The Pregnancy and Postpartum Fog
By Jacquie Schriver, LSW
The birth of my first child was pretty much textbook for ‘typical’ recovery. The birth of my second child was very different. In fact, I experienced depression during the pregnancy. That felt isolating in and of itself because pregnant women are supposed to be enjoying every little change and craving, every little kick and growth. There’s a few takeaways in this post, and perhaps one of them is to avoid “shoulda-woulda-coulda.” Self-compassion is so difficult to attain, though, when you’re stuck and lost.
The pandemic contributed quite a bit to my mental health – the isolation and fear that came with being a pregnant mother to a 2-year-old during a worldwide pandemic cannot be understated. But these emotional challenges can arise in any pregnancy and postpartum period.
My daughter arrived in September 2020, and I felt so good. I felt so relieved and like my pregnancy depression lifted. But, about 4 weeks into my daughter’s life, it came slamming down on me again. She wasn’t sleeping. She had acid reflux and torticollis, and she cried for 3 hours a day. She only calmed while breastfeeding or being wrapped on my chest. We needed to start Physical Therapy for her. My entire support system outside my home was wearing masks with us, and I had an antsy toddler at home soaking up all the anxious vibes in our home.
It took me a couple months after that to admit that something felt really off. I went to my doctor and sought a therapist. I visited a psychiatrist for medication management when she was 1 year old and just kept going – going through my daily routines – sort of foggy and irritable, I’ll admit. Looking back, I wasn’t fully “present.” At one point, I felt myself wishing that I never had children, and this scared me more than any feeling I’ve ever had.
About 2 years into my daughter’s life, I shook things up. I think I was finally ready. I started doing CrossFit, and this was a game changer for me. I have my supportive husband to thank for the “kick in the rear” on this one. Looking back, I think my husband was finally less fearful of my emotions and my mental state. The dive into something completely brand new came after some time of me kicking and screaming to “just feel better” and multiple breakdowns. The physical activity of CrossFit gave my anxious body what it needed to start regulating again. I gained confidence in myself and support in a community. I started to finally give myself a break, and to give myself some grace. The fog has lifted.
What I’ll say as my main takeaway to moms who are feeling low or depressed or anxious – and it sounds cliche – is that postpartum depression and anxiety, is not your fault. It’s not your child’s or anyone else’s fault either. It’s circumstantial. It’s hormonal. About a year into my postpartum mental health journey, my psychiatrist told me, “postpartum depression can last for 2 years.” WOW, I thought, I didn’t know that, and I’m a therapist.
Getting true support is the primary reason I’ve come out on the other side – therapy, psychiatrist, doctor, husband, family, colleagues, friends. I hope telling my story will help any moms who are having a hard time seeing light at the end of the tunnel.