My Doctor Cleared Me For PPD. I Had PPA.

When I had my first daughter, I was so prepared. I had the cute crib, the fancy noise machine, the baby swing (that she would hate, it turned out), and I had read every parenting book I could get my hands on.

I was going to be a gentle parent, whose baby slept through the night and loved long naps and organic, home-pureed green beans. I was going to read her books every night before bed. I was going to understand her, and she was going to understand me; an instant, unbreakable bond.

Her newborn months were going to be sweet and soft, and full of giggles and love, and I was going to feel contentment like I’d never known.

Of all the research I did about how to be the perfect Instagram mom, the one thing the books didn’t say was perhaps the most important: that I wouldn’t be.

I spent those first few months battling what I now know was severe Postpartum Anxiety. I filled out the single mental health survey I was given at my 6 week check up:

  • Was I able to find joy in things? Yes, I loved the way she smiled in her sleep.
  • Was I getting enough sleep? No, is that supposed to be a joke? Does anyone answer “yes” to that?
  • Have you felt anxious or worried for no good reason? I’m sorry, did you know that when you check out of the hospital, they send you home with a whole baby? Yes, I’m anxious, but I fail to classify that as “for no good reason.

I was given a gold star for excellent postpartum mental health and was sent on my way.

I’m not sure how many 3ams I clocked on Google, searching things like, “Will fabric softener damage my baby’s lungs,” or “The long-term psychological harm of bottle-feeding.”

As certain as I had been before her birth that I was doing everything right, I was much more convinced afterward that I was doing everything wrong. My partner didn’t know how to help me.

I had been told by my doctor that I was fine, so I thought this was normal. I thought everything I was feeling – the shame, the guilt, the exhaustion, the worry – I thought that’s how all new moms felt.

The only thing my partner could do for me was take a photo of me in one of my worst moments: I was crying on the couch, surrounded by laundry I would never have time to do, and my daughter was sleeping very peacefully on an infant lounger next to me. Safe. Healthy. Not at risk of growing purple horns because I chose the wrong diaper cream.

My only job at the time – my only real job – was keeping her safe and keeping her loved. And I was doing exactly that, even though I couldn’t see it.

I crawled out of that bout of PPA slowly and painfully and without professional help.

It took the birth of my second daughter and that familiar feeling of butterflies taking over my insides to realize that something was wrong. That I was about to dive back into months of suffering that, actually, every new mom DOESN’T go through.

I swallowed the shame of non-perfection and spoke frankly with my doctor about my first pregnancy. I spoke with a therapist. I didn’t escape postpartum anxiety the second time around, but I did give myself the kindness of seeking help, and that made all the difference. That year was a door swung open.

I filled out those postpartum surveys a little more honestly:

  • Was I able to find joy in things? Yes, but some days are harder than others.
  • Was I getting enough sleep? No, because even when she’s sleeping, I’m Googling everything I could be doing wrong.
  • Have I felt anxious or worried for no good reason? Yes. Yes, actually. Yes, I have. This baby is fine, but maybe I’m not. By the time I really allowed myself the help, my anxiety was swallowing me whole; I barely felt like I could leave the house.

I sought out a therapist who was versed in postpartum mental health. I was more honest with her than I had been with my partner or even myself, and I was stunned when she didn’t shame me.

With that, I learned that the shame I felt was an arrow I’d pointed at myself.

She prescribed me an anti-anxiety medication that I would come to need regularly for more than a year after my second baby was born. Some days, three years later, I still need it.

I researched PPA, rather than how my hardwood floors might flatten my baby’s arches. I learned about the illness and forgave myself for it. I also read other women’s stories, which was the biggest gift I could have given myself. It wasn’t just me, and it was ok, and it did not make me a bad mom.  

I learned a number of hard-fought lessons from those pregnancies.

What I hope other people can gain from this is that there is no shame in asking for (and needing) support. Having a newborn is exhausting and emotional, but it should not feel devastating. It should not make you question your own worth.

Be truthful beyond reason with your doctors and the people you’re close to about how you’re feeling. Educate yourself less on the perfect noise machine and more on how to take care of yourself at an enormously vulnerable time. Advocate fiercely for yourself because you can’t pour from an empty cup. The best mom is a healthy mom.

And no, there is no diaper cream that will cause your baby to grow purple horns. Trust me, I’ve checked.

Our next reco: Tips for Distinguishing Between Normal Worrying and PPA


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


Hot Topics

Related Articles