Yesterday morning, I swiped my debit card for my $20 copay and planted myself nervously in a beige vinyl chair as I waited for my name to be called. I would be seeing my doctor shortly—for the first time in almost 2 years.
A nurse called my name and exited the room after taking my blood pressure and temperature. I sat on the exam table staring at my feet wondering how I was going to approach this.
How do you tell your doctor that you think you’re dealing with postpartum depression/anxiety? Would you believe that I actually googled that before I left work for my appointment? I did.
Last week, I told my wife that I made a doctor appointment. She responded, “Are you really feeling that low?” I had to think about it for a while because all this time, I’ve thought it was obvious. I had a similar conversation with my mom a few months ago.
That exchange left me questioning whether I really belonged on that exam table or not. I wasn’t contemplating hurting myself. I wasn’t having trouble bonding with my baby. You wouldn’t look at me sitting at the dining room table across from my wife as we laugh at the antics of our daughter over dinner and think, “That girl needs help.”
But I wonder if you’d think differently if you could see inside my head. I wonder what you’d think if you could see the scene that plays out in my head when I strap my baby girl into her carrier—it’s always the same. I trip as I’m walking and watch as my baby’s head hits the ground and her brain smears onto the sidewalk. Graphic isn’t it? Sometimes I can shake my head and make it go away. Sometimes, I put down the carrier and reach for the stroller instead. Always—always, I silently plead with my brain to stop. Just stop. But it doesn’t. It’ll be there the next time I reach for the carrier, too.
It’s the same as I lie in bed at night and suddenly in my head, I’m standing over my daughter’s dead body after she’s lost a battle with cancer. Or she’s been kidnapped. Or hit by a car. I’m holding a heavy urn filled with her ashes. I’m sobbing. The list goes on and on, and all of the scenes play out so vividly inside my head. Like watching movies. I shake my head. I count backwards from 999. I take deep breaths. I argue with myself over how ridiculous it is and how there are far more mothers in the world who get to watch their babies grow up than those who don’t. I remind myself how badly I need sleep. I try counting again. Eventually, I’ll fall asleep.
The horrifying scenes that take place inside my head are just the tip of the iceberg. There’s more—things that I’m not particularly comfortable sharing right now. Maybe someday, but not now.
So how do you communicate all of that to a busy medical professional who hardly knows you? At some point, you have to stop worrying about whether other people think you’re struggling and accept that it’s enough that you feel like you’re struggling. It’s enough that something doesn’t feel right to you. You are the only one inside your head.
That’s what I told my doctor yesterday morning. I explained the flashes of horror-film-like anxiety. I touched very briefly on some of the other things. I explained how I just don’t feel like myself.
My doctor listened. He reassured me that in his experience, about 30% of new mothers have postpartum struggles with mental health, and that I’m not alone. He made sure I knew that even though he’s telling me how common it is, he recognizes how serious it is and that it requires treatment.
I learned that the medical group I belong to has a department dedicated to postpartum mental health. He’s referring me to them, and said that I should hear from them this week. He suggested that I may need medication, but that he will work with them in making that decision rather than prescribing something on the spot.
So that’s where I am right now, friends. Struggling more than some and less than some, but struggling nonetheless. My daughter is this amazing, beautiful ray of sunshine that I am grateful beyond words for, but it turns out that just being her mother isn’t enough to make me feel whole right now. It turns out that I’m going to need some assistance from the professionals.