Did you know you could experience postpartum depression a whole year after your baby was born? Neither did I! After the birth of my second son I found myself really struggling almost a year after he was born. I found myself often feeling overwhelmed, extremely irritable, very emotional, and very unmotivated. I have struggled with depression most of my adult life and am recently learning that I may have suffered from some sort of anxiety my whole life. I’ve heard lots about postpartum depression and knew the warning signs. However, I thought it really only applied to the first couple of months after baby was born.
As I was browsing the internet I came across an article about Delayed Postpartum Depression. It stated that moms could experience PPD (postpartum depression) up to 12 months after baby was born and even after. I immediately sought help, first contacting my postpartum clinic at the hospital I birthed at, where they were able to refer me to a counselor who specializes in perinatal care. Let me tell you, she was a gift from God! She confirmed that indeed I was experiencing Delayed PPD and began to work with me to acquire the best treatment of care to get me balanced and stable so that I could be the mom I wanted to be, and the wife and homemaker I needed to be.
Before I had my first son I worked very hard to get off all anti-depressants and caffeine and learn the best coping skills to manage my depression. I was doing well by the time my second son was born, however there were several factors that set me up for relapse. First of all I had made a major cross country move, from sunny Florida (hello Vitamin D) to often gray and rainy Seattle. I left all of my support system (family and friends). I moved to a place where I didn’t know anyone except for my brother and sister in law. I also made the decision to close my private practice of six years to be able to focus solely on being a stay at home mom. I was now at home by myself with a toddler and a new baby, feeling often isolated and alone, and little intellectual stimulation. That coupled with all of the wacky hormones that comes with pregnancy and breastfeeding, its no wonder that I was short on bandwidth to handle the day to day activities.
So what did I do to get back on track and start to feel normal again? Here are few things that were key skills that I added to my daily rhythm for my wellness:
- Vitamin D and Exercise: I have never liked to exercise. I’ve actually joked that I am allergic to exercise! I’ve never found it to combat my depression either. However, I knew that I needed to do everything I could to start coming out of this miserable state I was in. So I tried walking either on the treadmill or on the trail behind our apartment. I needed the vitamin D from being outside and I needed to get my endorphins going. A key thing that helped me was finding this podcast on Delayed Postpartum Depression and listening to that while I walked. It was so affirming to hear other women talking about what they had experienced and to see that I wasn’t alone in my feelings. It helped me feel validated and a lot less like a mom failure. It energized me and I actually started to look forward to my walks.
- Nutrition: I’ve actually always had difficulty eating well, especially when feeling depressed. I seem to have a love/hate relationship with food. Add being a mom of two little ones, while trying to breastfeed, and again its disaster. I figured out and was advised by my Naturopath which vitamins and nutrients I needed the most to help with my depression. Omega 3s, B vitamins, folic acid, even probiotics. I added these into my diet in addition to my prenatal vitamins which I was still taking. I also new I needed to eat more protein and green veggies, and fruits. My problem is that I either don’t have the motivation to make something or the time or energy to do so. And since I can’t live off the leftover crumbs from my kid’s plate, I knew I needed something that was going to be quick and easy. I grabbed protein bars, Boost shakes, peanut butter and jelly, granola cereal or oatmeal, cheese, quesadillas, or smoothies. I actually found some great lactation smoothie receipts that I used often to help get my protein and also boost my milk supply.
- Music: Its probably no surprise that music is part of my self care. However, I haven’t found that I go to the happy, energetic music when I am depressed. I think most people would think if you are down you should listen to music that lifts you up. That makes sense and I’m sure that does work for some people. However, for me my depression is usually triggered by anxious and overwhelming thoughts. So for me music that relaxes and calms me is most beneficial. Often it is instrumental music with not a lot of dynamic or tempo changes. My days can feel very chaotic with two small kiddos tugging at my legs, crying and melting down, and mess everywhere I look. Calming music can help me feel calm but slowing my heart rate and respiration rate and helping me settle my mind.
- Art: Part of my self care has been to make time for myself to create. I found that I was spending all of my time taking care of my family and little to no time taking care of myself. Just like the airplane analogy, “you have to put your oxygen mask on first before putting on your kid’s mask”. At first I felt guilty taking time for myself. If I got out of the house for an hour or so I felt bad that I wasn’t home with the kids. I wasn’t able to relax and enjoy my time because I kept feeling guilty. However, I kept making it a priority and now I am able to enjoy my time on my own. I found that putting on music (usually worship music or some instrumental music that I find relaxing) and either creating in my art journal or painting was very relaxing and re-energizing for me.
