My Baby is a Stranger

My Struggle With Postpartum Depression and Anxiety.

I read an article in 2018 that really hit home for me. After reading it, I had this sudden urge to write about my own experience with Postpartum Depression (PPD) and Postpartum Anxiety (PPA). I had intended to share this much sooner than now. I’m not quite sure why I didn’t. Maybe because sharing my experience makes me feel vulnerable. More vulnerable than most other struggles I’ve faced. Even re-reading this nearly two years after I originally wrote it, brings tears to my eyes.

If you haven’t read Vayda’s birth story, you may do so here.

Below is what I wrote.

11/08/2018

I suffered with Postpartum Depression after Vayda was born. I felt so guilty and ashamed that I was having such a difficult time connecting with my baby, which in turn made my Anxiety go through the roof. I tried to overcompensate and be “perfect” for fear that she wouldn’t feel loved by me. The only person I felt I could confide in was my husband. I remember clearly, bawling in his arms when she was only days old.

Sept. 4th, 2015, 6:01 AM
We had a very rough night. Vayda nursed and cried all night. Zane and I took turns trying to comfort her. I had some colostrum, but my “milk” still hadn’t come in.

I was always told how magical a feeling it is to be handed your baby for the first time. How no other love could ever compare. That it would be instantaneous. I would be overwhelmed with joy. I wondered what was wrong with me…

“Am I a horrible person?”

“What kind of mother doesn’t have feelings (negative or positive) towards their child?”

“Am I some sort of sociopath?”

“No one can find out, or else they will take my baby”

Even though I lacked the expected feelings, I still WANTED this baby. I had prayed for her, and dreamt of becoming a mother for so long. I WANTED to love her. I wanted her to grow up feeling loved. And I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to provide that for her. The feelings I had (or lack there of) still haunt me at times. I tear up as I type this, because the pain and shame of that isolating experience is still here.

One of our maternity photos, taken by Maria Gomez
We were so excited to be growing our little family. For this child we have prayed.

2/13/2020 Update

BUT I refuse to let that guilt and shame silence me. It is SO important to me that other new moms know that they are not alone if they experience the same or something similar. That they are not a horrible person or mother. That it is OK to ask for help. In fact, they should definitely get help – Whether it is from a family member, your church, a friend, counselor, or neighbor. Talk to someone about what you are experiencing. I wish someone had told me about this possibility before she was born. I didn’t realize that Postpartum Depression could look or feel like this. I didn’t feel “sad”, and it wasn’t the “baby blues“.

My Postpartum Depression symptoms seemed to hit me immediately. I remember feeling so underwhelmed and confused after Vayda’s birth. When she was handed to me, it was as if I was handed “A baby”. Not “MY baby”. I didn’t recognize her. It probably didn’t help that she looked absolutely NOTHING like me, or that the fact was brought up to me by multiple, well meaning people. My own mom even said if Vayda didn’t look so much like Zane, she would question if she was even mine. My mom and the others didn’t mean any harm with these statements, and I do not hold it against them. In fact, I’ve exclaimed the same. Although I know this didn’t “cause” my postpartum depression; I believe I would have had it even if we looked near identical- it certainly didn’t help.

By the looks of it, there wasn’t an ounce of me in her.

My baby picture on the left, baby Vayda being held by Zane and I in the middle, and baby Zane on the right.
Vayda on the left, myself on the upper right, and Zane On the lower right.

The hospital was slow the morning Vayda was born, and an unmedicated birth was a rare-ish occurrence during this time, at this particular hospital. A nurse actually told me she had never seen anyone use the squat bar yet. Because of this, a few nurses dropped in, and one offered to take pictures while they weighed, foot-printed, clamped and cut the umbilical cord, etc… There are a few pictures in particular from this time that are difficult for me to look at, even 4.5 years later. I felt the need to force expression on my face, but I didn’t know what expression to make. I have never before posted some of these pictures. I am not sure if I’ve even shown family (Besides Zane).

These are obviously some of the most unattractive pictures of me, but hey, I had just delivered a beautiful baby girl.

This picture was taken seconds after Vayda was born. I had no idea what to do, so I made this face, waiting for that immediate connection I was expecting. Waiting to be overjoyed with love.
I’m clearly exhausted here. Zane is tired, but so proud. He wasn’t sure how involved in the birth he wanted to be. Zane ended up watching and narrating the whole thing. I still remember the excitement in his voice as she crowned and he said, “I see her hair!”
This is probably my least favorite of the pictures. This was taken at 8:05 AM. I remember forcing this sad-looking smile on my face. Internally, I was freaking out.
This picture was taken shortly after we were transferred to our postpartum recovery room, at approximately 10:50 AM
Image by Maria Gomez

I ended up tearing pretty badly during pushing and needed stitches. I had also had a primary postpartum hemorrhage, and required Pitocin after delivery – I had originally planned to forgo the routine Pitocin and trust my body’s natural production of oxytocin. My midwife with my second pregnancy told me that my Postpartum Anxiety and Depression, and the delay of my milk coming in, was likely the result of the hemorrhage.

