By Mandy Lehman
Trigger Warning: Intrusive Thoughts
Medical and mental health professionals will tell you that if anxiety or depression runs in your family or if you suffer from either or both of these things, then you are at a higher risk for developing postpartum depression after you’ve had a baby. I nodded my head in agreement while listening to my OB tell me this while I was pregnant with my first son. I am very thankful that I only had “baby blues” as a first time mom in 2013. Before I continue, I will say that I suffered from depression when I was about 16-years-old and have had general anxiety disorder since I was a kid. I didn’t truly get a diagnosis until I was in my early 20’s. Both of these things, along with OCD, runs quite high on my mom’s side of the family.
My husband and I had another son in fall of 2015. Since I only experienced “baby blues” with our first son, I kept wondering and thinking if I would have “baby blues” with our second baby. I had heard about PPD and always thought about how horrible it must be when a woman experiences that sort of thing. I had read true stories about women wanting to hurt themselves and their kids while trying to be a mom.
It was exhausting once we brought our baby home from the hospital. He was constantly hungry and wanted to nurse all the time. I was up with him during the night almost every hour. I was battling a Staph infection in both of my breasts while at the same time nursing him. My lactation consultant highly recommended a supplement that worked for me. I had taken this while nursing my first son since I had a Staph infection in my breasts at that time, too. It cleared up the infection both times! I am so thankful to God for that! Our baby also had a hard time nursing and only favored one breast over the other. This was frustrating, but after we got him adjusted by my chiropractor then he was able to nurse on both sides again.
Within a month of being a stay-at-home mom (my husband works full-time), taking care of a 2-and-a-half-year-old son who was diagnosed with mild autism and trying to be a mom to a newborn baby, I was starting to show signs of wear and tear on my whole being! I would cry a lot, I had irritability beyond words, I was very impatient with both of my boys, I didn’t want to even nurse my baby, I would scream and slam doors if one or both of the kids would start crying, I would hover over our baby while he was lying on the floor and I would slap my hands as hard as I could on our wooden floors to try and scare him and to show him how upset and frustrated I was that he was crying, I would walk outside and get away from them for a few minutes, etc.
I went to my follow-up appointment with one of the midwives that I had been seeing and she gave me a depression screener to take to see where I was mentally. Well, I failed that test with flying colors. I didn’t realize how far I had sunk as far as my mental and emotional health were concerned. Not to mention, all of my family and friends are 300 miles away from me. I moved from Minnesota to Southern Wisconsin in late 2007 after my husband and I got married. My midwife talked very seriously with me and said, “I am worried about you.” “I need you to see a counselor and to get on medication,” she said. I nodded my head yes, but walked out of the clinic thinking that I could do things the natural way and I would be just fine (praying to God, deep breathing, listening and singing to music, hiking, journaling, etc.)
Well, things weren’t fine and I was trying to deny my thoughts and feelings. I started having these dark thoughts and feelings such as wanting to hurt my kids, as well as myself. I thankfully didn’t have a plan laid out, but I did have some thoughts about us not existing anymore. I remember one early morning in particular when our newborn son woke up crying in his bassinet next to our bed. Since I had just nursed him about an hour prior I stood up and started hitting my hands as hard as I could on top of the bed! I was practically yelling- “I just nursed you!” “I just want to sleep!!” I can’t remember everything else that I said, but I just lost it and started crying. My husband tried to comfort me as best as he could and I calmed down and picked up our son and nursed him.
Since my husband was at work and I was left home alone with the kids, there were so many days where I didn’t trust myself, my thoughts, my feelings. I would sometimes think “What if he comes home and we’re not here?” “What if he walks through the door and finds us hurt?”
I would also have thoughts while parked in a parking lot or driving around a town that’s close to where I live, “I wish the cops here would arrest me and take my kids away.”
“I am not a good mom and my kids would be better off in a foster home or with someone who can take care of them.”
“I wish I could be put away in a mental hospital.”
These thoughts started becoming more and more obsessive and, thankfully, none of these things ever happened. It was my way of crying out for help even though I didn’t do that enough. My husband didn’t see me act up around the boys while he was home with us. I was really good at keeping myself under control when he was around. I didn’t want to admit that I truly needed help and wanted him to see that I was strong enough to handle my emotions and feelings just fine.
That was until we were packing up for a trip to Minnesota, I lost my cool with our boys. I can’t even remember what happened, but both of our kids were fussing and crying about something and I came over to them and started screaming at them! My husband came over right away and was in shock. I was kneeling down on the porch floor crying and that’s when my husband said to me, “You need to get some help. I didn’t realize how bad it has been until now.” I believe that I not only scared our boys, but that I scared him as well. I told him that I could manage things on my own and with God’s help He would heal and help me. After talking with my husband and calming down I surrendered to his offer. To be honest, it was really hard to do since I thought that if I reached out for help then I would be considered weak and I was ashamed to admit that I needed help. It’s actually quite the opposite! To reach out and ask for help is a sign of strength and courage. It’s the best thing anyone can do.
I remember my husband and I sitting at the computer doing some research on Christian counselors in the Madison area. I hadn’t seen a counselor since the middle of 2007 (after I had gotten out of a bad and toxic relationship in winter of 2006) so I felt like I was ready to get some good spiritual counseling the second time around. I found a really great counselor in January 2016 (3 months after our baby was born.) What a Godsend she was and has been to me! She counsels people that are going through PPD and I felt like I could open up and share my entire life with her! I was also put on medication and it helped at first, but had to wean off of them once 6 months came around. I became more agitated and irritable and so I gave up on medications of any sort. I decided to just get support from God, my counselor, family and friends, church family, etc.
I stopped seeing my Christian counselor who had been helping me with my PPD journey in July 2018. When I look back on counseling, I am not ashamed in any way to say that I needed help with my mental health. To this very day, I have talked with the same counselor a few times since the pandemic started to help with my anxiety that I still deal with.
I have shared my story with some people and they are always so shocked when I tell them of my experience with PPD. I honestly never imagined myself ever getting to this point in my life where I would think about harming myself and my kids and not wanting to be a mom anymore.
My biggest and best advice I can give to anyone experiencing PPD or knowing someone that’s struggling with it is to reach out and ask for help. Whether it be talking with a counselor, being put on medications to help stabilize your moods, getting support from family and friends or all of these things, please don’t hesitate and don’t wait. It might just be too late if you keep waiting and putting it off. I honestly don’t know where I would be if I didn’t finally surrender to my husband’s plea and get help. I know and believe that God was with me while I was going through my struggles and He’s still with me as I am still learning things along the way on this journey of being a mom. I believe that I went through PPD so I can be a light to other women that are on the same path that I was once on a few years ago. Keep shining your light even when you feel like yours has totally burned out.