Emily K's Story
BIO: Emily of mamacoaster is a mom of two under two living with depression and anxiety. She first shared her story on Instagram and later launched her blog. Emily is on a mission to redefine the unrealistic expectations of motherhood while shedding light on the realities of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.
I had wanted to be a mom for as long as I could remember. I expected that I’d take to motherhood like a fish to water. I was sure that nothing would come more naturally. Motherhood was in my bones, I just knew it.
Then I became a mother and all of those dreams and expectations of glowing motherhood came crashing down. After giving birth to my daughter, Mary Clare, in September 2017, I found myself in a very dark place. I felt very little connection to my daughter. I didn't want to be with her while simultaneously wanting to control every aspect of her life. When Mary Clare cried, I panicked. My mom would tell me, “babies cry, Emily, it’s okay if she cries.” It did not feel okay. The tiniest whimper sent me into a tailspin. When I left the house without her, the anxiety was crippling. I didn’t know who I was anymore.
Ultimately, I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and anxiety about 6 weeks after giving birth. I received treatment under the care of my primary care doctor and my longtime therapist. Recovery was a process that took time. The hardest part was not blaming myself but with some of the hardest work I have ever done and the support of so many I started to make progress.
After several weeks, the fog slowly lifted. By the new year, I was having more good moments than bad ones. I started to feel like me again and I accepted that those feelings during the darkest days of PPD were not me. Those feelings actually were mental illness playing tricks on me. I began to hit my stride as a mother around February 2018. Then under the care of my doctor, I weaned off my medication in May. I finally had my happy ending.
Then when Mary Clare was about 9 months old, I found out I was pregnant. Again. I remember when I got the positive pregnancy test with Mary Clare, I was overjoyed, this was what I had been wanting! I did not have those feelings the second time around. When I saw the positive test, the walls started closing in all over again. I was having panic attacks. I felt my connection to Mary Clare slipping away. The anxiety seemed inescapable.
I would soon find out, I was experiencing a relapse which is extremely common. This time around, I knew something was not right very quickly. I sought treatment immediately and discovered an incredible specialized program right in my backyard – The Perinatal Psychiatry program at Zucker Hillside Hospital. Perinatal mental health care focuses on the unique behavioral and mental challenges women may experience during and after pregnancy. I saw a doctor who specializes in perinatal psychiatry and psychosomatic medicine. It was through this program that I learned more about perinatal mental health and the safety of taking medication while pregnant. I went back on medication and began group therapy. Little by little, I came out on the other side of that episode.
Throughout my pregnancy, I continued to take an SSRI medication under the care of my perinatal psychiatrist. This past March 2019, I gave birth to the most beautiful baby boy, my son Bobby. As with Mary Clare, I had a fairly routine birth and physically recovered beautifully. To me, giving birth is the most badass thing I have ever done. I delivered 2 living, breathing, brand new humans into the world and honestly, that still blows my mind! For many women, delivering a baby is extremely physically taxing and it takes weeks even months to recover. I have been blessed with births that are not particularly difficult physically. But we know I didn’t get off scot free! I have learned I do not bear a particularly physical burden when giving birth, for me birth is mentally taxing.
When Bobby was born, I was scared for what might happen to my mental health but I was prepared to recognize the signs. After two weeks, I saw my psychiatrist and she made the official diagnosis. I had PPD/A. In a way, I was relieved to know that I was on my way to getting better sooner than last time. Suffering a single day of postpartum depression is more suffering than anyone should have to endure. It was a relief knowing I cut it off before it went on for six weeks like it did with Mary Clare.
After Mary Clare, all it took was one SSRI and I bounced back. This time around it’s been a bit trickier. We tried out a few different medications before we got it right. And now even still, 3 months postpartum, I still have setbacks. I have days where I wonder how I’ll make it through the next hour. It’s on those days that I use the tools I have to cope. Some of my favorite coping techniques include mindful breathing, 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique, cold water immersion, and challenging intrusive thoughts. Though there are times that these techniques are just not enough and I require “as needed” anti-anxiety medication.
So even after all these great strides I have made over the past 20 months, I still have some intrusive thoughts and some hard days. For example, as I type this, I feel a level of shame around talking about my medication. I feel shame around taking more than one medication. My mind tells me that taking one medication is fine but if I am a person that needs more than 1 medication…then I must really be crazy. As, I’ve said…the mind is a tricky jerk sometimes!
I didn’t expect to have postpartum depression and anxiety. I didn’t expect to get pregnant again so quickly. I didn’t expect that pregnancy could cause me to relapse. I never thought I would be taking more than one medication. In a lot of ways, those unmanaged expectations caused me a lot of anger. They caused a lot of sadness and pain for me in my first year of motherhood.
However, those unmet expectations also lit a fire inside me, one that drives me to help and educate other women. Historically, the realities of motherhood and childbirth are not part of the mainstream conversation. I believe this has set womankind up with unrealistic expectations of motherhood and ultimately makes it so much harder. That’s why, I believe, as a community of mothers, it is up to us to change the conversation. It is us, the ones who know what it is really like, to shed light on the truth of motherhood.
It feels like a big task but each of us doing little things each day makes a big difference. It can be as simple as speaking honestly when a friend asks how you’re doing. It’s okay to say, “I haven’t pooped in days and my nipples are bleeding,” or “I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, the baby is always crying.” It’s okay to keep it real and say how you really feel. Motherhood is really hard but it is also the best thing you will ever do. We need to create a space where those two realities can exist in tandem. Let’s make sure we keep it real so we can make the transition to motherhood easier for our sisters!
Motherhood is so much harder than I expected. It has made me so much stronger than I ever imagined I could be. It has brought me the deepest joy I have ever felt and brought me more peace than I ever knew possible. That is my reality. It’s a reality I love and wouldn’t change.