Reports state Hayden Panettiere just returned to the set of Nashville after completing treatment for postpartum depression. The actress sought in-patient treatment last October for PPD where she stayed until late November. Like many working moms, now she’s back to work.
Returning to work can feel daunting for any mom after the birth of a baby. You’ve been away from work for a number of weeks. You might worry about catching up on work or if your absence negatively affected coworkers. You might have concerns about leaving your baby with a care provider. Finding a new routine after time off can feel impossible.
But for a mom dealing with a postpartum mood and anxiety disorder, the anxiety is heightened. Every worry becomes a series of “what if” questions. They can spiral out of control for a mom dealing with postpartum depression or anxiety, sending a new mom on a spiral of unhelpful questions and fears.
And then: What if someone finds out about my postpartum mental illness?
We decided to ask a group of our Warrior Moms about their fears on returning to work with postpartum depression. In doing so, we hope to show mamas researching their return to their jobs that they’re not alone in their fears. No, mama. You’re not “crazy.” Other warrior moms have thought it, worried about it, and come out on the other side stronger and able to both do our jobs and parent our babies. You can do this.
These mamas had a number of fears about returning to work with postpartum depression.
I dreaded the questions people would ask, like how’s baby sleeping (about which I would think “great, but I’m not”) or how are things going (to which my brain would come up with about a hundred different answers they didn’t want to hear) or the most dreaded comment, “enjoy every moment-they grow up so fast” which made me feel incredibly guilty and inept because I couldn’t. -Lindsey
I was afraid of having to use leave for therapy appointments when I had no leave left. I worried my boss would see me as incapable of completing my job effectively, and fire me as a result. So I hid my health and wore a mask; it didn’t work. Thankfully I was able to see my job and coworkers as a sense of support after my mental health disclosure. -Christina B
I think for me the most terrifying thought when I was in the thick of my depression—and how I’d be able to go back to work—was how incoherent my thought processes were and the total loss of ability to think, speak, or act clearly. I’ll never forget the day it took me two hours to make a pot of soup from a recipe I’d made countless times before and then the cold January day where I spent over 14 hours working on a paper for school and rolled from one panic attack to the next. I couldn’t concentrate on anything. -Anonymous
My biggest fear was leaving my baby. The anxiety I felt when I had to drop her off in the morning was unbearable. I was constantly sick to my stomach. She was little, just three months, so it had nothing to do with her knowing I was leaving. I would cry almost the entire 30 minute commute to work. When I got there it would take hours for my mind to focus on simple tasks. I watched the clock constantly, waiting for it to be pointed at that time when I could leave. Even though I knew my daughter was in the most capable and loving care (either with my husband, parents, or sisters), it was devastating to be away from her all day and be surrounded by people who had no idea what was really going through my mind. -Megan B.
Being the Mom of a preemie, I was afraid of the questions that my co-workers were going to ask me and how I would have to reply. “How big is the baby now?” “Are there any concerns with him?” “Isn’t being a mother wonderful?” I was already feeling guilty and exhausted from the lack of sleep, so it was even more draining to plan out how I should be prepared to answer those types of questions, especially as my anxiety had me breaking out in a full body sweat. At the same I looked forward to bring out of the house and back to my “normal” life. -Stacey
I was afraid of being unable to control my emotions. But actually, returning to work turned out to be very good for me. It got me back in my routine. And I had been by myself with the baby in the dark of the Ohio winter. -Anonymous
My fear was, because I work in the mental health field, everyone would know that something was wrong. I had a hard time finding a provider because of being in the field and knowing everyone. On the flip side, it was comforting because my colleagues were so supportive once I told everyone my struggles. -Joyce M
After my PPP, I was out of work for a couple months and I feared what my cowokers knew or thought about my medical time away. (Now It is a non issue.) -Kristina D
Other moms lept at the chance to return to work.
I didn’t fear anything, I was relieved to leave the baby in capable hands and have some adult time. -Stephanie
Although I was a few weeks into my recovery plan when I returned to work (had to take some extra weeks to get better), I was excited to go back. I needed that separation from my baby to just be me and focus on my thing. If I hadn’t gone back to work, I really don’t think things would have gotten better for me. It helped me bond with my baby MORE because after work, I actually looked forward to getting her, taking her home, and cuddling, feeding, and playing with her, something I never had while on leave. -Anonymous
I didn’t quite know that I was dealing with PPD at the time; all I knew was that I was so relieved that maternity leave was almost over and was counting the days until I could return to work. -Stephanie C.
I was mostly afraid questions like, “Aww, don’t you miss the baby?” Um. No. “Aren’t you just loving being a mother?” Um. No. “Were you dreading coming back to work?” Um. No. Could not wait to come back. I know the expected answers were yes. And of course I said “yes” to all, but on the inside I was screaming, “No!!!!” -Melissa
And so, new mama returning to work, you’re not alone. Whether you choose to disclose your postpartum depression or not, there’s a network of mothers who will stand with you in solidarity as you move forward in your career and in your parenting. Your fears might feel insurmountable right now, but we will support you as you beat this next fight in your battle with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.