- My Village: When we moved here we quickly found a church community which has become our family support system. I have developed a few close friendships through my church community, my kid’s weekly music class, and in my apartment community. I have also been blessed with a few “angels” from church, people who have given of their time to help watch my kids so I can get a break and so they can be loved on, all without seeking anything in return. I really don’t think I would have made it through this past year if it hadn’t been for them!
- Massage: I was able to get a prescription from my midwives for weekly massage therapy. Having an hour a week to get out of the house, take time for myself, and get all of my stress massaged away was highly beneficial for me. Usually the massage includes relaxing music and essential oils which only enhances the time.
- Essential Oils: I have a few favorite oils that I turn to for my self care. Of course lavender is a go to for relaxation, but I also found a few Young Living Blends that work well for me. Tranquil is a roll-on blend that I have that I use when I’m feeling anxious and it really works for me. Stress away and Peace and Calming are other go to oils for me. I also have Joy and Citrus that I diffuse for a little energy lift. If you want to know more about Young Living oils read more here.
- Medicine: I tried really hard to avoid medication at all costs. I did everything I could to fight my depression naturally. However, sometimes there is just something at our chemical level that is a little off balance that needs just a little help to make us feel balanced and function better. I’m learning a lot about depression and how sometimes it is influenced by learned behaviors or how we were raised, by situations in our lives, by our genes, and by our chemistry. Then add the many hormones that come with pregnancy and breastfeeding and how pregnancy affects your body, and how motherhood affects your life, and you have a whole new situation to deal with. Sometimes we need medication to adjust things just enough to get us functioning again. It took me a while to sit with this idea and to accept it. It helped to learn that the research has shown that babies and children do better when their mother’s depression is managed well, even if its with medication, than those whose mother’s depression isn’t managed well. Children are actually worse off if they have to deal with an unstable mother who is suffering with depression and anxiety. I was really worried about how the medication I was considering taking would affect my breastfeeding one year old. Having been informed of the research, as well as considering the age of my child, I made the decision to start medication once again. It has made a world of difference. I didn’t realize how bad I was until I started coming out of it.
- Intellectual Stimulation: Another thing I have learned about myself is my need for intellectual stimulation. I think so many mothers struggle with this. We want to be home with our kids but we miss the intellectual stimulation and adult conversation that we had when we were working. To go from working full time to staying at home full time can really wreak havoc on your personal identity. Who am I? What do I like to do? When all you do all day is laundry, meals, diapers, cleaning up toys, and conversing with your 3 year old, you start to question a lot of things! I started to crave grown-up conversations about grown-up things. I desired to learn something new (other than the many colors of poop and how to build a Lego railway) and to create something. So part of my self care was taking time for myself each week to read or take an online course or get together with a friend to talk about grown up things. This helped me to regain my identity as an individual with talents and interests and not just as a mother.
- Mindfulness: This is a technique which was new for me (even after all of these years of counseling) that my perinatal counselor taught me. It has really helped and is a great tool for my self care toolbox! Mindfulness is taking the time to simply observe and just be rather than analyzing or overthinking. Basically when you are anxious or depressed you tend to focus your thoughts on the past, ruminating on negative thoughts and the should haves, or on the future, the worry and what ifs. Instead mindfulness if focusing on the present, the here and now. It is tuning in super clearly to the activity you are doing whether it is just sitting and breathing (focusing on the breath, the rise and fall of your chest, the feel of your pulse, the feel of the ground beneath you, the smell of the fresh air, etc) or washing your hair (the feel of the suds as you lather your hair, the scent of the shampoo, the feel of the warm water on your back and head, etc). As a mom I have found it really re-energizing just to take 5 or 10 minutes and sit on the floor with my kids while they play. I just sit and watch them, how they problem solve, the creative way they engage with the toys, the excitement in their eyes, the sounds they make as the trains run along the track, even the way they are “learning to share” as brothers. I am able to completely be in the moment with them and treasure being their mom, enjoying their creativity and love of play. I experience a sense of peace and joy and seem to put aside the chaos and overwhelm that my daily life often brings. After a few minutes I feel rejuvenated and am able to get up and start working on dinner or finish the laundry or whatever is next in my day. It is truly magical.
The last few months have been quite a journey for me but I have learned so much and am so grateful for the journey. I especially want to encourage anyone who might be going through a similar situation to reach out for help. Adding just a few of these skills to your daily rhythms can make such a difference to your wellness and quality of life.