By Amber Jo Peterson
This post is part of HealthyWomen's Real Women, Real Stories series.
Six months after I had my second son, something just wasn't right. I wasn't sad, I didn't feel like hurting myself, and I was able to connect with my baby just fine. But I just knew something wasn't right. Despite my insisting I wasn't depressed, all I could get from my doctor was medication for depression.
Throughout my ordeal, I was researching postpartum depression, but nothing I read or listened to resonated with me until I heard a mom on a podcast say, “All I could think about was death.”
I immediately started to bawl my eyes out. For several months, I would have horrible, detailed images of my children getting hurt—not like falling and scraping their knee, but falling and their heads caving in. I can only describe it as having a disturbing horror movie scene on repeat in my mind—and they were impossible to stop. It was always the worst before bed. I would cry myself to sleep, with my husband lying by my side having no clue. Even worse, I would compound my anxiety because I felt so horrible for having the thoughts I did. I would think, “What the hell is wrong with you? This is sick. You're sick. If you tell anyone, they are going to take your children away, your husband will leave you, and you will be thrown into a mental institution.”
I was never educated on postpartum depression or anxiety. Instead, I was handed a pamphlet for PPD, which was tucked away under 30 other pamphlets on how to take care of my baby. My doctor never said there was a high probability of developing a maternal mental illness and I never heard any other moms discussing their own issues. This only worsened my shame. I was ashamed to say anything about my own.
It was a blessing to hear something I could relate to on that podcast because at that moment, I didn't feel alone. I decided to get out of my head and to be vocal. I told other moms what I was going through and they began to open up to me. Moms who, to me, were absolutely picture-perfect examples of motherhood were having their own struggles. It was through those conversations that I realized I was suffering from postpartum anxiety.
Talking and sharing has been my key to dealing with postpartum anxiety. It has inspired me to start an Instagram account where moms can feel safe to talk openly about maternal mental health—where we can share other mothers' experiences no matter how mild or severe. My hope is that a story on this account, Melancholy Mamas, will have the same impact that that podcast had on me.
Because when we share our stories, it can help another mom feel like she is not alone.
Let's lift each other up and get rid of this image of “perfect motherhood.” All mothers have issues and we shouldn't have to deal with them alone. So let's get uncomfortable. Let's talk about this.. Let's show other moms that what they're feeling is more common than they may think.
If you are struggling with any type of maternal mental health disorder, please reach out and ask for help. I promise talking about it makes it a little bit easier.
Read more Real Women, Real Stories posts about perinatal mood and anxiety disorders:
Drowning in New Motherhood: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression and Anxiety
Living With Postpartum Depression and Anxiety Isn't the End
Overcoming the Fear of Having Another Baby After Postpartum Depression
And Follow Amber Jo Peterson's community at her account @melancholymamas.