I know it seems like nothing but sunshine and unicorns over here, but I think it's time I shared something with you. Brace yourselves.
I started my blog in an attempt to be authentic. To be as much of myself as I could, warts and all, and to laugh at myself and my kids, and make you laugh, too. But I've been remiss in sharing a very important part of who I am.
You see, for more than a year now, I've been battling prenatal and postpartum depression and anxiety.
It is indeed a battle, and some days it feels like I'm winning, and other days it feels like I'm losing.
Looking back, I think I had a mild case of PPD after the Threenager was born, but I didn't recognize it while it was happening. I wanted to enjoy being a new mom so badly, but so many things seemed to go wrong in those first six months. Everything felt so hard, and I remember asking the husband at one point, "When do we get to enjoy this?"
It took a year before I began to feel like myself again.
Soon, I began to make some decisions about the path of my career, and by the fall of 2013, I had plans to apply for my Doctorate in Music, so that I could teach at the university level. The husband and I decided that we probably wouldn't have any more kids, because my degree was four to five years long, and I was already in my late 30s. The timing just wasn't right.
Then I found out I was pregnant.
People always assume if you already have a child, that if another one comes along, it's on purpose, and something to get excited about.
I felt so guilty for not being excited.
So I pretended, around most of my friends, co-workers and family. Because when I didn't pretend? I felt ungrateful. I felt like a Debbie Downer. I felt like eyes were being rolled behind my back, because two kids are so much better than one and why wouldn't I want another? After all, I had friends who had been trying to get pregnant and miscarried. Many friends. It wasn't fair, so I kept my mouth shut.
But I also felt like I was drowning. Like I was being choked. Like I had finally told the universe what I wanted to do with my life, and the universe was all, "BITCH, PLEASE. I got this." And all of the possible things that could now go wrong were lining themselves up to happen to me.
How could we afford another child? How would we all fit in our tiny little house, once the teenager moved in with us in the fall? What if something was seriously wrong with my baby? What if I lost the baby? Did I kind of want to lose the baby?? No! Well, maybe. No. Fuck, I don't know.
I spent so many moments in the bedroom or bathroom, door closed, silently sobbing into tissues or a pillow. Pretending to be happy around my friends and family felt necessary and yet impossible. It was torture.
Luckily, my midwife, who had been with me in my last pregnancy, noticed that something wasn't right. She talked frankly with me about it, and immediately put me on the list for a specialized program that dealt specifically with this type of issue. I was seen by a psychiatrist and diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety.
Once I began seeing someone regularly, and talking through the issues causing my anxiety, things began to ease. By the time I gave birth, I was feeling pretty good. I had been quite fearful of how my hormones would spike, post-labour. But I had baby C and those first few weeks were actually lovely. We had an easy home birth. He latched well, he fed well, he gained well, he slept well. He was an "easy" and happy baby, and I had no trouble bonding with him.
But then things started to feel...off.
I started to feel like I couldn't breathe again. The threenager, still adjusting to her new brother, was being demanding. Baby C was, well, a newborn, and demanding in the innocent way only newborns can be. I was desperately afraid of SIDS, and began waking up to check his breathing every hour or two, even though he was sleeping right next to me. Hell, I even found myself checking the Husband's breathing, every so often. I couldn't ask the husband for any time to myself, because it felt like too much work to ask. I began to have trouble with breastfeeding, experiencing immense pain, but no one had answers.
Months went by, and I got more and more revved up. I began to consider drugs when I finally realized that, despite seeing a social worker weekly, a psychiatrist bi-weekly, attending a postpartum support group weekly and trying to practice mindfulness, I was walking around so angry and anxious that I wanted to claw people's eyes out. Like, anyone that I saw. Anywhere. I HATED people. Loathed them. I walked onto public transit itching for someone to piss me off, so that I could let them have it.
And I realized, I wasn't me anymore.
If this was how I was around people I didn't even know, I began to realize I might be making it hard for the people in my life to love me. Was I taking it out on the husband? Was I yelling more at the threenager? Was I even letting the teen in, now that she was with us full time? No, it was time to give everyone, including myself, a break from the current me, and try something different.
Thankfully, the first drug I tried (one that is considered completely safe while breastfeeding) was successful, on the lowest dose. I began to smile more. To yell less. To laugh, and enjoy people and doing things again.*
I began to feel closer to the old me.
Are things perfect? No. Do I still lose my shit? Occasionally. I still experience highs and lows, but they aren't the out of control, roller coaster ride that they were before. Life feels manageable again, and I feel less like it's me against the world.
Why am I telling you all of this? Several reasons.
The first is that it came to my attention that I was coming across as really having it together. I actually laughed out loud when a friend said as much to me. Y'all need to know that I really do NOT have my shit together. I am high-functioning in many ways, and as long as I have a list of things I need to do (that doesn't include vacuuming), my anxiety actually helps me accomplish things. I also find that creating things has a therapeutic benefit, so whether it's almond milk, cookies or writing, it feels better to make things than to sit in front of my computer surfing the latest viral videos all day, between feedings and naps.** And laughing at myself and the situations I find myself in has been a great way to re-frame my life, so that the glass is more often half full than half empty.
The second reason is that if just one person reading my story can be helped, it will have been worth sharing it. Maybe you're pregnant and feeling like I did, or some version of it. Maybe you've recently had a baby and recognize some of the feelings I describe. Or maybe you're not even a mother, but something in my writing resonated with you, and has inspired you to seek help.
I also feel that it's important to convey that you can love your new baby, and still suffer from postpartum depression. It doesn't make you a bad mother. It doesn't mean you don't love your baby. It doesn't mean you have failed.
It's time to end the stigma of mental illness. You are not alone. There is help. It's okay to get help, and to admit that you need support. Trust me.
* Please understand that I am not telling anyone that drugs are the answer, every time. They were the answer for me, this time, after I had tried numerous other coping and support mechanisms, that didn't have the effect I was hoping for. Please research and explore ALL of the options available to you, if you are experiencing anxiety and/or depression.
**Although that totally has its place. Cats and babies and Pentatonix videos, all the way!
Perinatal Mood Disorder Ltd. - lots of great resources and information
Women's College Hospital Reproductive Life Stages Program, Toronto
This story originally appeared on the author's blog, The Joy of Cooking (for Little Assholes) here.
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