share candidly and without shame because it helps make this conversation easier to have.
The cliff notes version of what worked for me: talking to my husband honestly, seeing a psychiatric nurse, talking to our pediatrician, reaching out to friends and moms I knew, putting down my phone when the urge to obsessively research struck, limiting social media use that made me feel worse, therapy, making time for self-care, and most importantly giving myself some grace.
The most vital part for me has been recognizing that coping with any postpartum mental health issues is not a destination. It’s a journey. One week might look great, the next might be an extreme struggle. Something may work for me for a long time but then suddenly stop, leaving me needing to find new and effective coping strategies. As long as I am doing the best I can each day, that is all I can ask of myself!
-Caysie is an fellow Arizonan, and mama to a beautiful little girl. You can find her over on Instagram.