by Stephanie Greunke, Whole Mamas Program Director, who shares her postpartum story today in her own words.
In Steph’s own words…
I didn’t know I dealt with a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (also known as a PMAD, the more comprehensive term that includes postpartum depression) until my first son Otto was close to a year old and I started researching the topic for professional reasons.
Yes, you read that right–I didn’t know. Clearly, I was having a hard time adjusting, but I didn’t realize the severity until I looked at the literature with an open mind. I asked my midwives, friends, and family about my behavior, thoughts, and feelings postpartum. By utilizing a screening tool, I realized was one of the 1 in 7 women who experience a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder.
Where it started…
I was fortunate enough to have a beautiful, planned home water birth with Otto. I loved the privacy and coziness that my home birth allowed, but since I’m someone who has a tendency towards self-doubt, the privacy came at a cost to my mental health. About 6 hours post-birth, my birth team left. They had determined they were happy with Otto’s latch and the beginning of our nursing relationship. Instead of trusting their judgment, my body, and the signs Otto was giving me that things were going well, I panicked. Not having any medical professionals around to give me constant reassurance* had me second guessing my ability to nurse.
*Note: I realize that for some individuals, constant check-ins can actually be more discouraging than encouraging. What I wanted at the time was for someone to keep confirming that everything was okay.
Anxieties around breastfeeding
I constantly questioned if Otto was getting enough to eat, leading to obsession over his behavior before/during/after every nursing session. I panicked every time he started acting hungry, in fear of “not getting it right” and wanted (no, I needed) reassurance from the baby scale and others.
Multiple lactation consultants came to my house to help. They gave me guidance and encouraged me to keep going, but my anxiety continued to build. Nursing seemed far from “natural.” It was freaking hard.
Every time Otto looked hungry, I panicked. Driving felt impossible because even the slightest cry set me off. I couldn’t leave the house because he HAD to be on a set nap schedule. I freaked out if someone talked too loud in the house when he was sleeping. It’s normal to be bothered by your baby crying or to be concerned about their sleep, but my anxiety and fear was paralyzing. It interfered with my quality of life and overall happiness. Unfortunately, I didn’t identify that this new anxiety was indeed a form of PMAD and I didn’t seek the help I needed.
Postpartum Progress lists potential symptoms of postpartum anxiety as racing thoughts, fear of being alone with baby, and OCD about baby’s safety. Looking back, I can see that I had ALL of the symptoms they list on their website for months, but shook it off as having normal new mom worries and concerns. My mom tends to be a “worrier” as well, so I grew up in an environment where this behavior was somewhat familiar. I just took it to the extreme.
My second pregnancy…
During the last trimester of my second pregnancy, I actually experienced a mild version of the other side of PMADs: postpartum depression. It wasn’t anxiety that I was feeling, but extreme overwhelm, lack of interest in things that typically made me happy, less bonding to my husband, friends, and baby, and guilt for not handling this pregnancy as well as I “should.” I mean, I’m a birth professional and was doing “all the right things,” yet I was still struggling.
Slowing down to notice my symptoms
The difference was that this time, I actually slowed down enough to identify what was happening. I revisited literature on PMADs and looked at my situation with an open mind. Thankfully, I was able to turn things around by asking for the help I so desperately needed. I hired a nanny; flew my mother-in-law out for a visit to help with things around the house and to play with my son; stopped taking on additional work projects; had discussions with my midwife and doula; and made more time for self-care. I continued to eat an anti-inflammatory, real food based diet that focused on blood sugar regulation. I also took supportive supplements, like fish oil and vitamin D. Was it hard to ask for help and slow down my type-A personality? Absolutely! But I knew that if I didn’t take action, my second postpartum would be rough like my first.
A smoother second postpartum
I can honestly say that this postpartum has been much better compared to my first. I’m sure it’s partly because he’s my second baby. I’m not focused on jotting down the exact time of day he poops, pees, sleeps, and sneezes like my first, but I think it’s also due to seeking help and support from my loved ones. When I start feeling anxious, it’s often because I’m taking on too much. Being a mom is a full-time job. When you try to add on work, cleaning, cooking, and a myriad of other responsibilities, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Your mental health can take a toll.
This time, when Leo cries, I’m able to understand he’s just expressing a need. Driving with him doesn’t stress me out. I shake off naps that don’t go according to my plan. I’m rational, resilient, and feel like myself again.
Taking care of your health often gets pushed aside when you’re trying to survive new motherhood. You put your baby first, even if that means only showering once a week or pooping “with guests.” One time, I scratched my eye to the point of needing an emergency room visit, only to wait until my husband got home from work, so I could go without the kids. It’s amazing and baffling how moms manage to function on such little sleep, so much stress, and unfortunate lack of help. Please take care of yourself, enlist help from others, and know that there’s a fine line between the normal worries you experience as a new mom and true anxiety and depression. You deserve a positive experience of motherhood.
For more information on perinatal mood and anxiety disorders or to find resources to support your healing, please visit Postpartum Progress and Postpartum Support International. To hear more about my experience with Postpartum Depression, you can listen to Episode 4 and Episode 5 of the Whole Mamas podcast. I am passionate about helping mamas navigate the “fourth trimester” and beyond, so feel free to reach out on Instagram or by email with questions or other topics you’d like to see addressed in the future.
Stephanie Greunke is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in nutrition who specializes in women’s health. She is a certified personal trainer and prenatal and postnatal corrective exercise specialist. Stephanie guides and supports women locally and globally through her web-based private practice, RockYourHormones.com.