Thankfully, I had a good support system. While my mom and sister, Madelyn, were unaware of my Postpartum Depression and Anxiety, they were a HUGE help when it came to breastfeeding. My mom breastfed Madelyn, our brother, and I, and my sister was currently breastfeeding my 9-month old nephew. Their experience and support, along with the breastfeeding class I had taken during pregnancy are the reasons I believe I was successful in my breastfeeding journey.

Sept. 4th, 2015 2:16 PM
Vayda’s first doctors appointment since hospital discharge the day before. She still weighed about the same as at discharge, a pound lighter than at birth. The doctor told me that if my “milk” wasn’t in yet, I might as well give up, because it never would. He informed me that he had been “practicing” for X amount of years, blah blah blah…But thankfully, I had taken a breastfeeding class a few months back, so I knew his information was wrong. It still stung. I left feeling defeated.
Breastfeeding

My “milk” came in the evening of September 4th, after a much needed nap while my mom, Madelyn, and my best friend, Bri, took care of Vayda. Zane and I woke from this nap, and he exclaimed, “Kate, your boobs!” with a wide-eyed look on his face. I look in the mirror and it was clear my milk was finally in. I ended up not needing the pumped milk my sister brought me. And best of all, at Vayda’s two-week check up, I was able to proudly tell Vayda’s doctor that he was indeed wrong. she had gained her birth weight back, and then some.

All of my struggles didn’t pass then. I still had a lot to work through. My anxiety really took a toll on my day-to-day life. I still had difficulty bonding with Vayda. In fact, I often wonder even now, how our relationship might be different had I not suffered with Postpartum Depression. I know that I have always been a bit more protective of her. I know I tried to compensate for the lack of emotion I was able to show by going overboard on basically everything else. I’m unsure when I “stopped” having Postpartum Depression and Anxiety. I do know that the understanding and support of Zane, my faith in The LORD, and the therapy I received helped me get through that trial of life.

Vayda at her 2 week check-up. I had said she looked like Ducky from “The Land Before Time” at birth, so when I captured this picture, I had to do a side-by-side of the two.

I breastfed Vayda until just four months shy of her second birthday, and only stopped because I was pregnant and developed major nursing aversions. Vayda is now a very smart and happy four year old. She brings our family so much joy. She still challenges me daily, but thankfully not in the same way.

Vayda in September 2019. Image by my talented sister, Madelyn Smith.

What is Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum depression is depression that occurs after having a baby. Feelings of postpartum depression are more intense and last longer than the “baby blues,” which symptoms typically resolve on their own within a few days. Using the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS), CDC research shows that nationally, about 1 in 9 women experience symptoms of postpartum depression. Estimates of the number of women affected by postpartum depression differ by age and race/ethnicity. Additionally, postpartum depression estimates vary by state, and can be as high as 1 in 5 women. [CDC]

Risk Factors for Depression

Experiences that may put some women at a higher risk for depression can include

  • Stressful live events.
  • Low social support.
  • Previous history of depression.
  • Family history of depression.
  • Difficulty getting pregnant.
  • Being a mom to multiples, like twins, or triplets.
  • Being a teen mom.
  • Preterm (before 37 weeks) labor and delivery.
  • Pregnancy and birth complications.
  • Having a baby who has been hospitalized.

It is important to note, that depression can occur among women with a healthy pregnancy and birth, who have no previous history of depression. Postpartum depression can happen to anyone, regardless of age, ethnicity, marital status, or income. It is believed that the dramatic drop in the hormones estrogen and progesterone in a women’s body after childbirth may contribute to the development of postpartum depression. Other hormones produced by the thyroid gland may also drop sharply — which can leave one feeling tired, sluggish and depressed [Mayo Clinic] Depression that occurs during pregnancy is called Perinatal Depression. Other perinatal and postpartum mood disorders include:

For more information on signs and symptoms of postpartum mood disorders, along with resources to help yourself or a loved one:

***Disclaimer*** These thoughts and experiences are my own. I am not a medical provider, and this is not intended to be medical advice. If you are experiencing postpartum depression symptoms, or if you believe you or a loved one may be experiencing this or another perinatal or postpartum mood disorder, please contact your medical provider and/or look at the resources linked above.

You can have an amazing birth! Birth Boot Camp Online Classes.

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