[Editor’s Note: The holidays can feel hard for any new mom, but especially so for one in the throes of postpartum depression and anxiety. Kelly Bailey went through it last year and bravely shares her story here today. Thank you, Kelly. -Jenna]
One year ago this week was the start of my downward spiral into postpartum anxiety and depression.
My baby was about two weeks old, and I had been back to the doctor at least twice for issues with my incision. Each time I went to the doctor, my blood pressure was higher and that week the doctor told me she didn’t want me driving at all because my blood pressure was high enough to cause a stroke. She put me on blood pressure medication which completely threw my system out of whack.
The next day I was told that my kidneys were not functioning correctly. Two days later I was told I tested positive for a blood clot and had to have additional testing to rule out that issue.
During all of this and between my two trips to the ER, my grandmother passed away. I did not make it to her funeral due to all of the medical issues I was dealing with and hospital visits. My panic attacks had started, very slightly in the beginning, and I recognized that I needed a little help. The doctor prescribed me some anxiety medication, and I started it immediately.
Backing up three months, my mother was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and made trips to Houston for surgeries. When my daughter was a week old, my parents finally told me that the type of cancer Mom had was not treatable. There was no cure; no effective treatment had been discovered yet. If they found more cancer in her last surgery, there was nothing more they could do for her.
Needless to say, I was a mess. But strangely, I still didn’t realize it.
I had not taken the time to really process my feelings with that third pregnancy. I had done it twice before and figured it would all be the same. I was focused on my job, my mother, my kids, etc.—everything but me and the baby I was carrying.
I was trying to make sure I left the company I worked for in a good position during my maternity leave. I was trying to encourage and support my mother and my immediate family, while suppressing the fears and worries I had with her health. I wanted to spend time with my kids, especially the one-year-old who didn’t understand how much her little life was about to change with another baby in the house. I didn’t take time to listen to my own heart and mind and body and just slow down. I worked up until two days before having the baby, unexpectedly I might add. She came several days before her scheduled c-section date. Like her oldest sister, she decided to come in the middle of the night and keep things exciting.
By mid-December, it was clear to both my husband and me that I was not going to be ready to go back to work at the first of the year. We came to the conclusion that I was not going back to work at all. This was not an easy decision for me. I loved what I did and believed in the company I worked for, but I knew I couldn’t do it justice any longer. I would not be able to give it 100% and give my family 100% at the same time.
So on top of all of the health scares, my family’s struggles, and my newborn baby, I found myself a stay-at-home mom to three children, ages six and under. This presented me with a whole new list of challenges and stressors that I had never had to deal with before. I didn’t know how to function in that role and yet found myself in that position overnight.
I would panic and cry every time my husband would leave in the morning, to the point that I would vomit. My oldest daughter would cry and be scared because she didn’t understand why I was crying; she would try to do everything she could think of to make me feel better and to help with the two babies. Once I would get her to school, I would go to my middle daughter’s former babysitter—a woman in her 60s—who would help watch the two little ones and didn’t mind if I cried or slept on her couch. She was a Godsend.
By the weekend before Christmas, my husband and I were really struggling. We weren’t communicating well, we were short with each other and the kids. We ended up sending them to stay with family for a couple of days until we could join them for the holidays. I needed that break to re-coup and rest and think. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, to send my kids away at Christmas. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. I remember having to take meds on Christmas Eve just because the thought of getting the girls back was so overwhelming that I began to panic during the three hour car ride to see them. I had no faith in myself that I could do it. I felt defeated before I ever really gave myself a chance to try.
I cried a lot that Christmas. I felt guilty that I was not happy. I was sad that I felt guilty. I had no joy, even though I desperately wanted to have it. It just wasn’t in me. It took too much energy. I was just simply trying to function. My father reminded me that the little ones would not remember that Christmas, and that my oldest daughter would only vaguely remember it herself. He kept telling me that the next year would be better, and I was going to be okay.
Moving forward into January, my hardest week hit at the beginning of the month. I had talked to a therapist and increased my meds, but I still found myself getting incredibly angry with the baby. She would cry and I would just get so frustrated. I was afraid that I would hurt her.
Once again the girls made a trip to be with family, only this time I went with them. Christmas break was over by then, so our oldest daughter had to stay behind with my husband. I’ll never forget telling her that I had to leave for a while and didn’t know when I would be back. My little girl fell to the floor sobbing. All I could do was hold her in my lap and sob with her. We stayed with my dad and stepmom for a week, with strict instructions to them from my husband that I was not allowed to ever be alone with the baby. He was trying to protect her and me. At that point we weren’t sure what else to do.
It was during that week that I began to really process everything. I realized that I was going through a grieving process. I was grieving my old life. I was grieving who I was before the baby and had not fully accepted all the changes that had come with her. I was finally feeling the feelings that I should have paid attention to during the pregnancy but neglected to stop and do so. The emotions came flooding in and I cried for two days straight. I wanted to go home, but was scared to do so. I wanted to feel better and feel like me again, but never thought that day would come. I was in the dark, at rock bottom, and it was humbling and enlightening all at the same time.
My stepmom asked me during one of our very many conversations what I was afraid of, what was I really so scared of. And I couldn’t come up with anything. The fear and anxiety had taken over my life so much that I didn’t even see there was nothing to be afraid of, no imminent danger. I was attacking myself emotionally and mentally, but not allowing myself to feel and heal. I had been fighting it all along, afraid of the unknown, and it had rendered me paralyzed. It was time to let go. I gave it all to God and finally felt free for the first time in weeks.
I started taking steps toward healing. First, by having a sincere and honest conversation with my husband about what I needed from him and how he could help me. He loved me through it all and was willing to do what was needed for me to get better. He continually reminded me once I got home that all I had to do was focus on the kids and take care of them and myself. The household chores could wait.
I consciously and daily reminded myself to take one day at a time. Sometimes, it was as little as taking one hour at a time. I had to start small or it would all overwhelm me again and a flood of anxiety would come over me. I wrote myself little encouraging notes and taped them all over the house. I re-defined who I was, made a list, and taped it to the bathroom mirror so that it was the first thing I saw each morning.
I was determined to fight and to overcome, so that my daughters would see it was possible. I never hid the raw emotion from them, which was not easy. But I wanted them to know that their mom was real, that she struggled, and that she fought with everything inside of her and from heaven above to get back to the woman she was before the illness. I wanted them to know that they were worth the fight.
Today, I can sit here and type this and say that I am well. I can also say that I still struggle at times with anxiety and have to pay close attention to myself to keep it from escalating. I give myself permission to rest, to play with the kids, to not be so serious all of the time. I pick my battles when it comes to the stay-at-home mom stuff. Sometimes you just have to let the kids make a mess and worry about it later.
The holidays are still hard. Thanksgiving and Christmas are packed with so much emotion anyway that it can be a difficult time of year. My mom is cancer free and all of the health scares I had a year ago are no longer an issue. I still find myself feeling down at times and wondering why I am not cheerful and merry and all those wonderful holiday feelings. But I don’t over-analyze. I recognize the feeling, and try not to dwell on it.
I know that I will have good days and bad days, but that the good ones far outnumber the bad. That is life. There was a time where I wasn’t sure I was going to make it out of that black hole of anxiety and depression. With help, with love, with humility, and with patience, I was able to climb out of the darkness.
John 1:5 “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”